Butcher’s blocks are a piece of kitchen equipment that adorns the counters of those that take their cooking and butchery very seriously. They are large chunks of wood that have a distinctive patchwork pattern across their surfaces and serve as a prep space for any number of ingredients, particularly meat butchery. But what exactly sets a butcher’s block apart from cutting boards? Let’s take a look.
What Classifies a Cutting Board a Butcher’s Block?
At first glance, cutting boards and butcher’s blocks might seem like the same thing, but when you take a closer look, there are some key elements that make butcher’s blocks a step up from your average cutting board. First, the dimensions. A cutting board must be a minimum of 12×12″ and 1.5″ thick to qualify as a butcher’s block. These dimensions mean that it is heavy and large enough to accommodate the butchery of larger cuts without moving around while you work, which could be dangerous. In order to classify as a butcher’s block, it must also be made from end grain wood. End grain boards are made from wood that has been cut at 90 degrees to the grain. This makes the boards incredibly strong but also forgiving and resistant to damage. These boards are created by gluing a series of these smaller planks together to create a fused smooth surface of strong end grain wood.
These boards are so durable and long-lasting, largely due to their self-healing qualities. This occurs when the wood fibers shift apart when the knife enters and seal back up once the knife is removed. The added bonus of this is that the surface is really easy on your knives so that they will stay sharper for longer. The last qualification for a really high-grade butcher’s block is that it is made from high-quality hardwood, so it is very hard-wearing and durable.
Common hardwoods for cutting boards include maple, oak, and walnut. The problem is that these valuable woods are usually rare, slow-growing, or even sometimes endangered. This makes them hard to acquire and very expensive due to their rarity. This results in butcher’s blocks of these woods selling for upwards of $300. But if that is not within your budget, that’s where acacia comes in to save the day.
Acacia, also known as a thorn tree, is a hardwood traditionally prized for its beauty and strength. Unlike traditional hardwood, acacia is fast-growing, and its 1300 species are widely grown across Africa, Australia, North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, which makes it sustainable to harvest without causing ecological distress or deforestation. This abundance also makes it cost far less than other hardwoods for a product that is just as high quality as the traditional hardwoods. Due to its fast growth, acacia’s are harvested young, so their planks are smaller, which makes them perfect for end grain cutting boards with their distinctive patterned surfaces.
This more affordable alternative has the added benefit of closely resembling walnut, which is a much more expensive option that could save you $100 or do!
So, now that you know what we are looking for in a butcher’s block, and why acacia, in particular, let’s see what’s available on the market and which option is worth your money.
At the beginning of the end grain price range, we have this Ironwood Gourmet block. This is on the smaller side of things at 14×14″ and a thickness of 1.5″, and a weight of 5.4lb. When looking at butcher’s blocks, it’s important to take weight into account as you need a heavy block to make sure it won’t move while you work.
Ironwood boards are designed by a restauranteur and woodworker, so even the ones on the cheaper end are guaranteed to be of high quality. The boards are made from sustainably sourced acacia and crafted in Thailand.
The design is very simple, with a smooth surface and softly beveled edges that are beautiful but without any added extras like handles or a juice canal. If you want a good starter butcher’s block, you couldn’t go wrong with this one.
Next up, we have this chunky La Mongoose End grain butcher’s block. This sizeable block is 17×13″ and 2″ thick and 8lb, so you really get a lot.
It is reversible and has rounded hand grips inset into the side to make flipping it over less laborious. Unlike the previous options, this one has a deep juice canal around the perimeter, so you can work clean even when you are butchering. All of these factors make this perfect for butchery and very hard-wearing. If you treat this board right, it will last you years.
It is made from sustainable, eco-friendly acacia that has a muted but stunning finish with a perfectly smooth surface and rounded corners. A piece this big will definitely be stored out on your countertop, so its beauty is really an important factor.
- Juice canal
If you like to have a lot of space to prep, then this massive block from Villa Acacia is right up your alley! This extra-large block is 24×18″, 2″ thick, and 18lb, so it is very chunky and spacious. This may seem expensive, but this is quite a good price relative to other hardwoods. By choosing acacia, you allow yourself to invest in more size without having to pay an exorbitant sum.
Although it has a stunning patchwork finish, it has no juice canal, which is a downside if you are going to be doing any large-scale butchery. However, it does have handles built into the sides so that you can move around this huge board a bit more easily.
Villa Acacia is partnered with the National Forestry Foundation, so you can rest assured that all their products are from sustainable sources.
- No juice canal
The most luxurious board of the lot, we have the Ironwood Professional End Grain Butcher’s Block. This is a very significant price tag, but, again, it is still far and away cheaper than options made from other hardwoods.
This design has no extra frills; it is merely a huge block of wood that is designed to stand firm while you butcher and withstand years of use. This massive board is 20×14″ with a significant thickness of 3″. All this solid wood adds up to 16.2lb, so you know this board is not going anywhere when you’re busy. It has no juice canal and no handles, so while you can use this for presentation, moving around may be a challenge. Essentially what you are paying for is the sheer amount of solid wood decorating your countertop between its useful periods.
Still, this price tag is significant for the extra inch of thickness, so it is worth looking at the other options that are on the thinner side. 2″ boards are still thick and would work out far cheaper while still being just as useful as this choice.
- No handles
- No juice canal
When it comes to butcher’s blocks, the more you pay, the more size and weight you get, essentially. At the end of the day, you get a lot of beauty and strength for a good price with acacia which lets you venture into the world of butcher’s blocks without spending upwards of $300.
That said, the one that I think would be a good choice is the Mountain Woods Round Acacia Butcher’s Block. Its attractive, functional, and multi-use. You can butcher on it, prep veggies, or present stunning charcuterie boards on its surface. The handles make its bulk easier to move around, but it will also look just as beautiful staying put on your countertop. This is the best balance between price, size, thickness, and utility.