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Outdoor Kitchen Materials: What are the Best Options?

By James King

April 11, 2024

As you know, an outdoor kitchen is a huge investment. You want it to last as long as possible. 

And you’re wondering: What are the best outdoor kitchen materials? 

An outdoor kitchen is only as good as the materials it’s made from. 

The trouble is… There is a sizable lack of information about outdoor kitchen materials. 

There’s some… But it’s sparse. You have to rifle through multiple articles just for a piece of information here and there. And then… There’s differing opinions between these sources.

outdoor kitchen materials featured image

Likely, this is leaving you feeling uncertain.  

You want to feel confident in your decisions. And to do so, it’s essential to understand the ins and outs of various outdoor kitchen materials.

If you want to deeply understand outdoor kitchen materials, you’ve come to the right place. Let this article serve as your personal guide to the best materials for an outdoor kitchen. Whether you plan to hire a contractor, go DIY, or buy a premade island… You’ll know what materials to look out for.

Ready? Let’s go. 

Quick Links:

Outdoor Kitchen Frame Materials

It’s important to understand how an outdoor kitchen comes together.

Usually, there are three layers to the project. 

First, we have our frames. These are the “bones” of your outdoor kitchen.

The next layer is a surface for the cladding material to be adhered to.

Third is, of course, the cladding material. This is your finish… Or the “skin” of your outdoor kitchen. 

Not all outdoor kitchen constructing methods utilize frames. However, many do!

We’ll be breaking down materials for each of the three layers… But for now, let’s talk about some common structural outdoor kitchen building materials.

Most commonly, you’ll see metal, wood, concrete blocks, or plastic structures.

Let’s go into detail on each.

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Metal Frames

Metal frames are by far the most popular option. 

Often, this is due to availability. Many companies provide either custom or out of the box metal frame designs.

There are some great benefits to using metal frames.

They are lightweight and easy to transport.

If you use a low gauge metal, they can hold a lot of weight.

And finally, metal frames also make efficient use of space. You’ll have plenty of interior cavity leftover to access your built-in grill or store items.

a metal frame outdoor kitchen falling apart after a few winters

Now, metal frames do have some weak points.

Moisture is kryptonite to metal frames. If you live in a humid area, close to the ocean, or in a freeze/thaw climate… You’ll want to be aware of this. 

If moisture gets to your metal frames… Corrosion and rust can break them down over time. Eventually, this will compromise the structural integrity of your outdoor kitchen. That’s not a simple repair! 

If you decide on metal frames, ensure you use a corrosion and weather-resistant metal. It won’t be foolproof. However, it will give you some peace of mind. 

If you’re planning to go DIY… Just note that working with steel frames can be quite a challenge. Steel work is not for beginners! It may be a hassle you simply don’t want to deal with. 

Wood Frames

2x4 wood planks for outdoor kitchen frame

More than likely, your house is framed with wood. So you’re probably thinking… Why not do the same for my outdoor kitchen? 

There are some benefits of wood framing, yes. But we’d argue there are more downsides than upsides.

Good news first! Wood frames are definitely the most cost-effective option. So if you’ve got a tight budget, this will certainly be enticing.

Secondly, wood frames are the easiest to build. The DIYer doesn’t require extensive construction experience to piece wood frames together. 

But that’s where the benefits end.

wood frame rotting out on an outdoor kitchen after a few years

The main issue here is degradation. Wood is extremely susceptible to rot. And of course, if termites make your outdoor kitchen a home… It’s game over. 

Secondly, wood is a combustible material… Which can be a serious safety hazard when paired with a piping hot built-in grill. You have to take extra precautions due to this… Such as investing in insulated jackets for all of your cooking equipment. 

And even with insulated jackets… Wooden outdoor kitchens are still more vulnerable to catching flame than other framing materials. In our eyes, the risk simply isn’t worth it. 

If the safety hazards of wood are a turn-off… Perhaps you’ll be interested in concrete.  

Concrete Block

concrete blocks are hard to work with

Also known as CMU (concrete masonry unit), this method is becoming less popular. However, it may still be a great fit for your backyard. 

We all know the traditional characteristics of concrete. It’s dense, heavy, and strong. As a result, concrete blocks hold up well in virtually any climate. You don’t have to worry about corrosion or the concrete degrading. 

It’s also a non-combustible material… Making it a safer choice than wood! 

Despite these benefits, there are some downsides. There is a trade skill involved with installing concrete blocks. More often than not, you’ll have to hire a mason. For this reason, CMU has become less popular over time. 

Another disadvantage? Building an outdoor kitchen with concrete blocks is highly invasive. It involves heavy machinery, takes a long time… And can lead to a huge mess for you to clean up at the end. Not fun! 

Also know that concrete blocks are not the most economical solution. Masons are a dying breed… And the ones still around charge a pretty penny for their services. Installing concrete blocks is also a time consuming process.

