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Butcher block is a top choice for kitchen countertops and cutting surfaces. Learn about your buying choices and then find out how to find the Best Butcher Block for your kitchen needs.
What Exactly is Butcher Block?
Butcher block is considered a warm and homey style in the kitchen when used as a countertop. It is one of the most affordable styles of countertop and is a popular choice among homeowners.
The natural look is more sustainable and durable than many other countertop choices, and the natural wood color never goes out of style. Butcher block is available for purchase in countertop and cutting board sizes.
Butcher block is at its essence pieces of hardwood that have been cut and then laminated together to form a solid wooden piece. This piece is then shaped into a level surface and can be cut to form a countertop or a cutting board. There are two kinds of butcher block: end grain and edge grain butcher block.
Edge grain butcher block is wood boards that have been cut along the long side of the board then glued together to form a solid block. This style is also known as “long-grain” or “side grain” butcher block.
This grain is considered more premium than end grain because the edges of the wood do not soak up or absorb liquids. Orienting the wood so that the long grain is the cutting surface makes a more durable cutting surface.
However, the long-grain surface is more prone to wear and showing knife cuts, and this style of cutting board wears down knife edges more quickly. Edge grain cutting boards are less expensive as the edge grain butcher block is less labor-intensive.
These cutting boards are stronger and therefore can be of great quality with a thinner board, which also means a lighter cutting board when moving or lifting the cutting board.
End Grain butcher block or “end cut” block is dozens of wood pieces that have been cut off the ends of lengths of wood. These are stacked and adhered together to form a flat surface.
The vertical stacking creates a harder surface to scratch when cutting. Knife marks are less prevalent on End Grain. The grain of the wood is face-up in this style of butcher block and catches the knife edge less abrasively; therefore, it is a more knife-friendly surface.
The grain-up surface does require more oiling and conditioning than Edge Grain block: the pores of the wood tend to allow the oil to evaporate more quickly. This style of butcher block is a little more expensive than edge grain because forming the block is more labor-intensive.
End grain butcher block does need to come in a thickness that is at least two inches thick to help support the lamination of the wooden pieces. End grain butcher block is typically a heavier weight board than edge grain and may be a cutting board you will want to leave out rather than lift and carry around the kitchen.
Either style of cutting surface needs to be maintained with food-safe oils, and refinishing is surprisingly easy, just sanding the surface down to remove scratches and stains, then saturating with food-safe oil.
Butcher Block is also popular in commercial kitchens because it helps to deaden the noise of cutting. The wood grain also helps to grip food items to keep them in place when chopping and slicing.
Most large-scale commercial kitchens do not use wooden cutting boards, but many small eateries do. The use of the boards is often chosen depending upon the ease of sanitizing the work surface.
Best Woods for Butcher Block
One of the most popular choices for cutting surfaces, Hard Maple or Sugar Maple has a tight grain. A tight grain is optimum because it ensures that food liquids do not penetrate the surface of the board. Maple has natural antibacterial microbes that help to kill off bacteria. Maple wood is also relatively affordable.
Teak is a tropical hardwood and is well known for its resistance to moisture. It is a sustainable product that does have a higher price tag because it is a tropically grown wood. It is naturally resistant to bacteria.
Acacia is a very sustainable wood that grows at a fast pace, almost as fast as bamboo. Acacia is a less expensive alternative to other hardwoods and has the same bacterial resistance as Maple. Acacia is available in heartwood and sapwood coloration; the colorations are deep redwood and blonde, giving a strong contrast in colors within the same wood.
As with most of these hardwoods, Walnut bears the same qualities. It is a tough hardwood, close-grained, resistant to water and bacteria. It is also on the high end of pricing. Walnut is naturally a dark wood and would be a beautiful stained countertop.
While definitely a beautiful hardwood, Cherry can be on the expensive side to create an entire countertop. Cherry wood can offer beautiful coloration without the use of stains. Cherry is tight-grained and somewhat moisture resistant.
Sustainable Exotic Woods
Woods such as Zebrawood, Wenge, Tigerwood, and Iroko are beautiful exotics that are sustainably grown. These materials will be considerably more expensive because of the rarity of the wood and small harvesting areas but can be maintained in the same manner as all other hardwood countertops.
Mixed Species Butcher Block
These are butcher block that is created by laminating different species of wood together. This is usually done by artisanal craftsmen, and the result can be an exquisite piece of wood, filled with intricate detailing.
