When you’re building an outdoor kitchen… You’ll quickly realize just how many options there are out there.
There’s prefab options and ready to finish frame kits… But you might want something a little more hands-on.
Hence, why you might be thinking about a cinder block outdoor kitchen.
Depending on your situation, this can be an excellent solution!
But there’s a lot you’ll need to know before moving forward.
So to begin… Let’s discuss the pros and cons of building an outdoor kitchen with cinder blocks.
Pros of a Cinder Block Outdoor Kitchen
Building a cinder block outdoor kitchen is a huge undertaking! But if the benefits are strong enough… The effort is more than worth it.
We’ll kick off with durability.
Cinder Block is Extremely Durable
It’s just that simple. Concrete block construction is extremely durable!
There’s a reason why concrete homes are a popular construction method in areas like Florida. They’re nearly bulletproof!
And if a home made from concrete can withstand hurricane-force winds… It proves that a cinder block outdoor kitchen will be equally durable.
Cinder block also doesn’t come with the pitfalls of other outdoor kitchen materials.
Wood will rot, swell, warp, and is susceptible to termite damage.
And while metal doesn’t have these problems… It’s prone to rusting and corrosion.
Concrete is immune to all of these concerns.
No matter what climate you live in… The durability of concrete makes for a near-perfect solution.
Want to bring your idea to life?
Cinder Block is Non-Combustible
If you’re familiar with our content… You’ll know that we never recommend building a wood outdoor kitchen.
There’s multiple reasons for this… But the most important one is safety.
As you know, wood is a combustible material! And when it’s sitting directly next to a hot grill… That’s a disaster waiting to happen.
So, how does this relate to cinder blocks?
Well, cinder blocks are a non-combustible material!
There’s no risk of concrete catching fire… Which makes your BBQ grill island far safer.
To us, that peace of mind is more than worth it!
Cinder Block is Great for Northern Climates
While it’s true that cinder block is an excellent option no matter where you live… This can’t be emphasized enough in the northern half of the country!
In fact, using concrete for an outdoor kitchen is the only material we recommend in cold climates!
Why is this?
Well, it has to do with those lovely winters Northerners have.
Moisture is a huge problem for wood and metal outdoor kitchens. And with the abundance of hail, ice, and snow… These conditions do a number on most grill islands.
This problem is compounded by freeze/thaw cycles. This constant shift in temperature and freezing water causes the materials in your island to expand and contract.
This expansion and contraction creates cracks, openings, and weak points in your island. Moisture is allowed to enter uninhibited… And wreak havoc over the course of months and years.
Before you know it… Your island has severe structural damage and needs to be replaced!
Concrete outside kitchens avoid all of these problems entirely.
They handle freeze/thaw conditions without skipping a beat… Leaving you with problem-free enjoyment for years to come.
Cinder Block is Customizable
If you choose to build a cinder block outdoor kitchen… You can easily tailor it to your needs!
You can create a custom design that matches your grilling and hosting preferences.
Additionally, you can match your island to the aesthetic of your home!
Stone, tile, stucco, and brick are all excellent finish options to consider.
A custom concrete outdoor kitchen offers you far more design flexibility than a prefab version off the shelf.
So if you want near-unlimited options… Cinder block might be for you!
But it’s not all sunshine and daisies when it comes to concrete.
What are the downsides of cinder block outdoor kitchens?
Cons of a Cinder Block Outdoor Kitchen
Everything about cinder block construction might sound perfect so far… But everything has a downside.
What are the caveats when it comes to concrete?
You Have to Pour a Footing
But with a cinder block island, the process is a bit more involved.
It’s no secret that concrete is a dense, heavy material! And to support all that weight… There’s special consideration required to prepare the surface.
In the case of a cinder block outdoor kitchen… You’ll need to pour a concrete footing first.
And if you live in a cold climate, that footing will have to sit below the frost line.
Why is a footing necessary?
If you don’t have a strong enough base for your cinder block island… It will settle over time.
As a result, the surface may no longer be level and cause issues for the integrity of the structure. And if you have a finish like stone veneer… One of the first signs of this is that individual stones will pop off your island.
Point is, pouring a footing is required for this project… And it’s far more involved than the installation of a deck or paver patio.
Lack of Interior Island Space
One of the main drawbacks of a CMU outdoor kitchen (another term for concrete block) is the lack of cavity space.
Aside from being quite heavy… Cinder blocks are also rather large!
So of course, concrete blocks take up a decent amount of space.
Unfortunately… The size of these blocks causes you to lose most of your interior island space.
You might be thinking that’s not a big deal!
But actually, this space is incredibly important.
Additionally, this makes it difficult to access the inside of your BBQ island if there’s an issue with your grill.
In order to address the problem… You’ll need to be able to get inside to diagnose and fix the issue!
You don’t want to make this task any more difficult than it has to be.
