So you’re planning your outdoor kitchen. And you’re wondering… What’s the best material to make it out of?
As you know, an outdoor kitchen is a huge investment. You want it to last as long as possible. An outdoor kitchen is only as good as the materials it is made from.
The trouble is… There is a sizeable lack of information out there about outdoor kitchen materials.
Yes, there is some! But it is scattered around everywhere. You have to rifle through multiple articles just for a piece of information here and there. And then of course… There’s differing opinions between these sources.
Likely, this is leaving you feeling uncertain.
All this uncertainty can be frustrating! You want to feel confident in your decisions. It’s essential to understand the ins and outs of various outdoor kitchen materials. That way, you can make a decision on the best material for your outdoor kitchen.
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. So whether you plan to hire a contractor or go DIY… You’ll know what materials to use for your project.
Outdoor Kitchen Frames
Before we discuss framing material… 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. Next, a surface is applied to the framing material. This layer provides a surface for the cladding material to be adhered to. Third is, of course, the cladding material. The cladding material is what your finish becomes. It’s the attractive ‘skin’ to your outdoor kitchen.
Not all outdoor kitchen constructing methods utilize frames. However, many do! If you want to learn more about how they are constructed, you can dive deeper into outdoor kitchen frames here.
We’ll be breaking down materials for each of the three layers… But for now, let’s talk outdoor kitchen framing material.
Most commonly, you’ll see metal, wood, or concrete block frames. As the industry has developed… So have the materials used in frames. These upgrades mean a longer-lasting outdoor kitchen. We all like the sound of that!
Let’s go into detail on each of these materials.
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. And if you use a low gauge metal, they can hold a lot of weight. Metal frames also make efficient use of space. You’ll have cavity space leftover to access your grill or store items.
So, what’s the catch? 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 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.
Another material you may be considering for framing is wood.
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’s more downsides than upsides to this system.
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 easiest to build. The DIYer doesn’t require extensive construction experience to piece wood frames together.
But that’s where the benefits begin and end. 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. You have to take extra precautions due to this. You’ll need to invest in insulated jackets for all your cooking equipment. If these precautions are not taken… You have an outdoor kitchen that is vulnerable to setting on fire.
I don’t know about you… But I’d rather not have a ticking time bomb in my backyard.
That’s not to say you can’t use wood! You just have to be very intentional in the construction process.
If the combustibility of wood is a turn-off… Perhaps you’ll be interested in concrete frames.
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 block holds 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… So no worries of an accidental bonfire there!
Despite these benefits, there are some downsides. There is a trade skill involved with installing concrete block.More often than not, you’ll have to hire a mason. For this reason, CMU has become less popular over time.
Another disadvantage? Installing concrete block 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 block is not the most economical solution. Masons are a dying breed… And the ones still around charge a pretty penny for their services. Installing concrete block is also a time consuming process. More time + more labor = increased cost.
An additional con to concrete block is a lack of interior space. While metal frames provide ample cavity space for access… Concrete block is the opposite. Make sure you’re okay with having limited interior access before proceeding.
If you’re planning to install concrete on a patio or deck… You’ll likely need to install structural footings or additional supports. The extra support is often needed for the extra weight of concrete. Otherwise, the structure of your deck could be compromised over time.
So that’s the lowdown on framing materials!
Next layer of the onion is the surface for your cladding material.
quality materials. built for a lifetime.
Surface to Attach your Cladding Material
Once you’ve got your frame down… You need a surface to attach the cladding material.
For frames constructed out of metal or wood… The material of choice is cement board.
You’ll also see this material referred to as backer board in some cases. Cement board was originally intended for interior use. Bathroom tiling is an example of this. Cement board is 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 is classified as water resistant. While classified as water resistant… We must mention it’s actually a bit more nuanced than that. If you’d like to read more on the topic, check out this article.
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.
Most finishing materials are masonry products. Therefore, it won’t bond to wood or metal. Cement board provides a masonry surface for your cladding material to adhere to. That way, you can be confident you have a lasting bond.
A quick word about cement block! Since it’s 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 require 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.
Lastly, let’s learn about finishing materials.
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 finishing materials out there. Here, we’ll just be discussing the most popular cladding material options.
For the budget conscious, stucco may be your best bet. It’s an inexpensive finish that has become quite popular in recent years. Stucco is super popular in areas such as Florida and California. You’ll often see homes finished with stucco there as well.
It depends on your climate. Stucco is not durable in freeze-thaw or high moisture climates. It’s susceptible to cracking and flaking off.
