Industry Secrets: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Outdoor Kitchen Countertops
No outdoor kitchen is complete without the perfect countertops. Whether you’re using the space for meal prep, buffet-style serving, bartending or simply displaying flower arrangements, different uses benefit from different surface materials. There are pros and cons for each material that you need to consider in addition to its aesthetic value. Be wary of what you read online, too, as some manufacturers prefer to point you in the direction of their favorite (and most profitable) materials to work with.
Granite is the prom king of outdoor kitchen countertops. The most popular choice, the durable stone survives outdoor environments with ease and offers a variety of colors that are resist fading in direct sunlight. If the countertop will be exposed to a lot of sunlight, choose a lighter color to keep it cool to the touch. It’s naturally protected against heat and can be sealed to resist milder, stains and mold. Homeowners can choose between a honed or polished finish, depending on how natural they want the surface to look. Granite is easy to clean, but can develop grease and other stains over time. It’s an expensive, heavy material, but you can save money by sourcing existing slabs or buying pre-cut slabs. Price: $$$
Soapstone is a dense, heat and stain-resistant material that doesn’t need sealing. There is some maintenance involved, as you should periodically treat it with mineral oil to control its gradual darkening process. If done properly, colors should not fade. Price: $$
Going for a rustic look? Flagstone offers a distinct character to your countertop, but the porous material can be difficult to clean, seal and maintain. It sheds layers in a process known as “shaling” and stains easily. Still, the price is more competitive than some of the higher-end materials and the natural look is hard to beat. Price: $
Tile is an increasingly popular choice due to its cost-effectiveness and how creative you can get with different patterns, colors and materials. Still, if you live in a colder climate, you might avoid tile as the freeze/thaw can crack the grout. The grout is also susceptible to stains, so you might want to use a darker grout than you would on indoor tile to prevent yellowing and choose larger tiles to reduce the grout lines necessary in your pattern. Granite and porcelain tiles resist fading from sunlight better than other options, but be sure to buy tile that is rated for outdoor applications. Price: $
If durability is your chief concern, concrete is top-dog. With proper installation and regular sealing, concrete will shrug off the elements, stains, mold and mildew. You can customize the cast into almost any shape, letting you get more creative with your countertops than other materials might allow, even casting personal items, glass or tile into the surface. Different edge forms can fit the aesthetic of the rest of your outdoor space and home. The material itself isn’t very expensive, but you don’t want to skimp on the installer. Make sure you use someone with experience in the kind of work you’re looking to have done. Price: $$
Wood or butcher block is a high-risk, high-reward material due to the constant maintenance and inherent fragility. For those who prioritize stunning looks above all else, wood will rarely disappoint. You need to frequently apply coats of special oil to protect against moisture and the ensuing mildew and rot if you want to safely use the surface for food prep. You can also apply a thick varnish to make the surface water repellent and offer protection against the sun, but the upkeep might intimidate you, requiring annual sanding and new coats of varnish to keep the fresh appearance. Price: $$
If you have other copper elements around your home and yard, adding copper and its inimical luster to the countertops in your outdoor living space can tie the whole design together. Copper is a very expensive option, but is easy to clean. The metal will get hot if exposed to direct sunlight and will weather faster in an outdoor environment than other materials, though many prize copper for its aged appearance. Price: $$$
As with tile, homeowners are increasingly looking at paving stones for their low cost and appealing design options. The durability that makes them the go-to choice for walkway and deck surfaces is a boon for countertops, too. You can seamlessly integrate existing pavers from elsewhere around your home into your outdoor kitchen design to create a unified appearance. They should be sealed if you want a stain-resistant surface for food prep. Like tile, repairing pavers is usually less expensive than other materials, as you can replace individual pavers instead of an entire surface. Price: $
If your countertop won’t be covered or otherwised exposed to direct sunlight, you’ll probably want to avoid stainless steel. The material is blindingly reflective and gets extremely hot in direct sunlight. Stainless steel is also expensive, but pairs elegantly with many outdoor appliances. If you can take the heat, it’s a fantastic surface for meal prep and is very easy to clean and maintain. Pro Tip: If you haven’t already considered an overhang or other covering for your outdoor kitchen space, consider building a pergola. Price: $$$
Laminates appear to be a cheap option, but the particle boards underneath are prone to rot, mildew and warping. While this countertop option holds up just fine indoors where it is protected from the sun and moisture, being outdoors will cause laminate counters to rot or warp.
This plastic material won’t get as hot as other surfaces, but isn’t suitable for an outdoor countertop as its colors will quickly appear splotchy when exposed to sunlight and scratches easily. And while it won’t burn your hand if left in the sun, hot skillets or other cookware can damage it.
Not to be confused with quartzite, quartz and outdoor countertops just don’t mix. Quartz will yellow if exposed to the elements or sunlight. If the kitchen area will be mostly protected from the outdoors, quartz might be an acceptable alternative to granite.
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