Most people only cook outside when they are camping or using their grill. I live in a 350-square-foot tiny house on my 10-acre homestead. I built it myself in order to live a cash-only lifestyle. I have cooked exclusively outside for three years (except for the microwave). Please allow me to share my thoughts on both the Hows and Whys of outdoor cooking 2-3 meals a day, 365 days a year.
Allow me to preface this article by saying that I’m not cooking for a big family and I don’t have the ability to bake, except in a dutch oven. Adjustments would need to be made for such things.
Why Cook Outside 365 Days a Year?
Cooking takes a lot of space. I live in 350 square feet. It just made sense to do my cooking outside. That leaves the maximum inside space for living.
Cooking makes lots of smells, smoke, heat, and steam. Since I live in East Texas—where we have too much heat and humidity to begin with—it just made sense to stop adding more heat and steam inside the house. It lowers my summer cooling bills, too. This is particularly true when I spend all day using my canner to make canned meat, vegetables, or jams.
Since I built my own place and wanted to keep the construction simple, I put my cooking surfaces outside and I run them on a 5-gallon propane tank. I didn’t have to run a 240-volt electricity line with special plugs to an electric range, nor did I have to run a metal pipe to a big, outside propane tank to provide propane to a stove.
Finally, it’s fun and natural to experience the outdoors every single day. I get to enjoy the wide-open views, feel the breeze in my face, smell the flowers, and hear the goats in the field. It is very easy, even on a homestead, to spend too much time inside. Between television, the internet, and the other inside distractions, it’s possible to simply hide from nature for days or even weeks on end.
As I write this article, we are experiencing the worst Texas Winter storm in 50 years. The roads are closed, the town is shut down due to no electricity, last night’s temperature hovered just above zero, and 6 inches of snow and ice cover everything. This is unprecedented in my 52 years in East Texas. So, this morning I made bacon and pancakes outside with a cup of hot coffee and enjoyed the crazy weather. I’ve cooked outside in tropical storms, droughts, heatwaves, and now, crazy snowstorms. It’s great fun!
The secrets to cooking outside 365 days a year are simple. If they are followed, anyone can cook outside year-round. Even if you don’t NEED to cook outside 365 days a year, wouldn’t it be great to have the daily option of doing so? It’s not expensive. It’s super fun. And it is incredibly “homesteady.” Here are my tips for cooking outside 365 days a year, based on 3 years of experience.
Set Up a Proper Outdoor Cooking Space
First and foremost, you need a proper space to cook. Squatting over a campfire is not very conducive to comfort or efficiency. We have a very nice campfire cooking system, but that’s just for cookouts with friends. Day to day, I cook on a stove or in a wok in a well-protected space.
You need a covered area to keep the rain off your head; that just makes sense. You need a deck or patio floor to keep the mud and dirt off your shoes; this is also simple logic. You also need a windbreak that will keep the wind from taking your heat away or blowing away your materials.
I set up my cooking space on the south side of my tiny house. It made sense because my front door faces south. This is why I can comfortably cook outside in the worst February winter storm on record. I’m blocked from all the cold air from the north and I also have a small wall that breaks the wind from the east.
With a wooden deck below, a tin roof above, my tiny house to the north, and a windbreak to the east I have a nice, comfortable area to set up my cooktop and supporting structures.
Get a Propane Cooktop
If I had to deal with charcoal or wood, on an open fire or in a grill, there’s no way I would want to cook outdoors every single day. Open fires are for campouts, not for everyday life. It’s too easy to build an outside cooking area with propane to not do it.
Recreational vehicles have tiny stoves (with ovens) that run on propane. RV suppliers sell these, and cooktops, that run on propane. I bought mine from Camping World for about $120. It has two burners and is the perfect size for what I’m trying to accomplish.
I purchased a Dometic Drop-In Cooktop. You can order one from Camping World for $129 (as of Feb 2021). I have used mine for years. It produces tons of heat, is easy to use, and has never caused me an ounce of trouble.
I picked up a used roll-away wood top counter from Facebook Marketplace for $25. Then I cut the top and inserted my RV-style cooktop. I have cabinets underneath for storing pots and pans and utensils. It’s the perfect working height. I could have just as easily made something out of 2×4’s and plywood, but it was faster, cheaper, and easier to just modify something else.
If I had a high-quality propane grill with a side burner or two I could use that. But I find that all the space used for the big smoking/BBQ box is just in the way. I decided to simply buy a cooktop.