An additional con to cement block outdoor kitchens is a lack of interior island space. While metal frames provide ample cavity space for access… Concrete blocks are the opposite. 

Not only will this lack of interior cavity space make it a pain to access the inside of your BBQ island… It can also pose some safety hazards by restricting airflow within your outdoor kitchen structure. 

And if airflow is restricted, it can result in hot air buildup… Which in turn may cause your built-in grill to overheat and spark a flame. (This is why outdoor kitchen vents are crucial… No matter the frame material you use!) 

Lastly, if you’re planning to install concrete on a patio or deck… You’ll likely need to add structural footings or additional supports. The extra support is often needed for the extra weight of concrete, otherwise, the structure your kitchen is on could be compromised over time. 

And of course, a hefty grill island causing your deck to collapse is another safety hazard you don’t want to mess around with… So be 100% certain not to skip this step. 

Now, there’s just one material left to discuss.

Plastic Outdoor Kitchen Cabinetry

hdpe plastic sheets used for outdoor kitchen panels

As more ready-made outdoor kitchens become available… We’re seeing plastic outdoor kitchen cabinet materials become increasingly more popular.

Namely… PVC, marine-grade HDPE, polymer, high density polyethylene, and other highly durable plastics are being used more often for modular and prefab outdoor kitchens. 

Unlike the other more “traditional” structural options we’ve discussed… Plastic outdoor kitchen cabinets don’t require a cladding material or finish. 

Instead, the finish is usually integrated directly into the plastic structure. (NatureKast outdoor kitchens are an example of this.) 

If you play your cards right, plastic outdoor kitchen structures can be highly durable and long-lasting. 

Plastic is immune to weather-related damages like rust, corrosion, or rot. 

Additionally, plastic outdoor kitchens are low maintenance and easy to keep clean. 

Another benefit is convenience. Since plastic is a lightweight material, this type of outdoor kitchen structure will be easy to set up… And won’t require any structural footings. 

But as with the other options, there are some pesky downsides. 

Like wood… Plastic is a combustible material. When exposed to high temperatures… It can warp, melt, and even catch fire. 

As with wood frames… Insulated jackets offer a workaround to this serious safety hazard. So, if you’re buying ready-made plastic outdoor kitchen cabinets, be sure to confirm that insulated jackets are included to avoid any risks.

Also note that plastic outdoor kitchens tend to be less customizable than other methods… As they’re typically only available as prefab BBQ islands. While there are some brands that offer customization… It’s not super common. 

But, that’s the lowdown on structural materials!

Next, let’s talk about cladding material. 

When Is A Cement Board for an Outdoor Kitchen Necessary?

Once you’ve got your structure down… You may need a surface to attach the cladding material to (Unless you’re opting for plastic, that is.) 

For frames constructed out of metal or wood… The material of choice is cement board (AKA backer board).

Cement board was originally intended for interior use. Bathroom tiling is an example of this.

It’s made from cement, water, silica, limestone flour, and reinforcing fibers. There are no organic materials present, which makes it less likely to rot. 

Cement board for outdoor use is classified as water resistant. However, it’s actually a bit more nuanced than that. It can still sustain water damage in freeze/thaw, high humidity, or coastal weather conditions. 

Anyway, cement board is meant to serve two main purposes in an outdoor kitchen. First, as a protective barrier over metal or wood framing. Secondly, it provides the bonding surface for your cladding material. 

A quick word about cement blocks! Since this is already a masonry surface… Cement board is not needed to attach a finish. Simply apply the cladding material directly to the concrete block. 

Further, some cladding materials require an extra step. Some need a scratch coat to properly bond the finish. In this case… Cement board or concrete block becomes the surface you apply the scratch coat to. 

Now, let’s learn about finishing materials. 

Popular Cladding Material Options

Your frame is done and your surface is prepped for cladding material. Now, it’s time to finish your outdoor kitchen. 

But with what? 

There are a ton of outdoor kitchen siding options out there. 

Here, we’ll share some of the most popular outdoor kitchen cladding materials. 

Stucco

worker applying stucco

For the budget-conscious, stucco may be your best bet. It’s an inexpensive siding for outdoor kitchens that has become quite popular in recent years. 

Stucco is super popular in areas like Florida and California. You’ll often see homes finished with stucco there, as well. 

The downside? 

It depends on your climate. Stucco is not durable in freeze/thaw or high moisture conditions. It’s susceptible to cracking and flaking off. 

Tile

outdoor kitchen tile countertop falling apart

Tile is a favorite with DIYers for ease of installation. There’s also a large variety of colors and patterns to choose from. 

However, tile is a fragile material. It’s especially vulnerable in areas that experience frequent inclement weather…. And it can even pop off.

Large temperature fluctuations and high moisture climates are pernicious to tile finishes. 

