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How to choose and care for a wooden cutting board

Give your wooden cutting boards the proper care; they are safe to use and will last a very long time

You have decided to purchase a wood cutting board and are not sure what to look for. You may already own a plastic board and want to "upgrade" for the sake of appearance. Here are a few tips on selection and care.

Cutting boards come in all sizes and thicknesses; they are usually rectangular, square, or round.

Pricing also varies widely. The lower-priced boards may not last as long, but that should not prevent you from having one or two on hand. They are quite serviceable, but over time may begin to split. In the more expensive range, you will find what are called "end-grain" boards. The board surface looks like a pattern of squares, which are actually the ends of the wood pieces. They are beautiful boards and will last years, if not decades. End-grain boards are easiest on knives as the fiber of the wood flexes each time a knife slices downward; it reseals when the knife blade is lifted.

Flat-edge boards look like strips of wood in varying shades. These are more popular and easier to produce; thus, they will typically be less expensive than end-grain boards.

The least expensive end-grain boards look like a solid piece of wood. Maple is the wood of choice and is the only wood that passes FDA regulations based on allergens. Other types of wood are now available and rated as food-safe by their respective manufacturers. However, some woods may contain toxins, so make sure the label states exactly what type of material you are purchasing.

The size of your new block will be determined by counter size and storage space. Because wood is much heavier than plastic, you may choose to leave it in place on the counter. Purchase with this in mind. If you want to select a thicker board, make sure it will not create an uncomfortable height for use on top of the counter.

You may like the look of a cutting board with feet. Consider these two things before you purchase: 1) the feet will help keep the underneath side of your board dry - a very critical food safety consideration; 2) boards without feet can be used on both sides. If one side is used for cutting fresh veggies, you can just rinse and flip it over for the next project. Always clean and dry thoroughly when switching food types. To dry underneath, you will have to keep the board upright for a few hours.

Now that the board is home, you will need to season it. Mineral oil or butcher block oil are the recommended options. Do not use olive or vegetables oils as, over time, they will sour. Gently warm the oil before using. The initial seasoning process will take a couple of days to treat both sides properly. Add a coat of oil on the flat surface, let it soak in for about 30 minutes, and wipe up the excess with a dry cloth. Repeat the coating, soaking, wiping process six times.

After the first thorough seasoning, apply mineral oil once a week.

For cleanup, safety comes first. Always rinse your board with hot water followed by a vinegar spray. Some say the enzymes in the wood counteract bleach and render it ineffective. Soap, hot water, and a rinsing will keep your board safe as long as you allow it to dry thoroughly. Never immerse the board in water and do not put it in the dishwasher.

Over time, your wood board will develop character with stains and knife nicks. Lightly sand the board to smooth it out and then re-season. Do not use steel wool; that will give the surface a rough nub and ruin the board.

Wooden boards win hands down for appearance, especially if you follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Enjoy your board, treat it well and safely, and it will serve you for many years to come.

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