Typically this pattern is either a checkerboard style or a mix of colors and patterns. This is done for aesthetics as well as for function and often helps to bring in a small sampling of more exotic wood such a zebra wood.
How to Keep Your Butcher Block Looking Its Best
Hardwoods need regular oil maintenance depending on how regularly you use and wash down your countertops. The best oils to use are oils that are food-safe and do not go rancid. Mineral oil is the most widely recommended oil to use as it is food-safe and readily available.
Many companies manufacture mineral oil that is marketed specifically for cutting board use. This oil can be used on butcher block countertops and cutting boards. Beeswax is another food-safe product that will seal your butcher block; it can be made in a homemade blend of one part beeswax melted into four parts of mineral oil.
This mixture will help repel water incredibly well. Fractionated coconut oil is also a food-safe oil, but care must be taken to ensure that the oil is MCT oil and not regular coconut oil, as regular unrefined coconut oil will turn rancid.
Carnuba wax is also acceptable to use; however, beeswax and Carnuba wax will also have to be buffed well if they are used without mixing with another type of oil product.
Manufacturers recommend that you wipe your butcher block down with mineral oil either every two weeks or monthly. When oiling your board or counter, wash the surface down well and allow it to dry. Wipe on the mineral oil with a soft clean cloth and allow the oil to sit for at least five to ten minutes.
Remove excess oil with another cloth or paper towel and allow it to sit overnight. This will allow the oils to penetrate deeply. If you are oiling countertops, make sure you remove all decor and appliances to allow the oil to penetrate the entire surface of the countertop.
If oiling a cutting board, prop the board up on edge to allow the larger surfaces of the board to saturate and air well.
Baking soda and lemon are two other products that work well to help remove any stains and odors. Dip a halved lemon into baking soda or salt to help remove any stubborn stains.
The baking soda or salt will act as an abrasive agent, and the lemon helps to reduce smells and destroy bacteria. After using baking soda and lemon, you should reoil your board to ensure that the wood won’t absorb additional liquids.
If you must use bleach on your cutting board, use a diluted solution of one tablespoon to one gallon of water, wash the board and rinse the bleach solution off then allow to dry thoroughly.
The Pros of Butcher Block
- Butcher block is one of the most affordable and sustainable materials.
- Butcher block has natural antibacterial properties built-in.
- Wood is easy to stain and seal, allowing you to change the color or look of your countertop without purchasing a new one.
- Hardwoods are available at a wide range of prices and are some of the least expensive materials to build a countertop.
The Cons of Butcher Block
- Dents and scratches accumulate over time in the hardwood butcher block and will need to be sanded out.
- You will still need to use a cutting board on your countertop to avoid damaging the surface of your countertop.
- Butcher Block needs regular maintenance and proper sealing or oiling to keep its luster and from drying out and cracking the wood.
- Some butcher block hardwoods are more permeable than others and can be damaged by long-term liquid exposure, as well as being easily stained by certain foods.
Alternatives to Butcherblock
Laminate is an inexpensive alternative that you can purchase and install on your own. Home stores now carry laminate in countertop lengths, which can be installed by a knowledgeable Do It Yourself-er. Laminate comes in many colors and is a marble look alternative.
A heat-proof and scratch-resistant surface, concrete can be stained and sealed but does need some maintenance. Concrete can be a tough surface on glass and porcelain items but is extremely durable, and per foot, the cost is lower than most materials.
This resin product is customizable with color and design. Many solid surface countertops mimic expensive natural look products and can be a moderately priced alternative.
Epoxy can mimic marble with an undercoat of paint. A top coating of Epoxy can create a glossy surface that will last some time. Epoxy can scratch easily and is not heat-proof, but it is a good cover-up if your countertop is solid but unattractive.
This cheap alternative can be the DIYers dream countertop. Add over top of your existing countertop; Tile can be a long-lasting alternative to a complete countertop renewal. Tile will need grout and grout stains easily, so choose a grout color that will hold up over time.
Cutting Board Alternatives
Rubber cutting boards are a professional choice of cutting boards. These solid mats of hard rubber are gentler on knife edges, but the cost of these can be higher than other alternative materials. Rubber doesn’t heal as well as wood does, and these surfaces may need replacing within a few years.
Glass is the least recommended cutting surface of all cutting boards. Glass is hard on knife edges, dulling them quickly. Glass boards are also easily chipped and cracked, and glass is a loud surface to cut on, amplifying the sound of the knife loudly.
