From the earliest times, when butcher blocks were no more than planks of a tree trunk, end grain provided a superior cutting surface. The reason is that the grain makes for a tough, durable face that self-heals, closing up when cut by a knife.
End grain butcher blocks are built from short solid wood elements glued in such a way that only the end grain shows on both the top and bottom sides. As these elements are usually rectangular in shape, the whole board gets a mosaic or chessboard pattern. Although such looks are highly visual, the substantial occurrence of end grain chopping blocks in restaurant kitchens, meat shops, and wherever a great deal of cutting and slicing is involved is given by rather pragmatic reasons.
The end grain structure confers a remarkable sturdiness to a thick enough block (and it is believed that a 4” thickness is the minimum you should settle for when it comes to end grain blocks). As a result, it will withstand with no problem frequent heavy blows of the meat cleaver or any other similar implement into the butcher meat shops. Besides, end grain butcher blocks are much gentler on the knife’s edge because, instead of grinding against the wood fibers, the blade will actually “squeeze” between them, thus wearing out much slower. For the same reason, the top itself wears out at a slower rate than a face grain edge-grain cutting board.
The end grain tops are built from various wood species, but the hard maple and European beech wood are the most employed. Both species have a grain that is tight enough to limit the absorption of fluid, but not so tight that it will affect the stability of the product itself and cause cracks. Both of them are safe in contact with foods and do not impart any taste or odor to the foods they come in contact. They equally display a beautiful look, and a remarkable wear resistance and are highly recommended for butcher meat shops counters, restaurant chopping blocks carts, chef butcher blocks, and why not for a regular kitchen!
The mineral oil or the tung oil are recommended as finishing and offers a reasonably good overall protection. Most of the stains that might occur can be removed by using a moist cloth, while the persisting stains, scratches, and scars will be easily removed by sanding the area where they occur. A new coat of mineral oil will make your butcher block look new again.
For quite a few decades, the plastic and laminate surfaces, due to their non-porous structure were considered much safer than wood for applications such as chopping meat or slicing vegetables. The wood, because of its porosity, was thought an ideal surface for harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Staphylococus or Escherichia coli to thrive. However, a study undertaken in 1993 by the microbiologists of Wisconsin Food Research Institute and another one carried out in 1998 at the University of Florida discovered the strong antibacterial properties that wood surfaces exhibit, features that no other cutting surface appears to possess.
According to these studies and to others that followed them, on wood surfaces, bacterial populations disappear quite fast, without external intervention, while on plastic surfaces, they persist and multiply.