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What is a Butcher's Block?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A butcher's block is a specialized cutting surface which has been designed to be used in meat processing, with an especially thick, rugged design which can sustain heavy blows from cleavers and similar knives. Professional chefs and butchers have been using these specialized blocks for years, and they have become common among some home chefs, who appreciate their durability and the social cachet which comes with owning commercial kitchen products. Many kitchen supply stores sell butchers' blocks, in a variety of designs and styles.

The defining feature of a butcher's block is that it is an assembled wood product, made from strips of wood which are glued together to create a solid wedge. This allows manufacturers to pick out the strongest, straightest, most closely grained pieces of wood to create a butcher's block which will last for decades, when well cared for. A popular choice of wood for butchers' blocks is maple, although a number of different woods may be used. Wood, incidentally, is a hostile environment for many harmful bacteria, making it a great choice for cutting boards, as long as they are well maintained.

In an end-grain butchers block, the pieces of wood are assembled with the cut ends facing upwards, creating a very thick, heavy block. End grain blocks are better able to absorb heavy blows, and they distribute the energy from the blow of the knife, creating clean cuts and helping knives stay sharp longer. These blocks are also less likely to crack or become gouged, giving them a long life in the kitchen.

The other type of butcher's block is known as an edge-grain butcher's block, and it is made by laying strips of wood lengthwise. This creates a thinner, more manageable block, but also one which is less rugged and durable. Many products for home use are edge-grain blocks, because they are cheaper and often perfectly suitable for normal home use.

You can use a butcher's block in a number of ways. These blocks can be used like cutting boards, designed to be moved around as needed, and they can also be used as countertops and to cover kitchen islands, turning the entire counter into a cutting surface. In all instances, you need to care for a butcher's block well, washing it with hot water and mild soap and allowing it to dry thoroughly between uses. You should also periodically apply mineral oil to a butcher's block to keep the wood in good condition.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jcraig — On Sep 27, 2011

@kentuckycat - I really like the island idea. I wish I had space for something like that. Does your neighbor use it as a table, too, or just for cutting?

As far as other woods go, my uncle was a woodworker for quite a few years and like to make cutting boards and butcher blocks, so I can answer your question. The ones he used to make, he combined maple and sycamore a lot of times. They both have similar wood and are both hard. He made a block for a real butcher once, and the butcher specifically wanted sycamore.

He made some special boards where he alternated between light woods and dark ones like walnut. The ones with checkerboard patterns have always been my favorite.

When I've looked at butcher's blocks lately, I have seen a lot of them using teak. They are pretty expensive, though.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 27, 2011

My neighbor just remodeled her kitchen and installed a butcher block kitchen island. I think it really looks great. She does a ton of cooking, though, so it was well worth the investment. She says the wood used for it was maple.

After I looked at it, I thought something it would be really nice for is making dough. You would have a nice, flat surface to knead the dough, and then have plenty of room to roll it out and cut it, and you would never have to worry about hurting the counter underneath. Whenever I make dough now, I have to put down a special covering on my countertop.

I'm just curious, but what are some of the other woods that get used in butcher blocks?

By TreeMan — On Sep 26, 2011

@jmc88 - It sounds like the plastic cutting board you're talking about is one of the bargain kind, and I agree, those aren't that great. There is a trick that I heard about one time and have been using for quite a few years now. Get one of the thicker, more durable antibacterial cutting boards and use that for cutting up raw pieces of meat, and use your wooden block for cutting up other things like vegetables.

If you use the plastic block only for meat, you'll never have to worry about cross contamination. I'm not sure if any of the juices from raw meat can soak into a wooden block, but that's another good reason to keep them separate.

By jmc88 — On Sep 25, 2011

I just got a butcher's block for my birthday, and it is great. I have always loved cooking, but never really wanted to shell out the money for a real butcher's block. I've always just used the thin plastic cutting boards. I never really like them, though, because they are hard to clean. I don't think they are the best surface for your knives, either.

I'm not sure what kind of wood my block is made out of, but I guess it would be one of the edge grain types. What I really like is that it looks nice enough that I can just leave it on my counter and use it whenever I need it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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