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Outdoor Kitchen Framing: 11 Helpful Facts You Should Know

By James King

December 22, 2023

If you’re researching an outdoor kitchen project… You may be overwhelmed by all the available options.

There are contractor-built BBQ islands…. Outdoor kitchen frame kits… Prefab outdoor kitchens…

And within these options are a variety of sub-solutions. For those just getting started… This can feel like information overload.

Naturally, all methods have advantages and disadvantages.

But for today’s conversation… We’ll be detailing just one of the above options.

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Outdoor kitchen frames.

As established outdoor kitchen designers ourselves… We’re quite familiar with traditional outdoor kitchen framing options.

And right now, we’re here to share that knowledge with you… So you can see if this is the best method to build an outdoor kitchen.

Let’s get to it.

Quick Links:

What is an Outdoor Kitchen Frame?

metal frame outdoor grill island being built

An outdoor kitchen frame is a substrate that is used to:

  1. Support cladding and a finish (like stucco, stone veneer, tile, or brick)
  2. Provide structural support for a countertop and cooking appliances (think: outdoor grills, power burners, pizza ovens, or side burners)
  3. House accessories such as outdoor kitchen storage and refrigeration

Think of outdoor kitchen frames like the skeleton of your BBQ island.

The frames provide the essential structure of your outdoor kitchen. From there, the frame is traditionally covered with cement board — Much like how muscle is attached to our bones.

Finally, the cement board has to be finished to form an appealing barrier or “skin.”

Now that we’ve gotten the anatomy of an outdoor kitchen framing system down… Let’s dive into a bit more detail.

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What Can You Use To Build Outdoor Kitchen Frames?

If you want your outdoor kitchen to last a long time… This is an important question to ask.

To determine which material you should use… We need to do a bit of comparison.

Can You Frame an Outdoor Kitchen with Wood?

wood outdoor kitchen structure in the midst of construciton

First and foremost, let’s talk about wood frames.

We get asked about this frequently… And there are tons of tutorials detailing this DIY outdoor kitchen frame solution.

But in our professional opinion — and with a decade of experience behind us — We do NOT believe that outdoor kitchens should be made with a wood frame or sheathing.

Why?

There are a few reasons.

  1. It is combustible. There’s no fire resistance here.
  2. It can warp and/or rot with moisture or water exposure.
  3. It is vulnerable to termites.
  4. Did we mention that it’s combustible?

We understand. You’re trying to build your outdoor kitchen on a budget.

However, there’s always a catch.

If you decide to use wood frame or sheathing in your outdoor kitchen… You will have to purchase an insulated grill jacket. (Future Blog Link)

This will provide some fire resistance by protecting your kitchen from high temperatures and potential grease fires.

These jackets cost several hundred dollars. So, when everything is tallied up… A wood frame outdoor kitchen may end up costing you the same or more than other options.

So, what’s the alternative?

Metal Framing for Outdoor Kitchens

Metal frame (AKA metal stud) and cement board construction is a popular option for building an outdoor kitchen.

So, let’s run through some pros and cons to this method.

Advantages

There are a few distinct advantages when considering metal outdoor kitchen frame kits.

First, metal frames with cement boards are lighter weight. This is especially beneficial if you are looking to build an outdoor kitchen on an existing deck or patio.

You’ll be less likely to need additional structural supports before building an outdoor kitchen with metal studs.

Another benefit is the maximization of interior island space.

Why does this matter?

For one, it’s easier to access your built-in BBQ grill and appliances should anything go wrong.

This space can also be utilized for storage. (Have a gas grill? This is the perfect place for your propane tank.)

Metal stud framing also provides solid structural support for countertops and cooking appliances. You can feel confident that your BBQ grill island is structurally sound and won’t be easily compromised.

Disadvantages

a metal frame outdoor kitchen falling apart after a few winters

Now for the disadvantages.

Climate can be a huge issue depending on where you live.

Metal outdoor kitchen frames with cement boards are highly vulnerable to environmental stresses…. Including freeze/thaw climates, high humidity, and coastal air.

There’s a multi-step finishing process as well when building an outdoor kitchen with metal studs. This can make the project a bit more tedious to complete.

Speaking of finishes… Metal frame outdoor kitchens are usually only rated for lightweight and thin-set stone veneer.

Heavier, thicker veneer options create challenges. If you’re looking for a more rustic, heavier finishBuilding an outdoor kitchen with metal studs may not work for you.

Concrete Block Outdoor Kitchen Frames

Moving right along to concrete block, concrete masonry unit (CMU), or cinder block construction… This is another method for building an outdoor kitchen frame.

