Outdoor kitchens: 5 key elements

Summer is now in full swing, and I bet you are excited about outdoor entertaining. Ready to get your garden prepared with our five-step guide?

Planning a perfect outdoor kitchen is not exactly a simple process, but breaking it down into smaller chunks might make it easier to manage. Our guide covers five main steps – we’re talking everything from garden design to how to zone your space and all the little details you may miss.

Kitchens Bedrooms & Bathrooms journo Charlotte Luxford has spoken to loads of top designers and architects to find the key elements you need to achieve your dream outdoor kitchen…

Forbidden Bloom fringed recycled velvet cushion in deep blue, £140, Divine Savages.

5 elements for outdoor kitchens:

1. The garden design

Award-winning designer Karen McClure offers her top tips when creating an outdoor space for entertaining – get your pen and paper out…

Destination points 

  • Create destination points with purpose and functionality to entice your guests outside
  • Map out the first and last areas of sun as the starting points for your design, ideal for morning coffee or sundowners
  • Add a simple bench or fire pit next to comfortable seating
  • Consider key vistas from the house and place features or destination points at these views
  • Plan adequate space for your entertaining areas, with good spatial flow around furniture and pathways 

Landscaping materials

  • Select materials that will best suit the exterior of your property
  • Consider the maintenance needs and the longevity of the materials
  • Use oversized paving slabs to trick the eye into making an area appear larger
  • Change up your materials to define areas or transition to a new zone
  • Use planting to break up and soften hard landscaping and integrate the design into the landscape


  • “Right plant, right place” is my mantra when planning a scheme
  • Blend numerous planting styles by selecting one or two signature plants to use throughout the entire garden
  • Unite the scheme into a cohesive palette using repetition of limited varieties; grasses such as Hakonechloa macra and Astrantia are useful harmonising plants that help link various themes
Outdoor garden design
The homeowners of this garden asked garden designer Karen McClure to create an outdoor dining space that was inviting and contemporary and suitable for year-round use.

2. Zoning your outdoor kitchen

The indoor-outdoor link

Having a great indoor-outdoor connection is important in an outdoor kitchen. How can you achieve this? “A terrace immediately next to the living space allows the indoors and outdoors to run into one another seamlessly. This will always be enhanced by having the same flooring running throughout – and don’t forget details such as a flush threshold,” says Alex Saint, design manager at Kitchen Architecture.

“Your glazing is important, too. While bi-fold doors open up fully on hot days, they need to nest together at one end, creating more unsightly vertical lines on your outward view the rest of the year. If you choose a sliding system, which I tend to recommend, due to less interrupted sight lines, consider at which end the panes will stack together so the flow from inside to outdoors works for the family as a whole – not just the cook.

“Lastly, think about the layout of your outdoor kitchen. Rather than hiding it in the corner or against a wall with your back turned towards your guests, consider kitchen-island cooking, so you can greet people as they enter the garden and keep an eye on children and family. If you do go for a central unit, gas cooking might be more suitable,  so as not to smoke out guests with burning charcoal; for slow cooking, position a separate slow smoker away from guests while it works its magic,” suggests Alex.

outdoor kitchen islands
Outdoor kitchen islands start from £12,000, Kitchen Architecture. Photography: Jon Day.

Creating an undercover area

British weather is unpredictable, so it’s best, where possible, to ensure you’ve got good covers – to protect you from the sun but also to provide shelter if it starts raining. “Awnings are great for making you feel like you’ve added an additional room to your home,” says Lisa Cooper, head of product development at Thomas Sanderson.

“They are ideal for compact spaces, such as city terraces or smaller gardens. Awnings provide superior UV protection, plus they’re retractable for complete flexibility. It’s also worth thinking about whether you could benefit from additional accessories or sensors. While our awnings come motorised with wind sensors, there’s the option to upgrade to a smart system to control via voice command or app, or you may consider adding sun sensors, heating, and lighting,” she says.

If you’ve got more space and want the flexibility of having shelter elsewhere in the garden, an outdoor canopy is a great solution. With the choice of a louvred, retractable or flat solid roof, a canopy can be freestanding or fixed against walls and will remain watertight when closed.

Striped awning in blue and white
Awning in Rome Blue, starting from £2499, Hillarys.

Define your outdoor areas

“There are many ways in which you can zone your garden, from varying the levels and using different materials to incorporating structures,” says Reilly Gray, co-founder of Suns Lifestyle. “Pergolas are a popular choice, whether you have it fixed against your property or freestanding. Screens and trellises can be used to divide different areas of the garden, or to screen off a specific space for privacy.

