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How Do I Design My Own Custom Outdoor Kitchen?


With the growing popularity of outdoor kitchens, there are many different options available to fit most budgets and styles. You can choose from building your outdoor kitchen from scratch, to having one built fully on site by a contractor and everything in between. This series will focus on the DIY consumer and the process of building an outdoor kitchen.

Before we can get into the design process, it’s important to understand the different framing methods and decide on which is the best option for you. We will look at the pros and cons of each system and help you determine the materials that make sense for your unique conditions, budget, and level of experience.

What material is the best for building an outdoor kitchen?

This is one of the questions we routinely get asked. The answer is it depends. Yeah, we know, who would have guessed! Let’s get right into how to make the right decision for you.

First, before we jump into the different materials, consider what your outdoor kitchen will endure. An outdoor kitchen will endure tons of wear-and-tear, both man-made and natural. The materials selected for an outdoor kitchen must be able to withstand hot and cold temperatures, high winds, moisture, as well as a variety of user inflicted wear, yeah, we all have a “that guy” who seems unable to keep his wine glass vertical. We will help you through that, but first, let’s dive into framing materials. We will rate each one on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a dumpster fire and the miracle material coming in at a perfect 10.

What is the best framing material for building an outdoor kitchen?

Wood Frame:

The most common material for building your outdoor kitchen is wood. First for the good news - It is very cost effective and easy to find. It also takes the least amount of skill to build with and is very forgiving when you make an error (and let’s be real, you will…). However, it is also the most problematic of materials as well. For instance, wood frames require insulating jackets to be used for most heat generating appliances such as burners and grills. This can add hundreds of dollars to the appliance budget, that would not be needed if using a non-combustible construction material. There are many horror stories where someone uses a piece of cement board as an insulator between the grill and the wood frame. Unfortunately, in most cases, this just is not sufficient and over time, the risk of fire grows.

If fires were not enough, wood eating pests seem to be all to happy to take over the destruction of your hard-earned outdoor kitchen. What they don’t destroy, mother nature throws moisture, heat, and freezing temperatures at it. In the end, well built, in a good environment, wood outdoor kitchens can last 5 – 15 years or more. The key is well built. Without a pretty good construction background, it’s difficult for the average homeowner to fully understand how to weatherproof and protect the wood frame.

Pros:

Least expensive of the materials on this list

Least skill requirements of all materials

Widely available materials at most home improvement stores

Uses tools you likely already have

Easy to work with and easier to adjust when making corrections

Offers a good amount of interior cabinet space to store items

Cons:

Wood burns, enough said

Pests like to eat it

Moisture likes to rot it

Dry rot is a possibility over time

Material amazingness score 5

Cement Block / CMU Frame:

Concrete blocks or more colloquially named Concrete Masonry Units are common options for building your outdoor kitchen frame. Concrete blocks are quite inexpensive, and very strong when properly built. They resist most temperature fluctuations, pests, and moisture. They are naturally non-flammable, and therefore do not require the use of expensive insulating jackets for heat generating appliances. Since concrete block is already a masonry product, it is pretty much ready for the application of most finish materials.

That’s the good news. First, of the materials on this list, concrete block construction leaves the least interior cabinet space for storage. Then comes the construction process. CMU construction is considerably more difficult to build with and much less forgiving than any of the other materials on the list. Concrete block construction must begin with a properly installed slab of concrete. The overall longevity of the structure depends on this foundation. There is also quite a bit of skill required to properly align each course of brick, cut the brick, and mix mortar properly. Areas such as door, drawer, and refrigerator openings will require lintels built to be installed above them to hold keep the block from falling in since there is no supporting structure possible. For this reason, concrete block construction is mostly relegated to the construction trade where well paid and highly skilled masons make it look easy. Bottom line, unless you are very handy with concrete block construction, this may not be the best material choice. The score below is mostly based on the actual overall suitability for outdoor kitchen structures, not DIY friendly fabrication.

Pros:

Low-cost material

Non-flammable so insulating jackets not required

Widely available materials at most home improvement stores

Great for resisting heat, moisture, wind, and pretty much everything else Mother Nature has up her sleeve

Cons:

Highest skill requirements of all materials on the list

Due to the size of the blocks, there is not much space inside the cabinets for storage

Lintels required for most openings like doors and drawers

Some specialty tools may be required

Require well prepared concrete pad foundation

Oh did we forget to mention…..they are really heavy to carry…just saying!