Plastic is a highly recommended surface to use for cutting meats, as it is easy to disinfect with either bleach or heat. However, not all plastic cutting boards are dishwasher safe. Plastic is hard on knife edges and scores easily, without being self-healing; the cuts in a plastic cutting board can harbor bacteria and should be replaced often.
Bamboo is a popular alternative material for cutting boards. It is inexpensive and sustainable as a quick-growing plant.
Bamboo can function as a good alternative to wood; however, due to the grain in the material, it can catch knife edges and make cutting or chopping difficult as the grain pulls along the knife. Bamboo is hard and doesn’t score easily, and it doesn’t absorb liquid either.
My Top Recommendations for Butcher Block
Let’s explore some top recommendations for cutting boards and countertops. I am basing these recommendations on- hardwood material, cost, sustainability, beauty, and affordability.
Hardwood Reflections-Unfinished Acacia 6 ft. L x 25 in. Dx 1.5 in. T Butcher Block Countertop
This very basic countertop length of the Acacia Hardwood butcher block is unfinished to allow the homeowner to customize the wood. Edge grain cuts give the smoothest finish for the countertop.
The wood stave – pieces of the block- that make up the butcher block are in varying lengths that create an eye-catching variation in the block. The countertop is a sturdy one and a half inches thick to make for a nice solid wood piece. The under two hundred dollars cost is a bonus as you can replace a kitchen countertop for just a few hundred dollars.
The piece isn’t pre-oiled, so take that into consideration. Staining would bring out the different tones of the blonde and brown wood tones making for a unique-looking counter.
CONSDAN Butcher Block Counter Top, Hard Maple Solid Hardwood Countertop, Wood Slabs for Kitchen, Reversible, Both Side Polished, Prefinished with Food-safe Oil, 1.5″ Thickness, 36″ L x 25″ W
A countertop that is ready to install, no sanding or oiling needed. Both sides of this maple butcher block countertop are oiled. This US-grown product is available in multiple sizes and is a blank canvas for the homeowner. The staves in this butcher block are thin and long for a unique-looking final look.
Think outside the box and use this countertop to build a kitchen island or table. This countertop is finished on both top and underneath to accommodate its use as a table as well as countertop use.
The under two hundred dollars price tag is good for the size and quality; maple hardwood edge grain butcher block will wear well and not easily scratch or score.
CenterPointe 8.167-ft Chevron Straight Butcher Block Acacia Kitchen Countertop
This chevron-styled countertop is fun and unique. The chevron pattern is framed by a solid border of acacia wood. The chevron pattern is a repeat of four strips of alternating angled wood.
With this countertop being made of sustainable Acacia wood, the sap and heartwood colorations will stand out in contrast with each other when stained with a light stain. Alternatively, when simply oiled, they will still stand out in strong contrast of coloration. This butcher block is a great choice as an accent piece or for an entire kitchen.
Pick either side, whichever side you prefer the grain of to display as your countertop. This counter can be cut to size, so the frame border is a decorative element, not a stability issue when cuts need to be taken for a sink or angle to fit in a corner.
The cost is a bit more; however, for a labor-intensive product, under four hundred dollars is still a reasonable price point.
Sparrow Peak 6-ft Ebony Stained Straight Butcher Block Acacia Kitchen Countertop
I wanted to include at least one stained piece of butcher block in these selections. This countertop is made with sustainable hardwood Acacia, and this piece is stained with a dark walnut color. The manufacturer even gives a recommended stain color to use for touch-ups when working with this stained countertop.
Acacia is a great countertop to use around the sink, although it should be sealed. Acacia is water-resistant and is even suitable for outside use, so light splashes and water drops won’t be a problem with the tight grain of Acacia.
You may still need to oil a stained countertop if it is not sealed with lacquer, so that is maintenance you should keep in mind when deciding on a stained countertop piece.
Villa Acacia Extra Large Butcher Block – 24×18 Inch, 2″ Thick Wooden Cutting Board
This heavy-duty, two-inch thick, end grain, twenty-four by eighteen cutting board is almost twenty pounds of sturdy butcher block. Reversible and beautiful, it can be left out on the counter as a decorative and useful countertop saver.
With the end grains of the Acacia facing up, the swirling patterns of dark and light colors really stand out and create a beautiful pattern. Acacia is a highly sustainable hardwood, and the manufacturer of this cutting board donates percentages of sales to go toward replanting trees.
The stave end pieces are rectangular in shape and make an interesting pattern in the laminated wood. End grain butcher block does need more oil maintenance, but the intriguing pattern makes for a stand-out, highly decorative, and beautiful cutting surface.
