Cooking is not just for indoors. Just take a sniff during barbecue season! The same goes for children’s play. Your child will love pretending to prepare meals in the backyard as well as the house. We’ve got the lowdown on the best outdoor play kitchens to help your little ones get creative in the kitchen and outside of the playroom.
Just like inside, your children will benefit from opportunities to role play. They develop speaking and listening skills and explore the world by copying adults. When they take this outside, their exploration can get bigger, bolder and noisier. Which is a good thing, if not for your ears!
They can start to incorporate natural elements like grass, twigs, stones and flowers into their games. This creates a sensory experience which is especially good for the development of babies and toddlers. Older children will start to notice seasonal changes and add to their scientific knowledge.
Being outdoors also has the added benefit of giving your child a decent dose of vitamin D and fresh air. Two very important components of a healthy, happy childhood.
Can I really justify the use of space for an outdoor play kitchen?
The toys we recommend are a variety of sizes, so there should be something to fit every outside space. Weigh up the educational and entertainment benefits against whatever else you were thinking of using the space for.
Bear in mind also that your children will end up using the toy kitchen for far more than just cooking. It may become a shop or a potion laboratory. Dolls will turn up to have a bath in the sink. Your child’s imagination will ensure the kitchen works hard to earn its place.
When your children grow out of, or move on from playing in their toy kitchen it can continue its life elsewhere. Pass it on to another family and it can help other children play. This is good for the environment as well as the space in your backyard.
What materials should I look out for in an outdoor play kitchen?
Most wooden toy kitchens designed for indoor use are made – at least partly – from MDF. This is fine for the house, but won’t work for a toy that lives outside. MDF absorbs water so your kitchen will start to warp and split after the first rainfall.
Solid wood is good, but needs to be treated to be durable in all weathers. Plastic is great too, as it is waterproof and hardwearing. Be aware that brightly coloured models will end up fading in the sun. You may prefer the look of one or the other: that comes down to individual choice.
Some manufacturers mention that their ‘outdoor’ kitchens should be brought outside to play. All models will obviously last in tip-top condition longer if they are only brought out to the backyard while they are being played with. You could also consider storing them in a garage or outbuilding or investing in a waterproof cover.
Say no to electronics if you are keeping your kitchen outside year-round. The beeping microwave and light up burner look cute in the playroom but won’t last a minute once they get damp. If you really want this feature, make sure you have a place to keep it indoors or under cover when it is not being used.
Could I make a kitchen myself?
There are a few options if you’d like to DIY your own outdoor play kitchen. If you are a master woodworker of course you can design and make one from scratch. Wooden pallets are also useful to use as building blocks to stack, secure and fashion your own model.
If you have a few skills you can take a kitchen intended for indoor use and treat the wood with varnish so that it weathers better. You could also buy an outdoor table or shelving unit and use household paint to make it look like a kitchen. Paint on burners, an oven door and write ‘My Kitchen’ on it and you’re set.
If that’s not in your wheelhouse, you’ll be better off purchasing a ready-made kitchen. Read on for our recommendations for the best outdoor play kitchens.
Theo Klein Weber Kettle Barbecue Toy
Let’s kick off with the backyard barbecue. This is a mini version of the classic Weber kettle that is popular with adult grillers. Your children may be familiar with it already, if that’s the one you use, enabling them to copy mom or dad right down to the smallest detail.
It comes with plastic food and utensils and other parents say it takes only 5 minutes to set up out of the box. They also report that it is quite light, so not ideal for barbecuing during high winds and might need securing or weighing down if your children are less than gentle when they play.
It’s just under 24 inches high, including the lid, so is best suited to toddlers unless your older child is short or plays sitting down.
The charcoal lights up, but only when you touch it with the little lighter, which is such a cute idea. Because of this electronic element, this is one of those toys that you need to keep indoors and wheel out when it’s sunny. Just like your real barbecue!
