What Countertops Are Best?
With so many kitchen countertop options available on the market today, it’s difficult to decide what countertops are best. It is likely that you will have to make some hard decisions for your new kitchen when considering all the available options.
When it comes to countertops, you may not think of more than a few types of materials, such as granite and laminate. However, in 2021, there are many other countertop materials available. And manufacturers add more each year.
We present here some kitchen countertop ideas to consider for your new kitchen. While they vary in look, feel, composition and care, they all have their pros and cons. What countertops are the best? That’s for you to decide after reading about the features for each.
How to Decide What Countertops are Best
Choosing the best countertop material involves mostly subjective preference. In other words, what appeals to you, what you find attractive. Truthfully, any one could make a beautiful and functional countertop.
However, there are also objective criteria you can use to determine what countertop material is best for your needs. Even here, some criteria will be more important than others, based on your lifestyle. For example, if your kitchen is mostly a social area, appearance may be the most important. On the other hand, in a kitchen where cooking happens regularly, stain- and heat-resistance may be most important.
When evaluating what countertops are best, here are questions to ask:
- Appearance: What are the aesthetic qualities of the countertop material?
- Value: What are you getting for the money?
- Stain-resistance and clean-up: How well does the material resist stains?
- Heat resistance: Will hot pots discolor or burn the countertop surface?
- Resale value: Does the countertop add value to your home in the eyes of prospective buyers?
The Most Popular Countertop Materials in 2021
In your search for what countertops are the best, you may want to consider some of the most popular countertop materials, together with their pros and cons.
Kitchen and Bath Design News (KBDN) surveyed kitchen designers about what their customers are buying. In the March 2021 issue, they ranked various countertop materials by popularity. If you like to know what other people are installing in their new kitchens, here’s the list. in descending order from most popular on down.
- Solid Surface
- Metal (stainless steel)
What Countertops Are Best: Quartz
Quartz is an engineered or man-made material that combines the appeal of natural stone with the benefits of a manufactured material. Slabs are made from 93% natural quartz byproducts, i.e., the leftover debris from quarrying. This debris gets pulverized, mixed with resins and shaped.
Prized for its beauty, quartz is like natural stone, only better. And, unlike natural stone, it is resistant to practically everything:
The surface is durable and strong, a plus for a kitchen workspace. And unlike marble and granite, manufactured quartz never has flaws or cracks that can ruin the look of your countertop. It’s nonporous, so that means it’s easy to live with. No sealing or waxing required. Ever.
As Consumer Reports found, hot pots, serrated knives and abrasive pads can’t mar quartz. And it doesn’t require a special cleaner.
Quartz counters are a health-friendly option, since they won’t release harmful byproducts or worsen allergies. Ideal for the wellness kitchen. If eco-friendly is important to you in your choice of the best countertop, quartz can be considered “green” since it is made from leftover stone and doesn’t require quarrying.
If you love the look of marble countertops but want something that is more uniform or low-maintenance, engineered quartz countertops may be perfect. Quartz countertops look so much like real Carrera and Calacatta marble that most people can’t tell the difference. A popular look is large-scale veining. Brittanicca Gold from Cambria shown in this photo is an excellent example of a marble-look quartz.
Quartz has surpassed Granite as the most popular countertop material among homeowners, according to industry surveys.
- Doesn’t need sealed
- Available in a wide variety of colors and patterns
- Looks like Granite or Marble
- Has no seams, creating an uninterrupted surface
- Color is uniform. You’ll get a perfect match throughout your kitchen.
- Extremely durable
- Doesn’t crack like Granite
- Heat resistant – doesn’t scorch or burn
- Resistant to cuts and scratches (although a cutting board is recommended)
- Not natural stone
- Priced similarly to Granite (on the more expensive side)
Manufacturers of Quartz Countertops
The best known manufacturers of quartz countertops are Caesarstone, Silestone and Cambria Quartz. Each of the websites linked here contains a wealth of information regarding their products, together with photos. And they are continuously expanding their products offerings to include more colors and patterns to match consumer tastes.
In 2021 Cambria added four designs to its existing line of natural quartz surfaces. Colors include subtle greens, bright teals and high-contrast black and white.
What Countertops are Best: Granite
Aside from being visually stunning, granite is a durable, lasting option. A Granite countertop has been the most sought-after choice in high-end kitchens for many years, and is still desirable. However, Quartz has overtaken it as America’s favorite countertop choice.
Granite remains popular because of its great good looks and unmatchable shine. While its popularity has been waning slightly, homeowners still love it. Its virtues continue to make it a favorite.
Granite countertops have a deep, rich, complex appearance that cannot be duplicated in any type of man-made material. Granite still lends considerable resale value to a home. Realtors and prospective buyers are happy to see granite countertops.
- Natural patterns are stunning and unique
- Will hold up well against hot pans. Granite is virtually impossible to burn by normal means.
- Hard-wearing and durable (if properly sealed – see “Cons” below)
- Available in honed or polished finishes
- Because it’s a porous stone, it needs sealed every one-two years to avoid stains
- It comes out of the earth, thus it can have imperfections
- Can crack if stressed or not installed correctly.
