HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >

Discussion

Butcher block countertop. Pros Cons

I'm considering making the island in my kitchen a butcher block. And wanted some advice on pros and cons.

This is only partially aesthetic and mostly a functional decision, as I'd like a nice big surface to cut on that I don't have to wash in the sink, which usually turns out messy with me splashing water everywhere. Also, even large cutting boards don't quite offer the space I would like for cutting. I'll be using it alot for cutting vegetables and rarely to never for cutting meat.

My main hesitation is the cleaning / maintenance of the board. In other words if I go over it with a sponge and mild detergent afterwards, do I need to dry it with a towel, air dry, is it prone to warping?

Should I use a spray bottle mix so that I put less water directly onto the surface? Will soap scum potentially develop? I've considered using a "natural" mix of water and vinegar spray on it.

Any other glaring cons?

Thanks for any help or advice!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. If you are going to build a butcher block into a counter, it should be thick enough that warping won't be an issue. I wouldn't use soap on it, merely hot water. I would dry it with paper towels after washing it. And I wouldn't cut meat on it unless it is to be used only for meat. It's better to cut meat on something which can be put in the dishwasher, in my opinion.

    1. Here's a link to an article on cutting board maintenance, from a manufacturer of maple cutting boards:

      http://www.mapleblock.com/detail/care...

      They recommend soap, but this is on an oiled board. Once the board is properly seasoned with oil, a little soap shouldn't be a problem.

      1. My entire island is butcher block. It's about 2 inches thick, and I have undermounted a prep sink w/ garbage disposal at one edge. This island is the best thing that every happened to me. You just chop veggies right next to the sink, and then scrape the detritus directly into the sink, no cleaning a rim, no dumping into a garbage pail, no cleaning and storing a cutting board. Because the whole island is butcher block, I can cut piles of veggies in various places on the board and leave them there until I'm ready to use them. If I need to cut raw meat, chicken especially, i either do it on the paper the meat came in, or I have a few little plastic mats just to keep the potentially germy chix juice off the board. I'm not OCD about it though. If I feel like putting meat directly on the board, I'm just careful to wash w/ hot water and soap later.

        I clean the block with whatever I feel like, generally soap and water, sometimes an orange-type kitchen cleanser. Once in a blue moon I get a piece of fine sand paper and sand it down and oil it. (maybe every 2-3 years) I've had it 12 years now and I have realized that I can set hot things on it straight out of the oven or stove. who knew?

        The only downside is you can stain it. Sometimes I cut a beet or pomegranite or the like, and I have a little pink stain for a few days 'til it just kinda wears off. I am not a clean freak, so this does not disturb me at all.

        People tried to tell me this would be a disaster, particularly they tried to tell me the undermounted sink would rot where the wood edge lined the sink. That was BS, as I suspected. It still looks brand new after a quickie w/ the sandpaper. I cannot recommend this set-up more highly.

        1. As an island, I think it's a great idea, as a full counter top, not so much. The most important thing in my opinion is to keep it oiled. Several coats of mineral oil followed by frequent oiling with a mixture of mineral oil and bees wax will hlep maintain the good looks of your island top. The bees wax helps repel water and it will also help repel stains. As long as you don't let water sit on it, you should be fine, just wipe it dry and air will do the rest, assuming you keep it oiled. You should be able to clean it with just about any of the things on your list without issue.

          Although I wouldn't want to have butcher block next to my main sink, just too much water exposure in my opinion, I don't think there would be issues around a prep sink, although, again, I would make every effort to keep it as dry as possible and well oiled.

          1. I strongly recommend beeswax for a butcher block countertop since you cannot wash it in a sink.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              My parents had a large island in their kitchen with a really thick butcher block top. My mom is a total clean freak and I don't doubt she scrubbed it down regularly with bleach. My dad would use beeswax on it once in a while. It looked brand new 16 years later when the house was sold.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                As in beeswax over mineral oil, or just very frequent "beeswaxing." Does beeswax create a stronger protectant coating than mineral oil?

                1. re: rores28

                  After you installed your butcher block, you certainly need to apply beeswax (with or without mineral oil). As the beeswax wears off, you will need to apply it again. I won't say very frequent. Maybe once a year... it could be once every six months or once every two years. You just apply a thin layer when you notice it starts to wear off. You can tell.

                  I think beeswax is great. I don't even have to oil my butcher block anymore -- not since the first time. The beeswax alone blocks the water from getting in. It is pointless for me to apply mineral oil because the oil won't get it. By applying beeswax, I don't have to oil my chopping block every week or every month....

                  Just get nature unaltered beeswax, not beeswax with fragrance...etc.

                  Yes, beeswax create a stronger protection than mineral oil. For one, beeswax is a soft solid than liquid (mineral oil).

