For most people, a cutting board is their longest serving kitchen utensil, although that longevity comes at a rather cheap price. Caring for a wooden cutting board is actually easier than you think: season regularly and they will never warp or crack.
Under the right care wooden cutting boards’ age with grace, becoming more beautiful over time. You might not think that a mare slab of wood would need some level of maintenance and upkeep, but let me assure you, your wooden cutting board needs a lot of love and care. The maintenance procedure does not have to be a daily affair, but once every week should do just fine.
You will need two materials for this process besides tap water and lint-free microfiber cloth. These are oil and cream. You can choose the oil brand that is most preferable to you. For the cream, you can make your own by mixing beeswax and oil or purchase some from your local store.
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Why oiling is critical to maintaining a cutting board
Wood is naturally very porous. Left on its own it will absorb liquid from food, transfer color and aroma, and slowly rot away. It is super important to observe proper wood cutting board care and ensure it is well-seasoned to maintain tip-top cutting shape.
The goal of oiling cutting board is to prevent the wood from warping and bacteria building up inside it. Considering how kind wooden cutting board is to your knife blade and its ability to limit bacterial growth, it definitely needs some tender loving care.
Which oil is suitable for seasoning a cutting board?
Oil and water don’t mix. Applying oil on cutting wood protects it from moisture, stains and slow decay. You should only use food grade oil and avoid vegetable oil –or at least those highly saturated with fat- as they will give your cutting board a rancid smell the longer the oil is exposed to air.
This food grade oil is a non-drying and non-toxic petroleum product. Colorless, tasteless, and odorless, this product is an awesome choice for seasoning and maintaining wooden kitchen utensils.
Fractionated Coconut oil
Normal coconut oil, like other vegetable oil that contains fat, eventually gets rancid when exposed to air for long periods of time. Fractionated coconut oil, however, has been stripped of the long-chain triglyceride (LCT), the culprit responsible for the smell, leaving a superior and stable oil that is good for cutting board maintenance.
Also known as Brazil wax and “queen of waxes,” carnauba wax is prized for its glossy finish and water resistant nature. Commercially made wooden cutting board cream and oil often blend carnauba, beeswax and mineral oil to give wood a sweet finish and long-lasting moisture resistance.
After you have identified the best oil for your cutting board, it is time to get to work.
Step 1: Wash
Carefully wash the cutting board with water and soap, and be careful not to forget to clean the edges and the underside. You can use a lint-free rag to remove anything that is stuck to it. Washing the top only will only damage the board because when the moisture comes into contact with the grain, they react and causes ununiformed swellings on the surface of the board which will eventually result in warping. If you see a rocking cutting wooden board, it is the first sign that only one side was washed. After washing, thoroughly dry the board with a cotton cloth and leave it to dry further overnight, standing on one of the edges so that both large faces are facing out.
Step 2: The Oiling
The next morning, make sure the board is completely dry before using your hands to generously apply a generous layer of your preferred oil to the top, bottom, sides and to any grip, groove or handle on the board. Make sure that you don’t leave puddles of oil on the board, instead apply just the right amount to entirely cover the wood with an even oil coating. Just like a co-worker suffering from a hangover on a Monday morning, the wood will need some hydration. Give the oil at least three hours to soak into the wood and remember to leave it on its edges to dry, just like you did before.
Step 3: The Cream
After you are sure that the oil has had enough time to soak into the grains of the wood, you can now apply the cream. This should be done directly to the wood and carefully spread through the entire surface of the wood, ensuring that you smear to every nook and cranny. In case you do not want to get cream all over your hands due to its greasy nature, you can use a lint-free microfiber clothing to apply the cream. Once you have ensured that the whole surface of the board is covered by cream, you will have successfully created a barrier that will ensure that your wooden board stays moisturized until the next oiling process. You know what to do, on its sides, large surfaces out, and let it sit overnight.
Step 4: The Buff and Polish
In the morning, use your clean lint-free microfiber cloth to gently use some pressure to rub your wooden board in circular motions. Polish and buff until you are completely satisfied with your work. The end result will be a glassy and beautiful wooden board. To test whether the barrier you have created if functional, you can pour a little red wine on the surface of the board. The wine should pool on it rather than soak into it.
How frequent should you oil your cutting board?
Some people oil once a month, others twice or thrice a year. The frequency at which you season depends on how often you make use of your cutting board and some telltale signs it’s time to do so.
Here’s how you can tell it is time to season.
Take a couple of seconds to inspect the surface of your cutting board, if there are visible patches of dry and wet, dark and light areas, then it’s time to give your cutting board some TLC.
Water drop test
Lay your board flat, dip your fingertips in water and sprinkle it on the board a couple of times. For the freshly seasoned cutting board, the water droplets will bead up then run off when you tilt the board. That’s a good sign nothing will penetrate it, even wine will have a hard time soaking in.
If the water droplets spread out and hug the wood or the board soaks up the water that is a sure sign to re-season – and soon.
Eventually, the board’s ability to repel moisture will weaken under constant use and the droplets will hug or even disappear into the board. At this point your board is craving a drink –any drink.
Smell and color test
When you pick up your dry cutting board, does it have a strong smell? Then you should consider disinfecting before you season it. If there are stains from food coloring read on, we’ll show you a simple and safe way to deal with that.
What kind of towel works best?
