Countertops for Your Outdoor Kitchen
In the hectic world of outdoor kitchen budgeting, we can conceive of fewer ways to skyrocket blood pressure than that first hour spent researching “countertops”. Wherever you turn online, opinions rarely agree. Some materials are touted as the single best thing to happen to outdoor kitchens since “the outdoors,” whereas two hours later you’ll realize some folks clearly learned their definition of “best” from a parody dictionary and are in too deep to change now.
Endless construction retailers and blogs try to sound like kitchen countertop authorities. Rooting out what’s actually appropriate for your kitchen is a Kafkaesque nightmare. Luckily for you, our experts heavily studied the wildly inconsistent topic of outdoor countertop materials (seriously, are these the people who write the tax laws?) to preserve your sanity. Read on to learn overlooked details that make or break countertop installations — or if seeing the calm left over after said Kafkaesque nightmare sounds like fun.
5 Questions to Ask When Choosing Outdoor Kitchen Countertops
Any outdoor kitchen countertop will significantly impact the overall style and aesthetic of the installation. It’ll face ample use and abuse and exposure to the elements; yet, you’ll want a surface that reflects well on first impressions. Speaking of reflecting, some materials are better than others for keeping down harsh, blinding glares and dissipating — rather than outright absorbing — the heat of a sunny summer day. Choosing the right countertop for your BBQ island or outdoor kitchen should take a lot of forethought.
1. How Will You Use Your Outdoor Kitchen?
Envision the expected typical use of your outdoor kitchen. Knowing how you plan to make use of the space — intended average party size, presumed cooking needs, and frequency of hosting — goes far towards choosing an appropriate surface. Example: quartzite, a popular compromise between common granite and weak marble, is particularly susceptible to hot pans and staining. However, if you protect it from hot metal and catch spills early, it cleans easily with soap and water.
2. Are BBQ Island Countertop choices dependent upon climate?
Extreme heat and humidity levels unsurprisingly impact suitable materials for your outdoor kitchen countertop. Soapstone, for example, is an excellent choice for high heat and inclement weather; ceramic tile can be poor for heat, whereas freezing and thawing water might crack the grout. However, harsh weather can be advantageous — marble is greatly susceptible to etches, but routine rainfall can gradually wash that disappointing etching into marvelous, uniquely-aged patterns.
3. How Important is Kitchen Countertop Maintenance to You?
Upkeep varies widely between countertop surfaces. Granite is a fairly frequent choice because it resists temperature swings and takes minimal upkeep, although resealing isn’t “one and done.” On the other hand, butcher block countertops are a unique pick and look absolutely stunning under the best conditions, but you’ll work hard for them with repeated oiling and — every year — sanding and starting over. Choose a surface that fits a reasonable level of upkeep in your home.
4. What Outdoor Kitchen Aesthetic Do You Want?
Countertops often lend any kitchen their first impression. In this regard, outdoor kitchens are little different. As surfaces vary wildly in construction and looks, choosing an appropriate one means factoring in the overall visual effect. We see white glass in more kitchens — but stark ivory isn’t for everyone and clashes with rustic islands. Wood options abound and deliver a great, earthy look; paired with an industrial appearance, they stick out. Keep mindful of complementary pairings.
5. What is Your Outdoor Kitchen Countertop Budget?
Based on countless factors, outdoor kitchen installation expenses cast a wide net. From serviceable to spectacular, building your fantasy backyard getaway stretches from the upper four figures to, well… add a zero and halve it. As most countertops range $25 to $70 per square foot, many budgets compromise — opting for a nicer grill but economical countertops, or shrinking overall to use luxury surfaces. Just bear in mind: countertops are always part of every first impression.
Popular Outdoor Kitchen Countertop Materials
Want to learn more about the industry’s leading outdoor kitchen surfaces? Well, so did we, so we consulted outdoor kitchen designers, professional contractors, and industry leads to compare notes. Here are our findings, broken down for your convenience. Read further for our best pricing averages, plus the materials that didn’t meet the bar — and what they’ll have to cover for the makeup exam.