                  1. re: rores28

                    I am fairly certain Dad just used plain beeswax once a year or so. He did wood working as a hobby (he made the top himself) and was really into finishing certain woods certain ways. I know he used oil finishes on furniture pieces he made but I am 99% sure he did not use mineral oil on that top. My mom was nutty about her kitchen and I suspect beeswax alone pushed the boundaries of her comfort zone.

                2. pros:vast expanse for cutting, beautiful, warm look and feel when new or newly resurfaced
                  cons:maintenance(cleaning, scraping oiling), staining, sanitary issues

                  I don't see warping as an issue, as it's thickness will keep it stable, but expect some movement...it's wood after all, and it swells and contracts. Interesting to hear danna's comments, as I've only seen them in magazine kitchens. It'll be a labor of love

                  1. I had a butcher block island at one point and loved it. I cut everything on it--vegs, meat etc--and when I was done I washed it down with a scrubby sponge, soap and water. I never had a problem.

                    1. We have a large wooden butcher block board, 18" X 25", and it is reversible. We hold it in place with some material used to line drawers, as indicated by someone up thread. It works fine. We only chop vegetables on it. Bread gets sliced on another cutting board simply because it is easier to wipe off the crumbs from a smaller board into the sink. Meat is also done on another, easier to clean cutting board. We use an occasional spray of 3% hydrogen peroxide to kill any germs.

                      26 Replies
                      1. re: John E.

                        "We use an occasional spray of 3% hydrogen peroxide to kill any germs."

                        Good choice, especially useful for people who worry about chlorox bleach.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Chemical, is there something I should be worrying about with bleach....I thought it was one of those safe products.

                          1. re: escondido123

                            You just want to make sure you rinse it off well. You wouldn't want to drink bleach, but it's a great disinfectant and the minimal residual that is left behind after a good water rinse is not going to be an issue.

                            On the beeswax issue, I mix beeswax with mineral oil and heat it in a microwave to combine the two. When it cools I have a paste about the consistancy of shoe polish or the old white past we used in grade school 50 years ago. I spread it with my hand, the heat from my hand helps melt the mixture and allows it to penetrate more. After the application, you can let a few drops of water fall off your hand and it should beed up like a freshly waxed car.

                            1. re: mikie

                              Mikie and Chem:

                              What are you proportions of beeswax to mineral oil?

                              1. re: rosetown

                                I am totally weird. I tried various ratio like 1:1 beeswax to mineral oil to 1:2 beeswax to mineral oil, but they didn't work well for me. The idea is that additional of beeswax toughen/solidify the mineral oil and makes it last longer, but like I said, it didn't work as well as I hope for.

                                This is what I have been doing and it works for me.

                                1) When I get a new cutting board, I apply pure tung oil as the typical procedure: apply a few application of tung oil in a day or two. The, I let the tung oil dry for a day or two.

                                2) I then apply pure beeswax using a hot/warm iron. Obviously, it is very difficult to apply beeswax when it is cold. I have tried to melt the beeswax in a pot and then apply it, but it instantly turned into hard solid when it hit the cold cutting board. So I find it most useful to shave some beeswax on the cutting board and then "iron" it into the cutting board. If the iron temperature is too hot, then it can crack the wood, so I set it just warm enough to melt/soften the beeswax.

                                In short, I apply pure oil, and then pure beeswax -- separately. When beeswax wears off, then I only reapply beeswax.

                                1. re: rosetown

                                  It takes a little experimentation, but I use more mineral oil than beeswax by volume, but close to 1:1, maybe 1.5:1. The goal is to make a soft paste that can penetrate the wood and still have enough beeswax to make the finish more robust.
                                  You can also heat it slightly in the microwave to make it penetrate more.

                                  What Chem does, is quite a bit different from a number of perspectives. First, tung oil, is not the same, nor act the same as mineral oil. Typically, tung oil will harded or cure or crosslink, take your pick, with exposure to oxygen. Mineral does not do any of those things. Tung oil will penetrate, but not very far into the wood, it's not a film build up finish, but it's not mineral oil either. Now that he's sealed the wood, he melts the beeswax to coat the surface, once it's been tung oiled not much will penetrate easily. This is a different procedure than mineral oil followed by a mineral oil/beeswax combination. It obviously works for Chem.

                                  1. re: mikie

                                    I have a question. What happens to the board if you just use it, wash it, dry it, and cut on it without ever putting oil or wax on it? We have used ours for years without treating it in any manner other than washing it and it seems just fine (except where I burned it with a real hot kettle. I was going to sand it off but just decided to leave it and it has gradually faded, but is now on the underside anyway).

                                    1. re: John E.

                                      "What happens to the board if you just use it, wash it, dry it, and cut on it without ever putting oil or wax on it?"

