Actually, they are considerably safer. Here are 2 separate scientific analyses. The first was performed at UC Davis: http://faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/cuttingboard.htm
And here’s the second, published in the Journal of Food Protection: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/1994/00000057/00000001/art00003
To summarize these findings:
– Plastic cutting boards get knife-scarring as soon as they are used. Those knife scars are permanent and hold and grow bacteria. The only way to disinfect plastic cutting boards is to put wash them in the dishwasher after every single use.
– Disease bacteria such as E-coli and salmonella were not recoverable from wooden surfaces a short time after the bacteria were applied
– In the ‘real world,’ those using wooden cutting boards are half as likely to contract salmonellosis as those using a synthetic material such as plastic or glass.
Most wood cutting boards are edge or face grain design, meaning you are looking at the wood grain along its length (direction of growth). With end grain boards (chopping blocks,) you are looking into the end of the grain, as if you are looking down into the top of a tree stump. So picture a normal piece of lumber at Home Depot. That’s a ‘face grain’ board. Now look at the end of that piece of lumber. That’s the ‘end grain.’ Clear as mud? End grain cutting boards are generally more labor-intensive, because the craftsperson has to cut up normal boards into blocks or strips, then re-orient and re-glue those blocks or strips so the end-grain is facing up.
Both designs are just as functional and food safe, but end grain boards are far more durable and friendlier to your knife. The old fashioned butcher blocks were always end grain design (chopping block) for a reason: to keep the knives much sharper. Instead of crushing against the wood fibers, the blade goes between them much like cutting into the end of a firm brush. In a face grain board, think of wood fiber much like hair, as you cut across you break the fiber and those fibers start to pop up from the board surface. With proper care, a face grain board will last many years, but an end grain board will last a lifetime.
Repeat like a mantra: I will not put it in the dishwasher… I will not put it in the dishwasher… I will not put it in the dishwasher. Seriously, please don’t. You will likely ruin the board. Dishwashers get really hot, which does all kinds of bad things to the glue and to the wood. And dishwashers force water into the wood grain… again, a bad thing. So: I will not put it in the dishwasher!
Wash the cutting board after each use with a clean sponge, warm tap water, and a little soap. It’s better not to completely immerse the cutting board in water. Just wash it off and call it ‘good.’ If your cutting board does not have rubber feet, then make sure you never let the board sit in standing water on the counter top. Doing so can cause the board to warp.
Mineral oil helps to repel moisture in wooden cutting boards. We get a lot of questions about how much mineral oil should be put on our cutting boards. The answer is, “never enough.” We soak our boards in FDA approved food grade mineral oil before we send them to you. When you put your first application of mineral oil on your product, you will either see it soak in or not soak in over a 15-20 minute period. If it soaks in and the wood is dry to the touch, you can rub it down again immediately with more mineral oil. If the oil has pooled on the surface of the block, then you can just wipe it off with paper towels and be comfortable that you are properly caring for your product. You can buy food grade mineral oil for a buck or two at most grocery stores and almost any big box retailer. The main advantage of the expensive ‘butcher block oil’ that sells for $7-$15 is that it is less viscous (thick) than the stuff you’d get at the pharmacy. Because it is thinner, it penetrates the wood a little better.
If you cut a LOT of garlic, the wood could absorb some of the smell. If you chop strawberries, the board could absorb some of the color. In either case, cut a lemon in half and rub it over the whole surface of the cutting board. It should scour and greatly diminish either culprit. Bleach is generally not recommended for a wooden cutting board. A mist of 5% concentrate vinegar (the concentration you get at the grocery store) will disinfect 99% of bacteria. But like I said earlier, soap and water is generally all you need.
- WOOD TYPE: There are three traditional domestic hardwoods used for end-grain cutting boards: Hard Maple (also called Rock Maple,) Black Walnut, and Cherry. All three are tight-grained, durable, and perform very well. Hard Maple is for purists/traditionalists. For the last century, it is THE material used for end-grain cutting boards. Black walnut has a gorgeous dark grain pattern and is used on many of the cooking shows these days. Cherry has a beautiful rose tint that slowly darkens and grows even more lustrous over the years.
- SIZE: Smaller cutting boards are generally easier to move and good for quick daily chopping/slicing tasks. If you plan on carving a turkey or a roast, go with a larger board. You might use a measuring tape to help you visualize the different sizes.
