Today, we’re diving deep into the tips and tricks of taking care of a wood cutting board the right way. We’ll explore what types of oil to use. We'll also talk about the most effective 4-step method on how to season your cutting board.
Once wood is cut from a tree, it no longer has access to moisture and protection. If it’s not actively seasoned and maintained, the wood will soon dry out.
This makes it more susceptible to warping, crackling, staining and absorbing odors. (see also: How To Clean a Wood Board).
Luckily, there’s a really simple way you can prevent board drying. Let's keep it from smelling like last night's onions!
I Just Bought A Cutting Board - Do I Need to Season it?
For starters, you’ll want to give your wood cutting board a good, long seasoning right when you get it. Even if you’ve bought a board that comes pre-seasoned, season it anyways. You never know what the transportation process may have done to your board! There may have been radical changes in temperatures from warehouse to store to home! Woods don't love this so much.
Most boards will arrive to you shrink wrapped. There is good reason for this - it prevents the board from drying out. As soon as you open the shrink wrap, you expose it to the elements.
Typically, we like to season our boards almost every day for one week straight for a newly purchased board. This helps it stay hydrated so there are no risks for cracks or other damage.
How To Tell When You Should Oil Your Cutting Board Again:
1. The eyeball test to see if your board needs new seasoning
After the initial seasoning, there are some telltale signs that will signal to you when it is time to re-season:
If you see some patches or parts of your board that are lighter and drier looking, spend a few minutes to season your board.
Discoloration and dryness on your board is a leading indicator that it needs to be seasoned long before it looks like that!
2. The Slightly More Scientific "Water Droplet Test". See if your cutting board needs seasoning base on how water droplets form
If the water soaks into the board, you’ve got one thirsty utensil on your hands. If the water stays on the board without absorbing, then it will live to cut another day. Test to see if your board needs to be seasoned with the water droplet test
3. The Less Fun, "Stains, Colors and Smells Test"
If you see darker stains or discoloration starting to occur in your board, that’s a yellow flag that you need to season your board. If you begin to smell your board, that’s very much a red flag that your wood cutting board definitely needs a seasoning. You might even want to disinfect and clean it before going through the seasoning process.
Virginia Boys Kitchens has an all natural food grade seasoning oil for cutting boards and wood kitchenware (on Amazon)
This is the first time I bought this product, and I got it to seal a wood cutting board that I received. The oil has a nice citrus scent and aborbs nicely. I recommend this oil and will purchase again." - RLG
Using the Right Kind of Seasoning Oil
During food prep and cooking, it’s important to make sure our surface is as healthy and sanitary. After all, no yummy meal has ever been made using spoiled, germy and chemical-tarnished ingredients.
But while the seasoning process itself is really straightforward, choosing the right oil to season with isn't.
1. The Big No-No's: Oils High in Unsaturated Fats
Let’s start by identifying some “never use these” options. Once exposed to oxygen, oils like canola and olive oxidize quickly. They develop free radicals and will go rancid fast. This leaves you with a smelly cutting board and a spoiled surface. This will negatively affect the quality of the food on your board.
Remember, whatever is on your board may very well get into your food. If you wouldn't put it in your mouth, don't put it on your board.
Furthermore, oils with high levels of antioxidants similarly aren’t great since they prevent polymerization and leave you with a pesky gummy surface on your board.
If you won't put it in your mouth, don't put it on your board
2. What about Mineral Oil and other "Mystery" Oils?
While few will argue that using unsaturated fats is a bad idea, there’s more of a debate when it comes to the nut-based, mineral and “mystery” oils you’ll commonly find available.
In general, the term “mineral oil” is an imprecise way of grouping odorless, colorless and low-density oils together under one umbrella. Most mineral oils are a form of distillate byproduct from petroleum and petrochemical products used in a wide range of industries. Because they can be produced at very low cost, they’re very prevalent, even if they are one of the biggest contaminants in our body and have been under scrutiny by regulatory bodies in Europe.
