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Why and How to Oil Your Wooden Cutting Board

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Photo by Linda Ly
Photo by Linda Ly

Last week, I showed you how to use citrus and salt to naturally clean your wooden cutting board. Now that it's all fresh and clean, here's another simple step you can take once a month (or just once a year, depending on how much use and abuse you put it through) to maintain your cutting board for years to come.

Oiling your butcher block keeps the wood supple and moisturized. Think of it like your skin: the more it's exposed to the elements (water), the more it becomes scaly and dry, eventually leading to cracking and splitting. A generous application of oil conditions the wood, and repeated application saturates the layers, keeping the wood resilient and providing a natural luster.

When it comes to the type of oil used, I prefer food-grade mineral oil. This edible oil is inexpensive, accessible, and easily found in the pharmacy or beauty aisles of most stores. Mineral oil absorbs quickly, doesn't feel sticky, doesn't go rancid, and has a long shelf life. It's known as a non-drying oil, which means it won't harden ("cure") as it dries. This allows it to flow freely into pores and cracks without causing build-up. Commercial wood conditioners made for cutting boards are typically just mineral oil, or a blend of mineral oil and other oils or waxes. While you can splurge on these fancier oils, they're really no different from the cheap bottle you can buy at the drugstore.

To begin, make sure your cutting board is thoroughly clean and completely dry. Dribble a thin layer of mineral oil all over the wood, then use a paper towel to rub it in. Repeat as necessary; the thirstier your wood, the more it will soak up. I keep adding more oil until it seems like the wood can't absorb anymore.

Photo by Linda Ly
Photo by Linda Ly
Photo by Linda Ly
Photo by Linda Ly

Oil both sides of the cutting board as well as the edges. Prop the board against a wall or sink to dry overnight. If any excess oil remains on the wood the next day, you can wipe it off with a rag.

As for that oily towel you're left with, don't toss it out just yet -- use it to oil any wooden spoons, wood-handled pans, and other wooden implements in your kitchen.

Photo by Linda Ly
Photo by Linda Ly

Reapply the oil when your cutting board is looking parched. I especially like to do this in the winter when my hands are feeling callused and dry; as a bonus of all this "work," they become soft and supple!

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