Although this often isn’t a dealbreaker… It’s certainly something to keep in mind while exploring your options.
Cinder Block Construction is Labor-Intensive
If the previous point was any indication… Building a cinder block outdoor kitchen is a ton of work!
In your initial research… You might have been led to believe this could be a relatively straightforward DIY outdoor kitchen project.
However, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
This isn’t any old home improvement project.
Building an outdoor kitchen from cinder blocks (Also known as CMU construction) requires a specialized skill set.
You’ll want to hire either a concrete contractor or mason who specializes in constructing outdoor kitchens.
So if you were getting ready to start stacking blocks… Take pause before jumping in!
If you don’t have experience, you’ll likely find yourself in way over your head.
This is especially true if you make a mistake.
Concrete is an unforgiving material. So if you have to make adjustments on the fly… It’s going to be extremely difficult to do so. (It’s hard to cut concrete, and you can’t move it after it’s been set!)
And with such a large project… You want to be confident it will get done properly the first time.
Still willing to take the risk?
Let’s see how a cinder block outdoor kitchen comes together.
An easy Outdoor Kitchen Solution
How to Build an Outdoor Kitchen with Cinder Blocks
You’ve seen the pros and cons… And you’re ready to see what it takes to build an outdoor kitchen with cinder blocks.
This DIY concrete block outdoor kitchen tutorial begins with compiling your plans.
1. Create Concrete Block Outdoor Kitchen Plans
Creating your outdoor kitchen plans is always the first step in the process!
And when building an outdoor kitchen out of cinder blocks… It is especially important to ensure all the dimensions are correct.
As we’ve already stated, mistakes are extremely difficult to correct! So triple check your work, and make sure that appliance cutouts are properly accounted for.
Again, if this isn’t a topic you’re well-versed in… We’d recommend you hire a mason who specializes in outdoor kitchens to draw up some plans for you.
But no matter how you procure your concrete block outdoor kitchen plans… The next step is to prepare the site.
2. Prepare the Site
Now that you have the layout and dimensions of your island prepped… It’s time to do the same with your site.
Since you have to pour a footing… You’ll want to coordinate this with the planning of any utilities you need as well.
If you pour the footing before accounting for utilities… It may not be possible to adjust for this later. That’s why it is best to plan these steps in conjunction with one another.
It is critical that your site prep is done correctly! So we strongly suggest hiring a professional to take care of this task for you.
After you have a platform created for your island… It’s time to begin in earnest!
3. Lay the Outdoor Kitchen Cinder Blocks
Here, you’ll begin to lay your concrete blocks together.
We cannot stress enough how important it is that the first course (layer) is correct.
The first course is quite literally the foundation of your island! So the measurements and placement must be exact.
Otherwise, you’re going to encounter some serious problems when the island is leaning… Or your appliances don’t fit!
To begin the first layer… You’ll put some fresh mortar on the surface in the outline of your island. From there, you can begin to place the cement blocks.
Once your first course is complete, you stack from there!
Now, there’s some debate on whether you should dry stack or mortar between layers.
It’s our strong recommendation that you mortar in between layers. Yes, it requires more time (and more quikrete!), but it is worth the extra effort.
Placing mortar between the blocks creates a near-unbreakable bond. If you want your island to be as strong as possible… Don’t skip this!
As you continue to lay your blocks, check your plans frequently. Make sure each course is level and account for appliance openings.
Once all the cinder blocks have been laid… Allow your mortar to cure.
After that, your cinder block outdoor kitchen will need a scratch coat.
4. Apply Masonry Scratch Coat
At this point, your island should be starting to look like something!
Now, you’ll need to prepare the exterior for your finish. (If you’re finishing with stucco, you can skip this step.)
Before you start laying bricks or stones… You’ll have to apply a masonry scratch coat. This will allow your finish to actually adhere to the exterior of your island.
So, how is this done?
Well, you’ll need some more mortar mix! Get a fresh batch ready to go.
Before you start applying more mortar… It’s best practice to attach either metal or fiberglass lath to the entire exterior of your island. This creates a surface for the mortar to grip on.
Then, you’ll apply an even layer of mortar all over your island with a trowel.
After that, you’ll run over the entire surface with a notched trowel. These notches are what create that strong grip to your finishing material. (Make straight, horizontal lines parallel to the ground.)
Once everything looks good, you’ll allow this to cure as well.
Except if you’re working with tile. You’ll actually want the scratch coat to still be wet when you install the tile.
So if you’re planning on creating a tile finish… Start placing them as soon as your scratch coat is on.
But if you’re finishing with brick or stone, you’ll allow it to cure… Then proceed to the next step.
5. Apply Finish Material
So the scratch coat is cured, and it’s time to apply your finish!
If you’re applying stucco, you skipped the scratch coat… And if you’re applying tile, you’re already done!
At this stage, you’ll simply have to use the technique required of your finish.
