A chef’s knife without a cutting board is like peanut butter without jelly, up without down, or black without white. Every great knife deserves a great cutting board. But not any ol’ cutting board will do. To really give your knives something they’ll want to rub up against, you’ll want to get them a wooden cutting board.
From large meat carving boards to smaller bread boards, teak to bamboo, wood cutting boards are the go-to for many professional and home chefs. But as beautiful and classic as wood cutting boards are, they require proper care and maintenance to make sure they don’t warp or crack. No need to worry though – if you follow a few simple care and cleaning guidelines, your wooden cutting boards will last for years and years.
How to Care for a Wooden Cutting Board
Before we get into how to care for a wooden cutting board, let’s first slice and dice a common wooden cutting board misconception.
Are Wooden Cutting Boards Sanitary?
Many people choose to buy plastic cutting boards because they assume they’re somehow more sanitary, but that is simply a myth. So much so that after studying the topic, researchers at UC Davis noted that “…the U.S. Department of Agriculture told us they had no scientific evidence to support their recommendation that plastic, rather than wooden cutting boards be used in home kitchens.”
The problem with plastic cutting boards is that while they seem non-porous and can’t absorb liquids, over time the surface becomes cut and scarred. This makes it incredibly hard to properly clean the rough surface, thus allowing potential bacteria to remain and thrive.
Wood cutting boards, on the other hand, actually kill bacteria. In another study, this one conducted at the University of Wisconsin, researchers placed three kinds of bacteria known to cause illness – Salmonella, Listeria and enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli – on cutting boards made from both woods and plastics. All of the wooden boards consistently outperformed the plastic. In fact, in only minutes after the bacteria had been placed on the wooden cutting boards, 99.9% of the bacteria had died while NONE of the bacteria died on the plastic boards.
The moral of the story? Not only are wooden cutting boards sanitary, they are far safer to use than plastic cutting boards (and are much easier on your knives). And, as if that weren’t enough of a reason to only buy wooden cutting boards from now on, when taken care of properly, a wooden cutting board can actually last for 10, 15 or even more years. Plastic boards last a year or two typically.
With this in mind, let’s look at the proper ways to clean and care for your wooden cutting board.
How to Oil a Wooden Cutting Board
Wooden cutting boards need to be washed and dried after each use, and we’ll get to some of the best cleaning methods in just a little bit. Right now, we need to talk about the importance of regularly oiling your board.
Regular oiling will help maintain the surface of your wooden cutting board and prevent it from drying out and splitting. How often you oil your board really depends on how often you use it. If you use your wooden cutting board on an almost-daily basis, then you’ll need to oil it about once a month. If you only use your board every so often, you may only need to oil it once or twice a year. The best thing to do is keep your eye on it and watch for the wood to start lightening in color. This means it’s drying out and needs oil.
When it comes to choosing an oil to use, go with one that is food grade and not prone to rancidity. Mineral oil is used by many as it’s inexpensive and easily found at most kitchen supply stores.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind when oiling a wooden cutting board:
- Make sure the board has been thoroughly cleaned and dried.
- Use a clean, soft cloth or paper towel to apply the oil in an even layer.
- Allow the oil to really soak in, overnight if possible.
- Using a clean and dry cloth or paper towel, wipe off any remaining oil that has not seeped into the wood. Your board should feel smooth but not slick or sticky.
How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board
As we mentioned earlier, you must thoroughly wash and dry your wooden cutting board after each use. When it comes to cleaning, you have a few different options of what cleaning agents you may use:
- Soapy water: Use nice and hot water and a little bit of dish soap to gently wash away any food debris.
- Hydrogen peroxide: This is a great solution for killing any remaining bacteria. After you’ve wiped the board down with hydrogen peroxide, be sure to give it a good rinse and pat it dry.
- Vinegar: Many of our grandmothers used nothing but simple vinegar to clean their ENTIRE house. Vinegar is a great cleaner because it contains acetic acid, which is a powerful disinfectant. Wipe on with a clean cloth or paper towel and leave. Not only will It disinfect your board but will also get rid of any lingering odors (we’re talking to you, garlic).
- strong>Lemon: Speaking of lingering odors, rubbing your wooden cutting board with the cut side of half a lemon will also get rid of meat, garlic, fish and onion smells. After rubbing with lemon, pat your board dry.
- Baking soda: this is a great cleaning agent for wood boards because it is a mild alkali and can dissolve dirt and grease in water. Simply make a baking soda paste and scrub your board. Then give it a good rinse and pat dry.
How to Remove Stains from a Wooden Cutting Board
No matter which way you slice it, your cutting board is bound to accumulate stains, which can be quite devastating when you’re in love with your beautiful wooden cutting board. To keep your board as beautiful as the day you bought it, here’s an incredibly easy and effective way to remove any stains:
- Wet the stained area with water and sprinkle it with kosher salt or sea salt.
- Allow the salt to sit for 12-24 hours.
- Add a little more water to make a paste and scrub the area with a nylon scrubbing sponge or a clean, unused toothbrush.
- Repeat as often as necessary until the stain is gone.
What NOT to do With a Wooden Cutting Board
Now that you know WHAT to do with your wooden cutting board, let’s close by looking at a few things you should NEVER do:
- Don’t opt for a cheap wooden cutting board made from inferior wood and non-safe glues. By spending just a bit more, you can own a handcrafted board that is not only safe and beautiful, but will also last for years.
- Don’t ever put your wooden board in the dishwasher. Harsh detergents and high heat are bad for the surface of your board and can, over time, cause cracking. The same goes for your knives.
- Don’t forget to oil your board as often as necessary. This will really help it last and age beautifully.
The bottom line is, if you take care of your wooden cutting board, it will take care of you for years to come.