QUESTION: What are the best outdoor kitchen countertops? There are so many choices. I want something low maintenance and durable. Recommendations?
ANSWER: Yes, of course! The short answer...
Granite countertops are tough to beat for all-around easy use, maintenance, color choices, and unmatched durability for outdoor countertops.
Granite sets the bar for comparing countertop materials but others can make good outdoor kitchen countertops as well. It's just a matter of weighing the pros and cons and deciding what look or style works with all your other outdoor kitchen design ideas.
Some surfaces perform differently outdoors vs. indoors regarding durability and maintenance, so you definitely want to learn and consider these factors and weigh the pros and cons to make the best choice.
Let's explore all countertop options and let you decide....
Granite can handle the weather and all the fancy barbecue recipes, food, drinks, fun (and sometimes chaos) of outdoor dining and entertaining.
It won't etch, or discolor, or lose its shine. Sealing granite countertops is a good idea to prevent stains. However, this is not complicated... easily done.
Many varieties are dense enough that you don't need to apply a sealer. If you do stain a granite countertop, it can be removed or the sun and rain will get rid of it over time. With normal clean-up, granite countertops will look great for years.
Plus granite offers so many color and pattern options you're bound to find at least one that's perfect.
Quartzite will make an excellent countertop for your backyard kitchen. Note we're talking about quartzite... the natural stone.... not "quartz" the engineered stone (which you should read about below).
Quartzite has essentially the same qualities as granite. A quartzite countertop is hard and durable. It will last a long time with little fuss.
Concrete is also a durable material for outdoor kitchen countertops. Concrete may scratch and knick a bit easier than granite, but in general it will hold up well.
The problem with concrete is the coloring which has a
tendency to fade and turn yellow in the sun. This isn't as noticeable if you stick to lighter earth tones or if the countertop is completely shaded.
Soapstone is a solid choice for an outdoor kitchen. Soapstone is highly resistant to heat and staining and will perform well. Note that it can be scratched rather easily. The good news is that scratches can be sanded out without much trouble.
One knock on soapstone is that when left unsealed or not oiled (neither of which are necessary for protection or maintenance) fingerprints, liquids, and oils will darken the stone.
They will eventually wash off, but the spots and splotches can be annoying.
Applying mineral oil will give soapstone that dark shine, but you have to apply it regularly to maintain that look.
One other consideration is the surface temperature. Being a dark stone it can get hotter to the touch than other light-colored materials.
Overall soapstone is a durable and relatively trouble-free surface for outdoor use.
Marble can work well as an outdoor kitchen countertop, if you get a honed finish and don't worry about etching and staining too much. A honed finish is the way to go since rain, snow, wind, and general weather will wear away a shiny polished finish.
Acidic foods and drinks like ketchup and pina coladas will cause etching (dull spots on the surface), so marble is not the best choice for a kitchen countertop inside or outside.
Stains (liquid absorbs creating a dark spot) can be controlled with a stone sealer.
Stains and etching can be managed and removed or repaired, but as a food prep surface you'll be dealing with these spots a lot. Deciding if that's okay with you or not is the key.
On the plus side, weather will also work for you by washing out stains and blending in etch marks aging the marble naturally for an authentic "rustic" look.
Marble is certainly durable enough and will last a long time so it's just a matter of how much maintenance you want to put into it to keep it looking new-ish.
If you let it age naturally, then it's almost maintenance-free. Normal clean-up is essentially all that is required for years of use.
Slate can be considered for outdoor kitchen countertops, but no two slates are alike and the performance characteristics can vary widely. Some can be very durable and dense resisting staining and hard use, while others will stain, scratch, crack, and cleave.
And like soapstone the darker colored slate will result in a hot surface in direct sun.
So unless you can get some guarantees about the quality of the slate you intend to install, other choices are better. On the other hand, if you do get a high-quality slate slab, then no worries. It will give you years of enjoyment.
Using tile for outdoor kitchen countertops involves a few other variables, but the tile material will have the same characteristics as a slab. Granite or ceramic tile are very durable and cheaper than a slab, but you have grout that can get dirty and stain or break up, so it's not great from a maintenance standpoint. It will hold up reasonably well if not neglected.
For a complete discussion check out our page about using tile for outdoor countertops.
Wood or Butcher Block Countertops
Wood countertops and butcher block are sometimes considered for outdoor kitchen countertops. Many simply love the look. Of course, wood countertops will be high-maintenance and certainly not as durable as granite or other choices.
The important considerations are:
I'd suggest that you would need to frequently apply a food grade oil to the surface to both protect the wood from moisture and rot and allow for safe food prep.
Another option would be to varnish the surface like you might see on a bar top in a pub. A phenolic-based varnish could work. Good water repellent and UV protection, but requires a ton of regular upkeep. You'll have to sand and apply new coats probably every year.
You might consider Marine Spar Varnish for ultimate durability, but it tends to go on much darker and will continue to darken. Although, all varnish will yellow a bit with age.
A roof or something to shield from the elements will definitely help extend the life of this countertop material. Using a cover through the winter is probably a good idea.
If you are willing to put in the extra effort to protect and maintain it, then wood or butcher block is still a reasonable choice for your outdoor kitchen countertops.
