An Expert Guide to Cutting BoardsPublished on 07/18/2023 · 10 min readSlice, dice, and chop like a pro with our expert guide to cutting boards. Discover the best options to enhance your culinary skills and elevate your kitchen game.
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TL;DR: Shopping for cutting boards can be confusing because of all the conflicting evidence about which materials will be most sanitary, safest to use, and reduce damage to knife blades. The durability of a cutting board depends on materials and care. All cutting boards have a risk of spreading harmful bacteria, but plastic and composite boards are often dishwasher safe and easiest to maintain.
I’m Jake, an expert in the kitchen department, and I have over 20 years of experience in commercial kitchens. I have a preference for hardwood “butcher block” style cutting boards in my personal kitchen, but I also recognize the value and benefit of keeping a plastic cutting board for particular uses. There’s a lot of debate about which materials will cause knives to dull faster, but I can’t say if either makes a difference to me in that regard — all knives need regular sharpening. I’ll go into all the details and reasons why in this article.
What Is a Cutting Board?
For me, a sturdy and stable cutting board is one of the most important elements of a comfortable kitchen space. They serve as a protective medium for the knife’s edge to contact when slicing or chopping ingredients. It’s also part of the active working area for your current kitchen project. Identifying the cutting board size that utilizes and maximizes the available space in your kitchen can lend a lot of confidence! When used properly, a cutting board reduces potential damage to your countertops, eliminates cross-contamination, and adds an inviting and inspiring aesthetic to your kitchen.
What Are the Different Cutting Board Materials?
The world of cutting boards is quite simple, but there are key nuances between the materials used. Here’s an overview of the benefits, drawbacks, and best uses for each material type.
1. Wooden Cutting Boards
Most wooden cutting boards are commonly made from edge grain like walnut, cherry, oak, teak, bamboo, and maple wood. When manufactured and cared for properly, end-grain boards can last for decades and become a kitchen heirloom. When not cared for properly, wooden cutting boards can fail, crack, split, and warp within days of misuse.
Make sure to hand-wash only, wipe dry with a clean dish towel, and air dry immediately after use. Additionally, it’s imperative to keep a thin layer of food-safe oil (mineral oil is most common) to prevent the wood from drying out or absorbing too much moisture.
- Potentially the most aesthetically attractive of all materials
- The naturally non-slip surface encourages safe food prep
- With proper care, high-quality options can last for decades or longer
- Most natural option (no fears about microplastics contaminating your food)
- Hardwoods are often heavy, and large wooden cutting boards can be difficult to move around in the kitchen
- Easily stains, absorbs odors, and may harbor unsafe bacteria if not sanitized properly
- Requires extra care and maintenance to remain sanitary
- Hand wash only (not safe for use in dishwashers as they will warp, crack and swell)
- High-quality cutting boards can be the most expensive.
- Usually not a great option for commercial kitchens unless there’s a careful protocol in place
- Vegetables, cheese, and ingredients that don’t stain
- Home kitchens and enthusiastic chefs who value aesthetics and enjoy maintaining cookware
- Large butcher blocks are a great non-slip surface for carving cooked meats
- Anyone concerned about having healthy and safe utensils in their kitchen
2. Plastic Boards
Plastic boards are overall the most durable, affordable, and easiest to sanitize. Plus, they are often lightweight. Commercial kitchens love them for these reasons. They are great for meat prep and odorous ingredients like onions or garlic because plastic boards are easy to rinse off or sanitize to avoid cross-contamination.
- Often lightweight and non-slip
- Most resistant to chipping or developing major damage
- Low-maintenance and easy to clean
- Deep scratches can form and harbor bacteria if not cleaned properly
- Will introduce microplastics into your cooking
- Typically considered less aesthetically appealing than wood
- Beets, turmeric, and other ingredients that might stain
- Preparation of animal products
- Commercial kitchens
- Low-maintenance cooks
3. Composite Cutting Boards
Usually made with a blend of wood fibers and resin, composite cutting boards balance the benefits of wood and plastic without compromising durability. Easy to maintain, composites are generally durable and safe to use in commercial environments.
- Non-porous and dishwasher-safe makes them easier to maintain than wooden boards
- Often safe to 350 F
- More aesthetically pleasing than plastic
- More expensive than plastic boards
- Must be dried properly, or there is a risk of warping
- High-traffic kitchens that need durability and aesthetics
What to Consider When Buying a Cutting Board
1. What Material Do You Prefer?
Cutting boards are relatively inexpensive, and it’s worth having at least one wood and one plastic board on hand. I like to have a large wooden block for most uses and a plastic board for prepping animal products.
