When planning a kitchen renovation, design needs to complement function and nothing exemplifies this as well as a butcher block countertop. The material is a classic in Southern and farmhouse-style kitchens, but it’s also extremely versatile. Butcher block adds a beautiful warmth and organic element to any space while also serving a functional purpose in food preparation, and that’s part of why Ree Drummond loves it.
Ten years ago, Ree embarked on a whole remodel project for The Lodge and even she admits that the countertops were the hardest element to decide on. Naturally, she did a complete countertops comparison. Of the many materials used, only the butcher block received this rave review: “If I could marry a countertop, this would be it,” add that she could “fling vegetables all over the place and chop them wherever they are without having to retrieve a separate cutting board from under the cabinet.” Let’s just say it made cooking and prep work much easier!
The style and practicality is also why butcher block islands were installed in the new Pioneer Woman test kitchen! Still, any design decision comes with pros and cons says Karen Vidal, the designer behind Vidal Design Collaborative. “A butcher block counter is functional and practical, but not without certain caveats; it is not perfect and will wear!” We spoke to Vidal, along with Erin Hudson of Grothouse, about the pros and cons of butcher block countertops.
What are butcher block countertops?
Butcher block is a specific type of wood constructed for kitchen prep work, which isn’t recommended for other wood styles.
“A normal wooden counter isn’t constructed for chopping,” Hudson explains, whose company engineers beautiful, American-made wood surfaces. “The end grain construction styles of butcher block allow for the fibers to act almost like a stiff brush. Microscopically, the knife edge goes between the fibers.” Butcher block is a preferred prep surface because it will keep your knife sharp and prevents knife marks from showing.
You can use any hardwood species to create butcher block counters—oak, maple, cherry, to name a few—but Paul Grothouse’s favorite is Kensington, a specially-curated species from Grothouse.
How much does a butcher block countertop cost?
Butcher block typically runs between $30 and $40 per square foot, but it depends on the type of wood you choose (higher end woods can run as high as $180 to 200). Many people take the DIY route for installation, but the labor cost for hired installation is typically between $50 and $70 per square foot.
How do you maintain a butcher block countertop?
The biggest enemy of butcher block countertops is water, says Karen. While you should not put hot pots and pans directly on the surface, she’s less concerned about heat than she is about water damage and regular maintenance.
Care is relatively easy: Wash wood by hand using dish soap and warm water, and thoroughly dry the block after washing. Over time, you will need to re-oil the surface using a food-grade mineral oil. “You can also use a steel scraper or sandpaper as needed to keep the top smooth and free of deep cuts or any food buildup, then re-oil the top,” Hudson adds.
What are the pros of a butcher block countertop?
- Style: The wood is not only cozy and warm, but it’s versatile as you can choose from many different patterns, grains, and colors. You can use it for countertops, kitchen islands, end tables, and kitchen tables.
- Affordability: Butcher block is one of the more affordable countertops. You can choose a wood that fits your price range and they’re not as expensive as natural stone countertops. Plus, you can combine it with other materials.
- Life span: Butcher blocks can last as long as 20 years with proper care and regular maintenance. This means they will outlast your usual laminate countertop.
- Utility: You can chop food right on the surface—meat, seafood, and veggies! They’re great for food prep because wood surfaces naturally kill bacteria.
What are the cons of a butcher block countertop?
- Care: Okay, take this as a pro or a con. It’s easy to refinish a butcher block counter, but it will require some regular upkeep. They’re susceptible to scratches and nicks, and they’re porous. The up-side is that stains and burns, along with the requisite re-oiling, will contribute to a deep, rich patina that develops over time.
- Not heat resistant: Unlike stone surfaces, you can’t place hot pots and pans on the wood because it will develop burn marks. These too can be sanded and oiled out.
- Susceptible to water damage: Water can stain butcher block counters or create water rings. Avoid installing near sinks, as you risk damage from spray or leakage.
- Can dry out: As with many other kinds of wood, butcher blocks can dry out and require re-oiling.
Why choose a butcher block countertop?
If you’re indecisive when starting a kitchen remodel, butcher blocks are a nice choice because they can be used in conjunction with other surface materials. Just look at The Lodge’s kitchen island: the food prep side is butcher block and the other side is concrete.
Vidal’s favorite combo to design is soapstone and butcher block because they have a similar organic quality and soapstone is heat resistant. Since her main care concern is water, she prefers to install them away from sinks and other wet areas. “I love to use them on an island, even if the island has a cooktop or range built-in.” They’re the perfect prep area choice!
“It can play in most architectural styles and isn’t limited to “rustic” style,” Vidal says. “I think cabinet tone is an important consideration when using butcher block; a painted cabinet finish offsets it nicely. Either classic white or a dark color can be a great foil against the natural wood tone. Stained wood cabinets might make it feel ‘heavy,’ which should be a consideration.”
Micaela Bahn is a freelance editorial assistant and recent graduate from Carleton College, where she majored in English literature. She loves running, photography, and cooking the best new recipes.