Cutting boards or butcher blocks are essential in every kitchen and BBQ kit. When choosing a cutting board, you must consider many factors, including the wood type, thickness, size, and shape.
You’ll also see boards marketed as end grain, edge grain, and face grain, with the seller making various claims about the pros and cons of each.
End Grain vs. Edge Grain vs. Face Grain
End, edge, and face refer to the three different surfaces that a piece of lumber has.
Choosing which board is right depends on how you plan to use the board.
- End grain cutting boards are the best choice for your kitchen. They’re durable, easy to clean, and won’t dull your knives.
- Edge grain boards are also a good option if you want something more affordable than end grain, but still offers some of its benefits.
- Face grain cutting boards should be avoided because they’re prone to warping and cracking over time.
What is end grain?
End grain cutting boards are made from wood cut along the direction of a tree’s growth. This means the end grain is at the top and bottom of your cutting board rather than running horizontally across its surface.
The end grain design is popular for two reasons: One, it allows for self-healing properties in your cutting board – when you slice through an end-grain piece of wood, it will close up again as soon as pressure is removed from it.
The wood fibers stand vertically, so a knife goes in between the fibers, and they close right back up after you lift the blade. Two, end-grain boards are easier on knife edges because the fibers are parallel to the blade rather than perpendicular, which dull the knife faster.
- The vertical wood fibers are forgiving on knives, keeping the blade edge sharper over prolonged usage
- The wood fibers have “self-healing” properties, closing back up after each cut which helps show fewer surface marks in the long run
- They are durable work service, perfect for heavy duty tasks like cleaver chopping
- The end grains make for some pretty looking boards, as they show the wood rings on the surface of each piece
- They need to be oiled more often than other types. End grain boards absorb moisture rapidly, so it’s imperative to oil often to retain moisture and avoid splitting
- They are more expensive boards as it takes more pieces of wood to construct
- They are heavy, which can be cumbersome if you have to constantly move it around your prep space
End grain cutting boards are great for everyday kitchen or BBQ use. These boards can take a beating and will last a long time with proper care and regular maintenance.
End grain cutting boards shine when it comes to heavy chopping. Whether prep or presentation, they won’t show deep knife marks as easily as an edge grain board.
What is edge grain?
An edge grain cutting board shows you the wood cut along the edge and with the grain. The edges of the wood are cut long and glued together, requiring less work and pieces than end grain. This results in the final product being cheaper in price.
Edge-grain boards have several advantages over other types of cutting boards. They’re low maintenance and you don’t have to oil or treat these types of boards as often, and they absorb less moisture making them easier to clean.
- They are lower in cost to make and buy than end grain
- They are low-maintenance cutting boards compared to end grain, not needing to be oiled as frequently
- They absorb less moisture, making them easier to clean and resistant to staining
- Because the fibers run perpendicular to the knife blade, these boards will show more cuts and knife marks
- Due to the direction of the fibers, knives will dull faster cutting on edge grain boards
Edge grain cutting boards are great as a utility surface or for normal food preparation. If you’re consistently doing heavy-duty chopping it’s best to use an end grain cutting board, as an edge grain board will show the marks and come out with a ruined exterior surface.
Due to the fact they don’t absorb moisture quickly, they’re great for foods with a lot of juice like BBQ meats or fruits. A perimeter juice groove around the edge of the board will help keep the liquids contained.
What is face grain?
Face grain boards are constructed by laying the cut lumber flat and joining it at the edges to make a tabletop or countertop surface. Most face grain boards have a natural wood finish and a smooth top surface that makes them easy to clean. The biggest drawback to this style is that it will show knife marks faster than end or edge grain cutting boards.
Face grain boards are also less expensive than their counterparts, making them an attractive option if you’re just starting out with your kitchen equipment or need something on a budget.
- Affordable and affordable
- Offer striking visual patterns at they’re generally whole pieces of wood
- Face grain cutting boards show the most cuts and knife marks than edge or end grain. Not ideal for heavy cutting or chopping
- Softer and absorb more moisture than edge grain (but less moisture than end grain)
Face grain cutting boards are great for food presentation and as countertops. If you make a lot of charcuterie boards, a face grain board would be perfect, and its unique visual patterns will accentuate the look. Beautiful show pieces, but be wary of using them for continuous heavy cutting.
So which grain is best for a wood cutting board?
Pick an end grain board if:
- You want to keep your knives sharper longer
- You do a lot of heavy chopping and cutting
- You don’t want a lot of knife marks to show
- You want a heavier board that you won’t be moving around a lot
- You can keep up with oiling your board regularly
- You won’t be working with juicier foods
Pick an edge grain board if:
- You want a low-maintenance, but still durable cutting board
- You work with a lot of juicy ingredients
- You don’t mind knife marks showing
- You sharpen your knives regularly
- You’re on a budget
Pick a face grain board if:
- You plan to use it mostly for presentation
- You make a lot of charcuterie boards
- You don’t do a lot of cutting on it
- You prefer a striking natural wood grain pattern
- You use it as a serving dish