As much as you may like your trusty wooden cutting board, these are the signs that it’s time to look for a replacement.
A wooden cutting board is a go-to for many American cooks when it comes to food prep. They’re great for cutting meats, cheeses, vegetables, and any other ingredient you could think of.
At the same time, these boards are prone to warping, splintering, and, when not cared for properly, harboring bacteria. They require thorough clean-up and regular maintenance like oiling the surface to keep it from drying out and cracking.
To cut down on these concerns, learn how to care for your wooden cutting board—and replace it if you notice any of the signs that I’m about to share with you below.
Replace your wood cutting board when it warps beyond repair, develops mildew or a rancid smell on the underside that you can’t remove, or sustains too many grooves and cuts that can harbor bacteria.
Of course, there are cutting boards, and then there are cutting boards.
A friend got handed down a thick, decades-old hard-maple board from her mother. Can you try to guess how diligent she is in caring for it and whether or not she plans ever to replace it?
Those cheap, thin boards in the cookware and utensils aisle at the grocery store are something else. They’re made of low-cost wood and, in my experience, won’t last you for more than a year—maximum two—no matter how well you care for them.
The middle ground is the reasonably-priced boards that you can get at any home improvement store or decent retailer, whether that’s Home Depot, Walmart, Target, Ikea, or Amazon.
It’s my opinion that a wooden board, especially if it’s your first or you’re still learning how to care for one, shouldn’t set you back more than fifty bucks or so.
So, if you already happen to have one in your kitchen, let’s talk about how to know if you need to replace it. What are the tell-tale signs that a wooden cutting board should be tossed?
When It Warps
There are few things as frustrating as pulling out your trusty wooden cutting board only to see that, all of a sudden and for reasons unknown, it has warped.
Though a warped board, at least according to cutting board and butcher block shop CuttingBoard.com, can sometimes be salvaged. They claim that the simplest solution of them all—just turning the board over and leaving it there until it’s become flat again—usually does the trick!
(I haven’t tested this method myself; I’m quick to toss and replace anything broken. But if you’re fond of your board, what can you lose by trying?)
That being said, if the board is badly warped, the chances are that you’ll have to look for a replacement.
Why do wooden cutting boards warp in the first place, some of you are probably wondering? The answer lies in the way that wood, a porous and absorbent material, shrinks and grows as it soaks up and lets go of moisture.
When a block of wood absorbs water, it will expand. As that water dries out, it will contract. The main reason why wooden cutting boards warp is because they’re left wetter on one side than on the other, which can cause them to bow (along the length) and cup (along the width).
This has happened to me more than once when I’ve carefully patted down a wooden board on one side yet completely forgotten about the underside that was facing my wet countertop.
When It Smells Rancid
Some time ago, I had a wooden cutting board that developed this nasty, rancid smell of vinegar and old cheese on the underside… Yuck!
No matter how hard I tried to clean it, with lemon and salt, lemon and baking soda, and a 1:10 solution of bleach and water, nothing helped. The underside had these weird-smelling spots with dark, mildew-like stains on them, and I couldn’t get rid of them.
For sh*ts and giggles, I even poured 70% ethanol on them and lit them on fire to “kill” the bacteria that were allegedly causing that smell. When that didn’t work out, it threw it in the bin and bought a new one.
Sometimes, you can read all of the tips and tricks for salvaging a wooden cutting board on the Internet—and they simply won’t work. If that’s the case with you, then it’s probably time to get a new board.
When It’s Grooved or Cracked
The more you cut, chop, slice, dice, and mince food items on a wood cutting board, the more it will wear out over time, particularly if it’s made from cheaper wood that your knives’ blades easily sink into.
Replace your wooden cutting board when it gets excessively grooved and sustains deep, unsightly knife marks that you can’t (or don’t want to) sand out. A board that fits this description is not only hard to clean but can also harbor harmful bacteria known to cause foodborne illness.
Cracks in your cutting board can sometimes be fixed with food-safe wood glue, a sheet of sandpaper, and a bit of elbow grease. Badly-cracked boards, however, must be replaced. The crack will only get worse with time, and it can harbor bacteria as juices and oils get stuck inside it.
How to Care for a Wooden Cutting Board
There are three steps to caring for your wooden cutting board. Learn them and follow them, and it can last you a lifetime. Ignore them, and your board will need to be put out of use sooner rather than later.
For starters—and this is Food Safety 101 that cookbook authors and TV chefs never talk about—you should use one board for cutting red meat, poultry, and seafood, and a separate one for slicing vegetables, fruits, cheeses, and loaves of bread.
Second, you should clean your cutting boards after every use, patting them thoroughly dry on each side and hanging them to dry. All they need is a good soap down a quick rinse under lukewarm running water. Don’t soak them in the sink and never put them in the dishwasher or you’ll damage the wood.
Third, get yourself a bottle of mineral oil (when in doubt, go for Thirteen Chefs). Apply a generous amount of it to your boards every month by spreading it onto to wood with the help of a lint-free cloth, then letting it absorb the oil for a few hours and dry out naturally.