21 Apr What Equipment Do You Need For Outdoor Cooking?
Paul Baker – our very own bbq aficionado takes us through his recommendations for outdoor cooking facilities and equipment.
Did you know that 3 out of 4 UK households own a barbecue of some description? Or that the Britain’s BBQ and alfresco eating market topped £1.7 Billion in 2020? It seems that I’m not the only one who enjoys outdoor cooking. But here’s the thing, outdoor cooking comes in many shapes and forms.
I don’t mind an occasional ‘wild cooking’ experience. Simple food cooked over a simple stove somewhere miles from anywhere. Usually eaten just after a long hike and just before a long cold beer.
Wild cooking only happens very occasionally (if I’m lucky!). But it’s not unusual for me to cook family meals outside at any time of the year. There are not many weekends that pass without either the smoker or the barbecue flooding our garden with delicious aromas and making the neighbours’ mouths water.
Cooking meat directly on the BBQ coals.
These steaks were from Skylark Produce – an excellent source of ethically farmed meat.
The more outdoor cooking I do, the more I appreciate having the right facilities and equipment to hand. Feeding family and friends can be a bit of a faff if you are forever running in and out of the house to fetch utensils, marinades, plates etc. I want to be able to relax and enjoy preparing food whilst spending quality time with other people. So here is my list of outdoor cooking essentials – drawn from personal experience.
Equipment Storage Area
In the past, one of the things that put me off outdoor cooking was having to gather all of the equipment together before I started. Finding the charcoal and the chimney starter, setting up a table for food preparation, putting up a pergola if the weather looked dodgy and then dragging tongs, knives, pizza stones, bottle openers etc out of the house and into my cooking area. It all detracts from the overall experience.
So my first ‘must’ for an outdoor cooking would be a handy storage area where everything I need is immediately to hand.
An outdoor kitchen built by Holland Landscapes with sturdy construction, useful cupboards and a wipe clean outdoor worktop
Food Preparation Surfaces
Yes, of course, I could prepare food inside the house and then bring it outside to cook, but for me, that detracts from the experience. And there’s always some point during meal preparation that I need a surface to chop garnishes, load veggies onto skewers or rest a cooked meat so that it can become tender.
A food preparation surface can double up as a serving table too – very useful if you are feeding several people.
Essential qualities of a food preparation surface for outdoor cooking is that is should be heat resistant, washable, weatherproof and, ideally, attractive too. Why not build a proper outdoor worktop on top of your storage cupboards? If you plan your outdoor kitchen carefully, it could even double up as a bar. And you can use it to lay out all of your cooking utensils and your flavourings so that they’re nice and handy when you need them.
No-one wants their outdoor cooking adventure to give anyone a jippy tummy and so hygienic food storage is just as important as careful food preparation. Cooking outdoors in warm weather means that there’s an increased risk of bacterial growing on both raw and cooked foods. Meat, fish, salads, dairy products etc all need to be very carefully stored in order to minimise risk. And for that you need a cooler.
Its a very basic rule of any kitchen that raw meat and fish need to be stored separately from cooked foods and from salads and dairy products. So you either need a good sized fridge in your outdoor cooking area, or a couple of cool boxes.
If in doubt, this government website gives advice on barbecue food safety and is well worth a read.
This outdoor kitchen built for our clients in Essex includes an outdoor fridge from Blastcool which sits neatly beneath the worktop. Underneath the covers you’ll find a BigGreenEgg barbecue and a pizza oven.
Hand washing, dish washing, cleaning worktops, rinsing salads, controlling flames, treating burns – there are many many reasons to need a source of fresh water close to your outdoor cooking area. It can be as simple as a washing up bowl filled with water and brought out from the house, or it can be a fully plumbed outdoor sink complete with drainage. I know which I would prefer!
