Chef Tip: How to Care For Your Wooden Cutting Boards
Updated: Oct 30
As SF Bay Area Private Chefs, we visit thousands of our clients homes annually. Many have spent really good money on gorgeous expensive solid wood cutting boards, only to not properly maintain them and they quickly fall into looking old, cracked, warped, and inevitably end up in the trash prematurely.
Maintaining a cutting board is a quick and very painless process, that will keep your wooden cutting board not only most importantly sanitary, looking new, and greatly extend it's useful life.
So, How do we maintain our cutting boards?
#1 Proper Washing & Cleaning of Wooden Cutting Boards
Always wash your cutting board with soap and warm water and scrub it well. The volume of water and act of scrubbing is important, in flushing bacteria and other food particles off the board. Public health authorities always recommend the use of soap! TIP: Avoid the use of heavily scented soaps, unscented is always best! After washing the wooden cutting board, dry it immediately with a clean kitchen towel that has not been used for drying or washing any other dishes. Fresh out of the laundry (without the use of fabric softener, is always best!) After towel drying, let the cutting board air dry standing up, or on a raised rack with air flow on all sides. This isn't the time to lay your freshly washed board on a dirty dish towel or counter top that could potentially harbor moister or bacteria.
Never, Never, NEVER put wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher!
The heat and water will warp and splinter the wood AND void warranties. Only certain types of plastic, composite, or glass boards can go into the dishwasher, check the manufacturers directions that came with your cutting board for dishwasher safe materials. Never dunk or let the board in stand submerged in water. Wood will absorb water quickly, cause potential warping of your board. Never use chlorine bleach or cleansers containing chlorine or bleach. These chemicals will stain the wood, and dry it excessively. Never put a wet board flat to dry. If the board dries unevenly only on one side, it will cause the wood to warp.
If your board has food stains or off smells, you can always use lemon juice, or distilled white vinegar directly on the area. The acid in these liquids will neutralize the organic compounds or food fats causing your favorite wooden cutting board not to smell daisy fresh.
#2 How to apply cutting board cream or oil.
Once your cutting board is thoroughly dry, apply a good quality cutting board oil or cream directly onto the surface of the board. We always suggest using John Boos products! Be overly generous with the application, especially if the wood appears to be dry, or you've just bought the cutting board or butcher block. You want the wood to be dripping wet with oil on all sides. You can use a paper towel, or a brand new never used before paint brush, to spread the oil or cream. Avoid using your hands, as may lead to splinters, Ouch!
Always, let the oil soak into the cutting board for as long as possible; at least a minimum of 4 hours or but overnight is best if all possible. Blot any remaining oil up after your soak time has completed.
Let your wooden cutting board sit on a coated wire rack or upright in your dish rack, to dry when done. If you are restoring or seasoning an old, dry or new cutting board, you may wish to repeat this process two or even three more times, allowing 24 hours in between each application, to ensure your cutting board is completely seasoned. Keeping the wood properly oiled adds to longevity.
To apply board cream, wait until the board is dry to the touch after washing or oiling, then apply a small amount of cream onto the board. Using a soft cloth, buff the board cream/wax into the wood in a circular pattern, forming a thin coat. Repeat over the entire surface of the board and especially the sides. It's not necessary to let the wax soak into the board. Always make sure that your cutting board oil and creams are 100% food grade!
Why use wood oil or cutting board creams?
The ultimate goal of oiling your board is to penetrate and saturate the wood fibers. This helps stop any other liquids (blood, bacteria, dirt, and other ickies) and most importantly moisture from soaking into the board. As well, a well-oiled cutting board will keep the same shape when the wood fibers are saturated. Warping is a very common user caused damaged to a board that's fibers are left too dry, then exposed to water.
Do remember that all wooden, even "no maintenance" or bamboo cutting boards need to be oiled at least once a month!
#3 ALWAYS USE FOOD GRADE OILS & CREAMS
Manufacturers do not recommend natural oils such as vegetable, corn, olive, peanut or walnut oil, as these are rich in fats that will easily oxidize and go rancid! This creates a foul smelling board loaded with nasty bacteria. Also, never use standard mineral oil from a hardware store that is not rated as "100% food safe" on the label, as that is meant for machine lubrication and not for contact with food. It is never ever worth jeopardizing your health for a few dollars!
Remember to keep them clean, keep them oiled, and they will give you many happy years of cooking!