DIY White Concrete Countertops

Ever since we came in contact with the Pugmire’s concrete countertops in their kitchen, we have had it in the back of our minds for ours–except in white to contrast our dark cabinets. We love to mix traditional and modern with an industrial edge in our home and white concrete countertops around the perimeter of the kitchen (with a walnut island top) not only sounded like a fun project to do and share, but we hoped it would add a bit of modern character to the kitchen. There are a few different kinds of concrete countertops floating around blog land, but for ours, we poured them in place using white countertop concrete mix and squared edge counterforms from Z Counterforms. Last Saturday, with the help of our friend Preston (musician, DIY master, concrete worker extraordinaire), we DIYed our countertops and today I’m here to spill all the details, the results and a few lessons we learned.

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PREP

The prep work is the most important part of DIYing concrete countertops. We started out by screwing in 5/8″ CDX plywood from underneath our cabinets. Although our countertops turned out awesome, if we were doing it again, we would definitely use Durock cement boards in place of the plywood. While plywood is an acceptable base, we learned that Durock absorbs liquid, while plywood repels it. This concrete mix was more fluid and we had quite a mess on our hands at one point. Like I said, it all turned out great in the end, so all is well that ends well, but after talking to the guys at Z Counterform, Durock would have eliminated a lot of the excess liquid.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

Once the plywood was set, we started attaching the forms. Preston is the one who told us about Z Counterforms because he had worked with them before, had great results and they are geared to DIYers and professionals alike. The backside of the countertop had a simple 90 degree straight edge form:

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

While the form for the front edges had a dip in it so it would go slightly down in front of the cabinets appearing to be a full 2 1/4″ thick. They had all sorts of fancy profiles for countertops, but we like the simple square edge.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

Since we were planning on an undermount sink and pouring concrete in place, this is the time to undermount the sink! It felt a little backwards at first, but we cut the hole for the sink and siliconed and braced it in place.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

To protect the sink from getting mounds of poured concrete in it, we used the sink template to cut out a form in 2″ blueboard styrofoam. We wrapped the edges in packing tape to promote the smoothest finish on the sink edge, marked where the top of the concrete would sit and siliconed that to the sink (came right off after the concrete dried!). We did a similar process for the faucet hole.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

This is where you are going to want to silicone every crack where the concrete could leak out. Where the counterform meets plywood, all seams (from the outside)–we also duct taped the outside corners as an extra precaution, and where the counterform meets the wall in the back. We thought we did this pretty well, but we missed a few spots where the wall meets the form and had some leaks to clean up during the pouring process. We’d definitely spend more time on this part doing it again.

The last part of the prep was rolling out fiber glass mesh (equivalent to rebar in large concrete projects) we picked up from Z Counterform, too. It keeps the concrete from cracking and reinforces the counters.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

Once we had it rolled out and cut, we attached what are called “Z clips“. They get screwed into the plywood and hold the mesh up and in place.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

We laid out rosin paper on the floors and covered all the cabinet fronts, too, after the above photo was taken. And we were finally ready to start pouring the countertops!

MIXING AND POURING THE COUNTERTOPS

As I mentioned earlier, we used a countertop specific mix from Z Counterform–this one! The directions are right on the bag, but there is a little wiggle room in how much water you add to the mix.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

Because we used plywood, instead of Durock, we settled on about 2.5 quarts per 50 lbs of concrete mix. We ended up using 14 bags of countertop mix for our perimeter countertops (about 35 sq feet).

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

The day started out with both Chris and Preston mixing, but after the first couple batches, Preston settled inside working on leveling the concrete while Chris kept mixing. In retrospect, we should have rented a mud mixer from the hardware store. Even these heavy duty drills were struggling to keep up and Chris’s shoulder was feeling it, too. Note: Rent a mud mixer!

