With concrete being such an abundantly used building material… It’s no surprise you’re considering it for constructing your outdoor kitchen!
It’s sturdy… It’s durable… And it lasts a long time.
However, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to concrete.
Some construction methods simply make use of cement board or concrete cultured stone… With the rest of the island being constructed from metal.
In this article, we want to focus on true outdoor kitchen concrete.
That is, a BBQ island constructed completely from concrete.
We’ll cover the top considerations, popular types of concrete outdoor kitchens… And the pros and cons of each for your outdoor living space.
So let’s get started!
Why Consider a Concrete Outdoor Kitchen
Before you go all-in on a concrete island… It’s important to know why you want one in the first place.
To help us parse out this why… We’ve enlisted the help of the Concrete Countertop Institute’s founder and president, Jeff Girard.
With 20+ years of experience working with concrete and a background as a licensed civil engineer… Girard’s impressive pedigree makes him the best resource on this topic!
When it comes to concrete, strength is often the first consideration for a homeowner.
Want to bring your idea to life?
Strength of Concrete Outdoor Kitchens
Concrete is a ubiquitous material. So inherently, we understand how strong it is from everyday life.
Sidewalks, foundations, bridges… Concrete serves so many functions that we take for granted. (And trust to keep us safe!)
When it comes to outdoor kitchens… That level of strength isn’t diminished one bit!
One of the hallmarks of concrete is compressive strength. It excels at being able to withstand heavy loads… Which is important when your island needs to hold up multiple solid steel appliances.
This also means you can place heavy items on your countertop without worry.
There’s also tensile strength, which describes concrete’s capacity to resist cracking or breaking under tension.
Not all concrete is the same, here. It’s important to seek out high performance concrete for your island… As this will significantly improve its resistance to cracking.
Overall, there isn’t a stronger outdoor kitchen material than concrete. Wood can swell or split… Metal can buckle… And concrete simply persists.
No matter the weather, might we add.
Weather Resistance & Durability of Outdoor Concrete Kitchens
As Girard puts it, “Concrete isn’t really affected by weather”.
And truly, that’s all it really boils down to!
Concrete is impervious to the typical pitfalls other materials are susceptible to.
With wood outdoor kitchens, the issues are quite obvious. Rotting, warping, swelling, and possible insect damage are significant problems. (Not to mention, it is a combustible material.)
For islands with a metal frame, the damage isn’t always obvious from the outside.
“Let’s say you have an island made with a stone veneer cladding over steel studs. Those studs aren’t well galvanized and you’re in a coastal environment. It won’t affect the exterior, but it will corrode the structure and shorten its lifespan”, Girard explains.
The core of the issue is moisture can easily access the metal frame of your island. And while rust and corrosion is always a concern… This is especially heightened in a coastal environment, as Girard illustrated.
Additionally, metal is a poor material choice in the north. Freeze/thaw climates can prove to be even more problematic!
The constant expansion and contraction can cause pieces of your finish to pop off… Leaving the metal frame entirely exposed to the elements.
Point is, these challenges are a non-issue with concrete… Which makes it a superior material for use in the outdoor environment.
Concrete also makes an outdoor kitchen accessible in environments where it wouldn’t normally make sense… With northern climates being a classic example of this.
An outdoor kitchen can be built in northern Michigan and truly be expected to last for decades. Without concrete construction, this simply is not possible!
Next, let’s turn our attention to aesthetic appeal.
Aesthetic Appeal of Concrete Kitchen Outdoor
While you may be accustomed to concrete for mundane use… It’s actually extremely versatile in terms of aesthetics!
“Historically, aesthetics is one of the main selling points of concrete. You’re not limited to a look defined by the material itself”, Girard shares.
This couldn’t be more true!
If you build a BBQ island from wood… You’re stuck with that look. (And all the problems associated with it!)
But with concrete, you can have it all.
Whether you’re seeking a weathered wood, plank, modern, stone, or brick finish… Concrete is the chameleon of outdoor kitchen aesthetics.
Even better, if you have a particular finish in mind… It may be less expensive with concrete.
“For instance, say a client wants a particular brick look that isn’t locally available. It will be highly expensive to bring it in from where it comes from, and find someone to work with it. With concrete, it’s simply a matter of making the mold and creating the finished piece. The aesthetic is separate from the functional material”, Girard continues.
So you can get the finish you desire… And possibly at a more reasonable price!