Stainless Steel Countertops
Stainless Steel is not often installed outdoors but can be a desirable option under the right circumstances.
Any surface can get hot if exposed to sun, but steel would be extreme. And very reflective too.
Now if the outdoor kitchen countertops will be covered or shaded or the temperature doesn't get too hot, then this is not an issue.
On the plus side, stainless steel presents easy clean up and maintenance although when constantly exposed to weather it still may show some wear.
Stainless steel countertops are expensive since they require skill to fabricate and not many can do it. Now maybe you can find an old stainless workbench from a restaurant or something like that may work for an outdoor kitchen.
Depending on your outdoor kitchen design and the size, you may be able to find an all-in-one stainless steel outdoor kitchen base that either rolls in or installs in components.
Stainless steel countertops are loud unless insulated somehow. Just setting a plate down can make an annoying sound.
Aesthetically stainless steel countertops have a much more utilitarian look to them but this works for a sleek or minimalist design.
Now I know stainless appliances have been on trend for years now, but that's a bit different than having a whole indoor or outdoor kitchen countertop. It could be a tad overwhelming... again depending on size and design.
The following two types of countertops could be used for an outdoor kitchen, but they share an issue that really can't be remedied.
Corian is basically a plastic aggregate material so it may not retain or reflect heat or get as hot as other surfaces, but I wouldn't recommend using it for an outdoor kitchen.
The color will fade and get splotchy outdoors, although, some Corian colors may hold up better than others.
Corian is not heat resistant... no hot pots or setting anything hot on the surface. And it scratches fairly easily.
Quartz countertops are also not a good pick for an outdoor kitchen. The resin / coloring used to manufacture this surface will turn yellow in the sun and elements. Otherwise, it would be a good choice similar to granite.
Granite countertops exposed all day to 90 degree sun will get very hot indeed. But guess what... so will any other type of stone or tile you might consider using... hot enough that you don't want to rest an arm on it.
Travertine and porcelain may even be worse than granite since they are more dense than granite and typically have a higher "thermal mass," which is the ability to absorb and transfer heat.
In this regard, Corian and butcher block countertops would likely not absorb as much heat or become hot to the touch.
Regardless of the type of countertop material you go with, picking a lighter color will help reflect the sun's heat and be the cooler surface.
But the best way to deal with this issue is to build a roof or pergola over the outdoor kitchen countertops. A pergola will likely provide enough shade to keep the countertop surface temperature reasonable. Also an outdoor fabric that filters the light but allows air passage could be attached to the top of the pergola for better shading.
In some cases, a short wall or row of plants or trees may do the trick to keep the sun off the countertop surface.
For a cold climate with many freeze and thaw cycles you'll want to cover your outdoor kitchen countertop to minimize moisture absorption and possible cracking during a freeze. This is not a common problem, but applies to all natural stone and ceramic and worth the small effort to avoid.
Edge options are more limited for outdoor kitchen countertops than for those indoors, but you still have many choices. It's only the complex laminated edges that you want to stay away from.
Laminated edges create an extra-thick edge profile by gluing a second strip of granite or marble (or whatever countertop material you have) to the underside of the slab. This is done mainly on the thinner 2 cm granite slabs.
The problem is the epoxy glue.
The epoxy used to laminate countertop edges to create a full bullnose, ogee, double-bevel or other "fancy" edge designs will degrade in the sun and eventually that laminated edge will come off.
Best Type of Finish
For the most part the choice of surface finish on outdoor kitchen countertops is a matter of personal preference, but here's a few considerations:
A flamed surface is not a great choice for a countertop simply because it is a rough surface that will be much harder to keep clean. A great look for walls and good traction for floors though.
A honed granite or marble finish is fine, but the color won't be as intense. However, it can still look stunning and many like a honed surface finish. Fingerprints do show up more on a dark-colored honed surface.
A polished surface is the most popular. A polished finish is very easy to keep clean and polishing will bring out the color and pattern more than any other finish type.
However, the type of countertop material is a factor. A polished finish on granite outside isn't a problem. Granite is so hard it will stand up to a lot of wear and weather without affecting the finish.
Marble and other stone countertops do better with a honed finish outdoors. Rain, snow, wind and weather in general will eventually wear away a polished finish on a marble outdoor countertop.
One other factor to ponder that may or may not be an issue is the reflection and glare on a polished finish. This will be more severe than on a honed finish. However, if the kitchen area is covered or shaded, then it shouldn't be an issue.
Either a 2 cm (3/4 inch) slab or a 3 cm (1 1/4 inch) is fine to use for an outdoor kitchen countertop. The thinner 2 cm slab will need a little extra support, but it will be cheaper over-all.
A 3cm slab (vs. a 2cm) can still have a nice thick edge profile without laminating. A 2cm slab will have a thin edge without laminating (which you don't want to do outside). The extra cost of the thicker 3 cm slab may not be worth it to you just for the edge, although, that is typically the main reason to install 3 cm granite countertops.
There you have it. For the best outdoor kitchen countertops, granite is the safest bet but not your only option. Several other countertop materials are solid performers outdoors too. And then a handful that really shouldn't be outdoor kitchen countertops.
To make the right choice consider your design desires, your climate, overall outdoor kitchen structure, availability of shade, and the time and effort you're willing to expend on maintenance.