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

After a bag was mixed up, it was poured onto the countertop:

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

And worked into the mesh with a magnesium float.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

When there was enough concrete in place, Preston would level it first with a screed. This was one Chris made in a couple minutes using a scrap piece of wood and two handles that came on a pallet we got.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

And then moved to the magnesium float:

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

While the concrete was still very wet, we took a palm sander (with no sandpaper on it) to the sides of the form and turned it on. This helped settle out any bubbles forming in the concrete.

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And finally, once things started setting up, a more flexible zinc trowel was used, which Preston explains a little more about in this short video that was shot during the final step right before we called it a night:

REMOVING THE FORMS AND SANDING

We finished that final step above on Saturday night. Monday night, we had the Pugmires over for dinner and to remove the edge forms. The back forms stay in place and will never be seen once we put in the backsplash. Z Counterforms are designed to bend and snap off–it’s the coolest and scariest part. Before removing the edge, we sanded over the form so we could pry it back a bit.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

I took a 15 second video showing how easy it was to remove the forms.

The edges and underneath the counters are so, so smooth since they were up against the forms. The tops were pretty smooth thanks to all of the effort Preston put in during the first 5-6 hours after pouring, but still got sanded down after the forms were snapped off. We got this sanding block from Z Counterform and it has 3 different diamond sanders with velcro on the back (printed with the grit). We started with a 150 grit and went up to a 300 for a velvety smooth finish.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

We couldn’t be happier with the results! The concrete is cool to the touch, like stone. It looks very organic with spots speckled with “pepper” and others swooshed with white. It’s smooth and thick, giving us a great overall counter + cabinet height.

DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia DIY White Concrete Countertops | Chris Loves Julia

The cost breakdown (not including sealer) is:

The concrete mix: $29 a bag x 14 bags= $406
Square Edging: $180
Fiberglass Mesh: $50
Z Clips: $20
Z Gem Pad (Diamond sanders): $60
Magnesium Float: $26
Zinc Trowel: $39
Screed: (DIYed)
Plywood: $45
Silicone: $15
Blueboard for sink: $15

TOTAL: $856

The last step is sealing it. We did a ton of research on sealers and invested in one that promises the utmost protection–fingers crossed! We are going to wait a full week, allowing it to cure completely, before doing that. So, I’ll share those details next week. We’re so glad we branched out a bit and tried something new to us. We love, love, love them. Is it something you would ever try?

UPDATE: Woot! I just got an email from Z Counterform and they’d like to offer all of our readers 15% off all products for the next 3 months using code CLJ015. Go get em, guys!

My New Char-Broil Smoker + My Killer Smoked Ribs Recipe

Ok, so it’s no secret that I’m a Char-Broil guy. From their Tru-Infrared grills, to their new Kettleman grill, I feel like Char-Broil is the most innovative company in the domestic grilling market. I was using and loving Char-Broil stuff long before I started partnering with them because their products are second to none and the company is just filled with really great people. And the best part is all the cool stuff I get to try!

So here’s how it works: Char-Broil sends me stuff. I use it. If I like it, I write about it. If not, I give them feedback. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a pretty sweet gig and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Char-Broil, it’s that they’re always looking for new ways to make cooking easier and more enjoyable. Out of that desire came the Tru-Infrared technology I’m always talking about (hands down the best domestic gas grills available), and they’ve just released a new line of digital smokers that I was able to try out last night. Two words: game, changer.

Now, Char-Broil is not forcing me to say nice things about their smoker, and I think it’s important to make that clear. But I get asked all the time, “What’s an easy smoker I can buy that isn’t crazy expensive?” So I genuinely want to share this smoker with you real quick for those who are interested.

Char-Broil Digital Smoker

The first thing I love about this smoker is that it’s digital. That means you can turn it on, put the food and wood chips in it and not have to worry about babysitting it all night. For longer cook times (like with pulled pork) you may need to add more wood chips a couple times, but it has a larger chip box than many domestic smokers I’ve seen and will keep smoking for a good 3 hours.

