Dear James: I entertain outdoors often and could use a patio cooking center, but I am on a tight budget. What options do I have for building one myself by the gas grill? — Bonnie K.
Dear Bonnie: Outdoor patio cooking centers are wonderful for entertaining or for just your own family. The most elaborate ones are as extensive as the typical kitchen, but they can easily cost $8,000 or more.
Local home shows often display various outdoor cooking centers. Visit some of the shows to get an idea of what features are most important to you. You may be able to afford to start out with just a few of the items and gradually add more as your budget allows.
For starters, consider building a barbecue island for your portable grill. Even if you later get the fancier outdoor cooking center you want, you will always be able to use this for quick family cookouts as well as for entertaining.
A barbecue island is a decorative work and storage area built around a standard portable gas barbecue grill. In addition to hiding the grill wheels, frame and propane tank, it provides additional food preparation work area around the grill.
If you size the island and finish the exterior properly, the grill will appear to be built-in. It can look as good as actual built-in grills costing thousands of dollars more.
Most gas grill manufacturers recommend a 24-inch clearance from the grill to combustible materials such as lumber. To meet this safety requirement, use steel studs instead of wood studs for the framing of the island. Cover the exterior of the island with concrete backer board instead of plywood.
Don't be scared off by the use of steel studs. These are lightweight structural members which are found at most home center stores. They are easy to work with and are connected together with self-drilling screws. Since these steel studs are so lightweight, you can build the framing in your garage and easily carry it to the patio for finishing.
Measure the outside dimensions of your grill and the height of the handle or shelf on the side. You will want to make the finished height of the island to the same height. Plan the cutout for the grill to be several inches larger than your grill for adequate clearance to slide it in and out if needed.
Use a standard circular saw with a carbide metal-cutting blade. It will saw through the steel studs like butter. Make the frame members for the structure the same way as if you were using lumber. If possible, size the frame members about two feet larger than the grill. This provides adequate countertop work area and reduces scrap material.
Use a cordless drill to drive the self-drilling screws through the steel studs to assemble the frame. Attach concrete backer board to the sides and the top. One-quarter-inch board is adequate for the sides, but one-half-inch board is better for the top work area.
Finishing the backer board surface with ceramic tile is most attractive. If your area experiences subfreezing temperatures, tile may come loose over time. Using stucco or a cement-based siding might be a better choice in cold climates.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.