Advantages

concrete blocks are hard to work with

There’s a strong advantage to CMU if you live in a climate with inclement weather. This solution is structurally permanent with no climate vulnerability.

With a cinder block outdoor kitchen frame… There’s also no need to apply a cement board. The cladding material and finish can be adhered directly to the CMU.

Another main advantage also has to do with strength. Unlike metal framing, CMU is strong enough for any masonry finish. This includes heavy natural stone.

So if you are set on this look… Concrete blocks may be a better solution for you.

Disadvantages

person building a concrete block outdoor kitchen

When you think about concrete… What’s the first thing that comes to mind?

In all likelihood, the word “heavy” pops up.

The weight when you build an outdoor kitchen cabinet out of concrete block can make it challenging to install.

CMU kitchen islands also require a poured footing/concrete slab and professional labor to build. So this may be a turn-off for DIYers.

Unfortunately, concrete blocks cannot be retrofitted over an existing surface. So if you were planning to have it installed on a deck or patio… That idea will have to be scrapped.

Another disadvantage is a loss of cavity space. The thickness of the concrete block reduces storage potential on the interior of the kitchen.

All in all… CMU outdoor kitchens have more downsides than upsides. Perhaps this explains their steady decrease in popularity over the years.

So, for the purposes of today’s article… We’ll be focusing more closely on the metal frame and cement board method.

Outdoor Kitchen Framing Materials and Approaches

Here, we’d like to discuss metal frame and cement board in a bit more detail.

There are some variances… So we want you to understand all of your options.

First, let’s talk about the metal frames themselves.

Metal Frame Deep Dive

If you’re wondering how to build an outdoor kitchen with metal studs… There are a few factors you must first consider.

We’ll break them down for you.

Galvanized Steel or Aluminum Framing for Outdoor Kitchens?

aluminum tubing used for outdoor kitchen frame system

If you’re wondering how to build an outdoor kitchen with metal studs… There are a few factors you must first consider.

We’ll break them down for you.

Galvanized Steel or Aluminum Framing for Outdoor Kitchens?

Two common materials you’ll find for metal frames are galvanized steel and aluminum.

Both materials are resistant to corrosion. Outdoor kitchen aluminum frames contain no iron, which is the main cause of rusting in steel. However, aluminum outdoor kitchen frames can still corrode due to oxidation.

On the other hand, galvanized steel frame outdoor kitchens do contain iron. It’s an iron steel dipped in molten zinc to provide corrosion and rust resistance.

Even with corrosion and rust resistance… There are still situations where this can occur with both aluminum and steel studs. The main ones to note are:

  • High relative humidity above 60%. Think tropical or coastal environments like Florida.
  • Exposure to salt in the water or air in coastal areas.
  • Heavy exposure to rainfall or flooding. An example of a high precipitation climate would be the Pacific Northwest.
  • Sulfur Dioxide and air pollution. You’ll find this in urban areas such as NYC, Chicago, and LA.
  • Exposure to strong alkalis such as plaster and cement. These compounds contain chlorides and sulfates. (These are also found in cement boards.)

You’ll also want to note the gauge of the metal studs selected. A higher gauge means the metal frame for an outdoor kitchen is thinner. Conversely, a lower gauge means the metal is thicker. Off-the-shelf aluminum studs are generally not thick enough to support an outdoor kitchen.

Use the metal gauge as a litmus test for how sturdy your outdoor kitchen framing material will be. A higher gauge means thinner metal… And thinner metal studs = less sturdiness.

So if longevity and durability of your outdoor kitchen is a priority… Ensure you use a lower gauge metal should you decide on this solution.

Next, let’s talk a bit about the construction process for metal stud outdoor kitchen frames.

Welded or Bolt-Together?

There are benefits to each depending on what is most important to you – Convenience or cost.

Welded metal stud outdoor kitchen frames are as they sound… All the junctures have been welded together for you. This method provides a lot of convenience as you don’t have to assemble the frames yourself. However, they take up more space and may increase your shipping cost.

The bolt-together option is the converse situation. The outdoor kitchen island frame kit will come to you in pieces. From there, you have to bolt together and construct the frames.

Obviously, this makes the process less convenient…. As you’ll have to learn how to build an outdoor kitchen with metal studs yourself.

On the other hand, this brings down the shipping cost. Separate frame pieces can be packaged into much smaller boxes than their fully constructed counterparts.

As you can see, there’s no clear advantage here. It really comes down to personal preference.

If you value convenience, you may opt for welded. If you value reduced shipping costs, you may prefer the bolt-together method.