Char-Broil Digital Smoker

From there, all you do is set the timer and put your prepped food inside. Then go do whatever it is you gotta do and don’t even sweat it. The smoker also has a digital thermometer hooked up to the readout that you can stick in the meat so you can see what temp its at. You can even choose the temperature at which you want the smoker to shut off. Is that sweet or what? This smoker is a total dream for someone looking to try their hand at smoking meats, or just looking for an easier way to manage it.

Now for the die-hard smoking snobs out there who are chuckling to themselves saying, “wood-fired or bust,” I’d just ask that you get over yourself and recognize that it’s 2015. Not everyone is looking to spend the night sleeping next to a giant cast-iron drum, shoveling wood chips into it every hour and constantly messing with flaps to keep the temperature steady. If that’s you’re thing, power to ya but that just isn’t realistic for the rest of us. We wanna make great food and we want it to be easy. And technology helps us do that, so I say bring it on.

RECIPE: Mayo-Rubbed, Cherry Wood Smoked BBQ Ribs
Don’t let the name turn you off. Jules hates mayo, so I just didn’t tell her I used it for these ribs and she devoured them, exclaiming they were the best she’s ever had. When I told her I used mayo for them, her eyes glazed over a bit and she thanked me for not telling her while she was eating, but stood by her declaration that the ribs were off the charts.

Also, I want to make it clear that I don’t make competition-style ribs. I’ve eaten competition-style ribs and, yeah they were really tasty. But they for sure weren’t the best ribs I’ve ever had. Too many BBQ competitions, much like the rest of the food world, are trying to put cooks in a box, telling them their food has to meet certain parameters in order to be worthy of our pallets. Good crap, can we all just lighten up and learn to enjoy food? How boring to just make the same thing over and over. Jules and I have been married for almost 7 years, and there are maybe 6 things I’ve ever made the same way more than once. Let’s mix it up and stop worrying about what might happen if we don’t follow a recipe.

All right, back to it. Here’s what you need:
• Smoker (check)
• Cherry wood chips
• 2 racks of pork ribs (whatever kind you like, spare, st. louis, or even an equal amount of country-style)
• 1/4 cup mayonnaise
• 2 Tbsp kosher salt
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1 Tbsp onion powder
• 2 tsp garlic powder
• 2 tsp paprika
• 1 tsp cumin
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp ground all spice
bbq sauce

A lot of rib purists don’t like using coatings on their ribs, except for the rub. But I do like using a little something to help the rub stick, and seeing what different coatings do to the flavor and texture of the ribs is kinda fun. I’ve used hot sauce, mustard, and even ketchup on my ribs, but mayo does it for me because it has a fair amount of oil, but is somewhat neutral in flavor. You honestly don’t taste any mayo in the finished product, but the ribs seem to come out more tender and have a richer color. Love it.

First, turn the smoker to 250, fill the chip box with cherry wood chips (or whatever kind you prefer), and get it preheating. While that’s going on, rinse and pat dry the ribs. Then cut them into pieces maybe 3-4 ribs each and rub them with mayo:

Mayo-Rubbed Smoked Ribs

Then mix all the spices together and coat the ribs evenly with the spice mix. Once the smoker is heated, add the ribs in one layer, without stacking, and set the timer for 3 hours. Also fill up the water bowl in the smoker to the max-fill line. I just use regular water, but you can also use apple juice or something.

Mayo-Rubbed Smoked Ribs

Once you hit the 2 1/2 hour mark, pop open the smoker and take a look to see if they’re done. When the meat is pulling away from the bones, that’s when you know you’re there. If they aren’t done, put them in for the remaining 30 minutes.

Mayo-Rubbed Smoked Ribs

At this point, you could just dive in and eat them, but I like to add a little sauce and hit them with some heat on the grill. Ain’t gonna lie, my sauce is the best I’ve had with ribs, but you can use whatever kind you want.

