Our weather is, to be fair, a little on the unpredictable side. But these days, we've embraced the idea of alfresco and we're giving it a jolly good go, even in the face of unruly gusts of wind. So if you're planning an outdoor dining experience this summer, formal or relaxed, simple or ambitious, what are the must-have accessories that will make it a meal to remember?

Let's Get Cooking

Frankly, the market is awash with a bewilderment of barbecues, cookers, grills and ovens that can be used for open-air cooking. Some are cheap as chips, while purchasing others may require a second mortgage. Flashy models with lots of functions might be appealing, but it's worth thinking about a couple of things before investing: how often will you (realistically) use it, and will it actually make your food taste better?

If you're planning an informal family barbecue for just a few mouths, disposable foil trays, portable buckets and fold-up charcoal models will do the job nicely. For larger scale or more frequent use, gas barbecues come in a wide range of sizes and let you grill over variable temperatures, as well as keeping cooked food warm. Combination smokers and charcoal barbecues are a flexible option: you can hot- and cold-smoke as well as grilling; ceramic styles keep food moist and as they're enclosed they can be used in any weather. For barbecue aficionados who fancy the genuine pit-cue experience, gas smokers will slow-cook meat, imparting down-home Deep-South smoky, caramelised tenderness. And outdoor ovens can be portable or built-in, offering the ambitious the ability to make way more than just pizza.

Check It Out...

The Portable Bucket BBQ, £34 from Hot Smoked, is a galvanized bucket with a charcoal grate and grill bars. It comes complete with lumpwood charcoal, firelighter sticks, storm matches and oak smoking chips that add an extra tang of flavour.

Go really old school with an Open Fire Cooking Tripod, available from £13.99 at Waitrose Garden. These stands come in three heights and let you heat pans and griddles over an open fire, without the base coming into direct contact with the heat.

Choose a Big Green Egg for ultimate outdoor versatility. Among its talents are slow cooking, smoking, searing and baking, all done inside the Egg's ceramic shell. Moisture retention and precise temperature control make this a great choice for outdoor cooks with big ideas. Prices vary. There are five Devon outlets: Plympton, Ashburton, Ivybridge, Paignton and Exeter.

The Tennessee Gas Smoker looks industrial and it means business. Gas fueling means you can cook over long periods without the need to top up charcoal. Its large smoke cabinet is suitable for substantial joints of meat and whole fish. Results are juicy, tender barbecue with an intensely smoky flavour. £249.99. There are two Devon outlets: Teignmouth and Ipplepen.

If it's quick and simple you're looking for, opt for the Korpön portable charcoal barbecue, £16, from Ikea. It folds up for easy transport and its grill tray is designed to stop smaller food from falling through into the fire.

The innovative design of Ikea's Korpön grill means your fish will never again fall into the fire

Service With A Smile

Whether you're cooking outdoors or eating an indoor-cooked meal in the garden, having an efficient kit of serving gadgets will come in useful. You don't, after all, have all your kitchen equipment to hand. Even getting your food off the grill and onto the plates can be trickier than it sounds, as anyone who's ever lost their salmon into the fire or burnt their fingers decanting sausages will attest. Long tongs, carving forks and robust meat flippers mean you can get the food from A to B without incident. And when you want to eat elegantly but fear for your indoor crockery, there are lots of durable options that knock a paper plate into a cocked hat.

Check It Out...

Pizzas and breads made over the barbecue or in an outdoor oven have a unique smoky crispiness that makes them unbeatable. They also reach temperatures previously unknown to man, so save your fingers with a Weber pizza paddle. £29.99.

Keep your salads and sides safe from insect molestation under a mesh Daisy Food Cover from Eddingtons. £9.90, available from Amazon.

With the best will in the world, if you're cooking and eating outdoors, spills and splashes are going to happen, and chances are they'll be hot. A leather barbecue apron, £120 from Chefslocker, will save your clothes, and you'll look the part, too.

'Pulled' meat is a foodie phenomenon that's not going away any time soon. Slow-cooked joints make a spectacular centrepiece for an outdoor feast. Make a performance out of serving it with a pair of Meat Shredding Claws. £15, available from Oxo.

Make the pulling of your pulled pork joint simple with Oxo's Meat Shredding Claws

Tuck In

Your idea of outdoor-eating bliss might involve sitting on the grass, with butter from your grilled corn dripping off your elbow. Or maybe you like a more refined experience with linens and glassware. Whatever your preference, some of the gear you have in your kitchen will no doubt pass muster, but there's plenty of purpose-made outdoor kit that will make things easier and more pleasurable.

Check It Out...

Take the jeopardy out of outdoor drinks by using enamel instead of glass. A tall, three-pint jug and durable tumblers from Falcon are perfect for serving chilled drinks and add a dash of retro cool to any outdoor feast. Jug £29.50 and tumblers £6 each.

With more than a suggestion of continental chic, Aubin stemless wine glasses from Habitat add stability while lending a sense of decadence to a picnic or elegance to an outdoor supper. £12 for a set of four.

Even on the warmest of days, when evening falls a chill often follows. Don't let it chase you indoors, wrap up instead in a Finnish-made Aino blanket from the Devon Beach Company in Salcombe while you sit back and enjoy a digestif. £85.

When eating alfresco gets a bit too fresh, fend off chills with the Aino blanket from The Devon Beach Company

Clare Hunt

Published 23 April 2018

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