“Using different materials, levels and colours is a great way to zone in the garden. You could use paving stones to create a patio for dining, and a separate decking lounge. Alternatively, create various levels in the garden to make use of different levels. Finally, consider the overall design: there should be a natural and organic flow, which will be perfect for entertaining and will look beautiful, too.”

Don’t forget – we’ve got great guides on both outdoor seating and dining solutions

3. Kitchen cabinets

Your units need to withstand the British weather. The latest construction methods and materials mean outdoor kitchens can now be used all year round. If you’re considering investing, remember to do your research thoroughly.

“Discuss the options with experienced experts to ensure you’re installing the right product,” says Emily Hawkins, marketing manager at The Outdoor Kitchen Collective. “Visit showrooms, if possible, to see, feel, discuss and understand the products.”

Materials such as concrete, vitreous enamel, stainless and corten steel can withstand the elements as well as heat and scratches, making them practical, easy-to-clean and long-lasting options.

Wood tends to be more affordable, but even the toughest timber will need treating and eventually replacing after facing the harsh UK climate. Consider a composite product, like Millboard, which is resistant to rot and mould.

To complete your outdoor kitchen you either need a BBQ or a pizza ovenClick here for the latest BBQs for outdoor entertaining and the outdoor pizza ovens that are worth your dough.

Egg BBQ in an outdoor kitchen
Big Green Egg barbecue, £13,625, Huckleberry.
Eo black modular outdoor kitchen
Black Edition modular kitchen, range starts from around £4900, EO kitchens.

When it comes to worktops, they also need to be weatherproof. “The key to surface and material durability outside, particularly for outdoor kitchens, is something that can withstand UV rays as well as fire and frost,” explains Oliver Webb, director at Cullifords. “A good majority of granites are suitable for this and any stones that are not heavily resined, such as Lundhs Real Stone or black granite.”

However, if you don’t want the upkeep of natural stone, composite, ceramic or porcelain worktops are great low-maintenance alternatives. Caesarstone’s porcelain range and Dekton’s surface collection are resistant to heat, UV rays, and extreme weather conditions, making them well suited to outdoor spaces as well as indoor usage. They’re also scratch and stain-resistant, non-porous and simple to clean – so ideal for hosting.

Outdoor kitchen with a outdoor seating area
540 Monumental worktop, £650 per sq m, Caesarstone.

4. Sinks and taps

It’s time to pick an outdoor sink and tap. Where do you start? “Ask yourself what you’re going to use the facilities for: are you going to do the dishes? Is it for cleaning the barbecue and accessories? Do you need a large sink? Or is it just for handwashing?” says Jacques Shelton, managing director at Cena Outdoor Kitchens.

“Half-width bowls preserve counter space. Add a water heater to make cleaning easier and for food hygiene. Sink lids create more counter space and stop debris from falling in. Your main installation investment is laying the pipework to and from the sink, which will require groundworks,” Jacques advises.

“Getting rid of the waste also needs consideration – position your kitchen above the existing drains with sufficient drop to allow water to drain into the sewage system, not rainwater drains. Finally, ensure you’re able to drain the system before a cold winter to stop the pipes from freezing. Speak to your local authority or contractor about building regulations and installation requirements.”

Want a small outdoor kitchen? No problem, we’ve got plenty of advice

boiling water tap outdoors
Cena Outdoor Kitchens design with Quooker boiling-water tap, price on application.

5. Tiles and decking

When choosing outdoor floor tiles, there are a few things to consider. “Paving should be hard-wearing, attractive, easy to maintain and tie in with the property or landscape,” says David Loy, principal designer at Your Garden Design.

“Granite and travertine are the best for outdoors, but need regular maintenance. You can create a seamless flow by using an exterior version of the indoor tile. Porcelain is durable and stain resistant – but do ensure the tile has a high slip rating (R11 or above). In addition, vitrified porcelain is impervious to frost, mould and staining.”

While tiles are one option, decking is another. “Composite decking has become very popular, mainly because of the striking colours and low-maintenance factor,” says Simon Thomas, the owner of Simon Thomas Deck & Design. “It doesn’t rot, warp, crack or splinter, or need sanding, staining, or painting. However, it is more expensive than timber.

“When it comes to installation, it pays to think ahead. If you want to create decks straight off a door, ensure it is not too low to allow for the substructure. While many people install their own decks, you may want to think twice about building a raised deck unless you are knowledgeable on the structural work.”

FS Rockstar tiles, £45 per sq m, Tile.co.uk.

Need the full A-Z of outdoor entertaining? Check out our August issue

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