Make al fresco dining easier with an outdoor kitchen. This tutorial shows you two ways to build a basic outdoor cooking area.

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outdoor kitchen

Like any landscaping project, the scope of an outdoor cooking area is best determined by answering the questions: How do you want to use it? For full-scale outdoor dining? For intimate gatherings with family or a few guests? Or merely for occasional weekend get-togethers?

At a minimum an outdoor kitchen requires a structure to house a grill. The units illustrated here do just that, with little cost and effort. You can add a prep sink, undercounter fridge, rotisserie, and any number of storage areas. These designs accommodates those features with the installation of additional bays.

You'll need 24-30 hours for this project. Before you begin, design the outdoor kitchen's layout, excavate the site, and pour a concrete slab, if needed. 

For a Mortared Cooking Area

What You Need

  • Tape measure
  • Shovel
  • Hammer
  • Rake
  • Power tamper
  • Cordless drill
  • Hacksaw
  • Concrete finishing tools
  • Chalk line
  • Mason's trowel
  • Wire cutters
  • Notched trowel
  • Circular saw with masonry blade
  • 2x stock for forms
  • Deck screws
  • Ready-mix concrete
  • Mortar
  • Concrete block
  • Backerboard
  • Metal lath
  • Line blocks
  • 3/4-inch exterior-grade plywood
  • Thinset mortar
  • Tile
  • Grout
  • Brick veneer

Step 1: Lay Out and Pour Slab

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Lay out and pour the slab and footings to meet local codes. Snap chalk lines to mark the location of the block walls. Using your dimensional plan, build the walls. Make sure the grill bay meets the manufacturer's specifications.

Step 2: Install Plywood and Backerboard

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Cut 3/4-inch exterior-grade plywood, metal lath, and backerboard to fit each section of the countertop. Fasten the plywood to the block webs with concrete screws (not anchors). Mortar the plywood, set the first piece of backerboard in the mortar, then install metal lath and the second backerboard.

Step 3: Set and Level Veneer

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Starting at the bottom, spread and comb thinset on a section of the block wall. Set each piece of brick veneer in the mortar with a slight twist. Level the veneer and keep it straight with a straightedge.

Step 4: Apply Mortar

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When the thinset has cured, fill a mortar bag with the mortar recommended by the manufacturer and squeeze the mortar into the joints. Let the mortar set up slightly, then tool it with a jointing tool.

Step 5: Lay Tile

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Dry-lay the countertop tile to make sure everything fits. Then spread and comb a level coat of thinset on the backerboard and set the countertop field tile. Make sure all the joints line up, then set the edge tile. When the mortar cures, grout and clean the tile and install the grill.

For a Wooden Cooking Area

What You Need

  • Framing hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Framing square
  • Speed square
  • Cordless drill
  • Circular saw
  • Carpenter's level
  • Chalk line
  • 2x4 framing lumber
  • Siding
  • Cement backerboard
  • 1x trim stock
  • Fasteners

Step 1: Cut and Assemble

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Cut all the framing members to length and lay out the pieces for the left wall on the deck. Put them in their approximate positions so you'll have them handy when you need them. Assemble the corner posts for this wall first, inserting 6-inch lengths of 2x4 between the corner post studs and driving 3-1/2-inch screws from both sides. Line up the bottom plate and face-nail it to the studs, spacing them correctly. Face-nail the top plate to the studs, keeping the studs properly spaced and square in the frame. Assemble all the walls in this fashion.

Step 2: Check and Secure

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Snap chalk lines on the deck to locate the positions of the walls. Make sure the footprint of the frame is square to the deck. Square the corners with a framing square. Set the left wall on its chalk line and fasten one end of the bottom plate to the decking by driving 3-inch screws into the bottom plate. Line the bottom plate up on the chalk line and fasten the other end. Then go back and secure the middle of the bottom plate.

Step 3: Fasten and Finish

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Fasten the remaining walls to the deck with the same techniques, pulling the walls together with screws through the rear studs into the corner posts. Cut the front frame members and toenail them in place. Measure and cut the plywood countertop base and fasten it to the frame. Cut and fasten plywood for the remaining top plates and the shelves. Line the grill bay with cement backerboard. Install the siding, tile the countertop and top plates, and install the grill.

Tips for Customizing Your Outdoor Kitchen

How to Install a Concrete Countertop

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Nothing beats concrete as a substrate for tile. It's flat, stable, and won't bend under compressive loads. Concrete countertops are also ideal for outdoor kitchen installations, but for large cooking bases you may find their expense prohibitive. For small kitchens, however, there's a ready-made alternative: precast concrete stepping stones.

Poured in a 3-inch thickness and in 3x3-foot squares, these units are available at most home centers and certain Internet retailers (be careful of shipping costs, however). Besides providing an excellent base for tile, they offer an additional benefit—their 3-inch height makes it easy to set your countertop at exactly 36 inches.

To install this unit, use a circular saw with a masonry blade to cut it to 24 inches (the usual front-to-back depth of a counter surface). Apply mortar to the webs of the block walls and set the slab in place. For additional stability, fill the block cores with concrete and drill the slab to accommodate 1/2-inch rebar.

How to Install Undercounter Storage

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Installing an undercounter storage bay or recess for a refrigerator or other accessory means supporting the block above the bay. Lintels are made for this purpose. Using a hacksaw, cut the steel lintel to a length that extends over the opening by half a block on each side. Mortar the lintel in place, and cover it with lintel blocks as shown.

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