The final outdoor kitchen frame material we have to discuss is cement board.

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Types of Cement Board

We have to open a can of worms here. There’s a lot to cement board that can’t be reduced to a few simple sentences. We’ll do our best not to ‘boar-d’ you! (Our apologies, the pun was necessary).

There are several major brands that manufacture cement boards. There’s Durock, Wonderboard, HardieBacker, Fiberock, Permabase, and DensShield, to name a few.

It’s important to note that cement boards were NOT invented for use in outdoor kitchen designs.

It was originally designed for interior tiled areas that could be exposed to moisture, like showers and bathroom floors.

Over the years, use of cement boards has expanded to exterior applications… Such as primary sheathing for metal frame outdoor kitchen kits.

Is there something wrong with cement board?

Well, not necessarily.

But there are some issues with cement boards in outdoor kitchens… Depending on your climate.

Why?

It has to do with permeability and absorption rate in freeze/thaw climates.

Let’s back up a bit. Cement boards are often classified as water resistant. They’re generally not affected by indirect water exposure.

Although considered water resistant… Most cement boards rate <10 perms (highly permeable) and a water absorption of >8%.

More simply, this means that moisture can still get into cement boards.

This spells trouble for those in freeze/thaw climates.

We’ve all made ice before. When you’re filling the ice cube tray with water, do you fill it up to the top? No, you leave space for the ice to expand as it freezes. And of course when ice melts… It contracts again into a smaller form.

The same thing happens when moisture gets into cement boards. It expands and contracts as it is frozen and thawed. This will affect the bond line of your outdoor kitchen… And can cause the veneer crack and fall off. That’s a headache you don’t want to deal with!

To make things worse… This moisture content can lead to chloride leaching and impacting the metal frame, posing a risk to your kitchen’s structural integrity.

You’ll definitely want to take the above points into consideration if you live in the Northeast or Midwest.

After reading all this… You may be feeling a bit hesitant about outdoor BBQ island frame kits.

But if you’re still on board, which outdoor kitchen island frame kit is the best?

What’s The Best Outdoor Kitchen Frame Kit?

Since the metal frame and cement board system is still a popular method today… You’ll find over a dozen manufacturers currently offering similar outdoor kitchen frame kits. (Many pre-made BBQ kitchen modules and prefab grill islands also favor the metal frame and cement board method.)

When looking for outdoor kitchen frames for sale… BBQcoach, BBQtubes, EZfinish, RTF Systems, DIYBBQ, EOK, and Uniframe Systems are just a few names you may encounter.

But out of all of the outdoor kitchen frame brands out there… Which one is the best? 

We wish we could give you just one overall recommendation… 

But the best outdoor kitchen frame kit is really up to you. 

Only you know your preferences… How much DIY work you’re willing to put in… And what your budget allows. 

Though we may not be able to give you a specific brand to buy… What we can do is tell you what to look out for in a good outdoor kitchen frame kit. 

Here are a few telltale signs that the brand you buy with is up to snuff: 

  • They use better materials. Look for low gauge galvanized steel or aluminum frames, and cement boards with low absorption rates. 
  • A long warranty (ideally a lifetime one). This implies that the product is built to last. 
  • Efficiency in assembly. You don’t want a frame system that’s ultra-complex to maneuver and bolt together. 

If you can find an outdoor kitchen frame kit that checks off all of these boxes… You’re on the right track. 

But before you settle for any metal frame outdoor kitchen… Is this really the best option?

Are DIY Outdoor Kitchen Frame Kits Really as “Easy-as-Legos?”

Outdoor kitchen frame kit solutions are often touted as being simple to install and great for DIY… But is this really true?

If you’re referring to simply putting together the frame, then yes! It is relatively straightforward.

However, framing an outdoor kitchen is only the beginning.

You then have to create cutouts for your grill and outdoor appliances. You won’t want to mess these up! There’s only one chance to do it right… Otherwise you have to start over with a new sheet.

Creating these openings requires specialized equipment, too. You’ll have to use a grinder or masonry blade… Which isn’t exactly something everyone has on hand.

You’ll also have to finish the exterior of your outdoor kitchen. This could be stone veneer, stucco, tile, or another option.

If you live in a cold weather climate… Steer clear of masonry adhesive or glue to clad to your outdoor frame. Your finishes can pop right off as soon as the thermostat reads below freezing.

A better option would be applying a scratch coat followed by mortared on stones. This can be a tedious process… Applying a proper scratch coat can be difficult to pull off.

And if you’re not confident that all this effort will be worth it… We have an alternative for you!