                                      That is a great question. My mom and I bought our first end grain cutting board 20+ years ago. We didn't know any of these oiling, beeswax techniques, so we did NOTHING. The board survived without the any crack.

                                      My understanding is that the oiling, beeswax... all these methods improve the cutting board survival chance, but it isn't like it is a "must".

                                      The following is the sad truth. I know plenty cutting boards without mineral oil/beeswax and survived, and plenty others with mineral oil/beeswax and cracked. So....

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        Ours is not end grain, if that makes much of a difference. If it were going to crack I believe it would already have done so by now.

                                      2. re: John E.

                                        There are a couple of advantages to mineral oil and/or beeswax. For starters you need to understand wood at least a little. When a tree is cut it's full of water, to be usable as lumber it must be dried to a moisture level, typically under 10%. As the wood dries, it shrinks, when it picks up moisture it expands again. If you have raised panel cabinet doors for example, you will see they are only attached to the frames in the middle of the top and bottom, this is to allow for wood movement with seasonal changes. A similar situation applies to your cutting board, it dries out and picks up moisture on a regular basis. The thing is, it doesn't pick up or release moisture very fast, so a quick rinse only penetrates the surface, and since you wipe it dry, there isn't that much moisture it can pick up. That's why you can get by without oiling. What oilig does is add an extra level of protection where by even less moisture is able to penetrate the wood fibers, they are full of oil and can't pick up water or more importantly berry juice or some other liquid that would penetrate and stain your cutting board. This keeps the wood from drying out and picking up moisture, which controls wood movement, which over time could weaken glue joints or cause stresses that in turn cause cracks. The other point about beeswax and mineral oil or combinations there of. These seal the wood to the penetration of juices that you would not want in your board, be it meat or blue berries or onion. So the second thing sealing the board does is prevent or at least reduce staining from the things you are cutting. Again, this is not entirely necessary, but it does keep the board looking very nice for a much longer time.

                                        I recently oiled my daughter's boards, end grian and about 2" thick. Using the mineral oil/beeswax combination when I was finished water beeds up on the board, just like a freshly waxed car hood. You know that it is well sealed and will repell stains from other liquids. But as Chem states, many get by for a very long time with no ill effect from not following that procedure. There's a lot that can happen, but it doesn't mean it will happen.

                                        1. re: mikie

                                          Your stain comment makes me think I should treat this board. Thanks.

                                      3. re: mikie

                                        How do you apply the mix of the two - I've only used mineral oil to this point.

                                        1. re: rosetown

                                          Put beeswax in mineral oil and warm them up. The beeswax will melt into the mineral oil.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            I had to take a few minutes to think - so I take it, once the beeswax is melted into the mineral oil it applies to the board much like mineral oil alone?

                                            1. re: rosetown

                                              "once the beeswax is melted into the mineral oil it applies to the board much like mineral oil alone?"

                                              Depending on the ratio. In my experience, beeswax does a real change to the mineral texture. With a beeswax to mineral oi ratio of 1:1 or even 1:2, the texture is more solid than liquid at room temperature. It is much easier to apply than straight beeswax, but it is not like applying pure mineral oil.

                                              I will suggest this for the first time. Start with your mineral oil, then add 1/4 volume of beeswax and melt. See if this is a texture you can work with. Add more beeswax if necessary.

                                              You can melt the beexwax-mineral oil mixture in pan. Or you can put the mixture in a microwave.

                                                1. re: rosetown

                                                  One last suggestion. Unless you are preparing large quantity, I find it helpful to put beeswax and mineral oil in a bowel for heating. This way, you can warm the mixture by placing the bowel in a bath of boiling hot in a pan or to put it in the microwave. When it is done, you can apply the mixture to the cutting board and save the rest in a bowel. No sample transfer is needed.

                                                  You can heat the mixture directly in a pan, but I don't like it for several reasons: (1) it is easy to overheat it (2) can not get all of the mixture out of the pan, and (3) difficult for cleaning the pan.

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    I've been thinking about the actual application - with mineral oil alone I was using a pastry brush to apply the oil. How does the mixture of beeswax and mineral oil affect the method of the actual application?

                                          2. re: rosetown

                                            I've used two methods, the first is to heat the mixture as Chem has mentioned in a microwave and then the mixture behaves more like mineral oil. You will need to apply it with a cloth or something to keep it off your hands if it's hot. The other way I've applied it is to let it cool to room temperature, at which point is should be a soft paste, if it's not a soft paste then there is too much beeswax in it, if it's still runny, then you need more beeswax. Anyway, stick your fingers in the soft paste and use the heat from your hand to help melt the mixture and rub it into the board. Either way seems to work just fine.