Talk about a win-win.
And the benefits just keep rolling in…
Customization of Outdoor Kitchen Concrete
While many outdoor kitchen solutions can be considered customizable… None can match the versatility of concrete!
Prefab and modular islands tend to be the most limited. A manufacturer will release a small set of designs or modules… And that’s all you have to work with!
Ready-to-finish kits are usually a slight improvement. You get a bit more flexibility in terms of the size of your island, layout, and positioning of appliances.
But with concrete…
“You’re not stuck in terms of straight lines. If you want a serpentine or circular design, that falls under what the manufacturer of your product is willing or able to do. If you want it to be curved, an odd size, angle or shape, it’s totally doable”, Girard explains.
If you’re looking for an outdoor kitchen design that’s completely out of the box and have a good builder… Concrete truly opens up the world.
Ultimately, compromise is a thing of the past! (Let the concrete outdoor kitchen ideas flow!)
Now that we’ve covered the four big reasons to consider a concrete island… It’s time to discuss what types of islands are actually available to you.
Types of Concrete Outdoor Kitchens
Concrete is concrete… How many different options could there really be out there?
In truth, outdoor kitchen concrete is a relatively new phenomenon. The industry is constantly evolving… So as it stands, here are just three solutions you’ll find today.
When considering a concrete grill island… Concrete block is likely the method you’ll first encounter.
Also known as CMU (concrete masonry unit) construction… This is the least sophisticated build method of the three.
Cinder blocks will form the frame of your island. You’ll leave an opening for appliance cutouts… And mortar all the blocks together.
From there, it’s down to applying your desired finish. Stucco, tile, brick, and stone veneer are all common options.
Countertops are your choice as well. If you’re an avid DIYer… You might consider DIY concrete counter tops.
Alternatively, you could hire someone to fabricate a granite countertop. (DIY concrete countertops outdoors are a lot of work!)
We won’t get into full detail here… But let’s review some top level advantages and disadvantages compared to other methods.
Pro: Slightly Lower Skill Cap to Install
Compared to the other options we’ll discuss momentarily… CMU construction requires slightly less skill to build.
However, don’t take it as a stamp of approval for a DIY project! Cinder block islands still require a significant amount of specialized knowledge.
But for the mason or contractor you hire, CMU will generally be more familiar to them.
Even still… “You do need to work with someone knowledgeable, otherwise it won’t work that well”, Girard cautions.
Ultimately, the benefit here is you’re more likely to find someone to hire. But as you’ll see… The cons of CMU quickly pile up!
Con: Unwieldy and Slow to Work With
We don’t need to tell you that concrete is a dense, heavy material. When working with cinder block islands… The construction process is a grind. (That’s putting it mildly!)
As Girard puts it, “It’s ugly, it’s massive, and it’s slow.”
Concrete blocks need to be placed one by one… With a layer of mortar applied between each.
It’s not an assembly-line process, either. Each block needs to be placed with care… And the mortar should be free of air bubbles!
Even after the frame is completed, there’s still work to be done. The finish must be applied just as carefully! (And we won’t even get started on the countertops.)
At minimum, the process will take days to complete. Although it’s not uncommon for the project to drag out for weeks.
And the longer a project takes to complete… The more it will cost!
Con: Generally More Expensive
Due to the nature of a cinder block grill station… It’s going to take some time to complete!
And while the blocks themselves tend to be relatively affordable… It’s the labor that kills you!
As we’ve established, a CMU island requires a lot of skill to pull off properly. Therefore, you’ll be paying a premium for that level of work.
Being a multi-day process at the absolute minimum… Labor costs will continue to shoot up the longer the project takes.
If you have a flexible budget, this shouldn’t be a problem!
But you likely haven’t considered the other ducks you’ll need to have in a row.
Con: Requires a Structural Footing
Unlike other methods of concrete construction… CMU BBQ islands require a structural footing.
It’s simply due to the sheer weight of these islands.
The structural footing forms the basis of support for your grill island. It’s also a completely separate project to manage!
“If it’s done well, you need to have rebar cast into the footing and the concrete block has to be grouted in. All of that takes time, and now you have multiple skill trades coming in to work”, Girard says.
This can become a problem if you already have a lot of landscaping work done… Or other outdoor living features like a pool, pergola, or gazebo.
