Outdoor Kitchens: Rock On!

Outdoor Kitchens: Rock On!

by yardshare

In our last article on outdoor kitchen construction, we explored the ins and outs of framing a BBQ island.  Whether you opt for concrete block or steel studs for your island’s inner framework, the outer skin that you use to cover that skeleton is what makes the difference in your finished landscape. 

Stone is the quintessential cladding for a grill station.  But stone is, well, a hard subject.  (bada-bing!)  There are dozens of different techniques you can employ, and dozens of different looks you can ultimately achieve.

First, consider how the stones will be oriented.  There’s a random flagstone veneer, like Jeff Cook has on his Oakview, CA setup:

Outdoor Kitchen Flagstone Veneer

The stones may be (and probably have been) hammered and chipped to a certain shape so that they fit together tightly, like puzzle pieces, but there’s no rhyme or reason or discernable pattern to the stones.  The result, as you can likely tell, is a very natural, informal, and rustic look.

Use chunkier rocks, chip them down to squares and rectangles of varying sizes, and stack them on top of one another, and you get a very different appearance.  Here’s what it looks like on a Calgary kitchen built by Home Fyres:

Outdoor Kitchens: Square and Rectangle Stones

The square-cut stacked-stone approach (often called an “Ashlar” pattern in the industry) lends a more formal feel.  It’s still a natural look in most landscapes because of the material, but the vibe it gives off is of something that’s been “constructed by man” rather than something that might have been “created by nature.”

Want to get another kind of look from the same stacking technique?  Instead of leaving large grout joints between all the stones, the masons will stack the stones directly on top of another, with no visible grout joints whatsoever.  The stones are still mortared into place, only it doesn’t look like they’re mortared into place.  It’s called a “dry-stack,” and it’s shown here in Todd Brock’s backyard in Marietta, GA:

Outdoor KItchens: Dry Stacked Stone

On the Rustic-Meter, a dry-stack method arguably produces something in between a flagstone veneer and an Ashlar pattern.  The difference is subtle, and really boils down to a matter of preference.

All of the above rockwork examples use relatively large pieces of stone.  Shrink those stones, flip them on their sides, and you suddenly have a new look.  Home Fyres in Calgary did it on this BBQ island:

Outdoor Kitchens: Thin Stone Dry Stack

That’s generally called a “ledge” layout, where the thin sides of the meticulously-cut and carefully-sized stones are showing.  The look became wildly popular in the 1970s and seems to fit especially well with a California-contemporary style home or Pacific Northwest-themed landscape.  (Like the ones in Calgary.  Duh.)

Not everyone who builds an outdoor kitchen wants to rock it out, though.  In some gardens, another material feels more at home.  Tile is great for the DIYer; it’s readily available, well within the abilities of most of us, and creates a sleek finished look, as seen on soniahug9’s Alabama kitchen:

Outdoor Kitchens: Tile Facing

Consider stucco or plaster as well.  Again, it’s a more modern look, but it can be dressed up with fancy faux-finishing techniques or complementing paint colors.  That’s what Avant Garden Inc did in this outdoor cookspace they created in San Anselmo, CA:

Outdoor Kitchens: Plaster Facing

Wanna rock without having to go all “chain gang” with a tiny mason’s hammer on a couple pallets of boulders?  Cultured stone is a man-made product.  The pre-cast concrete “stones” come in easily-stackable shapes and sizes (even corner pieces) and are as easy to set as ceramic tiles.  But don’t think of cultured stone as “light rock;” chances are you won’t be able to tell it from the real thing, even up close.  Here’s how it looks in my own yard:

Outdoor Kitchens: Cultured Stone Facing

If the labor-intensive, often-costly, heavy-duty masonry craftsmanship of genuine Ashlar-stacked stonework is like seeing Kiss headline at the Rose Bowl with 100,000 moshing fans, then cultured stone is sort of like seeing a really great tribute band at your local street festival: it’s the same overall effect and experience… just without all the sweat, expense, and pain.  It’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me.

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