The MSI Surfaces website has information about and lots of photos of Granite. It’s a good resource for getting started with Granite selection if you’ve always wanted Granite countertops.
What Countertops are Best: Wood
People choose wood for their countertops because of its natural beauty. To many, wood offers a timeless appeal that other materials cannot rival. The appearance of a wood countertop will only improve in time.
Wood offers a surface that is warm to the touch, quiet to work on, and — with proper treatment — resistant to heat, bacteria, and citrus staining.
Another benefit of wood is that it can be more easily cut and installed than stone surfaces. As a result, your installation costs will be less than other countertop materials.
Wood may not be the best countertop if you want a low-maintenance material; wood counters need oiling as many as two or three times a year to prevent drying. However, if you are willing to put in a little extra work, wood can add beauty and value to your new kitchen.
Wood is an excellent material to use for an accent counter, on an island or a small “chopping zone” in butcher block, contrasting with nearby stone or solid-surface counters in a pleasing way.
- Provide remodeled kitchens with a warmth that stone can’t match
- Available in a great variety of choices: Maple, Cherry, Oak, Birch, Teak, Mahogany, Bamboo, reclaimed wood, exotics and more
- Endless stains, finishes and styles to choose from
- An excellent work surface – will not dull knives
- Knife and burn marks can be sanded out
- Can be sanded and refinished every 10-20 years.
- Require cleaning and maintaining
- Must be sealed since it is porous and germs can multiply
- Must be treated consistently with mineral oil to prevent water absorption
- Easy to scratch, dent and burn
Grothouse Wood Surfaces is a well-respected supplier of wood countertops. You can get lots of ideas from their website.
What Countertops are Best: Marble
Marble has found its way into luxury remodeled kitchens. It’s prized for its classic, elegant white color with gold, beige or gray veining. Especially popular is Calacatta Marble, a gorgeous natural stone desirable for its distinctive look. Marble.com has information and photos of different types of marble, but remember – each slab is unique so their photos are only representative of what you may get. Ask to see the entire slab.
Marble countertops create a timeless look, whether you choose clean, classic white marble or one of the dozens of other colors available. The natural mineral deposits and impurities in this stone create its streaks, specks and unusual patterns. Compared to granite, marble is softer and more porous. Thus, it is more prone to scratching, etching or staining. For some people, this means that marble is high-maintenance. It’s true that you will need to clean up spills quickly to prevent stains and treat the surface every two years with a special sealer. However, if you can live with this, marble is a stunning option.
- An elegant natural stone
- Each piece is beautiful and unique
- Water resistant
- Heat proof
- Available in honed or polished finishes
- One of the more expensive stones
- It scratches
- Very susceptible to stains. New sealing products can reduce the possibility of damage, but no acids, like lemon or lime juice, wine and vinegar, on Marble countertops
- Once It’s damaged it is hard to repair
- A soft stone – Not a good choice for kitchens that get used hard
What Countertops are Best: Solid Surface
The name Corian is the Dupont Corporation’s brand name for its flagship solid surface countertop material. Because Corian was the first solid-surface material, the name is often used to refer to all solid surface materials, including brands made by other companies.
Solid surface countertops are a 100% man-made material, created from a combination of acrylic particles and resins that have been pressed into sheets and slabs.
One big advantage of Corian is that pieces can be glued together with a solvent so that the seams are entirely invisible. As a result, this gives the appearance of a continuous slab of unbroken countertop.
One big disadvantage of Corian is that it is easily scratched. This is a lesson many Corian countertop owners learned the hard way. While solid surface has been a popular choice in the past and still looks great today, many homeowners have chosen other countertop materials because of the potential for scratching.
The latest from Corian is now you can get it with a built-in charging surface to charge your smart devices wirelessly. The built-in charger is available in every Corian color. How does it work, you ask? Energy is transferred safely from below the Corian surface and it stops when the battery is full. See photos and get more info on the Corian website.
- Resists stains
- Any damage can be sanded out
- Seams are almost invisible
- Prone to damage from hot pans
- Has a flat, man-made look
What Countertops are Best: Concrete
You might never have thought of concrete as a kitchen countertop material, but you may want to re-think it as an option. Concrete is the perfect mix of beauty and strength. It’s strong and attractive, plus it’s customizable, making it a great countertop choice. The color, stain, thickness, texture, and size of the concrete are totally customizable.
Concrete countertops are popular with homeowners who want something unique they can design themselves. They embed pieces of tile, stone, glass, shells or other materials in the concrete to create a one-of-a-kind work of art. It can be pigmented to produce any color.
With concrete, you can get a seamless counter. In a single pour, concrete can form L shapes, U shape, and other shapes that no other material can duplicate.
Because it’s porous, it is important to properly seal concrete to prevent staining. Concrete can stain quite easily unless it is regularly sealed. Acidic foods and liquids, as well as cleaning chemicals, need to be wiped off immediately or they will stain the surface. Concrete countertops also need regular waxing to maintain their surface finish.