Your contractor will have to be especially careful not to get in the way of these features… Which limits your options significantly.
All of a sudden… Your cinder block outdoor kitchen just got a lot more complicated! (And more expensive!)
Con: Loss of Interior Island Space
While this might be considered a small quibble… The loss of interior island space can be quite a frustration!
First of all… What does this mean?
Because you’re using wide concrete blocks for your frame… It will take up space inside your island. Therefore, there’s less area leftover for functional use.
This makes it tough to install appliances like refrigerators or drawers.
Additionally… It becomes more difficult to access the interior of your island.
You might not be able to properly fit a propane tank… Or it may be far more challenging to make repairs to your grill if needed.
While CMU islands have some serious advantages (durability, strength, customization)… They’re falling behind in favor of newer options.
Which leads us to…
Simple concrete Outdoor Kitchen
WWOO Outdoor Kitchens
One look at these islands… And you’ll tell these are a far cry from traditional CMU construction!
WWOO offers a uniquely modern twist on the concrete outdoor kitchen.
Created by the Dutch designer Piet-Jan van den Kommer… He wanted to turn the humble garden fence into a more functional object.
Hence, the invention of WWOO (wall with other objects) was born.
These concrete outdoor kitchens don’t follow the typical island structure. A concrete fence is the foundation… With open shelving forming the functionality for outdoor cooking. (No outdoor kitchen countertops to be found here!)
That said, let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.
Pro: Unique Modern Aesthetic
It’s plain to see that WWOO offers an ultra-modern aesthetic!
If you’re on the hunt for a modern look… This European design will likely be right up your alley.
The sheer simplicity of this setup can be appealing as well. Some homeowners simply aren’t interested in lots of bells and whistles…
But ultimately, while a beautiful design… WWOO will only appeal to a small subset of homeowners!
Pro: Less Complicated Structure
Another benefit of WWOO is it’s a less complicated structure than CMU. You’ve got your concrete fence… And some shelving.
There’s not much to get hung up on here!
But with this simplicity… Proper installation is still important. “If you don’t have a good contractor to set it up, the whole thing will be crooked. It’s very dependent on who’s doing the work”, Girard warns.
But overall… Fewer pieces means there’s less that can go wrong.
Con: Limited Design
A huge strike on the WWOO concept is the limitations of design. The primary draw of concrete is the ability to have the world as your oyster… And that’s simply not the case here.
Three color options are offered… And a small subset of layouts are available as well. Linear and L-shaped layouts in different lengths are your options.
Additionally, it appears there’s no accommodations for installing a built-in gas grill. The only grill option shown is a Big Green Egg.
If you like what you see… Then that’s great!
But most homeowners are highly invested in their outdoor kitchen projects. You’re already spending so much time on it… So you may as well get exactly what you’re looking for.
Con: Not as Practical as an Island
While WWOO was successful in achieving a more functional backyard fence… It still can’t touch the functionality of a traditional island.
Refrigerators, warming drawers, flat top grills, and sealed cabinetry are simply off the table here. Speaking of a table… There’s no option for bar seating, either!
There’s also the concern of open shelving.
It’s fine when you’re already cooking outside. But generally speaking… You won’t want to leave any condiments or spices outside on an open shelf.
Wind and rain are an ever-present problem, of course… And if you live in bear country, you’re just asking for trouble!
Which means you end up having to bring your supplies inside after a day of grilling… And that’s just not convenient.
Con: Limited Installation Network
While WWOO is based in the Netherlands… There’s an ever-expanding worldwide network.
However, in the United States… The service area is limited only to a few neighborhoods in San Diego.
So for most of the country, this option is simply out of reach!
Now, let’s turn our attention to the final option. (Which happens to be available nation-wide!)
Ready to Assemble
Finally, we have ready-to-assemble (RTA).
These islands are a concrete DIY outdoor kitchen solution!
It’s constructed with the use of concrete panels. Rather than stacking blocks… You are sent single-layer panels with the finish fully incorporated into it.
All you need to do is bolt together the panels with the provided L-brackets. Concrete countertops are included with a food safe concrete sealer applied… And granite is an alternative option as well.
Appliances (which are also provided) simply slide into the openings. All said and done, your island will be complete in the matter of hours.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons.
Pro: Quick, DIY-Friendly Installation
Installation is often the largest hangup with an outdoor kitchen project. Especially with concrete… Your backyard will be disturbed for quite a while!