- Cost: ★★★
- Huge variety of colors and finishes
- Common pick and very easy to maintain
- Withstands extreme heat and sun like a champ
- Resists stains, mold, mildew with proper sealant
- Go for a lighter color if you don’t have proper shading
*Note: Not Quartz, Quartz in an outdoor kitchen is the Devil’s work
- Cost: ★★
- Many granite qualities, looks like marble
- No sunlight fading and cleans with soap and water
- For years of durability, seal once per year
- Cannot survive high temperatures from hot pots
- Notable weakness to sharp objects and staining
- Cost: ★★
- Dark, beautiful natural stone
- Very dense and non-porous material
- Highly heat resistant and weatherproof
- Easy to maintain with just soak and water
- Weak to scratches/nicks; just buff with sandpaper
- Cost: ★★
- Beautiful abstract patterns
- Highly durable stone in general
- Acidic food and drinks will etch and stain
- Frequent rain/wind often washes, blends etches
- Maintain with regular sealing or weather-blending
- Cost: ★★
- Almost any color/finish
- Can mimic and outperform natural stones
- Handles temperature extremes quite well
- Low maintenance, non-porous, etch-resistant
- Particular weakness to hard impacts and chipping
- Cost: ★★★
- Custom pour shapes, can be a cheap DIY
- Sturdy, colorable material with durability
- Cleaning and upkeep are a typically a cinch
- Porous stone is weak against stains and bacteria
- Possibly prone to cracking if not properly sealed
*Note: Popular, effective choices include Elm, White Oak, Maple, Chestnut, and Tigerwood
- Cost: ★
- Rich, delightful, unique character built over time
- Varnishes/finishes make or break the weather seal
- Not great against heat; can swell if not protected
- Reapply finish often to maintain vivid colors
- If built/protected right, likely to last many years
- Cost: ★
- Wide selection of stone types and finishes
- Much cheaper than a full slab of natural stone
- Heavier on maintenance to keep looking pristine
- Grout lines can build up grime and must be sealed
- Consider appropriate stone types for your climate
- Cost: ★★★★
- Extremely smooth and shiny pure white
- Super durable, hard difficult to scratch or chip
- Won't etch from acids or burn/scorch from pans
- Carefree cleaning; stainproof — no sealing needed
- High expense, no custom textures or patterns
Estimated Costs of Outdoor Kitchen Countertops
While it’s easy to say that countertop materials vary wildly in expense based on location and availability alone (because they do), we still thought it a good idea to ballpark you. After crunching a lot of numbers, the following represents our best reasonable averages from various quality suppliers and industry authorities — we’ll be the first to admit “marble surfacing” might not be our usual forte here. Note that material quality also plays a large part, as the higher end of the scale is usually the result of premium sourcing.
|Countertop Material||Approx. Cost per Square Foot|
Outdoor Kitchen Countertop Materials to Avoid
We’re usually crazy about stainless steel, but it’s not suitable for most countertops outdoors. Stainless steel hoards heat like it’s going out of style but generously shares sunlight — directly with your eyes. Meanwhile, every single clatter against its surface demands attention. Trust us: save this for your doors and appliances.
The stunning beauty and elegance of quartz is undeniable. Sadly, it simply can’t hold up to humidity and moisture in the long run. Furthermore, colored quartz resins have a reputation for yellowing under sunlight, giving the otherwise magnificent countertop an increasingly sickly, jaundiced appearance. Skipping it breaks our hearts, too.
The trouble with slate is that it’s the fingerprint of the countertop surface world —no two are alike. Performance varies wildly. One holds up to staining and hard use; another will stain, scratch, and even crack with ease. Though higher-quality slate can happily last for years, the widespread inconsistency makes for a hard sell.
Commonly named “Corian” for its most visible brand, this acrylic polymer blend makes for interesting features with strong consistency throughout a mold. Unfortunately, it easily dents and scratches, discolors at the slightest excuse, often fades or splotches outdoors, and has a natural predator: heat. Better leave this one back inside.
Beautiful butcher block countertops make a magnificent visual. They’re also the highest-maintenance surface you could probably pick for an outdoor kitchen. Upkeep is constant with coats of special oils to prevent mildew; prepare to sand and start all over — yearly. Frankly, the maintenance daunts even the most dedicated among us.
