Outdoor Kitchens For Sustainability

outdoor-kitchens

Summer Kitchen Revival

Before the days of electricity in the house or the air conditioner cooling off the living spaces from the heat of summer and cooking, there were outdoor kitchens.

It was an effort to keep the house as cool as possible. They are also known as Summer Kitchens.

The summer kitchen’s purpose was for putting up food for the year, canning, preserving, pickling, and processing. It all took place on a wood-fired stove, which created enough heat to chase everyone out of the house.

Outdoor Kitchens Still in Use Today

When I lived on a small island in the Caribbean, our tiny beach cottage had a kitchen on the porch. Why? So cooking a meal wouldn’t heat up the entire 400 sq. ft. house. Unlike summer kitchens of North America, this little work space was our main kitchen year-round rather than seasonally.

In the past, the food was often prepped in the kitchen, but it wasn’t stored there. Herbs would dry in the attic, flour and vegetables were kept in a cool cellar. You would walk all over the house to gather the ingredients for a meal.

When electricity started making its way into homes, the summer kitchen was abandoned.

However, these outdoor kitchens are starting to make a comeback because people want to get closer to their food supply. There is no better way to get closer to nature and the food we eat than having a summer or outdoor kitchen.

What do you need for an outdoor kitchen?

When planning your outdoor/summer kitchen, think about function, efficiency, and comfort. What do you need and what can come later?

An efficient summer kitchen space could be as simple as you want it to be or as elaborate. Oh and that pizza oven you want, is it necessary or is it a luxury?

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your Summer Kitchen:

  1. Do you want it to be seasonal or permanent?
  2. Does it need to be enclosed, partially enclosed, or open to the elements?
  3. Does it need shade?
  4. Do you need seating? A table?
  5. What will you need to store? Food? Spices? Cutting boards? Silverware? Plates & Bowls? Cookware?
  6. Is there a nearby herb or veggie garden?
  7. Do you need running water?
  8. What about a greywater catchment system?
  9. Is a compost pile nearby?
  10. What will you cook on?
  11. Do you need an oven? A Sun Oven? A dehydrator?
  12. Is the ground level where you want to put the kitchen?
  13. Do you need refrigeration?
  14. What will you do when it rains? When it’s windy? When it’s blistering hot?
  15. Who will be using the kitchen?
  16. Who will be in the kitchen, particularly at the same time?
  17. How do you spend your time in the kitchen? Cooking or baking? Entertaining? Dishes? 

Think triangular work space

The triangle is a great shape when designing an efficient kitchen workflow. No matter the location of the kitchen.

How do you work in the kitchen when you prepare a meal?

You take the food out of the fridge. Then it is taken either to the sink or the stove area, cleanup goes from the stove and prep areas to the sink, and leftovers get put in the fridge.

Have a plan before you create your outdoor kitchen. Take a good look at what will fit in the space that you’ve allowed for your summer kitchen. Two ways into and out of the space will help with flow.

Start with the Sink. That’s where you’re going to spend a lot of your time, cleaning, prepping, and doing dishes. You’ll also want a beautiful view while you’re doing your work, right?

In the Cooking Area, you’ll want to be able to socialize with family and friends.

You’ll probably want between 18 in. to 36 in. for a comfortable prep area. There’s nothing worse than not having enough prep area. Am I right?

Think about walkways and flow into and through your summer kitchen, too.

Set the kitchen up into 5 zones:

  • Food storage (fridge, cabinets, or pantry)
  • Dishes
  • Clean up (sink area)
  • Prep area
  • Cooking

Store items as close to their zone as possible. For example, knives, mixing bowls, cutting boards, and wooden spoons should be in the prep area. Cooking and baking pans should be in the cooking area.

Store your dishes close to the sink. Having a cabinet above the sink where your dishes dry and store all in one place is amazing.

outdoor-kitchen

Food preservation in your summer kitchen

When my grandmother canned her summer vegetables, outdoor kitchens were the norm, not a luxury. She’d set up her outdoor kitchen under a giant poplar with the chickens running all around the yard. If grandma did it, so can you!

Preserving your harvest is wonderful in the cold, winter months. It may take time and effort right now, but it is well worth it.

Life slows down a little bit, so you can enjoy family and friends.

There are three ways of preserving food that can be done in your summer kitchen: storage, canning, and drying.

The important thing is to start where you are. Check out this video for more tip.

Storage

A handful of vegetables can be stored, but only for a limited amount of time. Here is a great article about storing fruits and vegetables from the University of Missouri Extension Office.

You can store:

  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • beets
  • turnips
  • parsnips
  • carrots
  • leeks
  • radishes
  • horseradish
  • rutabagas
  • garlic
  • onions

Make sure veggies are firm. Remove any dirt, but do not wash the veg. Place the veggies in a box or bin. Air should circulate around the veggies. Slatted wooden boxes and wire baskets work great for this.

Canning

If you’re going to be canning, make sure you have all of your supplies handy.

  • Canning jars and lids
  • Water bath canner
  • Pressure canner
  • Funnels
  • Ladles
  • Pectin
  • Spices
  • Salts
  • Jar Lifter

Here’s a recipe for “Canned corn that’s sweet every time.”

Know which fruits and vegetables need to be pressure canned versus water-bath canned. The book, Stocking Up is invaluable for this purpose.

Drying

It’s super-easy to dry fruits and vegetables. You can even do it in a Sun Oven! Dried foods can be stored indefinitely, as long as they are kept dry.

You can dry:

  • root vegetables
  • beans of all kinds
  • cereal and grains
  • celery
  • herbs
  • peas
  • peppers
  • berries
  • fruits with high sugar and low moisture

Here is a great article with dehydrator recipes.

If you’ve ever thought of having a summer or outdoor kitchen, perhaps now is the time. Share your thoughts on how you would set it up. We’d love to hear from you. Leave your comments below!

 

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Heather Dakota


Contributor

Heather Dakota is the Managing Editor at "The Grow Network." She was in the wilds of publishing as an editor and creative manager for more than 20 years, while secretly harboring a desire to be closer to the land and living in a more sustainable way. Heather is an award-winning author, Master Gardener, herbalist, avid birdwatcher, hiker, and soon-to-be homesteader. Watch “The Grow Network” Blog for more on Heather’s adventures.


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