What do you need for an outdoor BBQ or kitchen?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of making one, you’ll first want to get an idea of what you want to use your outdoor BBQ/kitchen for.
Grills and other cooking sets, outdoor seating, counter space, and sometimes even a bar area are common features of an outdoor kitchen. You may, or may not, want all of these things too, and rest assured you can easily make an outdoor kitchen on a budget by coming up with creative solutions.
Such a decision is completely up to you and will depend entirely on your wants and needs.
If you aren’t too picky about what you put in your space, you can avoid a lot of expensive items, and you can always set it up so that you can improve it later.
That being said, for a fixed BBQ/kitchen, there is one thing you cannot really avoid one particular expense – preparing the ground under the thing. The foundation on which your outdoor kitchen is built may be one of the most expensive parts.
Many people choose stone, concrete, or slate, which are all types of masonry, to give their outdoor kitchen a strong base, but you can choose other options too. You can also build a ground-level or floating deck if you want it to stand out more.
This can be quite laborious, so you may want to outsource the job to a professional builder. While this is an added expense, you’ll know the work has been done properly – so long as they are experienced. If you go down this route, like any building project, ensure you get several quotes from recommended and licensed contractors.
When you add up the cost of the materials, foundation, and leveling that needs to be done to make sure your outdoor kitchen has a solid base, decks are usually the most expensive option. If you choose a stone or slate foundation that sits on the ground, you may be able to save money and install it yourself, as long as the ground is mostly level.
How do you make an outdoor BBQ island?
1. Measure twice, cut once!
The first step is to measure up the actual footprint or base for the build. To do this effectively, you’ll need to have an idea of the grill/BBQ you intend to use, so it is usually a good idea to source that first – unless you already have one, of course.
So, measure the grill’s width and depth, making sure to include any parts (like gas lines) that stick out of the back, where applicable. Be as accurate as possible, and roundup decimals to the nearest 1/2-inch (roughly 1.27-1.5 cm).
These measurements will be used to size up the gap that is needed to fit your outdoor kitchen/BBQ station. Giving yourself slightly more room than is needed will give you some margin of error when building the piece. It will also ensure the grill/BBQ actually fits!
With that done, measure the height from the ground to the top of the lid and take 2 inches (about 5 cm) off the measurement. This will be the final height of the counter and give you a bit of a lip above the grill/BBQ. With that done, figure out how wide and deep the island will be as a whole.
A good rule of thumb is to make the island three times the width of the grill, but this isn’t written in stone. However, this will make sure that each side of the grill has the same amount of counter space.
For the depth, a good idea is to add about 6 and 1/2 inches (16.5 cm) to the depth of the grill too. Again this is just a guide value but gives you some idea of the dimensions you’ll usually want.
2. Now build the frame for the island
Use the total width, depth, and grill opening sizes you’ve made, you can now begin to build the U-shaped top and base for the island. You can use whatever building material you want, but pressure-treated 2×4 studs and wood screws are a good choice.
If you have gone for wood, for the vertical corners, use pocket screws or face-driven wood screws to connect two pieces of pressure-treated wood. To figure out the length of the verticals, take the height of the countertop and subtract 3.75 inches (9.5 cm) plus the thickness of the countertop, which is usually between 1 inch (2.54cm) and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) to get the height of the frame/legs to support the countertop.
It is also a good idea to add an edge band around the top frame to give the countertop something to hold on to. If you want to add doors and storage to the island, you can cover the base frame with plywood. Also make sure you drive wood screws into each corner of the base, verticals, and top frame.
Turn the finished frame over and put leveling feet on each corner and every two feet across the back.
3. Now it’s countertop time
If you are not sure what material to choose, you can talk to a local countertop maker for some advice. There are also some good advice sites online that you can peruse to guide you too.
Things to think about when choosing a material are considerations like whether it is easy to clean, and whether it will stand up to the weather over time.
