We’ve never had the kitchen countertop choices we have now. Marble and granite and wood are the oldest and the most traditional; laminates like Formica have been around for a while and have improved significantly; and newer materials like concrete, recycled glass and solid surface countertops have given kitchens a whole new lease on life.

In this series of articles we’ll try to cover the basic pros and cons of all of these materials, and give you an elementary countertop education, so you’ll be able to talk to your kitchen contractor, or do-it-yourself if you choose, with the information you need to make an informed choice.

Countertops take a lot of abuse in the typical kitchen. In industrial and restaurant kitchens, which take much more abuse, you’ll typically see lots of stainless steel, which tends to be impractical, too noisy and too expensive for residential use. But you’ll also see marble or granite slabs for baking and bread-making, wood butcher blocks for chopping, and a variety of wear-resistant and non-porous surfaces for preparation and serving. All of these materials have upsides and downsides, which explains why serious chefs and foodies often equip their kitchens with a variety of surfaces for different cooking tasks.

But in your home kitchen, you’ll likely want one or two main surface materials, not just for simplicity and unity of design, but for ease of maintenance and use. That means you have to choose, and, like so many things in life, choice implies trade-offs. In this series we’ll try to list as many of those upsides and downsides as possible, and let you decide.

Also, I want to emphasize this one point—no kitchen counter material is perfect for every conceivable use. That’s why they make breadboards, chopping blocks and cutting boards out of so many different materials. Every kitchen should contain an assortment of those boards and blocks, not only to make cooking more efficient, but to save your counters from the sharp edges of knives and the hot bottoms of pots and pans and the acidic juices of fruits and vegetables and the germs and microbes inherent in food preparation in general.

Here’s one illustrative example: my wife and I owned a 1920’s-era Tudor home in the Bay Area of Northern California, and it came with a big, railroad-style kitchen, probably intended to serve the large family who once lived there. The kitchen had two parallel rows of cabinetry, with an enormous amount of countertop space—all covered in pristine ceramic tile. But it also had four huge pull-out cutting and bread boards, which we used while cooking just about every day. Sadly, pull-outs like that have largely disappeared from the modern kitchen in favor of stowable ones—but you get the idea. One of the reasons the ceramic tile in our almost hundred-year-old kitchen had remained in near-perfect shape? Those pull-out cutting boards.

So whether you choose a traditional natural material like granite or wood; a budget choice like one of the new, more attractive laminates; or one of the new, high-tech resin- or concrete-based options, we want you to have a kitchen that will give you years of warm memories. Follow along in this series as we discuss countertops in all their diversity.