Little Tikes Cook 'n Play Outdoor BBQ
This outdoor kitchen is for the more serious mini-griller. It has a dual grill with lid and side burner as well as a sink and pizza oven. The knobs make a clicking sound when turned but there are no batteries, making it safe to leave outside. The manufacturers say it can be ‘taken outside’, but there’s no reason you couldn’t leave it there. It just means it will probably face quicker and the included stickers might peel in wet weather.
The stated age range is 24 months – 10 years but with the grill surface 19 inches from the ground you will find children at the top of that range will have to stoop to cook. The neat pass-through area means that – if you position this away from a wall – the grill can become a food truck, restaurant or takeout joint. This can fire up your child’s imagination and play with it more. In this way, you get better value from the toy.
This kitchen requires a drill to assemble, so only choose this if you are comfortable with using one. It comes with 10 accessories but that does not include a pizza for the oven. You can always buy one separately. How about this?
Step2 All Around Playtime Patio with Canopy Playhouse
This playhouse has a barbecue grill, sink and serving shelf built into it. There is also a sand and water tray. Your child can incorporate these different materials into their cooking play, adding a sensory element. You will really see their creativity shine. It also means you don’t need to buy a separate kitchen, playhouse and sand pit. Your child gets all of those in one unit.
The durable market-style canopy means your children can play out in all weathers. In hot sun, it is particularly useful to have shade without the stuffiness of a playhouse with four walls. This play kitchen can be kept outdoors but other parents recommend removing the canopy in high winds, just in case.
The sink next to the barbecue does not have the useful drainage holes that the water tray does, making it slightly awkward to empty and keep clean. However, as it requires a drill to assemble, you could try adding your own drainage hole if you are a confident tool user.
Your children will create a range of role play scenarios with this toy, as the open structure leads to open-ended play. It is also big enough to contain more than one child at a time. This means they can improve their social skills and hopefully will reduce sibling arguments!
The stone and light green colours are pretty neutral and should blend in with most backyards. The playhouse comes with the accessories seen in the picture, so you’re good to go as soon as it is assembled.
Camden Rose Simple Hearth
This kitchen is beautiful. If you are picky about how your backyard looks, this could be the right play kitchen for you. With an oven, burners, sink, cupboard and shelves, this has everything your budding chef needs.
According to the manufacturers, this isn’t designed for outside use, but it would be perfect for a playhouse or under a canopy shelter. If you’re good at woodwork, you could retreat the wood to help it last. It is already treated with beeswax polish on top of the quality workmanship.
If you’re not a keen carpenter, you will be pleased to hear that this ships nearly fully assembled. You just need a screwdriver to add the knobs. The cutting board pulls out of the side and the metal sink is removable so your children can empty it out once they’re done with the dishes.
Other parents have come up with a good hack for this kitchen set. It is a little short, so they added caster wheels so it is not only taller, but moveable.
TP Toys Muddy Maker Mud Kitchen
This practical ‘mud kitchen’ is made from FSC certified solid wood. This makes is sustainable as well as durable. It’s designed specifically for outdoor use so you can rest assured it will last in your backyard. The sturdy plastic sink is removable, so you can empty it easily. There is a hanging rail and shelves, so you have plenty of room to store pans and utensils.
The chalkboard signs are perfect for your child to name their restaurant or put up a menu. Younger children benefit from writing on a vertical surface, so it’s great for early mark-making too. The counter top is also painted with black chalkboard paint so you can add the burner shapes yourself. A stencil is provided to help you.
The counter is 22 inches from the ground so it should suit a variety of ages. The simple structure allows for open-ended play; your children just need to add their imagination.
Be aware, the measurements in the instructions are metric, so keep a phone handy to convert if you’re not used to this.
Why not add some accessories that can withstand the weather, too?
When you have chosen your eco-friendly kitchen playset, why not add some accessories? Look out for the same features as in the kitchen. They need to be made of sustainable materials, durable and use non-toxic paint.
Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House! Deluxe Stainless Steel Pots & Pans Play Set
This pan kit is made from stainless steel.
KidKraft 27pc Cookware Set
This sweet pastel crockery lets your child serve with style
KidKraft Tasty Treats Play Food Set
This mega set of plastic food boasts 115 pieces!