Once the material is chosen and the lead time for its preparation is known, you can then have an installer make a template for the island frame, making sure to add about a 1-inch (2.54cm) overhang all the way around. Be sure to take into account both the overhang and the thickness of any cladding you may want to add.
5. Install the island
With all the main elements now ready, you can actually begin the main assembly.
Put the frame for the island in its final place and make sure it is level. Adjust the feet and, if needed, add a plastic shim/washer/wedge if the difference in the ground is bigger than what the feet can handle.
With that done, install the countertop. When doing this, keep the grill close by in case you need to make any last-minute changes to the top.
6. Make it look pretty
With the main structure now complete, we can now make the island look nice. The face of the island can be made of metal, stone, or wood, among many other materials.
One timeless option is to choose wood cladding, like pine strips.
If you want to put up a different material, like masonry, you may need to sheath the outside first. Use this time to decide if you need storage doors in the base that open and close.
7. Install the grill/BBQ
The final step is then the final installation of the grill or BBQ.
Slide the grill into place, being careful not to bend any of the lines on the outside. Make sure the front of the grill is flush with the front of the island so that air can flow behind the grill.
With that done, your lovingly crafted outdoor BBQ/outdoor kitchen island is now ready to fire up and use! Happy days.
How do I build a BBQ grill?
We’ve already covered a few points above, but if you want to build one that will last a little longer than a timber one, there are various other building materials you may want to consider using.
The first is building the main body of your BBQ grill/outdoor kitchen from cinder blocks.
Cinder blocks, or concrete blocks, are a common way to build an outdoor kitchen. A structure made of concrete blocks must be built on a flat, strong slab of concrete. Concrete block is cheap, can stand up to the weather and fire, and is easy to work with.
Decorative concrete panels, stucco, tile, and stone can all be used to cover the outside of the kitchen.
Building with concrete blocks lets you make anything you want. You can set up your kitchen however you want and add as many or as few appliances and accessories as you want. To build an outdoor kitchen out of concrete blocks, you need to know how to work with stone, so either do a lot of research beforehand or hire a contractor with the experience to do the job.
Another excellent choice is masonry, like bricks.
Brick kitchens will also have to be built on a slab of concrete as brick structures are fairly heavy things. However, be warned that putting together a brick outdoor kitchen can be hard and take a long time.
But the end product will be strong and able to withstand a lot of punishment over time. In addition, you won’t have to add a finish to a brick kitchen because it will already look great.
A brick outdoor kitchen can also be built in any way you want.
When you use brick, you can set up your kitchen however you want and add as many or as few appliances and accessories as you want. As with cinder blocks, if you don’t have a lot of experience building with bricks and mortar, you should hire a contractor who does.
Lastly, another good choice of building material is steel-frame.
Steel frames can stand up to heat and weather very well, and are very strong. You can even buy ready-made steel frame kits that are made for outdoor kitchens.
Steel frames come in many different styles and can hold a wide range of appliances and extras, which is great. There are also many great resources on installing these kinds of kits, like this one we covered a few years ago.
Steel frame kits can be used to build everything from simple to complex outdoor kitchens. These kinds of kits are typically bolted to a concrete slab and can also be set up however you want. To cover the structure, a cement backer board is used, and then the walls can be stuccoed, stone-clad, or tiled.
You can also combine these different materials to make the perfect size, shape, and aesthetic you are looking for. The choice is ultimately yours.
How do I build an outdoor kitchen on a budget?
So, you’ve now got an appreciation for the process, but are there any options for building one on a tight budget?
Obviously, the amount of cash you have spare will ultimately limit your choices, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build a fairly decent one by making a few concessions and a little creative planning.
For example, one of the best ways to build an outdoor kitchen on a budget is to use reclaimed wood, recycled stone and brick, and other materials that have already been used. They lower the cost, and as long as you don’t care too much about how “stylish” your outdoor kitchen is, you can use any materials you want. This is also a great way to help do your part to recycle.
