Designing an outdoor kitchen

Designing an outdoor kitchen

Garden design tips by Susan Dunstall

On sunny summer days, the first thing that comes to mind is often a barbecue. Eating outside can be even more fun when the cooking is done outside too, and in recent years there has been a huge rise in the popularity of outdoor kitchens – free standing or built-in units centred around a shiny, domed barbecue. Here, professional garden designer Susan Dunstall highlights some of the most important points to consider if you would like to install an outdoor kitchen in your own garden…

Once you smell the charcoal from a neighbour’s barbecue, there’s a domino effect and sales of sausages and burgers soar. The idea of having an outdoor kitchen usually springs to mind at this point. 

The first thing to consider is budget: how much you are prepared to spend will dictate the equipment you can include. Some items, such as outdoor fridges, are much more expensive than others, as they need to be able to tolerate extreme weather and still be safe. 

However, cooking outdoors is about the experience – the whole idea is that it should be simple and easy, with everything there ready for you. Whatever your budget, that should be your goal.

When you begin to think about what equipment to include, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I like to cook? Burgers and sausages or large joints and chickens?     
  • How many people will I be entertaining? 
  • What barbecue size do I require? 
  • How far away is the indoor kitchen from the outdoor kitchen? 

Also consider your requirements for storage, work surfaces, bins and cupboards. 

This is the key piece of equipment – and the most widely used – in an outdoor kitchen. There are different styles available but most are made from stainless steel and can either be built-in or stand-alone.

The first decision when buyIng a barbecue is always gas versus charcoal: both have their advantages. In my opinion, the taste of food
cooked on charcoal surpasses that from a gas barbecue. However, a gas barbecue is more convenient – you can just flick a switch when you get home from work, throw on some large prawns and have dinner ready in 20 minutes. 

Another ’cooking device’ is a ceramic or Kamadoo grill. These grills are expensive but versatile pieces of equipment which can also be used to barbeque, bake and smoke food. Since they come in several sizes and are made by several different companies, it is important to do your research to choose the right one for your particular requirements. One of the best known is the Big Green Egg ( as seen in the kitchens of many professional chefs.

Outdoor fridges are made from stainless steel and are designed to cool whatever the weather. However, a fridge’s location within your outdoor kitchen still needs to be careful considered as these highly engineered machines operate most effectively when not placed in direct sunlight. 

You can choose from a single, double or triple door fridge for stand-alone or built-in use. Ensure you choose one that is CE approved and IP rated for outdoor use.

If pizza parties are a favourite, consider including a special pizza oven in your outdoor kitchen. There are many makes available, so it is worth checking out customer reviews. For example, in its recent review of pizza ovens, The Telegraph listed Jamie Oliver’s Dome60 Leggero Wood-fired Oven as its top recommendation. (For more details, see

Another eco-friendly option is built using ’Cob’, a material made out of a blend of clay, sand, straw and water. As such, it is completely natural, renewable and non-toxic. It is soft and supple enough to be shaped and sculpted to produce structures that, after drying, are as strong as concrete. Cob can also store and transfer heat, and requires very little energy to heat and cool. Not only is it therefore a brilliant house-building material, it is also ideal for making traditional pizza ovens due to its superb thermal mass properties.

A local company which builds bespoke Cob ovens to order is Eco Earth Builds

Identify your outdoor area for construction: is it large enough to accommodate the equipment you have chosen? Also consider exposure to the elements of sun and wind.

Once you have chosen equipment and location, start to plan the route of flow. Make sure the equipment you use the most will be easily accessible and that pathways will be wide enough to allow you to walk with ease when carrying heavy items.

The design of the base and work surface will set the overall style for the kitchen. To help with ideas, gather together images that you like: a good resource is, a website which has a great collection of pictures of outdoor kitchens. 

Specifically, think about the choice of:

  • Materials for the base – brick, stone, timber or concrete; 
  • Work surface – granite, marble, Corian or stone;
  • Lighting for the area;
  • The need for an overhead shelter to protect you from the rain.

Finally, ensure that the services you need, such as gas, water, waste and electricity, can be linked to your chosen kitchen location.

Susan Dunstall is a landscape and garden designer based in Charlbury, Oxfordshire.  She believes that well planned gardens have a real and positive influence on our well-being, with the organisation of space the most important element of a design. Her gardens often have distinctive areas and are designed to surprise and entrance. Wherever possible, Susan works towards environmentally sustainable design and the use of locally sourced materials, creating beautiful and effective gardens of all sizes and to all budgets. For further details, please contact Susan Dunstall: 07879 842934 / /



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