Pizza ovens, BBQs and garden kitchens: a guide to outdoor cooking

Nell Card

For reasons unknown, food tastes better outdoors, so if you are planning a staycation, why not add another DIY project to the list in the form of a permanent outdoor kitchen? The design can be as slick or as rudimentary as your budget and skills dictate.

First, identify your heat source. If you want to cook over flames, consider building an open grill (you’ll need to make sure you are a safe distance from your shed and any wooden fencing). Ikea sells a charcoal grill that is built into a solid acacia frame on wheels for easy manoeuvring (£189, ikea.com). The hooded grill is surrounded by a narrow stainless-steel trim that will just-about fit a can of something cool on it. You can extend your work surface area by buying an additional modular cart or cabinet that fits snugly alongside the grill (from £299, including the grill).

For those who have spent the past five months figuring out how to keep their sourdough starter alive, you’re probably more inclined to invest in a portable Ooni pizza oven (£229, uk.ooni.com), which runs on hardwood pellets, heats up in 15 minutes and will bake your sourdough crust to perfection in 60 seconds.

At its simplest, an outdoor kitchen can be a fixed counter with storage above and below. The frame can be made from reclaimed timber (the base of an old workbench, for instance) or bare bricks. White painted breeze blocks also look neat and can be softened with potted herbs and wooden accessories.

If you have a balcony or smaller outdoor space, there are options for micro-kitchens, too. The Everdure by Heston Blumenthal (£134.10, bbqworld.co.uk) is a dinky, portable charcoal grill that can sit directly on your cooking surface – such as a folding aluminium balcony table (£142.99, wayfair.co.uk) that cleverly clings to your railings and includes a built-in shelf.

If you have space, an outdoor island will provide a place for people to perch while helping with the food prep. Ideally, it will be made from the same material as your linear set-up and could include an overhang for a couple of bar stools to slot under. Outdoor cooking nearly always gets messy, so choose a material that is hard-wearing and non-porous for your work surface. Reclaimed stone, slate or marble will work well. Alternatively – and if you’re really missing the Med – you could plaster your brick framework, paint it white and install a terracotta-tiled surface. If you know what you’re doing, cast concrete tops look great and weather well, too. If you don’t, check out the Dutch company, WWOO (wwoo.nl), which specialises in modular outdoor kitchens made from cast concrete.

You won’t regret making a sink part of your set-up. If you have an outdoor tap, think about elevating it to work-surface height. A reclaimed butler’s sink or, better still, a shallow salt-glazed sink (search eBay) will cost very little, look good and help keep your prep zone (and hands) clean. Consider bringing some pattern and/or colour to your design by creating a tiled splashback, too. If a sink isn’t an option, then a 5-litre Kilner jar (£17.40, amazon.co.uk) is a no-brainer. Fill it with iced-tea or infused water (cucumber curls, mint and lemon) and let guests help themselves. Keep a stack of indestructible tumblers (£7 each, falconenamelware.com) nearby.

Your outdoor kitchen won’t need masses of storage, but it would be handy if you had somewhere to stash your fuel under the countertop. Outdoor shelving is a great idea, too, as it will keep your work surface clear of cutlery and condiments. Mount a length of reclaimed timber on to brackets along a fence or shed wall. Alternatively, check out the configurable, galvanised-steel system from the Swedish company String (from £42.50, utilitydesign.co.uk). “S” hooks are another great storage solution, especially if you are forever misplacing your tongs.

If you have an electrical point outside, then your outdoor kitchen really ought to have an undercounter fridge. A pair of stainless-steel fridge drawers would be ideal, but a mini-bar fridge is a cheaper alternative (from £109.99, klarstein.co.uk). No electricity? Then try a dinky rattan drinks trolley (£445, modafurnishings.co.uk) with a built-in drinks cooler. For a cheaper option, the Swedish company Hinza has been making bucket bags (£26, royaldesign.co.uk) from renewable raw material since the 1950s.

Try to position your table close to the action. Inexpensive foldaway tables are the way forward. Vintage folding beer fest table and benches (£435, scp.co.uk) or cheap and cheerful tables (£12, ikea.com) can be neatly stashed away come autumn while bright, woven bistro chairs (£210, ceraudo.com) look just as good indoors as out.

Assuming your outdoor kitchen isn’t enclosed by walls and a roof, you’ll need temporary shade/rain cover. Taut, angular shade sails look great, are UV-resistant, breathable and waterproof (from £24.99, primrose.co.uk).

Dress your table with a sunny gingham cloth, perhaps a hand block-printed beauty (£70, mollymahon.com) and a set of life-improving napkins (£12 each, aerende.co.uk), sewn by women who are up-skilling in a south London prison. If you’re out after dark, a rechargeable, battery-powered table lamp (£49, modafurnishings.co.uk) will create atmosphere.

The Dutch design brand Zuperzozial make a range of colourful cutlery from plant fibres (from £7 a set, formahouse.co.uk), and there are some beautiful eco paper plates to be found if you know where to look (£10 for 8, merimeri.co.uk). When the time comes to clear away, you’ll need a crate, not a tray. Try stackable, collapsible crates in a bright candy colour (£11, hay.dk). Pile them high with dirty tumblers and tableware and leave them until morning.