How to Build an Outdoor Kitchen
If you've got some basic skills and a couple of handy friends, you too can build a grill island like this one. Here's the lowdown
Kitchens are the undisputed heart of the home, where everyone gathers, mingles, and lingers during parties. But to achieve that kind of appeal outside means expanding your outdoor living space. To draw a crowd—and keep them entertained—requires a bit more than plopping down a table and a few plastic chairs.
With an outdoor kitchen you can prepare meals and be around your guests with minimal time spent running back inside for plates, beverages, or tongs. Although you could spend tens of thousands of dollars for a custom outdoor kitchen, a basic island is an efficient design that leaves out the complexity of curves and angles. Not only that, with an island guests can relax on one side while you're cooking on the other, so you feel as though you're part of the gathering.
Since durability is such a critical issue for an outdoor kitchen, stone veneer is a low-maintenance option that won't need painting or sealing. Real stone is heavy, expensive, and requires the experience of a mason. Cementitious cultured stone, such as the type used in this project from Landmark Stone, is easier to work with because it's lighter, cuts faster, and lasts just as long as the real thing—all while looking as natural as real stone.
Follow along as This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers shows you how to build an outdoor grill island by starting with a simple frame, covering it in faux stone, and then nestling a gas grill in the center to get the party started.
Overview to Building a Better Barbecue
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.