You can get away with using your bare hands no problem! For people that prefer to keep their hands clean, a small bar towel or new paint brush (which should be reserved for the cutting board from now) is the way to go.
How to season your cutting board
Here’s the gist on how to maintain your cutting board so it can last forever –or close.
Clean the cutting board
Just like I mentioned above, put your cutting board in the sink and give it a thorough manual wash. Allow the water to run all over the top, underside and the edges of the board. Do not leave it in water for too long or even consider putting your cutting board in a dishwasher, it will absorb water pretty quick and warp sooner than it should.
Wipe with a dry towel then leave it overnight in a standing position for the water to dry out.
Oil the board
Again, just like the processes indicated above, apply a generous amount of oil on all side (preferably with a spoon). If your oil has a hard time running you can oven heat for a few seconds to get it loosened up and ready to go.
For the first time seasoning, you should aim to saturate the cutting board with oil. Use a lint-free piece of cloth or dish towel to rub the oil evenly on all parts of the board, ensuring there is no puddle of oil on any part. Some people prefer to rub the towel along the grain while others rub in a circular motion –the choice is yours.
Now leave it in a standing position like before, this time for the cutting board to absorb the oil.
Repeat the oiling Process
Depending on how thirsty your cutting board was, it might take 2-3 applications for it to stop drinking up the oil –and say “thank you”. If there is too much oil the excess will drip out when you let it stand for some hours, preferably overnight.
Handling stains, odor and cut marks
If you want to remove food stain from your cutting board bleach is a bad idea. It ends up dehydrating the wood as well as killing its natural wooden color.
The best option is lemon juice or white vinegar applied directly on the stains. The acid in these liquids are soft on the board fibers, neutralizes fats or organic materials responsible for the bad odor and leaves a nice smell.
When cut marks on the wood start getting deep, giving your board an uneven and rough look. You can easily restore the beauty of the board with the help of sandpaper and a little force along the grain. Use sandpaper that is numbered 240 – 400. Sandpaper with higher grit value leaves a smoother finish. Blow off the dust and season when you’re done.
Knowing when to give up
Theoretically, if you adhere to a strict routine of regularly oiling and seasoning your wooden cutting board, this would give it a very good chance of lasting for a lifetime. With a repetitive seasoning and polishing process, the wood will look good for decades to come.
However, if you notice that some deep cut marks are showing up on the surface of your cutting board you can try to sand out the deep ridges by thoroughly running sandpaper through the entire surface of the wood, being careful to even out areas that are not affected by the cut marks. This can be a tedious and time-consuming procedure but the end result will be a whole new life for your wooden board. After the sanding process, start from the beginning of the cleaning to the seasoning procedure.
Sometimes, regardless of how well you take care of your board, it still warps. In this case, get a new one. When you notice that the glued joints are failing or they are developing some heavy cracks, bad bacteria from food and thrive in such conditions posing you to numerous infections and diseases. You wouldn’t want that, would you? This is the time to start shopping for a new wooden board.
If you result in getting a brand new board, there is a vast collection of wooden cutting boards available everywhere. Therefore get something beautiful. There are different styles including long grain, end grain, face grain, vertical grain, and square tiles, just to mention a few. Shop around and finds one that speaks to the chef in you. Sat the end of the day, it is as much of an Art as it is a tool. And please, remember to never put your cutting board into the dishwasher, you know better than that.
3 Main types of the wooden cutting board explained
Each of the cutting board styles refers to the direction the grain appears in relation to the cutting surface of the board. Let us look at the three major styles of wooden cutting boards
1. End Grain Cutting Board
This board is considered the best of all other cutting boards and have a butcher block appearance. The wood making up this board is usually joined together so that the end grain is facing the work surface. You could compare the end grain board to bristles of a broom when you look straight at the bottom. Slice down with a chef’s knife and the bristles move aside to let the object pass between them. Remove your knife and the bristles get back to their original position. Moreover, the construction of an end grain cutting board reduces the possibility of pieces splitting off since the wood fibers face different directions. This style typically more expensive than the three other models.
2. Edge Grain Cutting Boards
Just like the name suggests you will be cutting on the edge of the wood. This is the most common cutting board that you will find in most professional kitchens and homes. They are typically made using plain sawn lumber, cut into strips and those strips turned on their sides and glued together. The benefits of having this style of cutting boards is that since the grain runs vertically, your cutting board will be more stable since the biggest movements of the wood run tangentially, meaning that it will run across the grain. This style is also relatively easier to make as compared to the End grain and also quite durable. This style will also be easier on your knife as compared to the face grain cutting boards.
3. Face Grain Cutting Boards
Again, just as the name suggests, when using this board, you will be cutting on the face of the board. This is the most natural and beautiful style among the three but not very common to most kitchens. The grain of this style run right and left or horizontal to your cutting surface. The benefit of this wooden board includes durability and sturdiness because the board has a hard cutting surface. It also offers some very visually appealing design options. It is made from plain sawn lumber making it the most affordable option among the three. Although the three, this style is the least forgiving on the blade of your knife, it is still a much better option to plastic and glass.
The beauty of seasoning your wooden cutting board is that it will make it much easier to clean so you won’t have to give it an aggressive wash to get flavors and stains out.
So, whether you are restoring an old cutting block or giving your new wooden cutting board it’s very first seasoning, this simple to follow oiling process is an important step towards maintaining a sanitary and gorgeous cutting board that will last you well into the future