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Are you considering a butcher block countertop in your kitchen? Wood wins points for warmth and versatility: It can take on a range of looks, depending on the species and grain, and whether you stain it for a deeper tone or sheen, says Home Depot senior merchant Meredith Barclay. Butcher block is also kiln-dried and pre-sanded, so it will last years without warping.

However, wood is porous, so you'll need to seal your counter with a protective product containing mineral oil, such as Howard Butcher-Block Conditioner ($10, homedepot.com). This blend of food-grade oil, beeswax, and carnauba wax prevents water absorption and bacteria buildup. Reapply it every month or so, or whenever the wood appears dry, suggests Barclay. For daily maintenance, wipe the surface clean after use with a damp cloth. If you notice stuck-on food bits, remove them with a handheld scraper, and buff out any set-in stains with fine-grit sandpaper before reconditioning. To prevent discoloration, always place hot items on trivets. Read on to learn how wood stacks up against other counter materials. Remember that prices vary based on quality, design, and thickness; solid-surface options are generally the least expensive of this set.

white kitchen with butcher-block island
Credit: Lisa Romerein/Otto

Granite

It's durable, heat-resistant, and low-maintenance. Modern sealants typically last several years and are easy to reapply. Dark options are denser than light ones, making them less likely to stain. Natural speckling patterns, however, can vary widely in the same piece of stone, meaning the portion you receive could look different from the store sample you loved. Ask to inspect the actual piece you'll be installing beforehand.

Marble

Like granite, marble is strong and long-lasting if properly sealed, and can withstand heat. It has more consistent veining (as opposed to flecking) within single slabs, and there are many colors to choose from. The only issue? You may need to reseal as often as every six months to prevent scratches and stains (though some feel the marks add character). Acidic foods like lemon juice and vinegar can etch permanent stains if left too long.

Engineered Stone

Since they're made from ground stone (quartz crystals, most often) and polyresins, these options are available in myriad textures and colors. And they're nonporous, so sealing isn't necessary. But in some cases, hot pots and pans may melt the resins used to produce these surfaces, leaving permanent burn marks, so be sure always to employ trivets.

Solid Surface

Composed of acrylic, solid surfaces (which include Corian, Swanstone, and Avonite) are also nonporous—no sealing required. Unlike stone, they can be installed without any visible seams. However, they are less durable than their engineered-stone cousins; they're even more susceptible to burn marks or scratches (though both can usually be buffed out).

Stainless Steel

Like the name says, it's fully stain-resistant, and the food-grade kind used for counters won't burn or rust, either—even from frequent oil-, water-, and acid-based spills. Here's the downside: It can dent or scratch over time from contact with cookware or cutlery, and will show smudges and fingerprints (parents, take note). If you don't set down your pans and dishes gently, beware of loud clanging.

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