Outdoor cooking whether in Toronto or anywhere else is not a new concept. In fact there was a time when if you wanted anything cooked you had to do it outdoors else the smoke, grease and odours would make your abode unliveable. Most all cooking in Mesoamerica was done outdoors, same with ancient Egypt, India and most other cultures. The advent of the chimney in the 12th century however, had a profound effect on cooking habits and most grilling etc. moved indoors. It wasn’t until the discovery of the New World that Westerners were reintroduced to the pleasures of outdoor cooking for which the term outdoor kitchen was introduced.
The Outdoor Kitchen: From Hibachis to Haute Cuisine
In the 16th century Spanish colonial settlers in the West Indies adopted the native practice of roasting whole animals (chickens, sheep etc.) over an open fire. The natives had a word for this method of cooking that the Spanish transliterated as “barbacoa”. Both the practice and the word spread into what would become the southeastern US with both undergoing modifications until they became what we would recognize as the modern barbecue.
- Adoption: The barbecue became a favourite summer pastime of North Americans during the 18th century but the practice remained a labour intensive one. The invention of the charcoal briquette in the 19th century changed all that however, making the barbecue affordable and practical for most homeowners and spawning the invention of the mobile charcoal grille. The same period saw the introduction of the Japanese Teppanyaki grille into Western markets and its renaming as the ‘Hibachi’. Still the barbecue retained an ephemeral air in that it was a set up and take down affair.
- Evolution: During the 60s grille evolution continued apace with the introduction of portable propane grilles. These became fairly elaborate appliances; large, heavy and capable of cooking lots of meat in a hurry. As grilling became more practical some folks began to tinker with the idea of making the gas grille a permanent part of the backyard landscape. Briquette enthusiasts countered with permanent brick outdoor grilles. Patios were built or extended to accommodate the new cooking stations and the outdoor kitchen began to take shape.
- Arrival: Though these permanent grilles laid the foundation for the modern open air kitchen food, utensils, pots and pans, chairs and everything else still had to be trudged from the indoors to the outdoors and then back again every time you wanted to eat outside. In the 1990s this changed as the first outdoor-ready cabinets hit the market. From there it was a short step to outdoor refrigerators, running water, permanent lighting, weather resistant furniture and all the accoutrement we now associate with a great outdoor kitchen.
- Refinement: Today’s outdoor kitchens push the technological envelope as they reclaim the outdoor eating experience for the contemporary audience. In recent years plein air kitchens have become incredibly elaborate and in some cases (mostly in warmer climes to be sure) have overtaken the indoor kitchen as the primary eating environment. Today’s outdoor kitchens sport state-of-the-art LED lighting, flat screen TVs, retractable roofs, heated floors and full bars and are often part of a larger kitchen/swimming pool complex. And while burgers and hot dogs are still on the menu so is Sesame Ginger Salmon and Duck a l’Orange.
Yes, outdoor dining has come a long way since the days of the “barbacoa” and with the substantial increase in market value it can also provide a home the outdoor kitchen is not going away any time soon. Talk to the outdoor kitchen professionals at Toronto Custom Decks to find out more about outdoor kitchens and whether one would be a good fit for your home.