I also purchased a high BTU burner to use with my wok. This is completely optional and entirely unnecessary. But I find a really high BTU burner very useful. First, as I just said I like to cook in a wok. Woks are made to cook food very quickly to make crisp vegetables and seared savory meats. People in Asia use woks exclusively to cook everything under the sun. I love mine.
I also use the high BTU burner to quickly boil water and to make canned goods. My burner puts out about 250,000 BTUs of heat. That’s enough to get a large pot of water boiling in about 4 minutes.
Wok cooking is an entire article unto itself, but I highly recommend it. If you do it then you should buy a good book on wok cooking before you buy the wok. The book will tell you what kind of wok to buy. I recommend The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young and Alan Richardon. Spoiler: the wok to buy is one made from carbon steel without any coating on it. A good wok is just like a good cast iron pot. It will get a slick patina from proper seasoning and it will last a lifetime.
Store the Right Things Outside
Just like any kitchen, it’s good to have things at hand when you are cooking. These are pots, pans, bowls, plates, and whatnot. Add some utensils and you’re probably done. I live in a high-humidity area so I don’t store any dry spices or salt outside. They tend to absorb moisture from the air and get all clumpy. I do keep peanut oil, olive oil, and vinegar-based seasonings outside. They won’t spoil.
If someone were being really fancy, and perhaps had a child who just finished college, then they might add a mini-fridge to the outside cooking area. I don’t have one, but my refrigerator is literally 7 feet from my front door—because I live in a tiny house. So, trips to the fridge aren’t a problem for me.
A fancy person could also install a sink outside for easy clean-up, but don’t make it expensive. That’s not very “homesteady.”
What My Outdoor Cooking Space Cost
I spent $120 on my cooktop, $30 for the cabinet base, and $109 for my 250,000 BTU outside wok burner (completely optional). Add a propane tank with the proper hoses for less than $80 total and I made my outside cooking space for about $340.
I did build a shelf or two from some wood I had laying around, but that didn’t really cost anything. Someone with some money might also add some screening for bugs. I didn’t do that.
Downsides of Cooking Outside 356 Days a Year
The biggest downside to cooking outside is the bugs, mostly flies. It’s not a big deal, but since my cooking space is right outside my door, the odd fly or two tends to follow me into my house when I’m cooking. We also have mosquitoes in East Texas, but they don’t seem to bother me too much when I am cooking. I’m not hanging outside the whole time food is cooking. I tend to do a lot of in-and-out when I’m cooking.
Depending on your nature, the weather can be a downside. I don’t mind heat or cold or wind or moisture. I like being part of my surroundings. A more sensitive person might prefer to stay where life is 72 degrees and dry all year round… indoors.
If you have a tendency to want to cook pancakes in your bathrobe, then cooking outside might be a bit awkward for your neighbors. I live in the country on a dirt road. You can see my cooktop from the dirt road, but it’s not right on the dirt road. I only have 2 neighbors who live past me.
Do I cook pancakes in my bathrobe? Absolutely! My attitude is, “Don’t look if you don’t want to see something.” But I’m a bit of an oddball. If you feel like you have to get dressed to step on your front or back porch then that could be a downside to cooking outside 365 days a year.
My Overall Impression of Cooking Outside 365 Days a Year
Right now I am building a new house that will be 640 square feet. It will have a proper kitchen area with cabinets and countertops like a real human house. At this point, I have no intention of bringing my cooktop inside. I will simply make the new porch more screened-in. I have a dog door because I train dogs, so it just makes sense to do more to keep the flies out.
All of the reasons I outlined at the beginning of this article still apply to me. I don’t have any need for a proper stove, nor do I want to spend $400 – 600 buying one. I can use that countertop space for other things. I still don’t want heat, smells, smoke, and steam in my house. I still want to keep my construction as simple as possible. And I still love being in nature.
My new house is way deeper into my property, away from the dirt road and the front porch will face east towards the woods. That means when I cook breakfast, the robe will soon be optional. It’s fun to be a weirdo!
If I were to make some cooking change in the future, it would be to add a second cooktop indoors with a vent hood, in case I wanted to cook inside. But I would not take away my outside cooking area for anything. I’m so used to cooking outside I don’t know how I would stop. Putting a cooktop inside at this point would probably be a waste of money.
With my outside cooking space, I can make a big, smoky, seared steak without causing a problem inside. I can cook fish without any smell in my house. I can spend all day with a rocking, steaming, noisy, canning pot going outside while living in peace and comfort inside. With my wok, I can “Wok-Chi” some fantastic Asian dishes in a flash without smoking up my house. There’s no way I’m giving that up.