                                              1. re: rosetown

                                                Mike is correct. If you find the paste (mixture) a bit on the hard side and do not want to add more mineral oil, then you can use a hairdryer.

                                                Often, the mixture is warm and soft in your bowl, but it solidifies once it touches your cutting boards. You can use a hair dryer to warm it up (while it is on the cutting board) and then apply this warm and softened mixture.

                                                I have used the hair dryer and it works fine for mineral oil/beeswax mixture. I use an iron now because I apply pure beexwax now.

                                                P.S.: I won't use the pastry brush. Not that it won't work, but you will have a very hard time cleaning the pastry brush afterward.

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  I don't own a hair dryer but I have a heat gun - so no problem - and no, I don't use it on my hair. :D

                                                  1. re: rosetown

                                                    Heat gun is awesome, and in some way I like a heat gun better because it outputs more heat with less air current. I find hair dryers can blow the beeswax mixture more than I like.

                                                    However, beware you don't overheat the cutting board and crack it. You get the idea. Just pay close attention.

                                        2. re: rosetown

                                          I used to use mineral oil, but have been converted to use tung oil. Mike is correct in describing the details. Tung oil is a drying oil. It will dry and harden. So my goal was to have the tung oil penetrates the wood and then dries and stays there. Mike is also correct that if tung oil has properly sealed the wood, then the need for beeswax is minimal. In my case, (I should have spelled out) I ran out of tung oil. :P

                                          Please do understand that I have a pretty thick block and did not have much tung oil left:

                                          http://www.chow.com/photos/532856

                                          So I applied and melted the beeswax on the cutting surface. In hindsight, I probably could have just used the beeswax.

                                      4. re: escondido123

                                        Agree with mike. Bleach is an excellent disinfectant agent and inexpensive. Hospitals use it. As mike said, it is not a good idea to drink bleach residue. Moreover, some people are more irritated by the bleach smell (chlorine).

                                        In contrast, hydrogen peroxide is simpler in its final products. Hydrogen peroxide decomposes into water and oxygen gas.

                                        http://www.usyd.edu.au/learningcentre...

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          I've used bleach for years with no problem but was wondering what you meant when you posted "especially useful for people who worry about chlorox bleach." I didn't know people worried about it so was looking for clarification.

                                  2. The butcher block is fine. Despite what many think there is no evidence that wood carries significantly more pathogens than plastic. It. Is merely the upkeep that is different. As for cleaning, I suggest too anyone for any surface, is bleach and water. Just a tablespoon in a gallon is a powerfull disinfectant. I use a tsp. or so in a spray bottle and then just wipe it down. It may only be veggies but we are seeing listeria, ecoli, and other outbreaks frequently as of late.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: BrainFoodie

                                      I recommended that to my ex MIL and forgot how compulsive she was. Came back to their house six months later and all the BB counters were basically bleached white.

                                    2. Hello!

                                      I bought my end grain 12x16x2 cutting board on etsy.com. It is grooved one side and flat on the other. The craftsman made it to my specifications and I picked my wood (maple). The board cost $125.00 and I got it about 3 weeks after I ordered it. Every so often I rub beeswax into it and it is quite lovely, a bit heavy, but lovely. Most of the craftsman will make boards to your specs. Good luck!

                                      1. my grandma has had butcher block counters for several decades. It is constructed of quarter-sawn maple. This counter received very heavy use since the 1950s. Nothing else could have withstood the abuse we have thrown at it. You can cut anything on it, and it has held up very well over the years.

                                        As a personal preference, you could dedicate a spot to onion/garlic, or use a separate board. To wipe down after regular food prep, she uses a soapy dish rag. To disinfect after prepping raw meat, she used a soapy wash rag with some bleach on it. She keeps a small squeeze bottle of bleach at the sink. Very convenient to dribble onto a rag. Bleach water is standard practice in hospitals and restaurants. BTW, bleach kills stuff that even Lysol spray/wipes and Purell can't. You don't need much-- a teaspoon of bleach dissolved in a quart of water is effective.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: MeganInMadison

                                          "She keeps a small squeeze bottle of bleach at the sink. Very convenient to dribble onto a rag. Bleach water is standard practice in hospitals and restaurants..."

                                          Just want to add something here. Bleach solution is very effective as an disinfectant. However, bleach solution also quickly loses its effectiveness, so it should be prepared fresh daily. In contrast, vinegar solution is weaker but maintains its efficiency for a long time.

                                          "When preparing chlorine solutions for use note that:
                                          • chlorine solutions gradually lose strength, and freshly diluted solutions must therefore be
                                          prepared daily;"

                                          http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publ...

                                          1. re: MeganInMadison

                                            "you could dedicate a spot to onion/garlic" very good point. Ever so often I forget, and I get to hear from my husband "Does this orange taste like garlic to you?" oops.