Cutting Board 101: Care and Feeding (er, I mean, Maintenance)

So you’ve gotten a brand-new cutting board and now you have to learn how to use and take care of it, you say? Well congratulations. Whether you got it from me or someone else, I hope it’s exactly what you were looking for. Either way, I’m willing to help you learn how to take good care of it, if you have the time to do a bit of reading. All the information following mostly pertains to wooden cutting boards, unless otherwise stated.

Cleaning

The first thing that you should know about your new wooden or bamboo cutting board is that it should never, ever put it in the dishwasher. A lot of very horrific things can and will happen to that poor board while in there, and none of them are good for it or you. The heat, moisture, and detergent can and will bleach, warp, and swell your board until it splits and/or becomes unusable. So I’d skip it. For plastic? Dishwasher away; it’s the best way to keep them clean and sanitary. For wooden and bamboo boards though? You’re going to want to hand wash. When hand washing, I recommend you use a two-sided sponge; one side is a sponge, the other is a scrubbing pad. You can get them from dollar stores and basically anyplace, so I’d suggest you pick up a pack. Wood is pretty resilient, so it can take the scrubbing. I would advise against using SOS pads or steel wool; the abrasive detergent in the former is unnecessary and the latter can score and scratch your board more than it would otherwise be. Now, that’s not going to RUIN your fancy new board per se, but it will expedite the need to get it resurfaced. Use basic dish soap (antibacterial or not; doesn’t matter), and don’t soak your board! Just like with the dishwasher, it can cause swelling and warping. Instead, just run a bit of water over the top to get it wet, scrub it, and then rinse. Immediately towel off all the excess water, and you’re gold. Let it dry someplace where the air can get all around it. If your board has feet, that’s just wherever you normally keep it, assuming that spot has circulation and isn’t in a recess of some kind. If you have a reversible board, then you’ll want to set it up on edge, in say a dish draining rack or some other device to allow the air to get at all sides. A dry board is a happy board.

Oiling

Once you’ve been using your board for a while, you’ll notice it start to get dull. That’s normal. It’s from all the wear of cutting and washing. All you have to do is treat the surface, and it’ll bounce right back (assuming there isn’t deeper damage like scoring; we’ll cover that in a bit). The easiest and cheapest way to treat your board is with food grade white mineral oil. They sell it at basically any grocery store. You’re looking for the stuff that they sell in the pharmacy area of the store for medicinal use. That stuff. All you need to do is use a lint-free rag or towel, and pour a generous amount of oil on the board. Rub it in with the rag, then do the other side too. If you use both sides of the board, be liberal on that side too. If not, then you can go easy on the back side. I’d say, depending on your board thickness, you’re looking at rubbing in about 1/8 cup, or 30ml of oil on each side that you use, and maybe half that on each side you don’t. If that doesn’t seem like enough, add more. If it seems like too much, keep rubbing, the wood will soak a lot of it in. If it seems like WAY too much, well then send me an angry message because I made you make a mess. Once that’s done, your board will look MUCH nicer. Maybe even brand-new. You can oil other wooden utensils too, if you want. Wooden spoons, platters, bowls… it’ll help, trust me. The oil helps repel water and keep the fibers of the wood from becoming brittle. It also helps prevent bacterial issues because the mineral oil won’t go rancid and isn’t the sort of oil that most bacteria found in kitchens can metabolize.

There are other, more expensive options for treating your cutting board, and those are fine too. You’ll see ‘Cutting Board/Butcher’s Block Oil’, for example, which costs three or four times what a bottle of mineral oil will cost you. The reason for this is many of them include other, more exotic oils, as well as beeswax, offering an increased level of protection and conditioning. They aren’t lying; the addition of beeswax is very good for cutting boards, and it helps condition the wood even further. If you’re old school and you remember waxing your wooden furniture, you’ll understand. Now, don’t go using furniture wax for this; gotta remember to keep it food-safe. Tung oil often comes up as an option, but I would avoid it. The reason being that some products that claim to be Tung oil are actually other products, and only partly contain Tung oil, or sometimes not at all, only replicating the effect. It’s best to avoid this rabbit hole, and stick with mineral oil or cutting board oil. Avoid danish oils for the same reason. Lastly, don’t use cooking oils for this; you may see some people advocate the use of olive oil or other cooking oils to treat your cutting board. Don’t. They can and will go rancid, ruining your board. Not even a resurfacing can bring it back, because the rancid oil will have penetrated the wood fibers, making the whole board rotten. Dodge that bullet. I know you already have those oils laying around, and the temptation will be high, but resist it.

Resurfacing

The final thing I want to go over is board resurfacing. Your cutting board is going to get fuzzy, and dull, and you’re going to get scoring on the surface. That’s normal. And it means you’ve been using the board a long time, so it’s also a good sign. Resurfacing a board takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth it. All you’ll need are some sandpaper, and either a sanding block or an orbital sander. For really bad surface damage, a belt sander might be required, but not for most people. The grits of sandpaper you’ll need are 150 and 220 for sure; the former will remove most tool marks and the latter will make the surface smooth as silk. If you have deeper scoring, you may need 100 grit as well, but for typical use, that shouldn’t be necessary. Starting with the 150 grit sandpaper, go to town on the surfaces you use. Get them relatively smooth to the touch, and then switch to the 220 till it’s as smooth as you want. Oil it up, and you’re ready to go again. Simple as that. If you don’t have a sander, it’s not really worth buying one just to do this. A sanding block is much cheaper. You could also use sanding sponges if you want; they are basically sandpaper and a sanding block together in a disposable form. Quick and easy. If you don’t want to go through all that, anybody with a woodshop and a sander could probably do it for you for a cost (or free, if they’re a friend). I can do so as well, but if you’re not in my area, the shipping could get pricey.

If you have any other questions about cutting board care, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. I hope this tutorial helps you out, and gives you the tools you need to keep that new cutting board looking sharp for years and decades to come.

Cutting Board 101: Care and Feeding (er, I mean, Maintenance)

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