As granite and engineered stone countertops have soared in popularity over the last few years, wood surfaces, including butcher-block countertops, have fallen by the wayside -- though they're still favored by some home-improvement enthusiasts and professional cooks. Popular Mechanics says wood countertops have been unfairly maligned for supposedly being less sanitary than stone countertops, harboring dangerous bacteria in the same way that wooden cutting boards are rumored to when they're not maintained properly. This simply isn't true. In fact, reliable sources say wooden countertops are more, not less, hygienic than stone or plastic laminate. A 1993 report on the safety of wood cutting boards from the University of Wisconsin-Madison puts the old myths to rest.
Wooden countertops receive a strong endorsement from Green Home Guide, which says the most eco-friendly option is to buy untreated hardwood that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. According to Green Home Guide, "Wood is not a good choice for continually wet areas, such as the space immediately surrounding a sink. It can also be burned, scorched, dented and stained, so it requires care and regular cleaning. However, kept sealed with natural mineral oil to prevent drying, wood is a highly durable and healthy counter material."
As noted by Green Home Guide, the problem with wood countertops isn't their susceptibility to bacteria, but their high maintenance. Wooden countertops (which are mostly made of rock maple, according to Popular Mechanics, but also teak, walnut, cherry or oak) need to be oiled every four to six weeks, while granite countertops have to be resealed only every six months to two years. Maintenance is especially important, since one of the prime reasons for installing wooden countertops is that you can prepare food directly on the surface (chopping, cutting, dicing, etc.).
As you might have already surmised, the patterns and colors of wood countertops are limited to the patterns and colors of the wood itself, but butcher-block countertops are not the only option. Wood countertops can be made to show the face grain, edge grain or end grain. Your best bet is to order from a skilled local carpenter, but if one is not available in your area, you can order wood countertops from Antique Woodworks, Brooks Custom, John Boos and Wood Welded, among others. Note that wooden countertops are every bit as expensive as granite (about $100 to $200 per square foot depending on wood species).