“Time is the biggest advantage RTA offers, you can assemble it in a day. Within a couple hours, you’ll have something functional. That’s just not possible in traditional construction where you’re building something from scratch. That’s a multi-day process at best”, Girard shares.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
This is also the only truly DIY-friendly option on the list! You do not need any construction experience to assemble an RTA island. A power drill is the only tool you need.
But even if you don’t want to assemble it yourself… RTA has an installer network to take that task off of your hands!
Pro: Detailed Custom Design Process
While we can’t speak to the exact design process you’ll experience with WWOO or a CMU builder… We can be assured in the claim that RTA’s design process is among the most comprehensive out there.
Most homeowners will start the process by using RTA’s free online design tool. This is an excellent starting point… And will show you a 3D render of your ideal design.
This concept will then be sent to a Design Expert on the team. They’ll review your design… And speak with you personally to make adjustments for your space.
They will not rest until your design is perfect, either!
Whether you want a linear, L-shape, U-shape, or galley layout… All is possible with RTA. Combinations of grill and bar islands are common… And unique features are often accommodated.
Speaking of unique…
Pro: Wide Variety of Aesthetics Offered
Due to the nature of the RTA system… A multitude of finish options are available!
Remember, the finish is fully incorporated into the panel. So it is simply a matter of having a template that matches your desired finish.
RTA currently offers stacked stone, weathered wood, modern concrete, plank, and reclaimed brick finish options.
These finishes are further customized by color. Hues of black, white, brown, and gray are available depending on the option you select.
New finishes are often being tested as well. So if you don’t see something you like right away… You may in the future!
Con: Not Every Design is Possible
While we talked up RTA’s custom design process… Not every design is possible within this system.
If you’re looking for something serpentine or curved… You’ll unfortunately be out of luck here.
Same goes for a two-tier bar island. If this is a deal-breaker for you, it will be down to hiring a professional.
That said, just like the finishes… New designs are often being tested. So check back every so often!
Con: Limited Appliance Brand Options
Once again, there are a few limitations with RTA.
As mentioned earlier, appliances are included with RTA islands. These come from Coyote Outdoor Living, a premium appliance manufacturer.
Outdoor sinks, refrigerators, built-in grills, flat top grills, storage, and more will all come from a single source. (Except for the pizza ovens from Alfa.)
While their line of appliances is top-notch (we’re talking 304 stainless steel!)… You might not want Coyote appliances in your island.
Sometimes accommodations are made, but this is out of the norm.
This is simply something to keep in mind as you research!
Okay. At this point… You’ve processed a ton of information.
What concrete island solution is best?
What’s the Best Concrete Outdoor Kitchen?
If you couldn’t already tell… We’re cheerleaders for ready-to-assemble islands!
It’s true, we’re proud of our solution… But that’s only because we believe in it so deeply.
As you’ve read…
Concrete outdoor kitchens are the only viable solution in many areas of the country. (New England, we’re looking at you.)
But traditional methods for getting a concrete island are overly cumbersome. You need to find the right person, at the right time, for the right price.
And rarely do the stars align in such a way.
In essence, this is the mission of RTA. We sought to democratize the outdoor kitchen.
Summer kitchens are an incredible way to enrich your backyard… And everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits!
You get the durability, strength, weather resistance, aesthetics, and customization of concrete… Without the laborious installation, delayed timeline, and limitations of other methods.
We combine the best aspects of concrete construction… And skim off the rest.
Curious to see more?
Our Learning Hub is an ever-expanding wealth of outdoor kitchen knowledge.
Between our video and blog library… You’ll learn more than you’ll ever need to know about BBQ islands!
From there, consider using our free online design tool… Or speak with a Design Expert directly.
We look forward to bringing your outdoor space to life!
Need Help With Your Plans?
Concrete is excellent for an outdoor kitchen build! It offers immense durability and weather resistance in extreme climates… Making it an excellent choice no matter where you live. Additionally, it can be easily customized to suit whatever layout or aesthetic matches your desire. (A matching concrete outdoor fireplace or fire pit is an excellent idea, too!)
Concrete is a fantastic outdoor bar or kitchen material for multiple reasons. For one, durability is at the top of the list. It will persist flawlessly, even in the most extreme of climates. Also, customization is far more accessible with concrete. Different shapes, sizes, and finishes can be easily customized to your needs.