The other thing to pay attention to is to make good use of cheap furniture. Even though many people choose to buy sets that go together, this is often the most expensive option and is not necessarily the best option.
Don’t be ashamed to get yourself some secondhand furniture, or even freebies, by trawling the internet or papers. You should also check out flea markets, garage sales, etc, where you can find cheap sets of furniture, window boxes, and lights to add to the space’s atmosphere.
The centerpiece and most important elements are, of course, the actual grill/BBQ. This will likely be the largest purchase you’ll make, but you can cut costs here too.
By buying a ready-made outdoor grill, you can avoid the cost of making custom choices and having it set up. Your grill will be ready to go, and you’ll have a lot of choices. As an added bonus, you can choose a grill that you love and can easily take with you if you ever decide or need to move.
Win, win, win.
When it comes to fuel, using bottled propane instead of natural gas to fuel your grills will also save you money, since running gas and electricity to your outdoor kitchen will cost more. Even if you buy a pre-made grill, you should choose one that is a little more expensive but still fits your budget.
There are also solid fuel options too. Which type you choose will depend entirely on your needs and wants, but there are advantages and disadvantages between them. Be sure to also check local laws on the use of outdoor fuels.
At the end of the day, if you have to buy a new grill every year, it will cost you more in the long run than if you put a little more money into it where you can.
The next major consideration is obviously furniture to sit on/eat your wonderfully cooked food.
If you want to sit at a bar, you can choose a cloth chair (like a director’s chair) with a cover that can be taken off and washed. You won’t have to worry about replacing the whole thing if there are accidents, stains, spills, dirt, or other things that get on it. You’ll have to remember to bring them inside when the weather is bad, but it’s likely that you won’t want to spend much time outside in the winter anyway -depending on where you live, of course.
You can also get tables and chairs that don’t match if you are on a tight budget. When you first set up your outdoor kitchen, it may be more important to stay within your budget than to make sure everything matches. So, make use of what you have!
If everyone uses different chairs and tables, it will have a more eclectic feel, but that will only make it more memorable. Also, the table set will be one of the easiest things to change out in the future
If you feel up to it, you can always paint or accessorize mismatched furniture to at least match, color palette-wise. There are plenty of hints and tips on “upcycling”, so spend some time researching and getting inspiration.
By choosing elements like mismatched furniture and ready-made grills, you’ll be able to try out an outdoor kitchen without spending too much money on it. This will help you decide if you like having one, especially if you don’t plan to stay in your current home for the rest of your life!
Choosing components that are easy to replace and move will help you save money for your future so you can build the outdoor kitchen of your dreams when you move.
Can you build an outdoor BBQ with wood?
You most certainly can.
Wood is actually a good choice too when it comes to building your outdoor kitchen.
If you want to build a wood-framed base, you should use pressure-treated pine because it will last longer and be less likely to rot when exposed to the high heat from the grill. However, bear in mind that wood is flammable.
So, a cement backer board should be put on both the inside and the outside of the structure to protect the wood frame from heat and water. Even with the backer board in place, there is still some worry about fire safety.
Once the backer board is attached to the frame, it can be covered with decorative concrete panels, stucco, stone, tile, a brick veneer, etc. Wood-frame construction gives you all the same options as concrete block and brick construction but wood is easier to work with and very versatile.
Wood is also a very forgiving building material too for the uninitiated.
You can make your kitchen any size or shape you want, and you can put in any appliances you want.
And that, outdoor cooking clubbers, is your lot for today.
There are many options for building your own outdoor kitchen or BBQ station, so try to get a good idea in your mind of what you are after before embarking on such a project. But, don’t fret, the process isn’t that taxing if you take the time to plan.
If money is no object, then you can’t go wrong with outsourcing the entire process to a professional. However, there is nothing more satisfying than designing and building something like this with your own bare hands!
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our special DIY HOME ISSUE, where IE explores the best tips and tricks to impress guests with your engineering skills.