Outdoor Cooking

With the approach of the school holidays and the prospect of lockdown finally lifting, thoughts turn to welcoming friends and family back into our gardens for BBQ’s. Although still a great choice for cooking outdoors, things have moved on considerably from traditional cooking over charcoal. Gas barbeques have risen in popularity with a huge choice of styles and features. Further still, the outdoor pizza oven is now a feature in many gardens and for those with the right budget, a fully functional outdoor kitchen can see you entertaining guests in style. In this article we look at these various outdoor cooking trends in more detail.

Barbeques…. Gas or Charcoal – Which is Best?

This is an age-old debate when considering which barbeque to buy, with most people preferring one method over the other. This all depends on your budget, how you want your food to look and taste, the time you have and how many you are catering for and of course, personal preference – cooking over charcoal often feels the most ‘authentic’ way to cook outside. So, what are the advantages and disadvantages to each?

Cooking on gas

Whilst in many cases more expensive than a charcoal barbeque, gas barbeques have the benefit of the ability to control the temperature at which the food is cooked, which allows for precision and speed – fantastic if you are catering for a large group. The biggest benefit of cooking on gas is the ease and speed. For a mid-week impromptu Barbeque for two, for example, the gas barbeque can be lit in seconds and all the cooking done before the charcoal counterpart will be ready to cook on.

Cooking on gas allows a consistent, direct heating of food, ensuring that food is cooked evenly and all the way through – no pink middles and charred outsides here! However, with this said, bear in mind that retaining heat in a gas barbeque is often difficult, unless you keep the lid shut for the entire cooking time.

If you are looking to pack flavour onto the outside of the food you cook, a gas barbeque doesn’t give the smoky flavour that a charcoal barbeque provides. It is not impossible to achieve a smoky flavour with a gas barbeque, adding wood chips above the flames will help but also provides you with another job to have to keep on top of.   

Hauled over the Coals

Cooking over coals is a cost-effective way to cook outdoors and will impart delicious flavours to the food you cook. You can cook at high temperatures to sear meat and vegetables or at low temperatures for ribs and brisket. Wrapping jacket potatoes or corn on the cob in foil and then placing amongst the glowing coals to cook is another way to use this cooking method to your advantage. As with gas barbeques, cooking over coals has its limitations too. The cooking surface area can be much smaller than with gas, meaning that you cannot cook as much in one go. You will need to continually watch the food as it cooks as controlling the temperature on a charcoal barbeque is not as easy as it is with gas, to ensure the food is evenly cooked and not burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.

A charcoal barbeque takes around 15-20 minutes to become ready to cook, so bear this in mind when planning what time to serve the food. All of this may seem prohibitive to enjoying a relaxing barbeque. However, if you have the time, patience and skill required, cooking in this way can be a great experience.

Pizza Ovens

Pizza ovens have undoubtably seen a huge rise in popularity over the past few years. This article from The Guardian reports that John Lewis have seen an 8% rise in barbecue sales in the first half of last year and an astonishing 90% rise in sales of outdoor pizza ovens.

Pizza ovens come in a broad range of styles with different features and despite their name, aren’t just for pizzas. Roasting meats, baking bread and pies or cooking fish and steaks are all feasible in a pizza oven. This range of cooking ability makes the reason for the rise in popularity of the pizza oven very clear. Options include a fully built-in oven, often using features already existing in the garden, to a freestanding one and even smaller portable ovens, for ease of moving around the garden. As before, these ovens can be fired on charcoal, gas or even multi-fuel options for greatest control and flexibility. But by far the most popular choice is wood-fired, especially for cooking pizza.

Types of Pizza Oven

Pizza ovens can be brick built, modular or ready assembled – your choice will depend on the look you want, the time and skill you have and the space into which the oven will go.

Brick

Brick built gives you the freedom to customise the oven to your exact measurements and specifications – and a whole lot of pride at your DIY skills. Brick ovens provide the highest level of heat to cook with – great for pizzas with that desirable chargrilled crust.

Modular

Modular ovens come in various pre-built pieces, ready for you to put together into your chosen space. Great if you have limited time or the skill to build a brick oven but still want to feel as though you’ve worked to build your oven. As with the brick oven, certain aspects can still be personalised to achieve a great overall look and function. Bear in mind that a modular oven simply cannot get as hot as a brick oven, but it does have the advantage of heating faster.

Pre-assembled

This is the most expensive option but by far the quickest and requires no skill at all. Unpack and place in its final position and you are ready to go. Obviously, you can’t personalise your oven as all of the design and thought has been done for you.

Some great advice and examples of pizza ovens can be found in this article from pizzaovensupplies.co.uk.

Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor kitchens have risen in popularity in UK in the past 5 years, according to this article by prolandscapermagazine.com Traditionally, the kitchen is the meeting point of guests at a party and simply moving this social space outdoors to enjoy in the warmer weather seems a natural transition. Options range from a basic cooking facility and serving space right up to a fully functional outdoor kitchen.

Ovens, sinks and fridges can all be installed, along with a range of tables and seating. The world is truly your oyster when it comes to designing your outdoor kitchen. Obviously, the more you want to add to your kitchen, the larger your budget (and available space) will need to be. Kitchens can be freestanding, eliminating the need for any groundworks to take place. However, if you choose to have water or power to your kitchen, groundworks will be necessary. If you are tempted by the thought of an outdoor kitchen, grilloliving.com show you a range of designs and plans to whet your appetite further.

Fire Pits

To strip things back after our journey through outdoor kitchens and pizza ovens, there is something so simple and nostalgic about cooking around a fire pit as the sun sets on a wonderful day spent with family. Sausages sizzling, marshmallows going gooey and sweet as they cook on sticks and a warm, inviting glow from the flames. As long as they are watched, children can become involved in the cooking and the adults can take time to simply relax and enjoy.

Whatever your chosen method of cooking, after the past year that we have all had, take time to enjoy the company of others and some great food together.