Butcher Block Kitchen Island

Butcher Block Kitchen Island
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Butcher Block Kitchen Island

In the long history of food preparation, the butcher block is relevantly new. First introduced as a more sanitary surface for the processing of raw meat, the butcher block has become a fixture in restaurants, delicatessens and home kitchens. Meanwhile, the concept of the kitchen island has become popular with many homeowners as an alternative to the traditional kitchen table. The traditional butcher block has been combined with the kitchen island to create a functional and beautiful addition to almost any kitchen.

The butcher block was originally created as a replacement for less sanitary surfaces once used by meat cutters. For hundreds of years, meat cutters have used wooded surfaces to cut meat. A common surface that was used for many years was made from tree rounds. Tree rounds were slabs made from the cross cut of large trees. Depending on the species of wood, the slab was often prone to cracking and was very difficult, if not impossible, to keep clean. Before the introduction of the butcher block, food processing was often done in conditions that were far from sanitary.

As a food preparation surface, wood offers several advantages over other materials. But with the advantages came disadvantages as well. Wood is hygroscopic and is very reactive to and affected by ambient conditions that can cause the wood to change shape or deteriorate. Moisture is generally woods worst enemy. A low relative humidity can cause wood to contract and dry while a higher relative humidity can cause wood to swell.

Early tree rounds were often wrapped in heavy metal hoops stave similar to those used to secure barrels or wagon wheels. The hoops were in place to keep any splitting to a minimum. Still the tree round was largely at the mercy of the environment. Through the late 1800's tree rounds and other wood surfaces were used in the cutting and processing of meat.

The United States was blessed with an incredible number of hardwood trees. Ashes, maple, hickory, oak and cherry trees, to name a few, grew prolifically and were harvested for a variety of uses. Maple wood is a very dense and hard, the result of a tight, closed grain pattern. Various terms have used to describe maple wood, including rock maple. Maple wood is used for many different products including bowling pins, kitchen utensils, flooring and butcher blocks.

Towards the end of the 1800's, several companies began to produce what were originally called sanitary meat blocks. These blocks were made primarily of maple using a technique called lamination. This technique involves taking evenly cut strips or blocks of wood and gluing the pieces together. Enough pieces are glued together large enough to form a much larger section. There are variations of the lamination technique used to make maple butcher blocks.

Edge grain and end grain laminations are the two most common patterns used for butcher blocks. Assuming the use of a proper adhesive, laminated wood can be quite strong and durable. Manufacturers often join smaller strips or pieces of wood using various types of common wood joints.

Once the maple pieces are laminated, the faces of the block are sanded. After sanding, the entire block is treated with oil. This may sound a little counter intuitive but the oil serves several important functions. Oils seals the wood the helps to shield it from moisture absorption and helps to keep bacteria developing in the pores of the wood. The most common oil used for butcher blocks is food grade mineral oil. Some manufacturers use combinations of different oils like highly refined linseed oil.

The hardness that makes maple the ideal material for butchers blocks and other cutting surfaces the result of a very tight grain pattern. Still, maple does not cause the wear to cutting knives and utensils as other materials can. Some plastic cutting boards are described as self healing. This means that when the surface of is cut, the material closes up. This may seem good, but the fact is that food debris can become trapped in the cut beyond the reach of cleaners and disinfectants. In contrast, maple is not self healing and surface cuts remain open, allowing food debris and bacteria to be cleaned away.

Butcher block has found its way into counter tops, table tops and small cutting boards. With proper care, a butcher block can last virtually forever. In fact, a well cared for butcher block that is years old can be worth more than a brand new block. No two butcher blocks look exactly the same with each one having unique grain patterns and colorations.

With the growing popularity of kitchen islands, the use of butcher block as an all purpose work surface. An alternative to a stationary, permanent kitchen island, portable kitchen islands have caught on in a big way. Portable kitchen islands add a degree of flexible to any kitchen layout. The butcher block top can be used for so many kitchen tasks and still retain the good looks and character that only butcher block has.

Caring for your Butcher Block Kitchen Island

Maintaining your butcher block is key to protecting the wood and keeping the surface clean and sanitary. Always hand wash your butcher block and avoid soaking it in water. Exposure to excessive moisture can cause the block to warp and even crack. To sanitize the block a solution of water and bleach or water and vinegar will usually do the trick. Rubbing the block with a lemon half will work in a pinch. Most food borne bacteria cannot survive in an acid environment. Citric acid and vinegar are sufficiently acid to kill most food borne bacteria. Wipe the block clean and let dry.

Apply food grade mineral oil or butcher block oil and wipe away any excess. The block should be oiled at least once per month. If the block is cut or nicked, apply paraffin wax to fill in the area and reapply block oil as needed. If larger areas are damaged, the block can be easily sanded and new oil applied. Do not expose the block to excessive heat.