BBQ Island Construction 101

(My Barbeque Island Construction Project)

It all started a few months ago after visiting my brother's home in Palm Springs, CA. He has this wonderful Viking grill that has been used maybe twice. So, I fire it up and cook a few steaks, then some burgers. It was very nice. I'm thinking, "Man, I'd really like a grill like this one."

Okay, so vacation's over and I'm back to work. I go to the local Expo Design center (glorified Home Depot) to look at the grills. There she is in all her glory: The Viking 53" Ultra-Premium Grill. It goes without saying the Viking grill, must be in my back yard. Now, as a side note, my wife was elsewhere in the store at this time. Shockingly, she did not share my affection toward said grill after I enthusiastically summoned her via cell phone (which amazingly enough she answered this time).

It was at about this time one of the Expo employees came over and asks if he could be of assistance. I told him I really liked the Viking and he ask me why and I say… ahh because I like the way it looks. He says something along the lines of "are you daft?" and leads me over to the TEC Inferred grills.

He proceeds to spend the next half hour explaining how these grills work and then shows me the DCS grills and a few others. Okay, long story short, I go home do research, come back and order a Sterling III 43" three burner grill head (for about a quarter of what the shinny Viking was going to cost). This was in late April (2005).

Okay, so now that I'm the proud owner of a new grill head, it would be really nice to have a place to put it! So, I'm off to find a landscape company to build my new island. My wife and I settle on one with good references and explain the style we want.

He takes the plan and we don't hear from him for several weeks. I follow up with a phone call and to my surprise he tells me he's waiting for me to let him know what kind of stone we want on the outside. Fine. We trot down to the local stone store and pick out stone.

Another two weeks pass. My grill arrives. (July 20). So, I'm on the phone to the landscaper. He faxes the quote: $6500! Okay, so that's a bit more than I expected. Oh, and did I mention that did not include the drawers or doors! So, in the mean time, I've found the BBQ Galore forums and have decided to take this project on myself.

I know nothing about construction and have never built anything using steel studs. But since I'm unwilling to spend the $6.5K on an island, my choices are to build it myself or sell my grill. So here I am building my BBQ Island.

My goal is to keep as detailed notes as possible in the hope it may help others!

Here we go!

Day 1 - Saturday , August 13

I'm ready to get started on the base frame. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating. It's raining, lightly, but still raining. Thinking positively, I head to home depot (with my 10% off coupon) to load up on track, studs, and tools.

By 1400, the sun is out and I'm ready to work on the base frame. I realize I have no idea what I'm doing and the folks at my local Home Depot have taken to running when they see me coming.

I decide I better get some plans. Okay, no problem I find a set of plans on the internet and download them. That was just the ticket. The plans detailed construction techniques and described how to progress through the construction!

So , I build the base:

. .

Time in project: 2 hours (not counting Home Depot time)

Day 2 - Sunday, August 14

Okay, I'm feeling pretty good about the construction but realize (after reading a bit more) that I messed up the construction of the base frame. The two tracks on the grill side of the island (not by the house or the side yard) should have extended to the corresponding back tracks. Fine, I re-cut and re-assemble the frame. I then proceed to build the end wall back top rails and end wall:

It's the end of the second day. I've got about 6 hours into the construction of my island and I'm very pleased with my progress.

Time in project: 6 hours.

Day 3 - Monday, August 15 (After work)

I'm ready to build the BBQ frame. I do the math (3 times) and have my wife check it. The frame needs to be 26" deep and 51" long. This accounts for the 42 ¾" grill, ½" backer board all around, and the width of the 3 5/8" studs. Great. I complete construction of the BBQ frame.

Still feeling pretty good, I go to put it in place and guess what? It's too big. What the heck is going on here? Okay, so I neglected to take into account the width of the studs when planning the overall length of the BBQ island. Now what?

Okay, so my wife says "didn't you draw it out on paper first?" I respond "well, yes, but I forgot some stuff." So, back to the graph paper. It turns out that I didn't account for the width of the studs on the island itself. I did account for the width on the BBQ frame, just not the island.

So, the long and short of it is that the two track pieces need to be 4 ¼" longer.