John Boos Block RA03 Maple Wood Edge Grain Reversible Cutting Board, 24 Inches x 18 Inches x 2.25 Inches
This Maple edge grain cutting board is made in the USA. Legendary John Boos cutting boards have been seen on shows on the Food Network, and this manufacturer is well known for their quality cutting boards that are used by chefs worldwide. Each side has a cut-out handle to help move the twenty-pound butcher block cutting board.
This board is a huge two and a half inches thick. Maple is light, but tight-grained wood that doesn’t score easily under the knife yet is soft enough to be gentle on your knife edge. The beautiful maple grain, the name-brand manufacturer, the recessed handles, and a reversible board all combine to make this outstanding butcher block cutting board.
Befana Thick End Grain Cutting Board Mosaic Pattern Splicing Lattice Chopping Board with Invisible Handle for Kitchen Vegetables, Meat, as Serving Tray, Charcuterie Platter 14″ x 11″ x 1.5″ Inches.
Art as a functional piece, this decorative walnut butcher block boasts blocks of striped wood that stand out as both a visually beautiful piece and a completely useful and functional board. Three types of wood make up this splendid-looking designer cutting board.
Acacia, Carbonized Acacia, Black Walnut, and Rubberwood are combined to create this unique and fun design. This piece would be divine leaned against your kitchen backsplash, out on display in full view so that kitchen guests can marvel over the intricate pattern of light and dark woods.
John Boos Maple Classic Reversible Wood End Grain Chopping Block, 20 “x 15” x 2.25
With one-inch little squares, dozens of them, laminated together to make a tone-on-tone checkerboard pattern, this end grain butcher block cutting board will last forever. John Boos created this blonde maple cutting block that measures twenty by fifteen inches.
A full two and a quarter inches thick and made in the USA, this butcher block is made of sustainable Hard Maple and will easily last a lifetime.
The initial cost of the cutting board is higher than many similar items, but the name and the quality of this block, when well taken care of, will always give you a top-performing cutting board that won’t dull your knives and can be resanded and refreshed from time to time. The cost is worth the quality.
Answer: Butcher blocks are not hard to maintain. They require oiling on a regular basis. They have the same stain resistance that other countertop textiles do but are easier to resurface if needed. These types of countertops are long-lasting and do not go out of style.
Answer: Butcher block is an assembled wooden board surface, and as such, goes perfectly in country-style homes, cozy cottages, and rustic farmhouses. These surfaces are long-lasting, incredibly durable, and give an impression of warmth in the kitchen. They will never go out of style.
Answer: Woods with an open-pore such as Ash and Oak are not recommended for cutting surfaces as they absorb liquids and food stains. Other woods like Pine can give your foods a resin taste and should be avoided for this reason.
Any very softwood should also be avoided as it will scar easily and potentially have an increase of bacteria that could be introduced into your food. Never use any wood that you do not know the species of, as there are potentially toxic woods that could make you sick.
Answer: Reclaimed wood should only be used on surfaces that do not touch food. Make sure your reclaimed wood does not have any chemical treatments, resin, stains, drying agents, or toxins. Potentially using a material that could have been treated with a toxic chemical simply isn’t worth using on surfaces that touch your food.
Answer: When coating your new cutting board, you should apply several coats in order to ensure that your board has soaked up as much of the oil as it possibly can. Under oiling can lead to stains, cracking, and absorbing undesirable liquids. Season your new cutting board with at least two coats of oil, allowing several hours between coats to absorb fully.
The thicker the cutting board, potentially, the more coats your surface will need. If your cutting board is thicker than two inches, add in at least three to four coats of oil to secure full absorption.
Wood is beautiful. Rich toned and sturdy, it’s a perfect addition to a kitchen. There are many choices in a moderate price range to choose from for countertops. I would definitely include wood and butcher block in your countertop material considerations.
However, I have always and will always prep food in my kitchen with the use of a cutting board, so if I were to choose a wooden countertop, it would be one that was stained and sealed. However, for cutting boards, butcher block is my absolute go-to.
I have various sizes and shapes of cutting boards and believe that the more, the merrier! I highly recommend at least one really large cutting board and several small-sized ones as well.
I keep a large butcher block cutting board out on my counter at all times. I use that to prepare foods and even to hold smaller cutting boards while I cut and chop food, as well as under appliances like my crock pots and mixer. Spend your money on a quality board, and it will last a lifetime.