When it comes to seasoning cutting boards, mineral oils like linseed, “mystery” or tung aren’t very ideal to use anyways. Mineral oil treatments create a thin layer of sealant make the wood impermeable somewhat like a plastic cutting board is, an effect that allows for bacteria to stay alive for longer on a wooden surface.
In other words, mineral oils remove one of the key healthy kitchen advantages that wood cutting boards have to offer!
Mineral oil and other mystery oils can go rancid
3) Coconut Oil - Simply the Best!
Thanks to a high level of medium-chain triglycerides and high saturated fat content, coconut oil doesn’t go rancid. It’s also vegetarian-friendly non-sticky oil that stays stable at high temperatures.
Couple that with coconut oil’s antimicrobial properties that block bad bacteria from the wood fibers, and you’ve got a winning oil on your hands.
Our favorite? Virginia Boys Kitchens fractionated coconut oil (on Amazon) (makes it pour - able and resistant to rancidity), infused with just a hint of organic orange essential oil. Use it in combination with wax (on Amazon) for even more protection and richer hues. Made with 100% certified organic ingredients.
The 4 Steps to Season Your Wood Cutting Board Properly
When it does come time to season your board, fear not! It’s a piece of cake.
We’re using one of our shop’s 17×11 walnut wood cutting boards (on Amazon) for this demonstration. (See also related article on Best Wood For Cutting Boards). Here’s how you season any wood cutting board in your home:
1. Set Up Your Workstation, Grabbing (and Maybe Heating) Your Oil
Start by laying your wood cutting board on a flat non-slip surface, then set a soft non-pilling cloth or paper towel next to it. Handkerchiefs work great here if you’re okay with one getting a little oily (you can wash it out later).
You’ll start by taking 2 tablespoons of your seasoning oil – we really suggest coconut oil – in liquid form at room temperature. If it needs to be heated to become a little runnier, pop it into the microwave for a few seconds. The intent here is to make sure that your oil easy to pour and smoothly spread over the surface of your board.
If you want to skip this step and use the best possible oil for the job, Virginia Boys Kitchens has created an All Natural Wood Seasoning Oil (on Amazon). We combined a powerful combination of fractionated coconut oil, organic orange essential oil, and organic rosemary extract. This carefully formulated wood oil is as food-grade and child safe as it gets and boasts antimicrobial properties that block bad bacteria from the wood fibers.
2. Gently Pour The Oil Onto Your Board, One Section At A Time
Start in a corner of your board, and section by section pour your oil directly onto your wood cutting board in the direction of the grain. Going in the direction of the grain is important because it helps you get the maximum amount of oil absorbed into the wood fibers.
Try not to pour all the oil into one area, though. The more you can spread the pour out over the surface area, the easier it will be to more evenly perform the next step.
I tried this product because of it's all natural safe qualities... I am so happy I did!I've always been against most cutting board oils because of the questionable ingredients, this has nothing in it but coconut oil, orange oil and rosemary extract! All things that I use in my kitchen already!" - NewHope
3. Rub The Oil Onto the Board
Take your cloth, paper towel or handkerchief and begin to rub the oil into the board with even pressure. Continue to rub and pour until you’re sure all the excess oil has made its way into the board.
There are two schools of thought for how to best spread the oil: rubbing in circular motions or going with the grain. We personally like rubbing linearly going in the direction of the grain, but you might prefer circular motions.
Here, it’s completely up to you.
4. Repeat Steps 1-3, Then Let It Rest
Generally, you’ll want to repeat the process at least twice, but really the more the better.
There is no such thing as over-oiling your wood cutting board! When it can’t absorb any more oil, it will simply stop and oil will collect at the top. When you see this, you can easily wipe away the excess.
After it’s been fully oiled, let the board rest for at least 4-6 hours, then wipe it down once more to remove any remaining excess oil.
Et voilà! You have successfully seasoned your beautiful wood cutting board.
