Cooking Up a Storm

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Updated: February 14, 2020

Urban landscapes have become so much more than just places where plants produce and flowers are grown. Homeowners have embraced the concept of incorporating the garden as part of the home. Modern home and landscape designs have seen the transition between the interior living space and outdoor areas as being seamless. Patios, decks, barbecue areas, pools, lawn or gardens are now an integral part of the modern Australian lifestyle giving rise to the creation of alfresco areas that can change the functionality of any outdoor living space to be transformed into remarkable entertaining areas.

Summer invokes a desire to connect with nature and outdoor kitchens incorporated into a landscape allow for a deep and sensory engagement with the outdoors through the celebration of food. An outdoor kitchen can be a real game changer when it comes to garden entertaining, with bars, seating areas, storage, and barbecue grills taking a landscape design from the ordinary to the extraordinary. No matter what size the space, a food preparation area or full-blown outdoor kitchen will inspire a cheerful and carefree atmosphere that cannot be attained indoors.

Outdoor kitchens like any installation will be constrained by budgets, there are however certain features that any outdoor kitchen requires to be functional. They should be built for durability, seasonability, ease of use and function, and enjoyability. The key to linking the outdoors with the interior is to connect the indoor look with the outdoor look. In other words, make the two spaces look like they’re related in design and material. Sliding doors and big windows leading to the outdoor kitchen can help make the spaces look as one and merely extensions of the other.

Design Layout

The layout of an outdoor kitchen is key to its success. Professionals know that in an efficient kitchen layout, the refrigerator, cooking surfaces and sink should form the three points of a triangle. The ideal ‘work space’ triangle should ensure the most efficient use of the kitchen requiring the cook to take the least amount of steps to make a meal. The ‘landing element’ or workspace around each side of the major appliances and sink should provide space to place platters, dishes and other preparation equipment. Space needs to be utilised as efficiently as possible in the design allowing for a minimum of 30cm and 60cm respectively either side of a barbecue grill or other cooking surfaces and 45cm either side of a sink. Food preparation surfaces require more space with the recommendation being 100cm wide and 60cm deep. Storage should also be considered in the design and can be incorporated underneath bench tops to maximise the use of available space.

Layout is of prime importance when installing an outdoor kitchen and the most common outdoor kitchen layouts combine form and function for the specific space. Below is a list of the more common layouts.

The Island

This is a perfect design for entertaining because guests can visit around the island, as well as eat and drink there while cooking. By raising one side of the countertop where the guests might sit to define the socialising space from the cooking area. Island layouts are the most common outdoor kitchen design, with the barbecue and all appliances grouped in one central space (the island).

Straight Line Layout

This layout is ideal in small areas – all appliances are installed in a straight line against a wall of the house so it’s critical that the siding is protected with materials that won’t combust.

U-Shaped layout

Larger kitchens lend themselves to U-shaped layouts. This design is very similar in looks to indoor kitchens and is freestanding, usually including a barbecue grill, refrigerator, dishwasher, sink and bar.

Added Extras

Outdoor kitchens can be taken to the next level with additional components such as chiller bins, fire pits, pizza ovens and even outdoor entertainment units such as televisions or sound systems.

Materials

It’s crucial to construct outdoor kitchens with best grade of material possible in order to withstand wear and tear and exposure to the elements.

For cabinets, marine-grade plywood or polymer sheets are ideal. Polymers are durable and waterproof, and unlike wood, polymer won’t swell, rot or split when exposed to excessive moisture. Stone is a popular material but it will require maintenance. Stainless steel is ideal for outdoor countertops, cabinetry and sinks due to its durability – 316 grade marine stainless will stand up to even harsh coastal environments. It is important to ensure that all hardware and fixtures of stainless units are non-corrosive. Modular stainless-steel units provide for a contemporary look and can also be customised to suit any design requirements.

Care should be taken in choosing a flooring material for outdoor kitchen areas as glazed or porous tiles and stone can become slippery when wet or greasy from cooking. Concrete, brick and natural stone are good choices when it comes to flooring and ceramic tiles are also available and come in a variety of colours and finishes to provide a generally slip-resistant surface. Concrete is one of the most common flooring choices for outdoor kitchens, and stamping, colouring and finishing allows for a range of surface finishes and design options. Rumbled pavers, exposed aggregate, slate, and a variety of other flooring types are also options to consider.

Green Elements

Couple an outdoor kitchen with a kitchen or produce garden and the recipe for full engagement is almost complete. Growing fresh produce that can be harvested directly from spade to blade is nothing short of exhilarating and with the rise of sustainable and organic lifestyles, as well as the desire to save money, the kitchen garden is in the middle of a major renaissance. A kitchen garden combines function and aesthetics, differing from a regular vegetable garden. Accomplished vegetable gardeners bring together both form and function. Colour and form are incredibly important when selecting what plants to grow and how to arrange them. Popular edible ornamentals for the kitchen garden include Swiss chard, kale, basil, squash, tomatoes, capsicum, egg plant and even artichoke, if you have the space.

Just as the kitchen is seen as the heart of a house, the kitchen garden is the heart of a garden. There will be a period of trial and error when growing vegetables, fruit and herbs. Getting to know the soil and the type of produce that does well in the microclimate and aspect is all part of the joy of gardening. Even during the current drought there are plants suitable for a kitchen garden. Figs, grapes and artichokes, plus herbs such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, and bay are fragrant and attractive, ideal for those who don’t want the commitment of replanting vegetables every year but still want to feel the connection that comes from garden to table living. Outdoor kitchens and kitchen gardens are gaining traction in contemporary garden design and are well suited to the modern Australian lifestyle, so fire up the grill this summer