I don't know if the track can be extended so, I'm replacing (yet again) the two bottom tracks on the BBQ side.

I have re-cut the one track to 88 ¼" but I'm out of C track for the back side. It's late and I'm tired and the mosquitoes are everywhere. I'm done for tonight. Tomorrow I hope to be where I was last Sunday.

You'll notice the track closest to the camera is longer than the back track. The longer track is 88 ¼". Tomorrow, the back track will be also!

So, boys and girls, the moral of today's story is to always draw the plans on paper, check your math (keep telling my kids that), and always have your mom, er wife, check your work.

Here are a few pics of the back yard (notice the grill still in the box covered with plastic):

Time in project: 8 hours.

Day 4

Ordered The Designer's Edge 50 watt BBQ light from BBQs Galore in Plano, TX. Hope to have it by the weekend.

Thanks to several people on the BBQs Galore forums for putting me onto this light! especially groundpounder03 for his generous offer to pick one up for me.


Day 5

I decided to take a day of vacation to work on the island. I had hoped to complete framing the island today. The drawer set and access doors are due to be delivered and I've got enough metal studs and track to complete the project!

I'm up early and head to the gym. Back around 1000 to start construction! First off I call the trucking company to see when the doors and drawers will be here. To my supprise, the trucking company tells me I need an appointment for delivery. They were more than happy to setup the appointment for tomorrow afternoon. Great. Well, I've still got a couple things to do on the island and then several things around the house... so I thought.

First things first. I cut the track for the back piece that I screwed up the other day. While I'm cutting, I use the chop saw to cut 9 36" studs to place along the back and sides for support. A friend at work loaned me a chop saw that I outfitted with a metal cutting blade. It really makes short work of the studs and track.

So, I get the track down, studs in place and top track positioned and screwed on. Now it's time to build the back of the BBQ frame. Since I already built that piece, I center it and put it in place. I cut 10 more 36" studs and position them. Here's the first problem of the day (it's about 1400). The BBQ frame seems to be almost a quarter inch shorter than the back rail! What the heck is going on? I measure each stud and they are spot on 36". Turns out, I got going a bit too fast on those back studs. Two of the studs were not completely flush with the bottom track. Those two studs were elevated by almost a quarter inch. Remove eight screws and fix the problem.

Now I make a pass over the island to ensure I didn't miss a screw or two (which I did). Here's the scarry part. I get my framing square out and check each corner to make sure the BBQ frame is square. It is!!! I check the measurements and they are right on (well almost I think the front is a 1/64" off). Close enough for BBQ work.

Okay, so I'm almost done for the day when I hear those six little words that really mean I'm not done yet: "You know what would be nice?"

In this instance, what would be nice is an arched access door on the back side of the island. This "storage area" will be used to store wood for the fire pit (which we've used once).

To build the arched door, I take a piece of track and cut slits ½" apart. The track is 50" long and I leave 12" on each end to secure to the studs. I remove the stud that was in place (studs are on 16" centers) and move it to the end of the island. I then add another stud 16" away from the one I just installed. This will allow for a 16" access.

Next I take the track with all the cuts and mount it 7" up from the base track on each stud. This makes the arch 27.5". I then install a header and afix everything with screws.

You know, I don't think it looks too bad.

Tomorrow, I hope to have the doors and drawers. Since I have no earthly idea how to install those drawers, it should be an exciting day.

Time in project: 14 hours

Day 6, Thursday, August 18, 2005

Doors and Drawer set have arrived.

Day 7 Saturday, August 20, 2005

I'm looking to finish the framing for the grill and doors today. Since I screwed up a couple of track sections, I'll need to cut and replace them.

I measured and cut the studs for the frame and created a header above the opening. The doors require a 36" cutout so the sides are adjusted for a snug fit.

Next, I build the support for the back of the grill. This is simply a brace that extends up from the floor so the back of the grill can rest on it. The height of the support must match the front support. I also need to take into account the overall height of the grill. The top of the island will be finished with ¼" backer board and slate tile on top of that. It's important to include the height of the thin set that will be used to set the tile in! That's ¼" also. So, my grill needs to come up almost a full inch. I'll accomplish that by using two sheets of ½" (really 3/8") backer board for the grill to set on. This will also allow me to level the grill.