- THICKNESS: For structural strength, I generally don’t make end-grain cutting boards less than 1 1/2 inches thick. If you will move the board around a lot, then 1 3/4 inches is a good, solid thickness. If the board will ‘live’ in a particular spot, then a heavier board is fine. I can make them as thick as you’d like, but once you pass 2 inches, I believe it’s more about aesthetics than about function. Remember, a thick board is a heavy board.
- JUICE GROOVE: A juice groove is helpful if you do a lot of carving. It requires a few extra seconds to clean, but keeps the mess on your board rather than on your counter. When I make a juice groove, particularly in hard maple, there will be some inevitable ‘burn marks’ in the juice groove. I try to sand most of this out by hand, but there will probably be some remaining.
- FEET: Rubber feet serve two purposes. First, they make the board more solid on your counter, particularly on a slick surface like granite or an uneven surface like tile. Second, they keep the board away from standing water that might be on your counter, which can damage a cutting board if exposure is prolonged.
The formula for MAKING a good cutting board is deceptively simple:
- Use the right hardwoods. Dense woods like hard maple, cherry, walnut are good. Open-pored woods like oak and mahogany are not. Bamboo isn’t a very good material, either.
- Use precise craftsmanship. The wood needs to be carefully evaluated and very precisely milled and joined together. Wood moves, so grain direction matters as well.
- Use the right glue. Water-proof and EPA ‘food-safe’. There are only 1 or 2 such glues made. I have no idea what kinds of glues are used in most boards made overseas, but I would guess ‘inexpensive’ is their primary concern.
- Use the right finish. Food grade mineral oil, or mineral oil with a little beeswax. Other types of oils either aren’t safe to digest or can become rancid.
These are the principles that guide every cutting board I make. I take a lot of pride in making these, which means your formula for BUYING a good cutting board is equally simple: let me make you one. If you are a “purist” or a “foodie” let me steer you towards an end-grain cutting board. They are the traditional style because they are gentlest on expensive knife edges. I have some in inventory and also have a “design your own” option if you click the ‘custom‘ button. Otherwise, review the gallery and pick something you like. You can always contact me if you want something truly unique.
We are thrilled to offer this service to our customers. You can now customize any board with exactly what you want. Have a favorite image? No problem. Want it monogrammed? Can do. Got a favorite aphorism, Bible verse, or recipe? We can do that too! See the gallery for just a few examples of the possibilities. We can laser engrave one of my boards (such as the Texas Inlay), or I can make a blank board to serve as your canvas (such as the “M” board). Face Grain cutting boards are by far the best media for this service. But we’ll be happy to do it on End Grain boards if you’d like. Maple is the best surface. The laser engraving creates a burned effect that allows for the grain to really shine through (see the image of the “M”). Cherry would be the next best surface, but Walnut would also work fine.
In deciding on where to engrave your message, there are two good options:
1) Have a ‘show side’ and a ‘work side’ of your cutting board. The ‘show side’ is engraved wherever and however you want, and then is typically displayed by leaning it against the backsplash of the kitchen. The back side of the board is the ‘work side,’ and that’s where you do your chopping. If you go with this option, then you don’t want to get feet on the board, since the board needs to be ‘reversible.’
2) Have the laser engraving be a little smaller and out of the way. A lot of people will do initials or a last name in a corner of the board or centered on the outer edge. Laser engraving isn’t particularly deep, so you want to avoid chopping directly on top of an engraved surface.
At check-out, please provide the exact wording and location of the laser engraving on the board. If you want me to use an image, please email the image to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be careful of copyrighted material. We cannot use copyrighted material without express permission.
While our laser engraver does an excellent job, we cannot guarantee that your choice of laser engraving will look exactly as you expect. Unless we make an error in execution of the engraving, we will not be responsible for the final outcome. So choose carefully! We’ve had no issues, but we want you to think through your choices.
Our default font is Bodoni MT, but we will be happy to use any readily available font of your choice.
For font size, you can tell us the actual size you’d like. For example,
“I’d like the initials JLL in the upper left corner, with the letters around an inch tall.”
Just shoot us an e-mail or give us a call if you have questions. For a few more examples of engraving, see our gallery.