Tile is a favorite with DIYers for ease of installation. There are also tons of different colors and patterns to choose from.
However, tile is a fragile material. It’s especially vulnerable in areas that experience frequent inclement weather. In what way? Tile is vulnerable to popping off depending on the weather. 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. That’s 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
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 stone veneer can be quite pricy. 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 stone veneer outdoor kitchen. Remember how tiles are prone to popping off? This situation is also the case with stone veneer. So if you’re hoping to avoid the pitfalls of tile by going for stone… Know you run the same risk.
A Quick Note on Mortar
If you decide on a stone veneer… You’ll be using mortar to attach the stones.
We know, we’ve already touched on this! But it’s an important concept to understand.
Where the mortar and stone meet is an area of weakness in the construction of your outdoor kitchen. This is one of 5 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. A construction that does not involve multiple layers stands zero chance of the materials delaminating.
Is there a better way?
Yes, and that’s why we exist! We’ll introduce you to RTA materials at the end of the article..
For now, we have to cover countertops.
10 finish styles. 7 countertop options.
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 is a versatile material. It can be used as a cladding material as well as a countertop material.
For countertops, it’s probably your most cost-effective option.
However, it comes with the same challenges as using tile for cladding material. While tile has good compressive strength… 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.
Blue Stone / Limestone
Limestone and bluestone are great options for those wanting a natural look. They fit right in with the outdoor environment.
Being pure stone… These countertops are heavy! Limestone and bluestone are 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. This doesn’t happen very often, however.
While manmade… 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 over time.
Granite is excellent for that sleek and contemporary aesthetic.
It’s a dense, hard material that’s easy to maintain. With the right sealer, granite is resistant to staining as well.
You’ll want to note that granite gets extremely hot in the sun. If your outdoor kitchen won’t be under a cover or out of direct sunlight… You may want to consider a lighter color to reduce the effect.
Soapstone brings a beautiful, modern aesthetic to your countertops.
Soapstone is a nonporous material that doesn’t require resealing. It’s also more resistant to staining than granite.
While more resistant to staining, soapstone is a softer material. So it will be more prone to being scratched, dinged, or even chipped.
Quartz is a 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.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to write home about with stainless steel 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 appliances.
What are the Best OUtdoor Kitchen Materials?
We’ve gone over a lot of materials. So the question becomes… Which ones are best for your outdoor kitchen?
As always, it depends on your situation. More specifically, it depends on your climate.
When deciding on materials… You have to consider what type of weather your outdoor kitchen will have to withstand.
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 metal frame with stucco. There’s less likelihood the structure will become compromised over time.
Metal frame material is a bit riskier in high moisture areas such as Texas or Florida. 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 frame completely here… The extreme weather will quickly destroy the materials.
For northern climates, we recommend using concrete block. This method is incredibly sturdy and is built to handle the elements.
No matter where you are… There some materials we do recommend against:
Stainless steel countertops and tile countertops. Stainless steel gets scorching hot in the sun and can make your outdoor kitchen nearly unusable. Tile countertops are unhygienic due to difficulty to keep the grout clean.
Quartz countertops can be a bit iffy in cold climates. Quartz yellows over time and does not have good flexural strength. So a freeze thaw cycle can make them prone to damage. Otherwise, countertop materials are really down to personal preference!
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 outdoor kitchens. We have a unique construction method and only use materials with longevity in mind.
Our islands are made formed from structural panels. These panels are composed of a super high-performance concrete. RTA panels are unique in the sense they are monolithic. 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!
Further, the RTA system is engineered for all climates. Our panels can withstand even the most brutal freeze-thaw climates. And since we use non-combustible materials… You know your island will be constructed with safety in mind.
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 way of countertops, we currently offer two options. Concrete and granite. Both are structurally sound materials equipped to handle various climates. You also have flexibility with the aesthetic you’re aiming for.
Similar to RTA panels… Our countertops are composed of a super high-performance 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 require maintenance.
As mentioned, we also offer granite countertops at RTA. They’re excellent for those looking for 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 kitchens. We have a ton more information throughout our website. We encourage you to explore it all!
Perhaps you have more specific questions about your project. If you want to start designing your project with the best outdoor kitchen materials designed to last the test of time… In any climate… Why not reach out to us?
Speak with one of our design experts to get all your outdoor kitchen questions answered. No strings attached.
Here at RTA, we eat, sleep, and breathe outdoor kitchens. It’s what drives us. We have helped countless people with their outdoor kitchen projects… And we’d be honored to assist you too.
We hope to hear from you!