If you are considering plumbing in a sink, think carefully about where you position your outdoor cooking area. You will need to pipe water into the sink, which may mean burying pipes deep enough so that they are not at risk from frost damage. You also need to think how to get rid of the waste. Will you have a large tank? (similar to the system in a caravan) or will you connect to your home’s drainage system. If you are installing drainage, you will need to allow a bit of a fall so that water drains away – so positioning your kitchen in the lowest part of the garden is going to pose some challenges for the installers.
Heat Sources for Outdoor Cooking
I have always enjoyed cooking on gas barbecues and on charcoal grills. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. And I recently invested in a smoker from Riverside Garden Centre – which is amazing for slow cooking really flavoursome cuts of meat.
What will you choose for your outdoor cooking area? Certainly Holland Landscapes have seen a big rise in the number of people investing in outdoor pizza ovens. Some of our clients have even sourced fire pits that double as a simple grill for cooking sausages and the like.
One thing that has piqued my interest, but am yet to try is a solar powered outdoor kitchen. If you have tested one out – please drop me a line to let me know how you got on. The marketing material makes it sound good but that’s what marketing material SHOULD do – isn’t it?
Whatever heat source you choose, make sure that it is standing on a firm, level surface, at least 2 metres from your home, shed, shrubs and anything else that might be flammable. Try too, not to place your barbecue anywhere that somebody could accidentally walk into it. Small children and anyone who is unsteady on their feet could get a very nasty burn.
I recommend building a dedicated outdoor cooking area adjoining your patio. Its probably personal preference but I don’t like to be barbecuing with my back to my guests. I want to be able to join the conversation and feel as though I am part of the gathering rather than just the chef.
Eating and Seating Area
If you are cooking outdoors, then it’s great if you can eat outdoors too. There are so many different ways of creating an al-fresco dining area. From a picnic table on the lawn to floating benches built into purpose built planters, to having a very stylish dining set on the patio. This is your outdoor cooking experience, so you do it your way.
It makes sense to have your eating and seating area reasonably close to your cooking area. That way you’ll reduce the risk of food falling off plates as it is transported from one place to an other. A nice even surface between the two zones will be helpful – ideally without steps or potential trip hazards.
I would suggest at least having a well drained surface and possibly some kind of shelter so that you can cook and eat outside in almost any weather conditions.
A garden pergola provides shelter from the wind and is a great place to set up an outdoor cooking area. Note the position of the pergola – it’s in the part of the garden that is least overlooked by neighbours and its roof blocks the view from above. This is a good garden design trick if privacy is an issue.
If you can safely cook outdoors when it’s dark, you’re a much cleverer person than me! For me, some kind of lighting is essential for outdoor cooking after dusk. Lighting the entire cooking eating and seating areas will definitely mean you will be able to spend more evenings enjoying your garden. From summer evening soirees to bonfire night bonanza’s you are almost guaranteed a great return on your investment in landscaping.
Nice To Have Outdoor Cooking Accessories
Food thermometer – in my book this is a health and safety essential. You can check that food is cooked properly before serving it up. My food thermometer connects to an app on my phone which alerts me when it’s time to check on the food. It means that I can get on with something else while my dinner is cooking.
Rotisserie attachment – cook larger pieces of meat without damaging the appearance by trying to turn them over with tongs. Great for doing the Sunday roast or even for Christmas dinner.
Chimney Starter – get those coals burning without the need for accelerants. Using a chimney starter also means that you light a second (or third) batch of charcoal and wait until it is glowing before topping up the barbecue.
Undergrill mat – Protect your patio agains great stains or scorching from runaway coals.
Designing and Landscaping Your Outdoor Cooking Area
For best results, get professional help to design and build your outdoor cooking area. You’ll benefit from their expertise in many ways. From a unique and imaginative layout that really suits your lifestyle to high standards of workmanship (and no back ache for you!)
Contact the team at Holland Landscapes for help designing your outdoor cooking area – we promise you won’t regret it.
For outdoor kitchen inspiration, take a look at the Alqasar website – these are impressive!