Now time for a test fit of the doors!

It's a tight fit, but I think that's how it should be. Now, back to the grill brace.

Time in project: 18 hours.

Day 7, Sunday, August 21, 2005

I'm not feeling the best today but I'd really like to finish the grill brace and get part of the framing done for the drawer set. I didn't have too much work left on the grill brace and it was finished up quickly. Time for a test fit of the grill!

The grill is a 43" TEC inferred grill. The fit is good. It looks like I'm out of square by maybe 1/8" from front to back and the grill needs to come up in the back left corner by the same amount. (nothing a little shim can't handle!)

Next I start to work on the framing for the drawer set. I really don't know how to do this, so, I think I'll frame out a "window" like header and build another support in the back of the drawer set. It really shouldn't be much different than the grill except it is fully enclosed. The drawer set will slide in and be fastened using one or two screws.

I managed to get the studs cut but I'm really not feeling well so I'm done for the day.

Time in project: 21 hours.

Day 8, Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I've been sick-as-a-dog for the past few days, but I'm feeling much better today and hope to finish the drawer enclosure. Stay tuned for more updates.

Day 9, Friday, August26, 2005

My goal today is/was to finish up the framing. I need to finishing framing the enclosure for the drawer system. I seem to have cut the bottom studs just about a quarter inch too long. I trim those and secure them to the C track with screws.

A long-time friend (from high school) came out from Nebraska for a visit and he just arrived. Of course, I put him to work! So, after helping Dave unload his bike (Goldwing), we finish framing out the drawer set. I get the front framing done and now need to figure out what the drawer system will rest on. Dave suggests we simply run two rails from the base of the frame to the rear C track. Sounds good to me so we get started.

The rails are about 30.5 inches long and need to be at the same height as the front of the frame. I build a small ledge on the back C track and run the rails from the front to the back. Time for a test fit.

That's it for today. I think most of the framing is done (except for some braces accross the top of the counter area).

Sorry, no pictures today.

Time in project: 24 hours.

Day 10, Saturday, August 27, 2005

Okay, today I'll finish up the framing and start on the backer board. Great! Dave and I get started about 0800 with a trip to Lowes. I need a couple items: Saws-all, blades, romex, boxes, and a few other items.

It seems I can't go to Lowes or Home Depot in less than an hour (even though it's 3 minutes from the house). So, about an hour and fifteen minutes later, I'm back at home with my new purcheses. We get started on the electrical.

By this time my neighbor, and very good friend, Brad, comes over to help. Well, it's hot out. Brad brings over a canopy! Great! This makes the work a bit cooler! Thanks, Brad. So, to complete the electrical, I need to run the romex into the house and through the island. Earler in the summer, I hired a plumber to run gas to the outside where I knew the island would be. I punch another hole right by the line and use the same area the plumber did to run the romex. Worked like a champ.

Next, I install my two water tight boxes on the ends of the islands. The first outlet must be a GFI breaker. The others feed off that. Of course when I made my first trip to Lowes this morning, I had only planned on one outlet on the island. My wife wanted another outlet on the other end so, back to Lowes to get another box and stuff.

While I was gone, Dave completed wiring the island. So, I've got electrical coming in to one end of the island in to a GFI outlet, then heads over to a J box where my built-in light will be connected. From the J Box, it feeds my second outlet on the far end of the island by the grill.

Now we can start on the backer board!

I did neglect to mention before we started on the electrical, we rotated the island on it's side and installed backer board on the bottom. We figured we'd better do that now while we could still lift the island!

We're using quarter inch backer board on all sides except the grill enclosure where we're using half inch. We install backer board on the top counter. Then we start on the sides. This stuff goes up real easy. Of course, it doesn't hurt that we have 3 people working on it!

After taking a short lunch break, we get back to the backer board.

Before putting the backer board on the back side of the island, we ensure the gas line (from Lowes) was not leaking. After that, it's back to the backer board.

Okay, it's about 1545, I've got to get out of here and head to the Bronco's game. We've got an amazing amount done today. Most of the backer board is up, the electrical is almost done, and the gas line is run. Great!