- Extremely hard and tough
- Won’t easily scratch if sealed properly (every 1-3 years)
- Highly heat resistant
- It can crack
- Vulnerable to stains
- Needs to be sealed and waxed every 1-3 years
- Extremely heavy
- It’s heavy – make sure base cabinets are strong enough to support it
- Shows scorch marks fairly easily
- Not especially good for resale value as they may be too unusual for many people
- Expert installation required
What Countertops are Best: Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is second only to concrete as the most trendy countertop material. Traditionally seen in industrial kitchens, stainless steel can now be found in high-end residential kitchens.
It’s extremely durable. Its smooth surface is very easy to keep clean. The nonporous surface makes the countertop antibacterial; in other words, bacteria are not able to find their way into cracks. It’s stain and heat resistance also makes it a sensible choice.
Stainless steel is very attractive. It gives off a subtle brightness with a lovely patina. It complements many different styles of cabinets, flooring and kitchen styles.
A downside is that it has only one look. Stainless steel always looks the same way. Unlike other countertop materials, it can’t be colored or resurfaced. You can buy many different kinds of marble and granite, but you can buy only one stainless steel.
Maintenance of stainless steel countertops is easy. All it takes is a simple wipe down with a mild cleaner. There is no need for sealing or waxing ever. Although it’s easy to clean, fingerprints and smudges can be a challenge.
- Easy maintenance. Simply wipe down with a mild cleaner.
- Very strong
- Will last a long time
- Non-porous so it’s anti-bacterial
- Stain resistant
- Heat resistant. Impervious to scorch marks
- Very pricey
- Fingerprints show
- Susceptible to dents
What Countertops are Best: Soapstone
Soapstone is a natural stone, typically dark gray with subtle white veins and smooth to the touch. It is often used in historic homes as an authentic countertop or sink material.
- As it ages, it takes on an antique-look patina
- It can darken over time
- Any damages can be sanded out
- Resistant to stains
- Susceptible to scratches
- Needs to be treated with mineral oil
What Countertops are Best: Tile
Tile countertops are an appealing option for homeowners who want to get creative since they can be fully customized to personal taste. Any combination of colors, patterns and textures is available.
Ceramic or porcelain tile will stand the test of time with proper care and maintenance. Tile countertops do require regular maintenance. The grout between the tile must be cleaned to prevent staining. Also, grout needs resealing every year. However, with proper care, tile can remain beautiful for years.
Prices can vary quite a lot, but standard white tile countertops can be built inexpensively. Tile countertops are an easy DIY project.
Ceramic or porcelain tile resists heat very well; they can’t be scorched or burned.
Realtors report that prospective home buyers are often put off by kitchens with tile countertops. However, they may love tile backsplashes, walls and floors.
- Full customization available for colors, patterns and textures
- Cost effective
- Good for D-I-Y-ers
- Holds up well to stains
- Resistant to hot pots. No scorching
- Maintains good looks for years
- High maintenance
- Difficult to keep grout clean
- Uneven surface because of seams
- Negative influence on re-sale value of the home
What Countertops are Best: Laminates
Today’s laminates are not what your Grandma had in her kitchen. They’re made from recycled paper that has been chemically bonded with melamine and laminated onto a particleboard (MDF) core.
There’s an abundant supply of attractive laminate options that look like more expensive countertop materials, for a fraction of the price. They were once regarded as fake-looking, but today’s laminates made by Wilsonart and Formica are looking better all the time with each new product introduction.
Can laminates be put in the best countertops group? The answer is “yes”—price and appearance are laminate’s strongest factors.
With the better looks come higher prices, but it is still possible to buy cheap laminate countertops. This is one of the most economical of all countertop materials, especially considering its now-impressive appearance.
- Relatively inexpensive
- Easy to clean
- Thousands of colors and patterns
- Long lasting
- Can be recycled – donate them to a school when you’re ready to replace them
- Prominent seams
- They scratch and chip
- Very hot pans can scorch and discolor
- Don’t add value to the home because they are considered a “low-end” product. However, this perception is fading.
Don’t Be Disappointed
Many people have been disappointed in their countertop selection when their choice was based on a sample seen in a showroom. When the countertops were delivered, they didn’t get what they expected.
If you’re someone who likes uniformity, natural stone tops might not be the best choice for you. Many people love the random color variations found in granite and other stone slabs.
How can you be sure you will be getting what you really want? The #1 piece of advice from experts is to ask to see a full-size sample. If you’re considering natural stone, you will want to see the entire slab. Experts say when homeowners skip this step, they often are unhappy.
The patterns found in manmade materials, such as quartz, are not random like those found in nature. If you’re choosing quartz for your countertops, a showroom sample will suffice. But if you have doubts or concerns, your kitchen designer will guide you.
In the end, the decision is up to you. It all comes down to what you like, the look you are going for, how much maintenance you want to do, and how much you want to spend on countertops.
Your kitchen designer will help guide your selection and make sure you get the countertop that matches the look you like and the price you can afford.
KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.