What’s The Alternative?

Why, RTA Outdoor Living of course!

If you’re not already acquainted with our product… We’d like to take some time to introduce it to you. Here we’ll explain how the frameless RTA system works and how it stacks up to other frame kit solutions.

Ready to Assemble vs. Ready To Finish

At this point, you should be pretty familiar with frame kits. If not, let’s do a short recap!

First, you start with assembling your frames. These could be metal or concrete blocks. From there, a cement board sheathing is attached. You create cutouts for appliances. Finally, you finish the outside with stucco, tile, stone veneer, or another option.

While it seems simple on its face… We’ve already described some complications with the process. If you’re not a confident DIYer, you can become easily overwhelmed with this solution.

How is Ready to Assemble better?

Our kitchens are a further simplification of traditional frame kits. 95% of the work has already been done for you to build an outdoor kitchen. You receive composite concrete panels that are easy to assemble in a couple hours, and you’re ready to host.

Let’s dive deeper into this RTA frameless system.

How The Frameless System Works

Without further ado, it’s time to discuss how RTA works!

As with frame kits, you start with your design. Frame kits are a bit more plug and play. You select individual cabinets and arrange them together.

With RTA, you have a lot more flexibility. We have many assets online you can use for complete customization of your design…. From layout, to dimensions, to appliances from Coyote’s extensive line.

In fact, we have a free online design tool for this express purpose. You can also speak with a Design Expert on our team to assist you further.

Once your dream design is solidified… It has to be manufactured. Unlike most frame kits, RTA outdoor kitchens are made to order right here in the USA.

It’s important to note the panel materials. These high performance composite concrete panels are monolithic… Meaning one single piece.

Not ALL outdoor kitchens need layers! The finish is integrated into the panel itself. With a <0.5 absorption rate, these concrete panels are nonporous and nonpermeable.

Therefore, there’s nothing to rot, rust or erode. No trade or masonry skills needed to finish either!

After manufacturing, your outdoor kitchen panels are shipped to your door in pallets. Your outdoor countertop and stainless steel appliances also arrive the same way.

All you have to do is assemble and enjoy. For tools, all you need is a power drill. Everything else comes in the kit.

It’s as simple as fastening the panels together, placing the countertops, and dropping in the appliances. That’s it! Your outdoor kitchen is ready to use.

Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

Advantages of the Frameless System

an rta outdoor kitchen in the snow with coyote fridge

Based on our description of RTA… I’m sure many of the advantages have already popped up in your mind.

Let’s quickly recap.

One clear benefit is simplicity. It’s true,frame kits are not overly complex. But for those uninitiated in basic construction… It can easily feel like too much to handle.

RTA is more akin to a furniture kit. As long as you follow the instructions, you’ll have no trouble assembling our outdoor kitchen kit. In fact, we’d argue it’s sometimes simpler than a furniture kit!

Another advantage is durability. Our panels are composed of a composite concrete that will not succumb to freeze/thaw or coastal climates. No matter where you live… You can feel confident an RTA outdoor kitchen is designed to withstand the elements for a lifetime.

This also makes RTA a more aesthetically pleasing system in some cases. You don’t have to worry about the finish breaking down in a couple years… No one wants their outdoor kitchen to turn into an eyesore!

A third benefit is time savings. You can save a huge chunk of time going the RTA route over frame kits.

This is mainly in the assembly process. You don’t have three separate components to piece together like with a frame kit. So effectively, Ready To Assemble eliminates two entire steps in the installation process. Time is our most precious resource, so these savings should not be understated!

Another reason you save time with RTA is because we are a one stop shop. Unlike frame kits or scratch built frames… We include the appliances and countertop with every custom kitchen. So you don’t have to worry about sourcing those. (Or worse, make your own countertops!)

Moving Forward

mike pyle with his family at their custom outdoor kitchen with a modern concrete finish

So… Where to go from here?

It’s up to you!

Based on everything we’ve discussed, you may be leaning more one way or the other.

If so, we’d recommend doing some more research. If you’re interested in outdoor kitchen metal frame kits, look into your options. Really understand what they offer and how they can assist you in your project.

As part of your research, check customer reviews as well. It’s essential to know what actual customers have to say about the product you’re considering!

Same goes for us at RTA! If you’re interested in what we offer… We have a ton of information on our website for you to peruse! We also have plenty of online reviews for you to view.

We’d also encourage you to try out our free online design software to create your own outdoor kitchen layout. You might even want to speak with one of our Design Experts for specific questions on your project.

Outdoor kitchens are our passion. We’d be honored to assist you with your project!

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