Your Outdoor Kitchen Countertop – A Guide

Outdoor kitchens are more popular than ever, but designing an outdoor kitchen is not without its challenges. UV rays, freezing cold temperatures, extreme heat, strong winds and driving rains can take a toll on outdoor kitchen structures.

Outdoor countertops must be capable of withstanding these harsh conditions without cracking, warping, fading or becoming otherwise damaged. Not all materials are a right fit for an outdoor kitchen countertop, and even those that are appropriate still need regular maintenance in order to continue looking their best.

If you’re a homeowner installing an outdoor kitchen on your property, selecting the right countertop material is key to ensuring that your kitchen will look great, function well and last for decades. This guide will discuss which countertop materials are appropriate, which ones are not, and what you can do to protect your countertop from the harsh outdoor conditions while also ensuring that your countertops are safe for food preparation purposes.

Can you install natural stone on an outdoor kitchen countertop?

Yes, some types of natural stone are a good fit for an outdoor kitchen. Below are two stone types that stand up well to harsh outdoor conditions and continue to look their best even after many years of use.

Granite. Granite is an old standby in the kitchen, and for good reason. It’s incredibly hard and durable. With proper care, granite is able to withstand frequent use without becoming scratched, chipped or otherwise damaged. Granite comes in a range of colors, including light, medium, and dark tones. Even with regular exposure to UV rays, granite will not fade.

One potential problem with granite is its porousness: it needs regular sealing (see maintenance tips below) in order to avoid stains and cracking.

If granite is your preferred product for your outdoor kitchen, it’s best to select a light- to medium-toned stone, if you’re installing a countertop in an uncovered kitchen area. Darker stones and black stone countertops can become very hot in direct sunlight, which can make food preparation difficult or hazardous, and can lead to burns.

Soapstone. Soapstone is a relatively soft stone that comes in a limited range of colors – mostly dark grays. Because of this, soapstone is best placed in a covered outdoor kitchen where it’s shielded from sunlight. Without protection from sun, soapstone can become very hot and may burn anyone who touches it. Since it’s also very soft, it scratches easily. This is another reason that soapstone is best placed a covered area: it should be sheltered in order to avoid scratching or damage.

One benefit that soapstone has over granite: it’s non-porous. Soapstone won’t stain or absorb water in freeze/thaw cycles. Its non-porousness also means there should be no small crevices that bacteria can be absorbed into. For a low-maintenance stone that requires almost nothing besides occasional cleaning, soapstone is an outstanding choice.

Which countertop materials should you avoid in an outdoor kitchen?

Marble and quartz are two popular indoor countertop options that really don’t fare well outside. Marble has the porousness of granite and the softness of soapstone, so it’s vulnerable to damage in an outdoor setting. Meanwhile, quartz yellows easily when exposed to UV rays.

If you’re considering any other countertop material besides marble and quartz, speak with your stone fabricator to find out whether these materials make sense for an outdoor kitchen environment.

What are the care instructions for an outdoor countertop?

Clean your countertop before and after every use. Outdoor kitchen countertops can get dirty like any other outdoor structure. Wind picks up small flecks of dirt that can lightly cover your countertop surface between uses. Your countertop can also get dirty in other ways, whether it’s from kids playing in the backyard or it’s from birds that fly overhead and land on the countertop surface. Plan to clean your countertop every time you use it, and every time you finish using it.

Natural stone can be cleaned easily with warm water mixed with mild soap. Don’t use harsh or abrasive cleaners, or cleaners with bleach. When in doubt, use a cleaning product specifically designed for use with natural stone. Clean spills as soon as they occur, especially on granite.

Seal as needed. Granite needs to be sealed regularly because its pores can absorb dark-colored liquids. When this happens, granite can stain easily. Granite can also absorb water after a rain and may be vulnerable to cracking during freeze/thaw cycles as a result. Plan to seal your granite countertop as needed.

To determine when your granite needs to be sealed, pour a few tablespoons of water on the surface of the counter. If the stone absorbs the water and leaves a wet spot behind, this is an indication that the stone needs to be sealed. If the water beads up on top of the stone without soaking into the counter, it’s properly sealed. See our instructions on granite countertop sealing to learn more.

Outdoor Kitchen Design Tips

Follow these tips when designing an outdoor kitchen with natural stone countertops.

Design a covered area for food prep. Although it’s not an absolute necessity, having a covered area for food prep will help keep your countertops cleaner and cooler on hot days, which makes them easier to work with. Your counters will also be less vulnerable to freeze/thaw cycles if you can protect them from rain, snow and other forms of precipitation.

Purchase your countertops from a reputable stone fabricator. Ensure that your countertops will look and perform their best by buying them from a reputable stone fabricator in your area. The best fabricators stock the best slabs of stone, offer the best varieties and stand behind their work during and after the slab fabrication process.