The difference can be seen and felt
Seasoning your board is not only healthy for your board, it is something that can be seen and touched. It looks rich in color, and feels nourishing to the touch. Optionally, you can add a little wax after the oil has dried for an even smoother, more protective finish
How To Seal A Wood Cutting Board
If you plan on using the board regularly, we also recommend sealing it with beeswax. The wax will seal the pores of the wood and prevent liquids from seeping in or absorbing into the wood. Sealing the wood board will also make cleaning it quick and easy.The food will literally slide right off.
When do I need to seal my wooden board?
You'll know your board needs a fresh coat of wax when food starts to stick to the board, and cleaning it gets harder. Minced garlic starts to stick to the board, and meat or fruit juices (such as beets) starts to linger longer.
Just like the above water droplet test to know when your board needs seasoning, you can also use the water droplet test to know if your board needs a fresh coat of wax.
If the water droplet isn't sliding right off but wants to absorb into the board, then you'll know it's time.
Do I need both season and wax my board?
Whereas wood oil soaks into the grains of the wood to prevent warping, cracking, and drying out, Wax sits on top, acting as a protective barrier against water and stains. Ideally, it is best to do both - but if you can only choose one, seasoning the board would be more important.
What should I use to seal my wood board?
Beeswax is best for sealing a wood board. Since it is extremely difficult to use 100% solid beeswax to spread out on any surface - wood wax is typically made more "spreadable" by adding in oil. Just make sure that you're using a natural beeswax and not some imposter that's been mixed with other chemicals—you want your board protected, so no paraffin or petroleum products!
You can either melt your own beeswax, or buy a ready-to-go wood wax. Most brands you find would go for the cheap alternative and soften the wood wax with mineral oil. Virginia Boys Kitchens uses coconut oil instead.
If you have beeswax, here are the steps to seal your wooden board.
Make your own wood wax
Coconut oil is hands-down the best option for when it comes to hydrating your board’s wood fibers, but it won’t do much in terms of protecting your board from outside germs and bacteria.
For this, it helps to add in a helping of melted beeswax in with your oil.
Beeswax helps “harden” the coconut oil after it’s been applied, and it will give your board a more buffed water-resistant finish that’s more impervious to external bacteria. As a result, the effects of your seasoning will also last-longer in the board and keep the moisture of the coconut oil sealed within.
The process of creating this mixture is also really easy. Grate enough beeswax into a mixing bowl so that you have 1 part beeswax for every 4 parts coconut oil. If you’ve set aside 1 cup of coconut oil, then grate 1/4 cup’s worth of beeswax.
Heat this mixture up above 150 degrees Fahrenheit so that the wax melts, then mix the oil until you have a smooth, thick paste. Apply the paste like you would regular coconut oil to your board, and then wipe off any excess after it’s settled in for a few hours.
Pro tip: You can also add in a few drops of an essential oil to give fragrance, but you need to carefully choose one that is suitable for use on wood and that won’t give off any taste into the wood itself.
While there is nothing better than DIY we understand not everyone wants to this do step themselves? Virginia Boys Kitchens to the rescue again. Our ingredients are simple and the results are amazing.
Pick up a tin of our All Natural Wood Finishing Wax (on Amazon) and protect your wood the way mother nature "wood" (see what I did there)
And that’s it! Seasoning your wood cutting board is really easy to do, and it leaves you with a sturdy, reliable kitchen tool that lasts you for years.
Give it a try and let us know how it goes.
Or, optionally - you can purchase one of ours. It is made with all 100% organic coconut oil, we added a hint of orange essential for fragrance (very light) and a drop of rosemary for antimicrobial properties. What you get is an antibacterial, ultra refreshing seasoning oil that is made specifically for wood products.
Related: Love wood boards? Virginia Boys Kitchens walnut wood cutting boards are made in USA from sustainable walnut wood grown in USA. Check out our entire collection of walnut wood cutting boards here (on Amazon)
Our most popular products for woodcare (on Amazon):