Some of the pictures are a bit dark.

Okay, so it gets a bit more difficult to compute the time in project. Without trigering a debate on the mythical man month, I'm using a factor of 2.5 to compute the time in project when all three were working.

Time in project: 38.5

Day 11, Sunday, August 28, 2005

I would love to get all the backer board on today. My friend, Dave, went for a ride in the mountains so it's just Brad and myself. Of course it's not really a work day without a trip to Lowes again. This time to get some corner bead and a few more sheets of backer board.

Okay, Brad and I get the front sheet put up and finish up the back. This work is going a bit slower because of all the cut outs for the grill, access doors, and drawers.

Here's a lesson learned: Although it may sound like a good idea to use a saws all to do the cutouts, it's not. Get one of those drywall saws and use it. I sawed into the steel studs a couple times with the saws all.

Dave's back and working on the ends of the island with Brad. I'm working on the small arched access door on the back side. I decided to score the back of a strip of backer board and install it on the inside of the arch. This way I'll be able to attach rock when I get to that point.

It's a slow process, but I finally get it done. In the meantime, Brad and Dave get the two ends finished including the cutouts for the electrical boxes. You know, I think we're done!

You know what comes next, put the grill in, insert the drawer system, and put the access doors on.

We had a little problem with the fit of the grill. Seems I'm out of square by about 3/8". Not much I can do about it now. We get the grill leveled, gas hose attached (we used a quick disconnect fitting on the grill). And everything is ready to go.

I start cleaning up the mess while Dave and Brad make sure we didn't miss anything. The grill is the only concern. Since it had to be shimmed to be level, I'll have to do some "magic" with the stone.

Well, the framing and backer board are done. We've got everything installed and the only thing left is to put the rock on and the tile counter top.

We gotta test the grill! Hamburgers anyone?

This grill gets very hot:

Rough construction complete. There's no way I could have done all this myself in 2 days. I'd like to thank Brad and Dave for their help.

Time in project: 53.5 hours.

Day 12, Friday, September 2, 2005.

I haven't worked on the island for four days. I ordered the stone on Tuesday from Legacy Stone. Legacy is a local company ( . Stone is ordered by the square foot. I calculated my total square footage by measuring the surface and subtracting out the square footage for any cutouts.

This gives me the total square footage for the island. Since I'm using manufactured stone, I will take advantage of the pre-made corner pieces. These corner pieces are sold by the linear foot. Of course this reduces the amount stone I'll need to cover the rest of the island.

So, turns out, just subtract the total linear footage from the square foot calculation. If you think about it, the linear footage IS the square footage of the corner pieces.

Total cost of the stone is $500 and change including delivery. The stone was delivered yesterday and of course, there's a problem.

I ordered 50 square feet of ledge stone plus 20 linear feet of corner pieces. Seems they forgot to include about half of my corner pieces. So, I'm on the phone trying to resolve this problem.

Since the gal I dealt with was out today, I get to talk with someone else. They are quite nice about it and are willing to re-deliver the pieces… next Tuesday.

Well, that won't wash so I'm off to Arvada (45 minutes North).

I finally make it up there and get my stone. It's about 1500 Friday afternoon, and I'm just now starting to work.

So, on tap for this afternoon, I need to apply my 30# felt paper and the metal lath. Okay, so here's my advice to anyone working with metal lath: WEAR GLOVES!!!!!

I don't know what is on top of prison fences, but I'm sure what ever it is, it's no where near as sharp as this metal lath stuff. It's like little razor blades.

First I put the tar paper up and tack it in place with very small nails. I place the metal lath over the tar paper about ½" from the edges. The lath is held in place using screws ( I used Backer On ™ screws) on 4 inch centers. Yes you will use lots of screws. I guess the alternative is to have your lath come free and your rock will then be free to flap and finally fall off! Your choice.

Once I get the lath up, I go back and find all areas that are not 100% securely held against the paper. I then add one or more screws to keep that area secure. Over engineered? Maybe.

I've completed about half the island. I'll finish it up tomorrow morning. Pictures tomorrow!

