When I made my homesteading wish list this year, I included this bullet point:

I have a makeshift butcher station that I use for my outdoor poultry processing.  I want to give it a more attractive, formal, outdoor kitchen kind of feel.  We also have an awesome cast iron tub that we use for pig scaldings and mushroom log soaking.  I’d like to include this in the outdoor kitchen as a vegetable washing station as well as using it for dunking mushroom logs.  This project will be a downtime project in the summer heat since the area where it will be located is partially shaded.

When I had my aesthetic freak out earlier this week, this “downtime project in the summer”got an upgrade. It will still be a while before I do any significant work as far as building, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to share the process of how a bullet on my wish list becomes a reality.

Here goes!

Step 1: Assess  Needs

As a homesteader, our outdoor kitchen needs aren’t quite the same as someone who wants to do a little grilling and make salad for friends. Our outdoor kitchen will act as a slaughter station for poultry, a butchering station for half pig carcasses, a large scale vegetable washing station for laundry baskets full of produce, a packing area for winter food stores, a dunking station for shiitake logs, and a canning facility for large quantities of tomatoes and pepper pastes and sauces. Down the road, we’d also like to use it as a teaching space and group activity space.

And, yes, it also needs to be a place where we can prepare food for and with friends and family. Oh, and we’d also like to build it with free-sourced and re-purposed materials and have it be aesthetically appealing and durable. All this is means it won’t be a project we rush into.

Step 2:  Make a Mock-Up

For most of my projects, I really like to “try things on” before I begin.  For example, when I am laying out an edible landscape, I’ll often use empty pots, buckets, and chairs as stand-ins for plants, shrubs, and trees. This helps me get a sense of size and scope and how thing fit together. If I am building a livestock shelter, I’ll lay out my materials in place, stacked against each other and try to visualize how it will all come together. Sometimes I make cardboard mock-ups with dimensions and parts to make sure I don’t overlook anything important. And I like to think and research a lot before I start building just in case I come across better ideas or good inspiration.  I frequently browse Pinterest and Houzz looking for visual cues to help guide my research.

I used to just throw things up without deep thought and rehearsal and the results were mixed.  But, over the past couple years, I’ve discovered that my intuition can make up for a lot of what I lack in skill as long as I don’t rush things. Even though planning is important, I also like to leave room for creativity. Site preparation, foundations, and framing are non-negotiable if you want a structure to last. But after those decisions are made, there’s lots of opportunity to do things unconventionally to add individuality.

The area that will likely be our kitchen has looked like a junk heap for a while. It’s one of the more embarrassing eye sores on our property at the moment.  And I’ve noticed the skeptical looks when I tell visitors that the sink and bathtub sitting in the dirt are going to be part of an awesome homestead kitchen some day. By making a mock-up, I not only kick started my design process, but I already feel less embarrassed about having “junk” lying around.  As a bonus, this also gives me a long lead time for tracking down materials.  I often find that just by sharing my dreams with others, resources magically turn up.

Scrap Kitchen

In the photo, you can see my stainless steel table, which was a necessary purchase for getting my poultry exemption license. The rusty thing next to it is half of an oil tank, folded and welded, to make it the perfect size and shape for scalding pigs. It’s heavy and hard to move, so it really needs to stay in this area for when we need it.

(Incidentally, that vat is one of those resources that just turned up. Our friend Ted brought it to us after we talked about our need for a scalding vessel for our first pig slaughter then Matt’s brother welded it into working order. And it works perfectly.)

The bathtub is obvious. The table next to it was a potting table my dad made me at our old house.  Here I have a potting shed with built in counter tops, so I use the table as a stand for my kill cone and hanging poultry for easy hand-plucking.  It has removable boards for easy cleaning, so I took out some of the boards and used it to give the sink a temporary home.  For now, I leaned a pallet against the table and held it in place with some cinder blocks and faux shelving to simulate what it might look like when built in.

