How to Install an Outdoor Kitchen
Want that holiday feel at home? An outdoor kitchen can help you make the most of warmer weather and your garden
We asked the experts what to consider before you start shopping for that pizza oven or gas-powered barbecue…
Professional advice from: Tom Howard of Tom Howard Garden Design & Landscaping; Georgia Lindsay of Georgia Lindsay Garden Design; Paul Scott of The Outdoor Kitchen Company
Eating outside, whether with friends or family, is one of the undeniable pleasures of summer, but we’re moving on from the humble mobile barbecue. “Top of most people’s wish list in their garden is an entertaining area,” Tom Howard says. “And if clients have the money, a proper outdoor kitchen is increasingly the way to go.”
“We’ve always had barbecues in our garden,” Georgia Lindsay says. “What makes a design stand out as an outdoor kitchen is it’s a bespoke item that’s integrated into the design of the garden.”
Planning an outdoor kitchen doesn’t need to be daunting. “There are now many modular systems on the market that can be added onto,” Georgia says. “So you can start with a barbecue and add a sink or work surface or whatever you might want.”
“Ikea even does a modular outdoor kitchen now,” Paul Scott says. A simple outdoor sink unit, for instance, costs £215.
Overall, costs will vary based on quality and what functionality you want from it, Paul adds. “A panelled stainless-steel kitchen might cost between £2,500 and £5,000. Ours start at about £5,000 and go up to about £20,000,” he says.
More integrated kitchens can cost as much as £50,000, depending how high-spec you want to go.
“We usually tell people to mark out the space they want to commit to their kitchen with masking tape,” Paul says. “That tells us what we have to work with.” Clients then give a wish list of key things they’d like. “For example, an integrated barbecue, a pizza oven and a fridge. We then provide a proposal based on that.”
Most kitchens tend to be around 2.4m wide, Tom says. “The average barbecue is about 750mm, and you’ll want food prep surfaces on one side – around 1m is nice.”
Think about worktop depth, too. “Our worktops are 600mm deep, like a normal kitchen counter,” Paul says.
With an integrated kitchen, you should ensure the hood of your barbecue isn’t hitting the boundary wall or fence. To counteract this, Tom recommends a worktop depth of 700mm or 800mm.
When choosing your site, think about your neighbours and whether you’ll be disturbing them.
Tom also suggests thinking about where the sun falls. “You probably want to have your kitchen close to your seating area,” he says. “In a north-facing garden, that will most likely be at the back.”
Also consider issues such as wind direction, Georgia says. “In built-up areas, you can end up with a wind tunnel. If you have an eating area next to the barbecue, you don’t want smoke blowing in guests’ faces.”
One advantage of a freestanding design, Paul says, is that you can potentially move the whole kitchen around if you realise that shady or breezy spot isn’t quite right after all.
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“More times than not, we’ll build a bespoke unit, often out of concrete blocks that are rendered and painted,” Tom says. Remember, if you’re using concrete blocks, you’ll need to dig foundations.
When it comes to worktops, granite is practical outdoors, say the experts. “We tend to go for a matt grey granite,” Tom says. “You don’t want anything too shiny or sparkly in the sun. It’s very forgiving and looks smart. You can also polish the front edges.”
“Granite is a good solution,” Georgia agrees. “It doesn’t crack with changes in temperature like some stones.”
Paul, meanwhile, uses practical – and cheaper – porcelain worktops for his outdoor kitchens. “Porcelain is a very hard and durable material and very hygienic – no mould or algae can grow on it. Plus, as it’s UV-stable, it won’t fade. You can also jet-wash it easily, with zero water absorption. With granite, you have to seal it every so often.”
If you’re on a real budget, Georgia suggests, “You can use a porcelain paving slab as a worktop. Often, it’s the cutouts that are a costly aspect in kitchens. Outdoors if you don’t have a hob and sink, you can just use offcuts.”
Some outdoor kitchens feature stainless-steel doors, but many design experts prefer the look of wood. “I think these look a bit more modern,” Tom says. “We’ll often use a slatted timber door, which allows ventilation and stops things getting nasty inside. For health and safety, you need vents or air bricks.”
When it comes to materials, Tom says, “We typically use cedar – it’s one of the hardest of the softwoods, with lots of protective oils.”
Paul, meanwhile, recommends using warp-proof, weatherproof composite materials.
More people are also going for outdoor sinks for rinsing hands, salads and utensils. “A hot tap will be more costly, and might not be necessary, but running a cold supply from your existing outdoor tap is easy,” Georgia says.
“You obviously also have to think about where the water will drain,” Tom adds.
Outdoor splashbacks are also an option. “It’s a chance to do something different, and use things such as Moroccan tiles,” Tom says. Paul adds that backboards can be used “for lighting and utensils”.
Outdoor fridges are becoming increasingly popular. “These are one of the key things people are asking for,” Paul says.
“They can be like wine chillers, with a glass front, for drinks; or you can get integrated ones hidden by a cupboard, as you would indoors,” Tom says. “However, we only recommend a fridge if your kitchen is a distance from the house.”
Running electricity from the house for a fridge is straightforward,” Georgia adds, “especially as most gardens are lit anyway.”
When it comes to cooker choices, a built-in gas barbecue is still popular, but ceramic kamado-style grills, such as the Big Green Egg (seen here), are another great option. These ceramic sealed units burn charcoal and hardwood. “The beauty is they’re almost like a pressure cooker,” Georgia says. “They roast as well as barbecue.”
“They’re really flexible,” Paul adds, “as you can do slow cooking, classic barbecuing and searing steaks on them – and you can get temperatures really high and do pizzas, too.”
Pizza ovens can have a dual role, Georgia says. “At night, you can put logs into the oven, so it acts like a fireplace. From an aesthetic point of view, you’re turning it into a fire pit,” she says. “It’s like sitting next to a fireplace with a lovely glow and crackle into the evening.”
If you’re using a gas barbecue, you’ll need space for your gas tank inside the units. “For health and safety purposes, you shouldn’t put your gas tank directly below the cooker, it should be diagonal,” Tom says.
You can run mains gas down to your barbecue, “but it can be a pricey thing to do. Most of the time, patio gas is sufficient,” he says.
Other storage behind doors can be used for whatever you wish. Cupboards could be used for “soft furnishings and cushions, coal or cooking utensils. Many clients are also now asking for bin storage,” Paul says.
Don’t forget to plan lighting. “The worst thing is to be out there cooking and not be able to see when your meat’s done,” Georgia says.
It’s also a good idea to plan for unpredictable weather conditions. Here, a clever garage-style door provides extra shelter, but many people also put up a pergola or canopy to protect from rain showers. As Paul says, “This allows you to cook in all weathers.”
Have you installed an outdoor kitchen? Share your tips and photos in the Comments.