Walk into my kitchen, and one of the first things you may notice is the giant wooden board my husband made for me. When he started making cutting boards, I told him I wanted something on which I could comfortably carve a large butterflied turkey; little did I know that this board would be something I use almost daily. I use it as a surface for chopping, yes, but also for pasta making, kneading various doughs, transporting things across the kitchen, a serving board for large gatherings, and a large bread board. I have other smaller wooden boards that I use just as much, and I love them all. Heavy for their sizes, well-maintained, and beautiful to look at, they are a joy to have in my kitchen.
When well cared for, a solid wood board can take a lot of culinary abuse and still be passed down through generations, becoming a family heirloom; however, many people purchase them and then have no idea what to do if the thing gets dirty and end up using it as a display piece on their counter top, nary a knife or morsel of food ever touching it. I strongly disagree with paying top dollar for a wholly utilitarian piece of equipment that you won’t even use, so let’s talk about how to properly maintain your boards so that you can use them daily.
When you first bring your board home, make sure it is clean by wiping it with a damp cloth or sponge. You’re basically just removing stray dust here, so don’t soak the cloth. Lightly damp should do it. Use a dry towel to wipe the board, making sure the board is totally dry. Next, using a soft cloth (nothing that will leave tiny bits of cloth behind, though), apply oil or wood butter (recipe below) and, using circular motions, rub the butter into the wood. You’ll want to be thorough with this. My large board takes me about 5 minutes on each side; smaller boards will be a bit quicker.
Once you have buttered/oiled both sides and all edges of your board, let it sit for at least a couple of hours, then use a clean towel to buff away any excess butter. I generally will butter mine before bed and leave it on a towel somewhere, standing on its side, and then go to bed and buff it in the morning. Once the excess is buffed away, run your hand over the board, along the grain. It should feel a bit softer than before. Depending on how often you use your board, you may only need to do this every few months or monthly. I do mine every couple of weeks.
As long as your board is properly seasoned, cleaning it is easy. You can usually clean it with a damp sponge and hot, soapy water, making sure to NEVER submerge your board. Once clean, towel dry. If the board looks a bit thirsty, you can apply more board butter, but you shouldn’t have to do this after every cleaning. If you feel that a deep cleaning is in order, simply spread a good layer of kosher salt over the surface of the board and use the cut side of a half lemon to scrub. The kosher salt will act as an abrasive as it turns into a paste with the lemon juice; further, both salt and lemon juice are good for their cleansing properties. Wipe the board with a damp cloth, dry it, and apply board butter if needed.
These general principles apply to other wooden utensils in your kitchen, too. I should also mention that though I use my wooden boards for almost everything, I do not prepare raw meat on them. For that, I have a heavy-duty plastic cutting board that can go through the dishwasher if necessary.
Food-grade mineral oil OR another food-grade oil that does not go rancid quickly, like coconut oil
1. Using a ratio of 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil by weight (for example, 4 oz beeswax to 16 oz mineral oil), place both ingredients in a pan over very low heat, just until the beeswax is melted. Stir, then pour into glass jars and let cool. Cover and store somewhere cool until ready to use.