Outdoor kitchens could well be the answer to using your backyard as a supplementary living space. More than just the place where you keep your barbie, an outdoor kitchen is a functional kitchen area that includes things such as a barbecue, bench and preparation space, other appliances such as pizza ovens, and perhaps a bar fridge or sink.
But how affordably can you create an al fresco kitchen that you will actually use? And what should be included? Here we unpack the why, the how and the should you of outdoor kitchen ideas.
Is an outdoor kitchen worth it?
First to consider when embarking on your outdoor kitchen adventure is how much you will actually use it. They're great in theory, but with the good times comes maintenance and, depending on where you live, the possibility it will only be used for half the year.
You'll also need to have the space for various appliances and benches, adequate ventilation for cooking and perhaps a dining or seating area to enjoy the fruits of your outdoor kitchen. In some locations, it may add value to your house or property, but not always.
Why build an outdoor kitchen?
There are plenty of reasons outdoor kitchens are appealing. For entertainers, it's a veritable stroke of brilliance. You can keep all the cooking and partying outside, leaving the house a mess-free zone, while also enjoying the convenience of serving freshly grilled food straight off the barbecue to your guests.
Making your guests feel comfortable and enjoying the outdoors all year round is a much-desired feature of any homeFiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert
Used in tandem with your indoor kitchen, an outdoor kitchen also lets you cook twice as much, which is always handy if you're entertaining large groups. And come summer, when it's too hot for firing up the oven inside, you can move your cooking outside, probably saving you the money you might spend on air conditioning to cool down a hot kitchen.
As an extension of the living space, CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair says an al fresco cooking area is not only useful and a great place to entertain, but could also be a desirable asset: "Making your guests feel comfortable and enjoying the outdoors all year round is a much-desired feature of any home," she says.
Your outdoor kitchen can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. As well as a barbecue, consider good storage or food preparation surfaces.
What do I need in my outdoor kitchen?
Your outdoor kitchen can be as elaborate or as simple as you desire. As long as your space and budget can accommodate your ideas, you can create a bespoke area fit for your particular purpose. Still, as Fiona says, "Some things need to be considered, such as what you need to make the outdoor kitchen self-contained, so you're not traipsing back and forth inside."
The basic requirements to consider include a barbecue, storage, preparation space, an outdoor kitchen sink, and comfortable chairs and table. But you can go next-level with the addition of a pizza oven, refrigeration, heating or cooling, and a set of crockery and utensils. And if there's easy access to an outdoor guest bathroom, it will truly make your space a fully functioning entertainment zone.
Here are six things to consider when planning your outdoor haven:
1. Pizza ovens for your outdoor kitchen
Pizza is the perfect fare for entertaining and may even encourage a little guest participation. But before you start drawing up the guest list for your first pizza party, be sure you will get enough use out of your pizza oven. It may be a nice-to-have addition, rather than a frequently used one. We have weighed up some of the pros and cons and the different types you can buy here: Should you buy a pizza oven?.
Fiona advises carefully considering the available space you have as "most pizza ovens can only accommodate one pizza at a time, so you want to have an area next to the pizza oven to prepare". They also can become dangerously hot, so you'll need to make sure it's well out of the reach of children.
If you're thinking about a built-in wood-fired oven, these can be a great focal point for entertaining and can cook more than just pizza. But they also take a little longer to master and certainly take up more space.
2. Barbecues for your outdoor kitchen
When it comes to outdoor kitchens, a barbecue is the undisputed, non-negotiable item. But should you go for a standard portable option or invest in a built-in one? Often, this may come down to budget as built-in barbecues are far more expensive.
"If you're spending money on an outdoor kitchen, you may as well go all out," says Fiona. But she also suggests taking the time to work a few things out before you charge ahead, such as space, how many burners you'll need, and the usability of the kitchen.
"The barbecue will be built into cabinetry, so make sure everything is positioned wisely, so when you're entertaining, everything flows well," she says.
Also, consider how easy the barbecue is to clean, how easily you can access the drip tray, and how likely it is to rust. And choose a half-hot-plate, half-grill design for versatility.
3. Fridges for your outdoor kitchen
There's nothing worse than tucking into a too-warm coleslaw because it was bumped out of the fridge in favour of a sixth bottle of soft drink. When you embark on your outdoor kitchen adventure, it's a chance to right the wrongs of entertaining's biggest sore point: never enough fridge space.
