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The rise of the outdoor kitchen

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Exterior cooking has grown in popularity – and we’re not surprised. Cooking al fresco feels more of a pleasure than a chore

Whether your space is a back garden in the suburbs, a roof deck in the city or a wide porch in the country, you’ll want to consider hard-wearing materials for built-in counters, seating benches and storage units that remain fresh-looking while surviving the onslaught of cooking activities, dirt, dust and rain.

“If you already have a sizeable patio or deck area, incorporating an outdoor kitchen into that space is relatively easy,” says Ludi Szabo, owner of Joburg custom-design kitchen company Eurofit.

An existing deck can easily be turned into a basic outdoor food prep and dining area by adding a braai stand or grill, a counter top and a table with comfortable chairs.

“If you are using existing infrastructure, ensure the area is large enough to incorporate everything you want to do in your outdoor kitchen, including seating for everyone you want to entertain,” Szabo says.

“In South Africa, regulations are flexible for stand-alone walls and wooden structures. However, once you put a roof over the structure, you will need approved outdoor kitchen plans.”

If your home does not have a patio or deck area, you have a clean slate to design your outdoor kitchen from scratch. “When doing this, bear in mind that your existing utility lines from your house need to extend to your outdoor kitchen.”

Keep the kitchen triangle rule (fridge, stove, sink) in mind to ensure that the work flow in a kitchen makes sense.

Picture: Emile Victor Portenart

Szabo suggests you consider the following:

Position: An outdoor kitchen is ideally separate or at a distance from the main kitchen. However, it should work as an extension of the living areas of your home which should still be easily accessible.

Privacy: Having the perfect spot is not so perfect if there is no privacy from neighbours or traffic.

Weather: The area you choose should be protected from wind, rain and sun that can damage cabinetry and appliances. If your outdoor kitchen is exposed to the elements, ensure your cabinets, counter tops and lighting are waterproof.

Building materials: Polished, precast concrete can be fashioned into sleek, elegant forms in a variety of colours and textures. It’s hugely versatile and weather-resistant and works well in outdoor counters. This is convenient for entertaining as drinks can be refreshed without needing to abandon guests and pop indoors every few minutes. Plus concrete only needs to be resealed every few years.

Cooking units: What method of grilling do you prefer – charcoal or gas? And would you prefer your unit to be a portable unit or built-in? “Perhaps a brick oven would be useful?” Szabo says. “Think of home-made bread and pizza… yum.”

Cabinetry and countertop finishes: Choose an experienced designer to help fit cabinetry around your grill, built-in braai, wine cooler and fridge.

“A popular trend is a wood-grain finish for bottom cabinets and a high gloss finish for top cabinets – an awesome combination,” Szabo says. Counter top finishes to choose from include marble, granite and high-quality quartz work surfaces.

“These surfaces are ideal for our climate – they are resistant to fire, heat, ice, stains and won’t fade over time from exposure to UV light.”

To get the best out of your outdoor kitchen, pay careful attention to the positioning of pot drawers, cutlery drawers, spice drawers and clutter drawers.

Food preparation: An open counter top with stainless steel or granite prep bowls and kitchen sinks keeps the serving and cleaning contained to one place. A central island is ideal if you want guests to become involved with chopping and dicing – or simply to offer a convivial space while you cook.

Lighting design: Don’t overlook this crucial aspect to create ambience in the evenings. A mix of pendant lights, spotlights and under-counter LED lights can work wonders.

Appliances: Once you’ve decided on your key cooking units, consider the fridges, wine coolers, ice makers, hobs, ovens, mixers, toasters and blenders you might want to add. Remember to allow for sufficient power points.

Soft touches: Add pillows, umbrellas, side tables, plants, artworks and shelves to transform your outdoor kitchen into a hard-working but pleasing entertainment area. Then get the fire started, charge people’s glasses and look forward to a summer of elegant outdoor living.

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