For the thrill of the outdoor cook and do-it-yourself hobbyist, the outdoor barbecue countertop can be a wonderful addition to any home. Though portable counters much like butcher blocks are easily constructed and can be moved about, it is hard to move such a countertop across uneven surfaces. A permanent outdoor countertop provides a convenient, stable surface for preparing food and contributes significantly to the beauty and style of the barbecue. The styles are almost limitless when designing your new countertop. Think about how much and how often you use your outdoor counter as it must be durable, stain resistant and able to withstand the elements as well as shed water and be non-combustible.
The countertop spans the top of your structure you are building, so the bed must be a flat, slab-like surface strong enough to carry the load. When planning your barbecue height (normally 36″), be sure to figure in the countertop’s entire thickness, including tile or other masonry units, the mortar bed and supporting base (www.hgtv.com). For typical counter bases – tile and other countertop materials – which require a sturdy durable base, the three most popular choices are heavy gauge stainless steel, steel reinforced cast concrete and pre-cast concrete stepping stones.
For outdoor countertops, tile is a popular choice. The range of tile available allows one to create any mood or appearance and match or compliment any stile. It is one of the oldest materials as it is durable, easy to clean and highly weather resistant. Tile comes either as glazed or unglazed. The folks at Sunset Magazine suggest that one always buy more material than what the calculations indicate. The general rule of thumb is to add 5% for mistakes and breakage. Further, before bringing home the tile, check the cartons to be sure that the colors match as they can vary from carton to carton.
The rest of the equipment that will be needed include, tile nippers for corners, a snapable tile cutter for cutting down tiles, plastic spacers to keep tile grout lines aligned, a notched trowel to help apply the thin set adhesive and a rubber back trowel to help apply and remove grout.
Now that one has the stable surface, the equipment and the tile, it is time to lay out your plan. Lay out the design you wish to use and if just a standard layout with no pattern, use plastic tile spaces for accuracy during placement. Once happy with the design and overall look of the tile, mark the location of key tiles on the base, then pick up the tiles and stack them nearby.
It is time to set the tiles, using a thin set adhesive, apply a thin coat in sections to your work surface, place the tiles, keeping the grout lines aligned with either a metal straight edge rule or the plastic tile markers. Set the edge pieces first and work inward. The tile is now set and needs time to set and cure, which takes about 24 hours depending on the weather.
Once the adhesive is cured, it is time to apply the grout. Using a complimentary color will make the tiles stand out and give your countertop character. Following the manufactures directions, mix the grout until it has the consistency of cookie dough. Apply to the surface using a trowel. The grout should be set low, but not so low that you cannot clean the crumbs away. Carefully remove any excess grout as to not disturb the lines; this can be done by holding your trowel at a 45 degree angle to the surface. Be sure to clean your trowel often, cleaning it off regularly. Once the grout is dry, again depending on the weather, polish the tile with a clean, soft cloth to bring back the shine.
It should be noted that if unglazed tiles are used, once the grout is fully dried and cured, about two weeks, apply a sealer to the entire surface to keep stains and damage to a minimum. (Sunset Magazine – Building an Outdoor Barbecues and Outdoor Kitchens)
Now it is time to enjoy the new countertop. A simple project for any handyman (or woman) to accomplish. As to the design of your countertop and new outdoor cooking area, there are many fine websites that one can visit such as www.diynetwork.com and www.hgtv.com. The publishers at Sunset Magazine also publish many books about the different styles that can be built by the do-it-yourself type person.