Make sure you go big enough to accommodate all the extra food and drink. A bar fridge may look tidy, but if it's no bigger than a cooler, it hasn't really solved anything
But that's another running cost on your electricity bill, so you'll need to look for the most energy-efficient option to ensure it doesn't end up costing you more in the long run. But while the extra cost is a downside, it may be essential for a fully functioning kitchen. "Having a second fridge can be considered an essential if you entertain a lot," says Fiona, who adds that there are plenty of small, energy-efficient fridges on the market.
Make sure you go big enough to accommodate all the extra food and drink. A bar fridge may look tidy, but if it's no bigger than a cooler, it hasn't really solved anything. And remember – hot and cold don't mix, so when you're designing your kitchen, keep the fridge well away from the barbecue.
Pizza ovens are gaining popularity and make a fun addition to an outdoor entertaining space.
4. Storage and counter space
Storage is key to a fully functioning outdoor kitchen. If you're in and out of the house for plates and utensils, you're not going to be the most relaxed host. Likewise, if you can't find a spare spot to rest your hot snags.
You're unlikely ever to regret too much prep or cupboard space, but you will certainly regret not having enough. It's not so easy to retro-fit extra space, so plan well.
5. Outdoor kitchen sink
If your budget allows it, we highly recommend installing an outdoor kitchen sink in your outdoor kitchen. Cooking is messy business, and while you may not be washing dishes out here, you will certainly need to wash hands, rinse food and give the grill a good scrub.
Make sure you install both hot and cold taps, and a sink big enough to accommodate large serving dishes and grills.
6. Other outdoor kitchen ideas
If your outdoor kitchen fantasy is beginning to take shape, you may be rubbing your hands at the prospect of some next-level inclusions. Should budget and space allow, you could look at installing heaters or a fan to keep your guests comfortable. This is actually a clever way to extend the use of your outdoor kitchen into seasons that may otherwise be too unpleasant to linger outdoors.
For real luxe upgrades, you could argue for installing a dishwasher, television or speakers in your outdoor kitchen, but they're not a necessity – a simple portable Bluetooth speaker may do.
Should you buy an outdoor fire pit or smoker?
You could also consider a fire-pit or smoker, both of which can be fairly cheap. Although fire pits are popular additions to outdoor spaces and could definitely enhance the ambience, keep in mind that smoke from fire pits can be hazardous to health and produces air pollutants.
Read more at Should you buy an outdoor fire pit? Many barbecues may also have in-built smoker features that may also be worth considering if you fancy this method of cooking.
Can you build an outdoor kitchen on a budget?
Costs for creating an outdoor kitchen can run into the many thousands, or even tens of thousands, so before you get started, it's important to do research and set a budget. How much you can save depends on the extent of your kitchen, how much of the set-up and installation you can do yourself, and the calibre of the items in your design.
Keeping costs down
While you can keep costs down by combing second-hand stores and online marketplaces, such as eBay and Gumtree, for items such as cabinetry, barbecues, fridges or other items for your outdoor kitchen, you'll probably need to factor in costs for labour. Depending on the extent of the work required, you may need to engage a professional plumber, electrician or other licensed tradesperson. You'll also want the result to be, well, good enough to eat in – and that may require a professional touch.
Depending on the extent of the work required, you may need to engage a professional plumber, electrician or other licensed tradesperson
However, there's a middle road between a completely custom-built, luxury outdoor kitchen and a cobbled together DIY job. Retailers such as Bunnings, Harvey Norman and IKEA offer various products, advice and perhaps even installation for outdoor kitchen set-ups. They may come in at a lower price than if you used an independent builder.
Start with your wish list for what you want in your outdoor kitchen, then approach retailers and builders to get prices, quotes and timelines for installation. Depending on the extent of your outdoor kitchen and any building that may be required, you may need to get approval, so check with your local council and authorities first.
Safety considerations for outdoor kitchens
As with any home improvement, you'll need to assess the area for any safety issues. And, being a kitchen, there are some clear guidelines to follow.
"Outdoor kitchens are usually under cover, so it is important to have good airflow that will take the smoke away from the house," says Fiona. "An open area behind the barbecue needs to be considered, or some sort of ventilation exhaust system."
Different cookers require different considerations, too. For charcoal barbecues and smokers, Fiona says it's best to position them away from the house in a well-ventilated area. For gas barbecues, Fiona suggests storing the gas bottle in a cool place that's easy to access. An even safer option would be to have natural gas connected.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.