Ipe Wood/Brazilian Walnut
Ipe wood (or “Brazilian Walnut”) is another stunning choice — in trendy utilization, appearance, and sheer harm to the environment. Overharvesting and sustainability problems run rampant, and it’s often illegally sourced overseas. Furthermore? It’s extremely hard and dense to cut. Gorgeous or not, many designers and architects won’t touch the stuff.
Common Types of Outdoor Kitchen Countertop Finishes
We couldn’t finish without the, well, finish! Defining a “finish” can become one of those fun games you must explain it without using it. We’ll try: it’s the last layer of color and texture that gives a surface its end appearance. Finishes and sealants are sometimes the same thing — otherwise, they’re different or even alternative steps. This end step of the manufacturing process often involves sanding, sealing, and coating — and then your countertop is ready for installation. Whew! Made it. Did we win anything?
The mirror-like gloss of a polished finish is a vastly popular choice, bringing out the richest colors and patterns of any surface. It offers the elegance of a glassy sheen but keeps cleanup a breeze. Thanks to its less porous edge, it can be easily wiped down, is great at stopping stains, and doesn’t need sealing quite as often. However, keeping the luster sharp involves rigorous care, specific cleaners, and attentiveness for detail.
A latecomer trend, this matte finish leaves a soft feeling that is smooth to the touch. Honed finishes boast a more nuanced appearance, conceal the stone’s natural flaws easier, and hide their scratches better — at the cost of duller appearance. Though they don’t shine quite as nicely as polished finishes, the trade-off is a charming, incandescent ambience. That said, darker honed finishes tend to show fingerprints and smudging and often fade further during production.
Sometimes called a brushed finish, this eye-catching textured look is named for the distinctly leathery appearance it takes on during the manufacturing process. It doesn’t reflect light — a perfect feature for outdoor kitchens — and is not only naturally stain-resistant but effortlessly disguises blemishes and smudges. For all its perks, keeping that naturalistic appearance looking great takes a little more effort: daily cleaning is a must with a microfiber cloth and appropriate cleaner.
A smart choice exclusive to granite countertops (the most convenient and common material — imagine that!), flamed finishes creative a faded, natural appearance. Though the overall color will be more muted and lean towards charcoal or tan, the individual grains themselves will pop with nice, contrasting colors. The rougher surface can be harder to keep clean and might be texturally unpleasant to some, but recent years have gradually brought it more widespread appreciation.
Seal Your Countertops Before Installing Storage
For many surfaces, sealant is a fantastic necessity. Notable exception here — stainless steel. You do not want sealant touching that stuff, because it’s laughably corrosive. Whether you or your contractor are doing it, definitely seal your countertop before installing stainless steel into that BBQ grill island. If you must, or if you bought that butcher block countertop anyway (Sisyphus has his boulder and steep hill, and here you are eternally sealing that countertop), cover your precious metal first. Side effects of ignoring this advice include, but are not limited to: dissatisfaction, embarrassment, divorce, and failed attempts to return storage components.
Knives and Countertops are Mortal Enemies
You know how a pot of water douses fire, but fire will evaporate it? That’s basically the relationship between sharp knives and your loving countertop. Countertops dull knives like you pay them to do it; knives chip, etch, and scratch countertops as though one cut them off in traffic and they’ve finally had enough. Inviting these two to the same party is a recipe for disaster, let alone physically shoving them together. Protect countertops and knives from one another with a quality cutting board — or you’ll help them fuel their endless feud.BBQ Cutting Boards & Chopping Blocks
Our Design Team Works with Contractors (and You!)
Our design team works tirelessly with countless homeowners and contractors, building better backyard kitchens. They’ve done more outdoor kitchen sketches, consultations, and expert advising than we can possible count — and they’re ready to do it for you, too. Find out more by checking out our free 3D outdoor kitchen design services!
Still have questions? We get it. Lucky for you, our outdoor living experts are ready and waiting to answer your call. Give them a ring at 1-877-743-2269!
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