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!
Granite countertops are tough to beat for easy use, maintenance, and unmatched durability outdoors.
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. So with normal clean-up, granite countertops will look great for years.
But lets look at other countertop options and design considerations....
Concrete countertops are also very durable for outdoor kitchens. 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.
Soapstone countertops are a good pick for an outdoor kitchen design. Soapstone is highly resistant to heat and staining and will perform well. It can be scratched rather easily; however, scratches are easily repaired too.
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.
You can apply oil to give soapstone that dark shine, but you have to apply it regularly to maintain that look. Soapstone is durable though, and low maintenance except from a cosmetic standpoint.
Slate can be considered, 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. So unless you can get some guarantees about the quality of the slate you intend to install, other choices are better.
Marble can work well too, if you get it honed 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 polished marble finish.
On the plus side, this same weather will also wash out stains and blend in etch marks aging the marble naturally for an authentic "rustic" look. Both stains and etch marks can be removed as desired, though. Here again, normal clean-up is essentially all that is required for years of use.
Tile countertops, especially granite or ceramic are very durable and cheaper, 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. Learn more about using tile for outdoor countertops.
Two unusual choices....
You may consider butcher block countertops for your outdoor kitchen. Wood will be high-maintenance and certainly not as durable as granite or other choices. However, if you love the look, butcher block is still a reasonable choice with the proper care.
Stainless steel countertops are not often installed outdoors but can be a desirable option under the right circumstances.
Avoid these countertop materials for an outdoor kitchen...
Corian countertops are not good outside. The color of Corian will fade and it's prone to stains, burns, and scratches.
Quartz countertops are no good either for an outdoor kitchen. The topcoat resin/color will turn yellow in the sun and elements.
There you have it. For the best outdoor kitchen countertops, granite is the safest bet but not your only option.