So if it’s stucco, you’ll simply apply it with a trowel. Smooth it out and create your desired texture.
For stone or brick, it’s a similar process to tile. The only difference is you’ll want to butter the back of your stone or brick with additional mortar.
Then, you’ll place each piece along the exterior of your island… Starting from the bottom and working up.
Take your time, and ensure every piece is strongly secured. You won’t be able to go back and fix it later!
Once you’re satisfied with how your finish looks… You’ll once again allow your island exterior to cure.
The next step is getting your countertop surface ready.
6. Prepare Countertop Surface
At this point, the outside of your island should be looking pretty fantastic! There’s only a few steps left before you can start grilling.
If you’re working with a small, straight island… You generally don’t have to do any prep work before you install your countertop.
But if you have a larger island… Many DIYers opt to put Hardie backer board on top of their island. This provides extra support for your countertop when spanning long distances.
So, how does this work?
You’ll create a template by measuring the footprint of the top of your island. Then, you’ll simply cut the Hardiebacker board in pieces to fit this area.
From there, it will rest on top of your island… And the countertop will be installed on top. Couldn’t be easier!
Then, you’ll actually have to install the countertop itself!
7. Place or Make Countertop
At this stage of the project… You have two options. You can either hire someone to make a countertop, or do it yourself.
If you hire someone, you’ll certainly save yourself some labor! They’ll have to come to your home, take measurements, and then make the countertop.
But if you’re in a hurry or you just want to save some cash… You might consider making your own countertop.
Many avid DIYers take on the task of pouring their own outdoor concrete countertops.
This is quite a project in and of itself! So rather than detail it all here… We’ll just give you a quick overview.
Essentially, you will have to attach a mold directly to your island.
After that, you’ll pour concrete into this mold. This will create a concrete slab that you’ll allow to cure as normal… And then remove the mold when complete.
And voila, it’s a concrete countertop directly attached to your island!
No matter which option you choose… Once you’re done, there’s only one step remaining.
8. Install Appliances
You’re in the home stretch!
All you have left is installing appliances. Thankfully, this is straightforward!
As long as your measurements were correct… Your appliances should slide into each opening with no issues.
If not, you’ll have some workshopping to do! If the openings are too small, this is less problematic than the openings being too large.
If it’s too small… You will carefully have to cut or shave down the openings to the correct size.
If the openings are too large, you have a couple options. (Neither of which are ideal!)
You can either live with the space being too large and having a gap… Or, you’ll have to fill the gap with your leftover materials. Usually, this means that the finish will no longer be cohesive.
By planning properly on the front end, you should be able to avoid any of these issues.
Point is, hopefully everything goes as planned!
But more than likely… You don’t want to rely on hope and a prayer for the success of this project.
As we stated earlier, a cinder block outdoor kitchen is not a DIY friendly project.
So unless you have in-depth experience… This is a task best left to the experts.
At the same time, you might not want to hire a mason either. They’re expensive and can be tough to pin down.
So if you want all the benefits of a concrete island without all the work and expense… What can you do?
Want an Easier Way to Get a Concrete Outdoor Kitchen?
Lucky for you, there’s a way to have your cake and eat it too.
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of traditional CMU construction…
Your best bet is a ready to assemble outdoor kitchen. Instead of being a DIY cinder block outdoor kitchen… This is a concrete DIY solution without all the fuss.
RTA outdoor kitchens are made from high performance concrete… But instead of blocks, our islands arrive at your door in panels.
These concrete panels are simply bolted together to create the frame. That’s it!
You’ll just place the countertops, slide in your appliances… And enjoy outdoor cooking!
Sounds pretty great, right?
It’s all the benefits of a cinderblock outdoor kitchen… Without all the downsides!
Plus, the concrete we use is rated for 100 years… And our concrete countertops are reinforced with composite rebar. These islands aren’t going anywhere!
RTA also offers an easy way to customize your island.
There’s no need to fuss with cinder block outdoor kitchen plans. We have a free online design tool that will take just a few minutes of your time. (And you’ll get a 3D render of your design immediately!)
Point is, this is a DIY project you can easily achieve… With no masonry experience required!
So, ready to get started on your concrete outdoor grill station?
Design your outdoor kitchen island, scroll through our Learning Hub, and when you’re ready…
We’re here to help!
Need Help With Your Plans?
Building a concrete outdoor kitchen block is a labor-intensive process that requires many steps! The short run-down is as follows: Create your plans, prepare the site, lay the blocks, apply a masonry scratch coat, apply your finish, prepare the countertop surface, make the countertop, then install appliances.
While the price of a cinder block outdoor kitchen can vary widely… A good starting point is reviewing the national average outdoor kitchen cost, which is currently $12,000-$13,000. Considering that a CMU outdoor kitchen is an expensive, labor-intensive process… It’s likely your project will cost more than the national average if you hire a builder.
If you are building an outdoor kitchen from concrete block, you will need footings.