Imagine your tiles popping off left and right… It can quickly become a revolving door of constant repairs. Talk about annoying. 

Tile also has added maintenance. It can be difficult to keep the grout clean… So tiles require consistent upkeep if you want them to remain looking new. 

Stone or Brick

bricks are prone to damage

Stone and brick are traditional masonry materials that lend a rustic look to your outdoor kitchen. They are natural, sturdy, and have a sense of permanence. 

However, real natural stone veneer can be quite pricey. Over the years, alternatives have been developed to get around the price hurdle. Manufactured veneer stone is a great way to get the look and feel of real stone… Without the sticker shock. 

Manufactured veneer stone is replicated from real stone. It’s also more DIY friendly for those who are taking on the project themselves. 

At the same time… There is a disadvantage to a brick or stone veneer outdoor kitchen. Remember how tiles are prone to popping off? This situation is also the case with brick and stone veneer. So if you’re hoping to avoid the pitfalls of tile… Know you run the same risk. 

A Quick Note on Mortar

stones being mortarted to a cmu structure for an outdoor kitchen

If you decide on a brick or stone veneer… You’ll be using mortar to attach everything. 

We know, we’ve already touched on this! But it’s an important concept to understand. 

Where the mortar and cladding material meet is an area of weakness in the construction of your outdoor kitchen. This is one of five materials that could fail in this “lick and stick” construction process. 

The frame, the cement board, the screws attaching the cement board, the veneer… And the mortar, too. 

While this multi-layered construction process may seem great… There’s always a risk of the materials delaminating (falling off)

A construction that does not involve multiple layers stands zero chance of delamination… So stay tuned ‘til the end to learn more about this method. 

But for now, let’s cover countertop materials. 

Long Lasting Materials

Our islands are made of non-combustible concrete that lasts a lifetime! Design yours today using our free 3D design tool.

Countertop Materials

To “top” off your outdoor kitchen… You’re going to need countertops. 

Like cladding materials, there are a ton of countertop options out there. Here, we’re just going to outline a few of the most popular. 

Tile

Tile is a versatile material. It can be used as a cladding material as well as for your outdoor kitchen countertops. 

For countertops, it’s probably your most cost-effective option. 

However, it comes with the same set of challenges as using tile for cladding material.

For one, it lacks flexural strength and is brittle. Therefore, it’s susceptible to cracking and falling apart. 

As mentioned previously, it’s also difficult to keep clean. Cleanliness with countertops is especially important! You’ll be using it for food preparation and serving, after all. If bacteria and grime get into the grout… You’re on a fast track to a non-hygienic surface. Yuck. 

Bluestone or Limestone

Limestone and bluestone are great options for those after a natural look. They fit right in with the outdoor environment. 

Being pure stone… These countertops are heavy!

Limestone and bluestone are also rather porous. Therefore, they require regular sealing and maintenance to prevent staining. 

As with any natural material… Limestone and bluestone run the risk of cracking or splitting. They are unable to be internally reinforced. So there is a chance of them cracking with temperature fluctuations and ground movement. 

Concrete

While man made… Concrete countertops also provide a natural look and feel to your outdoor kitchen. 

Concrete countertops also avoid some of the pitfalls of natural materials. They can be structurally reinforced. Therefore, concrete can better handle temperature fluctuations and ground movement. 

On the other hand… Concrete is a softer and more porous material. As a result, it’s more susceptible to staining and scratching. Concrete will also require maintenance and re-sealing over time. 

Granite

granite countertop featured image

Granite is excellent for sleek and contemporary outdoor kitchen ideas.

It’s a dense, hard material that’s easy to maintain. With the right sealer, outdoor kitchen granite countertops are resistant to staining, as well. 

You’ll want to note that granite for outdoor kitchen countertops gets extremely hot in the sun. If your outdoor kitchen won’t be under cover or out of direct sunlight… You may want to consider a lighter color to reduce the effect. 

Soapstone

Soapstone brings a beautiful, modern aesthetic to your outdoor living space.

It’s a nonporous material that doesn’t require resealing. Soapstone is also more resistant to staining than granite. 

While more resistant to staining, soapstone is also a softer material. So, it will be more prone to scratches, dings, and chips. 

Quartz

Quartz is another beautiful material for countertops! 

Like granite, it’s a dense and hard material. So quartz is resistant to staining and scratching. 

However, quartz doesn’t handle sunlight well. Over time, it will yellow.

Quartz also has a tough time with humidity and moisture. All in all, it’s not the best material for outdoor use, and is better suited for your indoor kitchen.

Stainless Steel

Unfortunately, there’s not much to write home about with stainless steel outdoor kitchen countertops. 

Yes, they are easy to clean and maintain! However, they absorb heat like nobody’s business. You’re better off keeping stainless steel limited to your outdoor kitchen appliances. 

