Elegant yet practical, the butcher block is an attractive kitchen addition that many culinary adventurers choose to install in their home or business. The appeal of a professional butcher block, for both its beauty and everyday convenience, often leads budding chefs and casual cooks alike to spend hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, on the right style or quality guarantee. Unfortunately, professional butcher blocks require a professional dedication to cleanliness and care to stay their best, and if that new butcher block isn’t maintained and cared for properly it quickly becomes an expensive, unattractive chopping block.
Fortunately, forming a healthy, long-lasting relationship with your butcher block is relatively easy. By following a few simple guidelines while you’re working and during cleanup you can keep your block strong, beautiful, and working for you for years to come.
Butcher blocks are made from various woods, and the funny thing about wood is it has a tendency to play by its own rules as time progresses. Over the years, and as the seasons pass, your butcher block will respond to the changes in humidity and continually expand and contract. During those hot, humid months of summer many blocks will expand by as much as 1/8 of an inch, and when the heat retreats and the colder months of winter sweep in your block contracts and shrinks. Accounting for expansion when installing a brand new butcher block is a must, and failing to do so can cause your block to bow and crack when it expands.
While you work:
- First and foremost, never use razor-edged cutting tools on your block if you want to preserve its integrity for longer than a few months. Razor-edged tools are simply too sharp to use without chipping away at the wood’s surface. Punishing your butcher block by repeatedly chipping away at the surface creates soft spots and unwanted cracking that eventually affects performance. Make sure the edges of your utensils are dulled to keep your block in the best shape possible after each use.
- Just like using razor-edged tools, cutting in the same spot on your butcher block leads to early aging and premature deterioration. Evenly distributing your cuts, chops, and preparation whatnots around the butcher block prevents any one area from wearing too quickly and developing soft spots. Periodically flip your block over and alternate between cutting surfaces to extend the block’s life and keep both sides wearing evenly.
- When it comes to fish or fowl: Never cut fish or fowl on your butcher block unless the block has been thoroughly cleaned. The safety stipulations surrounding seafood and popular fowl require a sanitary prep environment, and a poorly maintained butcher block is a quick way to customer complaints, sickness, and possible legal actions.
Cleaning up afterward:
- Moisture is the enemy when it comes to keeping your butcher block solid and strong, and the worst thing you can do after you’re done on the block is let moisture stand for a long time. Sooner than you’d think that standing moisture (be it water, juices, brine, or blood) soaks into the surface of your butcher block and softens the wood, causing it to expand and for the glued joints to break down. As soon as possible remove any lingering moisture from the block’s surface.
- A tried and true method of removing up to 75% of the moisture from a butcher block’s surface is scraping it with a steel scraper or spatula. Scraping many times a day helps keep everything clean, dry, and sanitary by removing the risk of harmful bacteria build up. To remove remaining moisture be sure to wipe the surface down with a soft, absorbent cloth.
- Once you’ve scraped and wiped down your block it’s smart to give it a good wash to ensure you’ve removed all contaminants and food remnants, but NEVER PUT YOUR BUTCHER BLOCK IN THE DISHWASHER. Wash your block by hand, using regular dish soap and hot water, and avoid submerging it in water. The key to a good, thorough clean is keeping your block as dry as possible while washing (which sounds counter-intuitive since you’re washing the thing), but once again the longer your butcher block is exposed to water the more it will absorb that moisture and cause damage. If you don’t rush, and clean thoroughly and consistently, you’ll have an odorless, clean cutting surface for next time.
Avoiding a rocky relationship with your brand new butcher block is a must if you expect the block to stick around for longer than a month or two. You’ve got to show it some love, treat it right, and care for it appropriately if you want the time you and your butcher block share to be long-lived and fruitful. Following a few simple guidelines is all it takes!