Time in project: 58.5 hours.

Day 13, Saturday, September 3, 2005

0730, I'm up early today to finish the lath. I need to make cutouts for the drawer system, grill and access doors. After I make those cuts, the lath goes right up.

Two hours later, I'm done. 600+ screws are holding on the lath!

I'm ready to start putting up the stone. But first, off to Lowe's for an angle grinder and a diamond cutting wheel. I'm not sure if I'll need it, but I want to have it around just in case.

A few days ago I picked up some mortar mix (Type S). I got eight bags. I'm hoping that will be enough. We'll see.

I've never done anything like this before. The notes I got from Legacy Stone say to mix the mortar to the consistency of mashed potatoes. Okay, so, in goes the bag and the water. Then mix, mix, mix…

Yep, that's me, mixin' the mortar.

I finally get the mortar to what I think is the proper consistency. Then I start with the scratch coat.

Again, according to Legacy Stone, I place a thin layer of mortar on the lath then "butter" the back of a stone and firmly place it on the scratch coat.

Once again, problems!

Seems the folks at Legacy Stone like their mashed potatoes a bit smother than I'm used to. So, I add a bit more water and the results are much better!

I learned the "wetter" the mortar the better. Not soupy, just a nice smooth mortar. No lumps. Just a bit thicker than Cream of wheat!

Once I get the mortar the way it should be, I butter the back of a corner piece and put it in place.

I started with the corner pieces and worked from the top down. This way falling mortar is kept to a minimum.

I'm working from left to right attempting to keep gaps to ½" or less. I carried about 25 square feet to my work area so I would have a nice selection to select from.

Progress is slow and it's back breaking work. The constant bending is not fun. I'm in good shape and lift weights daily. I do back exercise twice a week (including lower back) and let me say I AM SORE. My lower back feels like it's about ready to fall off (is that possible ;-) )

I decided to use corner pieces for the fire wood access door (AKA doggy door). I'll finish them later using horizontal and vertical pieces. I want to avoid using angled pieces. I really want to keep the flow mainly horizontal.

I've used two bags of mortar, and I'm done for the day. I have been working non-stop for 11 hours and my friend Brad has been over helping for a few hours.

I'm done for the day.

Time in project: 70 hours.

Day 14, Sunday, September 4, 2005

I don't have much time today. I get right to it after church. My goal is to finish the end and maybe get to some of the front.

It took a while to find the proper stone for above and below the access doors.

If you can believe it, I had no problems today.

Time in project 75 hours.

Day 15, Monday, September 5, 2005 (Labor Day)

I didn't get started until 0800 today. I would really like to finish the stone today. I start off by adding the scratch coat to the remainder of the island. The I pick up were I left off last night.

It becomes apparent very quickly that I chose wisely purchasing the angle grinder. I end up cutting many pieces. I think this is because I have a limited number of stones to chose from. Any way, no worries, that diamond blade seems to go through this stone like it's butter!

Progress has been very good today. Even with all the cuts, I've almost finished the stone work. I'm almost done. I have the back "doggy door" area to finish and a few more small pieces to cut and install.

I'll finish this after work during the week and next weekend we'll work on the slate top. That should finish it up!!!

Time in project: 83 hours.

***UPDATE*** Putting on the top!

I decided to use a slate top. Home Depot had reasonably priced slate tiles, so I decided to use those. Tile work is pretty easy. Snap yourself a center line and start working from there.

I used a thin set mortar available at Home Depot. Quickly mixed it and started setting the tile.

One thin you'll notice with slate is that each tile is slightly different in thickness. You'll need to choose your tile to match the adjoining tiles and then vary the amount of thin set mortar to ensure an even top. Some variation is cool but you don't want a huge discrepancy from tile to tile.

You'll need to decide the grout line thickness. I decided on 1/4" grout lines.

You can buy spacers at any home improvement stores. I would never try to set tile without them. The spacers are the orange things in the picture.

One very important thing is that you must have good coverage with the thin set mortar. Make sure the entire back of the tile is covered.

After you finish, All you have to do is wait. Let the mortar dry for 24 hours then apply your selected grout.

That's it. You're done!

Now get to grilling!!