What Are The Best Outdoor Kitchen Materials? 

Alright. We’ve gone over a lot of outdoor kitchen materials. Now the question becomes… Which ones are the best? 

As always, it depends on your situation. More specifically, it depends on your climate. 

When deciding on the best material for outdoor kitchens… You have to consider what type of weather your outdoor kitchen design will have to withstand. 

an rta outdoor kitchen in the snow with coyote fridge

Take areas like southern California, for example. The weather is pretty ideal most of the time. Therefore, you can get away with a less robust structure, such as a metal frame with stucco. There’s much less likelihood that the structure will become compromised over time. 

Metal frames are a bit riskier in high moisture areas like Texas and Florida, though. That moisture can easily get into the structure and corrode the frame over time. If you decide on a metal frame in a humid climate… Be sure the materials are properly treated to fight off moisture. 

Third, let’s consider northern climates. Essentially, anywhere that experiences a freeze/thaw cycle. You’ll want to avoid metal frames completely here… The extreme weather will quickly destroy the materials. 

Concrete blocks or plastic outdoor kitchen structures are better for northern climates. These methods are better suited to handle the elements. 

No matter where you are… There are some materials we do recommend against. 

wood outdoor kitchen frame warping due to moisture exposure

First, wooden outdoor kitchen frames. Though insulated grill jackets may curb safety concerns… These’ll still rot, warp, and swell over time. In our eyes, it’s just not worth it. 

We’d also rule out tile for cladding and countertops. Not only are tile countertops unhygienic… But it’s also incredibly difficult to keep the grout clean. 

Stainless steel countertops are also out. These get scorching hot in the sun, and will make your outdoor kitchen practically unusable. 

Finally, quartz countertops can be a bit iffy in cold climates. Quartz yellows over time and does not have the best flexural strength. So, a freeze/thaw cycle can leave them more prone to damage. 

Aside from these… The outdoor kitchen materials you choose really come down to personal preference!

But all that said, allow us to float another idea by you… 

RTA Outdoor Kitchen Materials: Why Our Method Stands Out 

mike pyle with his family at their custom outdoor kitchen with a modern concrete finish

At this point, you should have a great understanding of materials used in an outdoor kitchen. Perhaps you even have an idea of what you want to use! 

While you’re here… We wanted to introduce you to the materials used in our own outdoor kitchens here at RTA. 

We have a unique construction method and only use materials with longevity in mind. 

Our islands are formed from structural panels. These panels are composed of a super high-performance composite concrete. 

RTA panels are unique in the sense they are monolithic. Like the plastic structures we mentioned earlier, this means the finish is fully incorporated into the panel itself. 

This completely removes a step in the traditional installation process. There aren’t three layers here… Just one. You also don’t have to worry about a frame system that will rust or rot away over time. Now that’s peace of mind! 

hybrid grill in outdoor kitchen on patio in texas
an rta outdoor kitchen in the snow with coyote fridge

Further, the RTA system is engineered for all climates. Our panels can withstand even the most brutal freeze/thaw conditions. 

And since we use only non-combustible materials for outdoor kitchens… You know your island will be constructed with safety in mind. 

On that same note… Our panelized construction method leaves plenty of space in the interior of your island. This, coupled with several integrated outdoor kitchen vents, ensures better cross-ventilation, and sets you up for an all-around safer outdoor cooking experience. 

And since we use only non-combustible materials for outdoor kitchens… You know your island will be constructed with safety in mind. 

On that same note… Our panelized construction method leaves plenty of space in the interior of your island. This, coupled with several integrated outdoor kitchen vents, ensures better cross-ventilation, and sets you up for an all-around safer outdoor cooking experience. 

With a lightweight construction process… There’s no need for structural footings, either. You can install an RTA outdoor kitchen on a patio or deck with no issues. 

In the ways of countertops, we currently offer two options: concrete and granite. Both are structurally sound materials equipped to handle various climates. You’ll also have flexibility with the aesthetic you’re aiming for. 

Similar to RTA panels… Our concrete countertops are composed of a super high-quality concrete, structurally reinforced with composite rebar and microfibers. This gives our countertops incredible flexural strength to handle temperature changes and ground shift. Like other concrete countertops, ours do require maintenance. 

As mentioned, we also offer granite countertops. They’re excellent for those after a cleaner, more contemporary feel. They require less maintenance than concrete and are more resistant to scratches or staining. 

So, that’s the quick rundown on RTA outdoor kitchen materials. We have a ton more information throughout our website… And we encourage you to check it out! 

If you want to start designing your project with the best outdoor kitchen materials… Why not start now?

Speak with one of our Design Experts or give our free online design tool a whirl… No strings attached. 

We’ve helped countless homeowners with their outdoor kitchen projects… And we’d be honored to assist you too.

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