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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

We Tried 5 Different Ways of Caring for Wood Cutting Boards and Spoons — Here’s the Best One

published Feb 4, 2021
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No kitchen is complete without at least one wood cutting board and a few wooden spoons. Wood won’t scratch your cookware, is naturally antibacterial, and is as durable as it is beautiful — especially if you keep it oiled. 

Yes, oiled! Did you know you should be oiling your wood-based kitchen workhorses? Well, now you do! Oiling regularly keeps wood from drying out, which causes the kind of cracking and splintering that can relegate it to the trash. It also brings out the wood’s natural grains (that gorgeous pattern you see on the surface). However, there are tons of wood oils and conditioners on the market, so it’s hard to know which one is best.

Mineral oil has long been the go-to for oiling wood, but some people don’t want to buy petroleum products, as they could be possible carcinogens. There’s beeswax, but that doesn’t work for vegans. Linseed oil is a popular choice among woodworkers, but even food-grade linseed oil comes with warnings of spontaneous fires. Refractionated coconut oil is the latest popular alternative to these three choices, but how does it stack up? And then there’s creamy stuff called board cream or conditioner. To find out which one worked best, I picked the most popular oil and conditioners in these categories and put them to the test. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How I Tested the Wood Oils and Creams

I opted to use five new, untreated wooden spoons because I figured it would be better to test the durability of the products with something that gets used so heavily on a daily basis. (I use my wooden spoons a lot!) I figured, if something is good enough to keep wooden spoons conditioned, it’ll be good enough for a cutting board. I took “before” photos and after applying the treatment I labeled each one with a Sharpie and tape so I could keep them straight. I oiled each one according to the product’s instructions and let them all dry overnight before wiping off the excess. I then used each one exclusively over the course of a week, washing them by hand and noting how well the oil or conditioner was holding up. 

Unfortunately, at the end of five weeks my results were inconclusive. They all looked about the same. So, I treated them again. This time, I let the oils and conditioners soak in and dry out for a full week before trying them again. And this time, I performed a more straight-forward test. I brought a pot of water to a boil and dipped each one in for a full minute. I figured it was similar to using the spoons to make soup or sauce and then hand-washing in hot water — anything on the surface was going to get washed off. The question was: Had any of the oils or conditioners really penetrated the wood?

The answer: Yes. Some of the spoons looked more parched and worn out than others. Here’s how things shook out. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Styling: Cyd McDowell

Oil Method: Howard Products Wax-It-All Food-Grade Wax

Ease of use: 3/5
Performance: 3/5
Price: 3/5 ($11.05 for 9 ounces)
Overall rating: 3/5

I couldn’t find a straight-up beeswax wood conditioner, as all of the products on the market are mixed with some amount of mineral oil to keep them from being rock solid. This product also contained carnauba wax, which is a popular ingredient in candy coatings and gummy candy, so I wasn’t worried about using it on my cooking utensils. Applying the wax was a slippery affair, like slathering your wooden spoon in hair molding paste. It didn’t soak in, and after letting it sit and buffing off the excess the surface still felt waxy. Even though I had high hopes it would provide a tough barrier to the perils of the cooking pot, this wasn’t the case. After both tests, this one consistently looked the most dried out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Styling: Cyd McDowell

Oil Method: Caron & Doucet Conditioning Oil and Wood Finishing Wax Bundle

Ease of use: 4/5
Performance: 3.5/5
Price: 2/5 ($24.99 for 8 ounces of oil and 3.5 ounces of wax)
Overall: 3/5

This option seems to circumvent the issues raised by other oils and conditioners. It doesn’t come from petroleum or bees, nor does it have a scary warning label. It’s completely plant-based and infused with essential oils, and I loved its rosemary scent. The oil soaked into the wood well. And the wood conditioner, made with both refined and raw coconut oil as well as rice bran wax, seemed like it would really seal in the moisture. But it didn’t wow me. While the spoon did have some of its conditioning left after the second test, probably due to the one-two punch of oil and conditioner, it was still on the dry side, performing about the same as mineral oil. Trouble is, it’s far more expensive. Still, if you want to steer clear of petroleum products, this is a solid choice.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Styling: Cyd McDowell

Oil Method: Howard Products Cutting Board Oil

Ease of use: 3.5/5
Performance: 3.5/5
Price: 3/5 ($8.99 for 12 ounces)
Overall: 3.5/5

This food-grade mineral oil seemed to soak into the wood nicely, and the price is affordable (although it definitely costs more than a generic brand of mineral oil). I’ve used mineral oil countless times on my wood tools and cutting boards and it always seemed to perform well enough. This was no exception, although it was eye-opening just how quickly it disappeared from the wood once I started paying attention. After the second test, I could see that the spoon still had some oil soaked into it, although it was definitely drier than before it was submerged. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Styling: Cyd McDowell

Oil Method: LinSheen Raw Linseed Oil

Ease of use: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Price: 2/5 ($8.50 for 4 ounces)
Overall: 3.5/5

I really had my hopes up for this one. It’s the choice of woodworkers and the description said this food-grade oil could even be used on decks. How could this not be the holy grail of wood protection? It was supposed to “nourish and protect” and “penetrate deep into the grain.” In the end, it barely performed better than the mineral oil and refractionated coconut oil. However, I could see a couple of areas where moisture did seem locked in and darker than others, so maybe with more time and applications this will really get the job done, or maybe its water resistance doesn’t hold up well to heat. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Styling: Cyd McDowell

Oil Method: John Boos Butcher Block Board Cream

Ease of use: 4/5
Performance: 4.5/5
Price: 2/5 ($14.49 for 5 ounces)
Overall: 4.5/5 

Its price is high — almost $3 an ounce — but this is the one product that really delivered. I have to say, I didn’t expect this to be any different than the rest. In fact, it’s made with basically the same ingredients as the other beeswax product I tried. But this was much thinner and creamier and it really did seem to soak into the wood, not just lay on top. In the first test, it seemed like the spoon wasn’t quite as dried out as the rest. However, the results of the second test were more conclusive. The spoon still felt silky and oiled, even after a minute in boiling water, and it didn’t look nearly as parched as the others . You’re supposed to use the John Boos Mystery Oil before applying the board cream, but I did not do this (although I think the results would’ve been even better if I did!). In this case, though, you really do get what you pay for. 

What do you use to keep wooden spoons and cutting boards from drying out? Tell us in the comments below.