Wooden cutting boards travel well and look terrific. Is there anything more visually appealing than a fresh loaf of sourdough, sliced and fragrant, on a wooden cutting board? However, over time your cutting board can take a beating. Choosing the right wood and maintaining it well will keep it looking sharp.
Maple is a very popular wood for cutting boards. Rock or sugar maple is one of the most popular; it’s hard and doesn’t scratch easily, but it won’t dull your knives over time. This is also a small grain lumber, so your cutting board will not become a haven for bacteria.
Because maple is a light-toned wood, it is possible to stain this cutting board. You will also need to oil your maple cutting board. To keep it completely clean and safe,
- wipe it down with vinegar
- spray it with hydrogen peroxide
- let salt sit if your board needs to be deodorized
- oil the board
Mineral oil is generally considered the best oil to both condition the wood and avoid allergens. Walnut oil and almond oil are also effective, but anyone with a severe nut allergy may be at risk if consuming foods prepped on this board.
While maple is generally a light-toned wood that stays light, your beech cutting board will grow darker and richer over time. A beech cutting board will need to be conditioned each month and may shrink.
Often, we find wooden cutting boards that include a wide variety of woods in stripes. While these are visually striking, if your striped board includes any beech, you will want to treat it with extreme care. These boards are generally edge-glued and clamped until dry for durability. Because beech is prone to shrinking, you will want to condition the whole board as if it were all beech to avoid having the board break down across the glue seams.
Beech is a very small grain wood, meaning your risk of bacterial build-up in the board is quite rare. To keep your board in the best shape, you can deodorize it by rubbing it with half a lemon after washing it. If bacteria aren’t a worry but you do need to tackle a stain, cover the stain in kosher salt and add a bit of water for lubrication. Scrub until the salt breaks down and rinse it away.
Finally, remember to stand your wooden cutting boards up on edge to dry. Unless you are treating it for bacteria or stains, you don’t want any liquids to stand on the surface of the wood.
Grain direction is critical when considering oak for a cutting board. As you look at a piece of lumber laying flat on a surface, there is
- face grain, or the large flat top
- edge grain, or the side of the board along the length from end to end
- end grain, or the edge at the end
Butcher block boards and surfaces are made of end grain and that is where oak really shines. Edge grain oak is also a wonderful surface for an oak cutting board. The face grain, or flat top, is the least effective for long-term use and enjoyment.
All wood will warp, but edge grain and end grain oak are much less likely to warp as it ages and is used. Because oak is a larger cell or grain wood, there is a greater risk of bacterial build-up. You will need to make maintaining your oak butcher block or edge grain board a part of your regular cleaning routine.
Vinegar is a terrific disinfectant, and peroxide can be spritzed on your butcher block to kill bacteria that create odor. If your butcher block is part of your countertop, you’ll want to wipe it dry and possibly put a fan on it to dry it completely before you apply mineral oil.
Keep A Spare
For meat eaters, a cutting board that can survive very hot water is a good idea. Wooden cutting boards are not happy in hot water; as the wood dries, your board may warp and suffer damage. A poly or plastic cutting board can be a very good investment for meat, particularly poultry.
A cheap poly cutting board can also be quite useful if you cut acidic veggies. Tomatoes will be hard on the oil coating on your cutting board, and beets can stain it. A stained plastic cutting board may be an irritation, but it isn’t a tragedy.
The humidity in your region can have a huge impact on the life and health of your wooden cutting boards. If you live in dry country, get in the habit of oiling it once a month to protect the surface.
If you take the time to oil your cutting board, avoid using a degreasing soap on the surface when cleaning it up. A spray bottle of vinegar may well be the simplest way to protect the surface. Knock off any food particles, spritz it down and wipe it off.
Do keep in mind that most cutting boards are made of glued strips of wood. In addition to cleaning the wood without damaging the grain or staining the wood, you will want to use products on the board that doesn’t damage the glue.
If you’re lucky enough to find an old wooden cutting board in a second-hand store and want to refurbish it, start with a salt and water scrub. If you need to sand it to get deep scratches out, clean it with a tack rag to clear away dust; don’t use solvents as they can damage the glue that holds the board together. Vacuum the sanded board with a brush attachment to fully clean the surface, then wipe it down with mineral oil.
Finally, remember this most important rule: Never, ever, ever put your wooden cutting board in the dishwasher!