Overview

overview to build a better barbecue
Illustration: Gregory Nemec
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Overview

Building this open-air kitchen takes some time, but with the right planning you can do it in two weekends. As long as you get to the point of coating the frame and lath in a layer of mortar, you can essentially tarp over the top of it and take your time applying the finish decoration. Once you get the counters on it, you can go ahead and use it, working on the stone veneering over time.

The kitchen consists of a stainless-steel grill set into a 3-foot-long stone-veneered plywood base and flanked by two more 4-foot bases with cabinets below and 48 linear inches of countertop on each side—one with a working sink. The countertop - here it's concrete, but it can be any kind of stone—sits 38 inches from the ground, which is a comfortable height for both food prep and elbow propping. It rests on a gently sloped concrete slab to help prevent water from pooling around the bottom, but any structurally sound existing patio would work as a base.

The island's frame is made out of pressure-treated 2x4s and 3/4-inch plywood - an inexpensive and durable construction that's easier to work with than concrete block. The frame consists of three small, manageable boxes that are built separately and then screwed together to make one long island: one 24-inch-high, 37-inch-wide box in the center to support the grill and the shelf it sits on, plus one 36-inch-high, 48-inch-wide box on either side, with cabinets set into each. This layout allows you to scale the island's length to fit your patio or adjust it to incorporate a built-in bar with a 90-degree turn. Because the boxes are empty, they can accept steel doors, drawers, or other storage compartments or conceal a propane tank for a gas grill.

The outside of the island is veneered with cultured stone, which is lightweight and easy to put on with mortar. Use stones that complement your home's architecture or existing stonework - round fieldstones evoke a classic New England farm wall, while thin, horizontal stones have a more modern look. Arranging the stone in an aesthetically pleasing way is like doing a big jigsaw puzzle. Speed up the hunt for the perfectly sized stone by first unpacking and organizing all the pieces into piles of corners, shorts, longs, and rectangulars. This ensures you'll have on hand a random range of colors, mimicking real stone, and keeps you from rummaging through boxes and chipping the pieces.
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    Tools List

    • circular saw
      Circular Saw for cutting the framing lumber and plywood

    • drill
      Drill Driver

    • metal cutting snips
      Tin Snips for cutting the wire lath

    • hammer
      Hammer

    • staple gun
      Staple Gun

    • masonry hoe
      Mixing Trough and Masonry Hoe

    • flat finishing trowel
      Hawk and Finishing Trowel

    • notched trowel
      1/2-Inch Notched Trowel

    • mason's trowel
      Pointing Trowel

    • miter saw
      Miter Saw fitted with diamond blade

    • angle grinder
      Grinder fitted with diamond blade

    Shopping List

    1. Cultured stone to veneer the kitchen box. Available at home centers and stone yards. You will need a few boxes of corner pieces, as well as flat face pieces, sold by the square foot. Get about 10 percent more than you need to account for trims, cuts, and broken pieces.

    2. Pressure-treated 2x4s to build the frame for the box. You will need 15 to 20 10-foot pieces.

    3. 3/4-inch pressure-treated plywood to sheathe the frame. Get four 8-by-4-foot sheets.

    4. 2½-inch ceramic-coated deck screws to hold the frame together.

    5. 2-inch ceramic coated deck screws to attach the plywood to the frame.

    1¼-inch ceramic coated deck screws to build plywood boxes for the cabinets.

    6. Construction adhesive.7. Metal post standoffs to act as feet and raise the frame off the ground, preventing moisture from wicking up into the wood. You will need a total of 12.

    8. 15-pound builder's felt to provide a moisture barrier between the mortar and the wood.

    9. ½-inch staples

    10. Wire lath to create a base on which the mortar hangs.

    11. Stainless-steel roofing nails to attach the lath to the plywood.

    12. Type S mortar (or one labeled "for veneer stone") to affix the stone to the box. Get four or five 80-pound bags.

    13. Stainless-steel doors (optional) to finish cabinets. Make sure they come on a face frame.