Mayo-Rubbed Smoked Ribs

A picture of me taking a picture of ribs. So artistic, isn’t it?

That’s it. No missing the party while you tend to your diva of a smoker.

So if you’ve been thinking about getting a smoker, I really encourage you to check this one out. Maybe these ribs can even be the first thing you make. Either way, remember you can always get 15% off anything on charbroil.com by using the code B15CLJ. Take care, friends, and I hope you enjoy!

Mayo-Rubbed Smoked Ribs

 

Also, if you like the tips and recipes I share, here’s a friendly reminder to check out my eBooks. I really think you’ll dig ‘em. 

Putting Together and Installing our Ikea Sektion Cabinets

It seems like there are two groups of people when it comes to putting Ikea stuff together: those who enjoy it and those who want to rip their hair out during the process. We are firmly in the “enjoy it” category. But even then, staring at 143 boxes marked with words that have nothing to do with whats inside of them, is daunting to anyone. Before we started assembling our cabinets, we organized them into categories: cabinet boxes, drawers, door and drawer fronts and miscellaneous cover panels, hinges and legs. For the initial install, we were just putting together the boxes.

We decided to start with the biggest cabinet, the one that will be next to the fridge. It’s a good thing we started with this one because we realized our mistake right off the bat. You see, while we were planning and buying our kitchen, we didn’t realize that the cabinet sizes listed did not include the legs. We got an 80″ and a 15″ cabinet (totaling 95″) to flank the right side of the fridge which, in our minds, would have been perfect for our 96″ ceilings. However, as soon as we put the 80″ cabinet together, it hit us: Once we put the legs on this (which are just over 4″) the combination would no longer fit. And without legs, we won’t be able to pull out the drawers we had planned for the base of the 80″ cabinet. It wasn’t a fun mistake, but fortunately we had only put together the 80″ cabinet box so far–which runs about $110. We were able to return the 15″ cabinet we had planned to hang above that, the doors for the 80″ and 15″ and exchange it for a 90″ cabinet, which with legs on is the perfect height. The exchange cost us about $50 and an 8 hour round trip last Saturday for Chris. Woof.

While he was gone, I put together all the other cabinets myself. I got it down to where I could put a cabinet together in about 11 minutes. It was a little monotonous, but it was fun watching the living room fill up with cabinets as the day wore on.

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Installing the cabinets was a breeze thanks to Ikea’s track system. Even though all the base cabinets come with adjustable legs, you still clip the back of the cabinets onto a track so they are guaranteed level without a lot of excess tweaking. So naturally, we installed the track first (on Chris’s lunch break!), anchoring it into every stud on the wall.

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When we made the recessed cubby for the fridge, we made it about 26″ deep so the fridge would be flush. Knowing the upper cabinets are only 24″ deep, we added a 2×4 to the back before hanging the track system here so everything would be even once the cabinets and appliances were installed.

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We were able to install the track and all the perimeter cabinets in one night and the island cabinets the next night. The island counters have to be anchored to the floor, which we thought would be a nightmare because of our tile, but it wasn’t too bad at all.

We started out by drilling pilot holes through the tile with a diamond tip drill bit made for the job.

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Chris made a platform for the base cabinets to sit on that was the same height as the toe kick that came with the cabinets (just over 4″) and secured that to the floor through the pilot holes.

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Then we just attached the island cabinets to the base with a couple of screws in each.

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Seeing the kitchen altogether was exciting, but maybe a little underwhelming, too. Without interior fittings or doors and drawers or cover panels or countertops, it’s not much to look at.

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But, as I keep reminding myself, all that bad office furniture brown (Ikea has this brownish option or white interior boxes and we thought this would be better for the black exteriors we have) will be covered with Ikea’s LAXARBY black cover panels and doors/drawers dressed with brass hardware. And, well, if you follow me on Instagram (@chrislovesjulia), you already know part of the countertops happened this weekend! We hope to share with you those along with finished off cabinets by the end of the week.