Why You Actually Do Need to Oil a Wooden Cutting Board
Wooden cutting boards can be the most attractive part of a kitchen. You can use them to chop, but you can also turn them into cheese or charcuterie boards, or carve a chicken right on them and serve the chicken on the board. If you don’t have a board you love, I’d argue that owning a good-looking one will spur you to use it more often—maybe even working more healthful chopped produce into your meals.
My cutting board is a gorgeous teak number. Pros love it, and it’s become my favorite kitchen tool, but because it was pricey, I committed to learning how to keep it in good shape. Ensuring that your board is free of deep grooves and cracks is smart on a food safety level; a USDA staffer told me that the department technically prefers that you own two cutting boards—one for meat and one for produce—but that it’s fine to only own one if isn’t deeply grooved. (If it is, bacteria can hang out in said grooves even after you wash it—which is distinctly un-groovy.)
The key to avoiding a split board? Oil. As Alex Elsinga, owner of Teak Me Home, told me, “You need to oil any type of wood, because it’s a natural product. If you don’t oil it, it’ll eventually dry out and crack.” When you first get a wooden cutting board, clean it and—just as you might a cast-iron skillet—season it, coating it with a thin layer of mineral oil or any other food-safe oil (I use veggie), pushing the oil into the board with a cloth or paper towel. Allow the oil to seep into the board for several hours or overnight.
Don’t let wooden boards linger in sinks full of soap and water, which can cause them to split. Clean them, dry them thoroughly, and set them aside. As soon as they show wear or look dry, go ahead and coat them with oil again, leaving them to dry out, and oil them lightly any time they look dry going forward. (As this writer smartly points out, water should bead on a properly oiled board.) Don’t be afraid to really get that oil into the board, either, using your fingers to push it into any knife marks that are starting to take hold.
If oiling your board periodically sounds like too much trouble, keep in mind that glass boards can dull knives and too-soft boards can pick up deep grooves, which you don’t want in either natural or artificially made boards. So if you pick up one good wooden board, keep it shipshape.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.