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The Savanna Kitchen

Posted by Mike Laing on

Growing up in Africa, I have always loved the outdoors and cooking has always fascinated me, particularly cooking over fire. I guess that I inherited a passion for food from my late grandmother, she was a butcher, a baker and an amazing cook.

What is a BBQ? For me, a BBQ (from now on called a “Braai”) is about the whole experience for everyone involved, not only the one doing the cooking. It is so much more than a name given to a means of cooking food outside, whether that’s a Braai, BBQ, Asado, Parilla or Barbacoa to name a few - it’s a lifestyle!

After all, why should we only cook great food indoors on gas/electric stoves or in fancy ovens? Why should it only be a ‘once in a while’ thing and only when the weather is good?

Granted, the weather here in the UK is not always what would be considered ideal “braai weather” but that should not stop us. My greatest braai memory in the UK was a Christmas visit from my parents and we decided to roast the turkey and potatoes on the Weber. I caught my Dad with a pink Tinkerbell scarf and beanie he had borrowed from my daughter, diligently tending to the braai in the freezing cold. To me, that summed up the die-hard braai attitude and braai lifestyle that I know is shared by so many around the world, and I think that is what planted the seed for the outdoor kitchen...

Fast forward 16 years and I finally got the opportunity (thanks to UK National Lockdown #1) to start the build of my outdoor kitchen named “The Savanna Kitchen” after our daughter Savanna who was named after a particular South African cider. Let’s just say, my father in-law called her “Lite” for the first few years of her life.

I had always envisaged a brick braai alongside a woodfired oven with a preparation area and a bar counter for people to sit at while the braai or oven (or both) was on the go. This vision was all still in my head when I was out in the garden one Saturday in May 2020 and I just started digging the outline of where I would build the base for the braai and woodfired oven and from there it just snowballed.

Once I had built the base, I was still undecided on whether I would buy a pre-made oven or build one from scratch. Well, when I saw the weight of the ovens and that they would be delivered curb side, there was no way I was going to get 900+ Kilos into the back of our property. So, build it I must!

That is how it all began...

Recently, Firemasters UK sat down with Guy (and his dog Shaka - named after the famous Zulu chief) and we had a chat about how he constructed The Savanna Kitchen from scratch.

Hey Guy, thanks so much for inviting us to be a part of your journey these past few months. I remember when we first met, you came to pick up 10 bags of Kameeldoring braai wood in your Land Rover Defender. We were still operating out of our garage at home at that stage! Lockdown #1 had just come to an end, and you invited us to come over for a braai and check out your new home-made pizza oven. We know you are not a builder by trade; walk us through the challenges and joys of building your own outdoor kitchen. How difficult was it on a scale of 1-10?

Thanks Mike, it has been great having you follow the journey. It was not as difficult as I anticipated to be honest, so I’d say about a 3/10 (with 1 being easiest). The actual building was not the problem, it was me. I have a habit of making things more difficult than they need to be. My favourite aspect was building the pizza oven. It was great fun and frustrating at the same time, but seeing it finished and working was worth it. The most difficult aspect of the construction process was the cutting of each and every brick for the pizza oven, (oh and working with 8 fingers and 1 thumb after putting the angle grinder through my right thumb – not my finest achievement)!

I remember seeing “The Savanna Kitchen” for the first time back when your garden was still a construction site and the outdoor kitchen itself not much more than a braai shack, but oh man, did it have potential! Talk us through the construction process of the outdoor kitchen.

Step one:

I started digging the foundation for the braai and pizza oven, then built the bases and put the lintels in. The foundation was around 12 inches deep. I then used cement blocks and reinforced concrete lintels for the base.

Step two:

I ordered the components for the pizza oven according to the dimensions I had built the base. Whilst waiting for the pizza oven components, I started building the rest of the braai. Once components for the oven arrived, I laid out the fire tiles for the base and marked those that needed cutting.

Step three:

I made a jig to build the dome and then started the first layer of bricks (I stood these on end to give a little more height in the oven) and once I reached the correct level, I started the arch. Once the dome was completed, I covered it in a fire blanket (for insulation) and secured with chicken wire. Then plastered with refractory plaster, a mix of vermiculite and cement (I received a premixed bag with the oven components). I then had 3 - 4 small “curing fires” a day or so apart before the first main fire was lit.

Step four:

Now that the oven and braai was built, I started on the patio. First, I laid out the perimeter using railway sleepers and filled and compacted hardcore topped with sharp sand. Then laid the stone slabs in mortar and painted with a resin bond. Then commenced with the shelter over the oven and braai (4” x 4” posts with the same for the cross bars). The roof was then added and consisted of 1/2” exterior ply sheets covered in a torch on felt.

Step five:

I cracked open a couple of beers and enjoyed a braai and some sunshine!

Did you need to get any certifications or engineers approval to start building?

I did speak to the council about what I was planning on doing, and they advised that it falls under permitted development, but nothing else really. I made sure the braai area and the oven were no closer than 1m from the boundary.

I recall during the winter that has just passed we had a bit of snow in Kent, but that didn’t stop you from using your outdoor kitchen. Describe the features you have installed to allow for year-round usage?

Fire, of course! Seriously though, the picture below was a temporary option to stop the weather soaking the inside of the kitchen before we had finished, but it gave us the idea of canvas sides that can be rolled down when required (still need to order these or make them myself).

Apart from a bit of free labour from your kids, you have said that you built this entire structure on your own. If that is the case, is it possible for anybody to build something like this at home with no external contractors?

Most definitely. The external help I had was from a good friend of mine Jamie, who is pretty handy with all thing’s timber, he helped with the framing and boarding of The Savanna Kitchen. I was fortunate in that I could pay him with food from the pizza oven. I am really looking forward to having them over and sharing the end result with them.

I’m sure there are a few of our fellow Firemasters reading this article who would like to know roughly how much a project like this set you back? Can you give us an indication of whether it cost an arm and a leg?

Again, my habit of making things more difficult than they should have been comes into play, so I will discount that and give an idea of what it should have cost me. The standard bricks and cement blocks and lintel’s +- £200. Then I bought the pizza oven as a kit which included the arch bricks; the fire bricks; the fire tiles for the base; the fire board base and the glass fibre fire blanket insulation. The kit also included a special fire brick adhesive and a refractory cement mix to plaster the oven +- £650 delivered.

What is your best dish to come out of your pizza oven to date?

I think the best one so far has to be the rolled beef and venison fillet, stuffed with Spinach, sweet pepper, caramelised shallots and feta cooked in the oven fired with Firemasters’ Kameeldoring hardwood.

What is your best dish to come off your braai grill to date?

Not sure it’s the best, but it was an interesting one…. Venison fillet and seasoned chips and veg over Kameeldoring and Sekelbos mixed wood fire.

Any final words of advice or tips for our fellow Firemasters out there who may be thinking of building their own outdoor kitchen?

If you can picture it, you can build it. Keep it as simple as possible and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. The Savanna Kitchen has evolved into something that suits me, I had to live with it for a while before I made changes and enhancements, and there are still more to come, small but important additions on the inside. Watch this space!

If you are interested in seeing the different stages of the build from start to current state (still not 100% finished yet) then head over to Guy’s Instagram page @thesavannakitchen

For prices and details on pizza oven kits check out PotteryPro UK on eBay.

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