Material amazingness score 8

Steel Stud Frame:

Steel studs can be a good choice for your outdoor kitchen project. They are non-combustible so insulating jackets are not required. Cement board is easily attached to the framing making it easy to add your finish materials. Steel studs are relatively easy to work with, though if you are not comfortable with angle grinders and steel saw blades, you may find this method a little intimidating. The steel is naturally pest and heat / cold resistant. The construction process is much like wood construction, though steel is a little less forgiving when correcting mistakes. They also allow for a good amount of storage in the cabinets.

There are some significant challenges to overcome when using steel studs. First, they are more expensive than wood and concrete block. Finding the right steel studs can also be a challenge. Most commonly available studs are constructed of 25-gauge or thinner steel which is intended for non-load bearing construction. For those unfamiliar with load bearing walls, think of your house, where the outside walls carry the load of the trusses and most (yes, I said most not all, don’t be cutting out walls without checking) are for separating rooms and hanging drywall on to make the rooms pretty. I assure you; pretty walls are not what you want holding up your pizza oven! These studs are also intended for interior use only. Interior studs are not exposed to outside elements like moisture that can rust and eventually fail.  

Pros:

Low-ish cost material

Allows a good amount of space for storage in the cabinets

Relatively easy to work with if you don’t mind some power tool use

Great for resisting heat, moisture, wind, and pretty much everything else Mother Nature has up her sleeve

Cons:

Some specialty tools may be required

Hard to find load bearing studs

Typically, not approved for exterior use, so much more likely to rust over time

Those that are not fond of a lot of sparks, may find this to be a little intimidating

Material amazingness score 5

Steel Tube Frame:

Steel tube frames have become more mainstream as a material to build your outdoor kitchen out of. They have many advantages over the other materials on the list as well as disadvantages. Steel tubes are typically 18 or 16-gauge thick (lower number = thicker steel). This usually means they are structural steel, which is the case for Big Ridge which uses heavy 16-gauge structural steel tubes. The steel tubing must be welded however, and that can make it a difficult to work with material for most homeowners. However, the result of welding the frames makes them extremely strong, square, and able to hold even the heaviest loads like masonry pizza ovens, concrete countertops, and 3 to 4” thick real stone finishes.

Of the materials on the list, steel tubes are probably the least available and most costly to acquire. Typically, only sold by steel wholesalers or specialty steel retailers, the price can be quite expensive for those without access to wholesale pricing. This price can be worth it though considering part of that increased cost comes from the coatings applied to the steel to prevent rust. For example, Big Ridge uses Gatorshield triple coated galvanized steel that is also coated on the inside. Gatorshield steel is commonly used for street signs, playground equipment and commercial greenhouses. This makes them extremely resistant to the elements.

However, not all manufacturers use this high-quality steel, so do your homework, hot dipped galvanized steel is just not a good option for outdoor use. Steel tube construction is also non-combustible so insulating jackets are not required. Cement board is easily attached to the framing making it easy to add your finish materials. Due to the immense strength of the steel, tubing can be much smaller in size offering the most interior storage space and flexibility of placement of your appliances and doors. Again, like the concrete blocks, the amazingness score for steel tube frames is based on the overall suitability for outdoor kitchen use and not on DIY friendly fabrication.

Pros:

Allows the most interior storage of all the materials on the list

Fully welded construction that will last a lifetime

Thick gauge steel to hold the heaviest of loads without sagging

Great for resisting heat, moisture, and especially high winds

Non-flammable, no need for insulating jackets

Cons:

Some specialty tools may be required, specifically a welder

Hard to find in most retail stores

Welding skills are required

Highest cost material on list

Material amazingness score 9

The Bottom Line:

 While each material has its own pros and cons, the best materials for building outdoor kitchens out of are Concrete Block and Steel Tubing. This is based on the ability to last in the long-term. The question then becomes, do you want to spend a lot of money on your finish materials and appliances only to have to replace them 5 years down the road. Investing in a superior material is critical to a great looking, hassle free, and long-term outdoor kitchen you and your family can enjoy for years to come.

Big Ridge can’t assist you with the concrete block build, however, we can certainly assist with the steel tubing frames. We take the hard work and guessing out of your DIY project. Our ready to finish outdoor kitchens come with all the cutouts already installed to your specifications, all the cement board is installed ready for your choice of finish. Best of all, they simply bolt together in minutes to get you to the finish line quicker than any other system on the market. Check out our easy Ready To Finish DIY Kits today<Insert Hyper Link to RTF Landing page>, save money without sacrificing quality.

Aug 1st 2022 denise.smith@bigridgeoutdoorkitchens.com BigCommerce

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