How To Get the Best Cutting Board for Your Needs
When trying to decide which cutting board to buy it actually comes down to personal preference. But there are some things you should keep in mind when in the market for a new cutting board. Things like material, size and maintenance are a few of the factors you want to think about. Let’s take a look at some of the options.
What’s the best material for cutting boards?
There are four main materials to consider in cutting boards: wood, bamboo, plastic, and rubber. What about glass, you ask? NO! Whoever came up with this idea should be scolded. You will not find a glass cutting board in any professional or commercial kitchen. Even though glass boards are made from tempered glass, glass still breaks. And since it is such a hard surface, glass wreaks havoc on knives. Glass is just wrong for a cutting surface. So let's look at some better choices for cutting board material.
Wood is probably the first material that comes to mind when you think of cutting boards. Years ago wood was the only thing available. Some people swear by them while others have concerns about them harboring bacteria. Bacteria can actually be a problem with any board if not cleaned properly, so as long as you practice safe handling, a wooden board is not any worse than any other type when it comes to bacteria. Maple, teak, beech or walnut are good choices for a wood board. A real plus to wood cutting boards is that they can be resurfaced using a fine sandpaper and rubbed down with food-grade mineral oil for a brand new board!
Example of wood grains
Different grain cuts of wood boards
Wood cutting boards offer different style choices in regard to the way the wood is cut in relation to the grain. You can get an end grain, edge grain or face grain board.
- End grain boards are made of a number of pieces cut from the ends of boards and glued together. They will often have a checkerboard pattern. They can be more gentle on knives because the knife edge slides between the vertical wood fibers. However, the exposed ends can make this type of board easier to dry out, stain, and crack. This is probably the best type of wood board, but can be extremely expensive at as much as $200 for a quality board.
- Edge grain boards are made by gluing alternating lengthwise strips cut from the sides of a plank of wood, with the sides facing up. These boards tend to be harder on knifes than end grain boards, but they also withstand moisture-based cracking and splitting better, and are easier to clean than end grain boards.
- Similar to edge grain boards, face grain boards are made with the face, or what might be considered the flat side of a plank of wood. Boards made with this process are usually very pretty because more of the grain shows.
Bamboo cutting boards have become very popular in recent years. Bamboo is actually a type of grass, but it can be stronger than a hardwood such as oak. Bamboo is also biodegradable so it is a good “green” choice. Wooden cutting boards tend to be heavy, whereas boards made from bamboo are much more lightweight for a board of the same size. This is a bonus if you have physical issues where you need to limit how much you lift. Another plus to bamboo is that it is not as porous as wood, therefore it will absorb less liquid, not warp like wood, and potentially harbor less bacteria. However, since it is a natural fiber and the pieces are glued together, bamboo cutting boards can not be put in the dishwasher. You can tell a bamboo board by the characteristic "joint" markings. Bamboo cutting boards are generally inexpensive and you can purchase a set less than the price of a good wood board.
Bamboo cutting boards are economical and eco-friendly
When it comes to plastic boards there are generally two types: hard and flexible. Plastic boards are very popular because of the price, the variety of colors, and the ability to pop them into the dishwasher. Plastic boards will often come in colored sets with each color designated for a specific task: beef, chicken, vegetables, etc., or you can do your own color-coding. The flexible boards are convenient because you can bend them to help funnel food into a pan or bowl. One problem with plastic is that it tends to have a short life because the knife will quickly cause burrs on the plastic. If your dishcloth is catching on the board then it is time for a new one, but since plastic boards are so inexpensive, people don’t mind replacing them often. Another downside to plastic boards is that they stain very easily, so if that is something that will bother you, don't opt for plastic.
Generally sold in restaurant supply stores, rubber cutting boards are probably not well known among home cooks. The non-porous, non-absorbent surface does not retain juices, odors, or bacteria as much as traditional wooden boards, making them a good choice if you are going to be cutting a lot of meat on a regular basis. These boards are easy on knife blades, although some cooks don't like how the knife "bounces" on the surface and can't get a good cutting rhythm.
Prices are comparable to wooden boards, ranging from $25 to over $100. Like wood boards they can be thick and heavy, although there are thin boards too. Often an unattractive dull yellow-gold color, these boards can be resurfaced, which is a plus, and they are "self-healing". Rubber cutting boards don't have to be oiled like wood and bamboo, and they can go in dishwasher, although they must be removed before drying cycle. They are resistant to swelling and warping, which allows them to maintain their shape through many years of use.
What's the best size for a cutting board?
After deciding which type of board material will best fit your needs, you should also consider the size of the board. You will want to look at your counter space, storage space and dishwasher space. As a rule, you want the largest size that will fit on your counter and can be stored easily in your kitchen (whether on the counter or in a cabinet), and one that will also fit in your dishwasher, if it will be washed that way. Another thing to remember with the size is the relation to the size of the knife you will be using. For safety and best use, you never want your knife to be bigger than your board. You would not use a large butcher knife on an 8"x10" board. Even though they are cute, small boards (under 8"x10") are not very functional. A nice general size is something around 15” x 21”. This is adequate for most everyday cutting needs.
Butcher's Block Table
Decorative and functional options
After your basic needs have been identified, you can look at other features that can be decorative as well as functional. A groove around the edges is good for catching juices. A handle is a nice option if you want to hang your board, and it helps when grabbing it from your cabinet. Boards shaped like an animal or a state or other object can be a fun addition to your kitchen, although not very practical because the odd shapes usually don't have much cutting surface. Cutting boards can also be engraved with someone's name for a lovely gift.
The Final Decision?
In the end you may find that you want to have different cutting boards for different uses--maybe wood for bread, plastic for raw meats and bamboo for vegetables. Each type has its benefits and drawbacks. When deciding on a cutting board think about how you cook and prep, how often you need a cutting surface, how important ease of cleaning and upkeep are for you and how much you would like to spend. Narrow your choices and pick the best cutting board for you. For a quick summary, reference the table below.
Pros and Cons of Different Cutting Board Materials
Easy on knives, can last a long time
Can warp and stain, need to be oiled regularly
Can be hard on knives, need to be oiled regularly, must be handwashed
Inexpensive, can wash in dishwasher, can be color-coded
Does not last long, will stain easily, can be hard on knives
Sturdy, self-healing, long life
Stains easily, can dull knives quickly
Stop-motion video on making an end grain cutting board
Which Board "Makes the Cut"?
What is your favorite type of cutting board? Do you use a variety of cutting boards based on what you are prepping? Have you had a bad cutting board experience? Feel free to leave your comments below.