Step 3: Brainstorm Before Planning

Now that I organized the area a bit more, here are my thoughts on the layout and what I’d like to see in the final version (this will likely change several times before I commit to a design):

  •  A friend gave us the cast iron sink and we bought the tub used for our first pig slaughter. They are not very attractive in this picture, but they almost match each other perfectly and are both in good shape. I imagine maybe using rail ties and rebar to elevate the bathtub to the same height as the sink will be so we don’t have to hunch over to wash vegetables.  The rail ties hold a lot of weight and are $12 each, so they’d be an inexpensive base for the tub.  They also withstand the elements well and are re-purposed.  By elevating the tub, we might also be able to use the water in the tub, with a rain barrel type drip irrigation system, to water the mushroom logs in our mushroom grotto right below this area.  Plus, the cream tub and dark brown creosote soaked rail ties would be a color match for the shiitake that grow on the logs we’ll be dunking in the tub to speed up fruiting.  Aesthetic bonus! (Note: Creosote can be toxic. The ties would not have contact with water or food products, they’d just be a base for the tub.) ShiitakeWe could also have a hard cover that would effectively convert the bath to a table when not in use. And there would also be a mesh basket that fit the entire tub that I could spread vegetables in to hose them off.  The used vegetable wash water would be what we use for irrigation and dunking of the logs or for watering plants in that area when needed (no waste!).
  • The potting table base might actually work as a real home for the sink.  My dad built it with landscaping timbers, pressure treated wood, and lag bolts, so it is pretty sold. It would need some paint and instead of boards it might be nice to make a cast concrete top or find some second hand counter top that will hold up well outside. The storage underneath the sink should be enclosed so we don’t have to look at the propane tanks we use for scalding. I might also want a couple shelves to use to store some of my butchering equipment.
  • As for the kill cone and defeathering hooks I mentioned, I’d like to build a separate stand for those activities a few feet from the rest of the kitchen surfaces. I normally put a straw bale underneath the kill cone to catch the blood from the birds. And I know from experience that occasionally there are fecal bursts that shoot out of the top of the kill cone at times. Not pleasant to think about, but important to know when planning an outdoor kitchen for use as a butchering station. Down the road, instead of buying straw bales for composting, I could use a tote or large tub filled with leaves and loose straw from onsite that could sit under the cone and the defeathering hooks. I might also want a fan to blow directly over the kill stand to cut down on fly activity while processing on hot days.
  • The oil drum turned scalding vessel hiding in the corner between the tub and the stainless steel table might be used for back up mushroom log soaking, but for the most part it just needs to be hidden when not in use.  I am imaging it will slide under some sort of counter area for most of the year that could also double as work space for farmer’s market preparation activities.
  • The stainless steel table needs be free to move so that I can follow the shade if I am processing on hot days. So, it might either be nested some how to make it seem cohesive with the rest of the outdoor kitchen when not in use or maybe it’ll just stand alone as it does here in the photo.
  • I also use a large marine cooler when processing poultry.  I’d like to store it in this area if possible under some kind of protection.  Maybe that could be worked in with nesting the stainless steel table if that idea works out.
  • I’d like to have a few nooks for storing fire wood for the nearby cob pizza oven.  Creating sheltered wood storage at both end of the L-shaped kitchen area would help make the space feel built in while providing a practical solution for wood storage.  The one concern is that the nearby mushrooms might self-inoculate our firewood, so I need to do some research on that. I am guessing it wouldn’t be an issue if the wood is dry when we stack it and we rotate through it regularly.
  • The other question is whether I will just use hoses for plumbing (like I do now) and make this a warm season/pig slaughter only kitchen or if it’s worthwhile to set up some kind of more official plumbing system. Once this is more practical work area than it is now, I suspect we’ll use it a ton. So hoses would be running across the yard the better part of the year.  And although Matt’s doesn’t have my aesthetic hang-ups, he doesn’t love seeing hoses lying around.  Real plumbing would be hard, but a refillable cistern as an alternate to hoses might be a possibility. I need to see figure out my gallon usage to see if this is realistic.

If you have any thoughts on this, please feel free to sound in. This is my first time planning an outdoor homestead kitchen, so I am sure there’s tons of stuff I haven’t thought of yet.  I’ll keep you posted as the project progresses.