Barbecues, Fire Pits and Outdoor Kitchens
Barbecues, fire pits, pizza ovens and outdoor kitchens are more popular than ever in the world of home improvements. Long-terms trends towards outdoor living (perhaps driven in part by global warming) combined with Covid-related factors in 2020/21 to generate a surge in BBQ installations. Last year, millions of people were forced to stay at home more than they ever had before – no restaurants open and lovely weather through Spring and into Summer! With the trend to homeworking continuing, there is a need for a diversified living space – places to get away from your work area. As one industry leader put it, “Outdoor is the new indoor!” And people are finding that a well-designed out-door kitchen or bar area can add value to your home as a life-style feature and make your property more sellable.
There are a few special challenges to consider, though. This article looks at materials for outdoor use. The sister article looks at design and support issues. …
Barbecues, Fire Pits and Outdoor Kitchens: The Challenges
Outdoor use brings particular challenges to worktop materials. Alongside most of the challenges faced by worktop materials in indoor kitchens (see our article), outside kitchens (even under some level of cover) need to cope with some further issues:
All worktops get wet – but outdoor worktops get wet and stay wet, sometimes for days or weeks on end. Laminated or wooden worktops will obviously become unusable very fast – but porous stones can also be problematic. Wet, porous stone outdoors can develop growths of algae, even under the surface, leading to a greenish tinge or stain.
The range of temperatures encountered by worktops outdoors is far greater than in the home. That applies not only to the weather, of course: fire pits and barbecue areas can be subject to considerable direct heat. Localised heat can cause stress; freezing of porous stones can cause direct frost damage as the ice crystals expand in the pores.
Indoor worktops may get quite a bit of light, but it is normally filtered through glass. Outdoor worktops face direct sunlight, which causes some of the temperature changes mentioned, can drive the growth of water-borne algae, and, with its ultra-violet radiation, can directly damage some resins and dyes.
Outdoor kitchens in general often take more of a pounding from the residents than the indoor kitchen! Ball games and bicycles, catching pets and just playing – family gardens are zones with a constant risk of impact. If you have a young family, you may want to think about that before fitting any of the more fragile worktop materials in your barbecue kitchen.
“Mummy – you know that new barbecue…?”
Barbecues, Fire Pits and Outdoor Kitchens: Materials to avoid
Standard quartz worktops include petrochemical resins and dyes which are susceptible to attack by ultra-violet. This means fading, other colour changes and even some surface breakdown if used outdoors. We do not recommend and will not install standard quartz outdoors – but see below for the non-standard exceptions to this rule!
Lighter coloured stones like Kashmir White, Ivory Fantasy or Shivakashi tend to be among the more porous natural stones that are used for kitchen worktops. Deep-sealed prior to installation (as in the Sensa process) or regularly resealed, these stones are very suitable for indoor use.
Outside you need to be a little more careful. If waterlogged and then frozen, damage to the surface would be hard to avoid. The key is to avoid the waterlogging, then! Personally I wouldn’t recommend trying to keep up with the resealing of one of these stones under all weathers, but in a covered outdoor kitchen I think they could work. Our photo here shows Colonial White under a permanent gazebo.
Wood or Laminate
Don’t even think about it!
Barbecues, Fire Pits and Outdoor Kitchens: Materials to use
Fortunately there is no shortage of materials that are suitable for outdoor and barbecue kitchens, and we find ourselves installing more and more of them.
Black Pearl Granite – Polished
As we have written before, not everything sold as granite is granite, or even volcanic. But genuinely volcanic stones are non-porous and are often dark-coloured. They are ideal materials for external use – check out the buildings in our cities with long-lasting cladding in these very stones! Classics like Black Pearl, Steel Grey and Emerald Pearl are bomb-proof so far as the weather is concerned, and with their reasonably strong patterns also make very forgiving surfaces in locations where you don’t want to be cleaning all the time.
Having been formed at extremely high temperatures beneath the earth’s crust, true igneous rocks are the best when it comes to use for firepits and the like. But care still needs to be taken – strongly localised heating of cold stone can set up expansion-tensions that may lead to cracking or breakage. Please see our companion installations article.
Steel Grey Granite – Polished
Steel Grey Granite – Caress Finish
Sintered-Particle and Ceramic Materials
Man-made materials with no resin or dye content are not prone to UV attack and can safely be used in outdoor installations. That means that names like Dekton, Laminam, Sapienstone and Neolith are increasingly visible in the UK barbecue kitchen market. Often in colourways which suit barbecue locations, very wipeable and with textured surfaces that really work in outdoor settings, they might appear ideal. the only drawback is the issue of strength and brittleness – all of these materials require special care in support and bedding-in. We cover this in our companion article.
Dekton Trilium in a Cosentino computer-generated barbecue
Caesarstone Clear Skies
Two well-loved quartz manufacturers have recently created new materials especially for outdoor use. We haven’t yet got our hands on full slabs, but have samples of the Classic Quartz worktops and have these images from Caesarstone. I tend to think that these materials will be a breakthrough – especially in light colours, and for outdoor kitchens where there is a higher risk of impact from children etc!
Please note that, to the best of our knowledge, these materials are not suitable for installation close to naked flames, as in a fire pit. It would be better to use natural stones or ceramics for that, and even then we have to be cautious. Please see our installations article.
Caesarstone Palm Shade
The First Materials in the Classic Quartz Outdoor Collection
So there you have it – some of the pitfalls and possibilities for outdoor kitchens and barbecue layouts, looking at the material especially. Over the coming years we are sure that many other suitable stones for outdoor use will come into the market, and we will try to update this page and/or blog again when that happens. We want to keep you, the barbecue worktop customer, as well-informed as possible as this part of the solid stone surface market grows and matures.
The challenges listed are not solved simply by material choice, of course. Correct and careful design and installation are also critical, and we have a second article looking at all of those issues.
We are Affordable Granite, the leading installer of granite and quartz worktops in Surrey, Sussex and across the South East. For samples, quotes and any questions connected with any aspect of barbecue worktop installation or outdoor kitchen design, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01293 863992 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org/ .
Images sourced from Pexels and quartz suppliers. Others copyright Affordable Granite.