2. What Types of Food Will You Be Preparing?
Plastic boards are much easier to sanitize, so a plastic board may be your best option if you frequently handle raw meat. Additionally, consider having a few plastic boards on hand to avoid cross-contamination. For example, keep the meat on one board and the veggies on another. But if you are mostly vegetarian or vegan, the risk of harmful bacteria is less present, so why not get yourself the best wooden cutting board you can find?
3. What size and shape fits your kitchen?
Big cutting boards inspire big ideas, so I encourage you to buy a board with the largest dimensions that will fit on your counter. Consider the counter space in your kitchen and what appliances you might have out while cooking. It’s great to have a small cutting board nearby for transporting ingredients from the board to your cookware. Butcher block cutting boards might be so large and heavy that they simply sit out all the time, while more portable plastic cutting boards can be stored out of sight.
4. How Much Maintenance Are You Willing to Invest?
Plastic cutting boards will always be the simplest, easiest to maintain, and most cost-effective, but they don’t look nice and introduce microplastics into your food. Wood cutting boards can be found for similar costs but often aren’t heavy-duty, leaving them prone to warping and cracking from moisture. I recommend spending more if you’re considering wood.
Features to Look for in a Cutting Board
When it comes to food safety, durability, and ease of maintenance, the following features are worth looking out for.
- Non-Slip Features: Many plastic cutting boards have non-slip rubber feet or hand grips to prevent accidents and spills.
- Juice Grooves: Juicy ingredients like tomatoes, fruits, or raw meats, will be contained in a juice groove which can help with cleanup and prevent cross-contamination. Consider that a board with a juice canal might require extra cleaning.
- Heat Resistance: Most composite cutting boards have a posted heat limit (usually around 350 F), making them safer for use in high-traffic kitchens where exposure to high heat might be commonplace. Most plastic cutting boards typically won’t be safe for high temps. A wooden cutting board has a high natural resistance to heat and is excellent for hot objects — just avoid open flames!
- Antimicrobial Technology: Some cutting boards feature antimicrobial plastics, which help reduce harmful bacteria. This is especially good for meat prep. It’s still critical to wash cutting boards with soap and warm water.
- Dishwasher-Safe: Plastic and composite boards are often dishwasher-safe. Wood boards are not.
- Knife-Friendly Surface: Most cutting boards will be safe for your knife. Expect that you will need to regularly sharpen your knives no matter what.
- Easy to Store: Many cutting boards have loops or holes for easy handling. Furthermore, kits with several matching cutting boards often include a storage device. Large wooden cutting boards can be heavy and difficult to store.
- Reversible Use: Some cutting boards are reversible and might have juice grooves on one side or a textured surface to ensure large ingredients don’t slide around. Having two sides to cut from helps extend the lifetime of the cutting board.
Features to Avoid in a Cutting Board
Low-cost cutting boards often lack the key features above. Here’s what to look for, especially if you’re shopping on a budget, as some options can run higher risks with food safety and durability.
- Untreated Wooden Boards: Untreated wood lacks a barrier of beeswax and oil that helps protect the material from absorbing animal products and will warp and crack sooner than a treated piece of wood. Untreated boards aren’t a dealbreaker — just plan on purchasing mineral oil to apply before the first use and continue to apply oil regularly (bi-monthly or as needed) to prolong the life, safety, and performance of the board.
- Excessive Porosity: Softwoods and low-cost plastics might be prone to deep cuts and splits, making the surface more likely to harbor unsafe bacteria.
- Sharp Edges or Corners: Boards with rounded edges and corners on the perimeter are less likely than boards with sharp corners and edges to chip or become damaged. This also reduces the risk of injury.
How to Choose the Best Cutting Board for You
Here are a few scenarios of people with different common kitchen needs and my recommended products.
Needs: Moving to a smaller college dorm, and doesn’t cook much but needs something durable and easy.
Features to Look for: Durability, cost, ease of maintenance
Products to Consider:
- Joseph Joseph Nest Boards Set: The set includes three durable plastic cutting boards with a storage folio, making it my top pick for simple affordability.
- Joseph Joseph Nest Chop Set: Simple plastic cutting boards that have an innovative edge for simple transfer of ingredients to the cooking vessel.
- Joseph Joseph Chop2Pot Small: This durable bamboo cutting board is easy to clean and features a hinge for transferring ingredients from board to skillet.
Needs: Has a larger kitchen with a passion for cooking daily and is only interested in wood boards.
Features to Look for: High-quality wood
Products to Consider:
- Cangshan Thomas Keller End Grain Walnut Cutting Board: A large and heavy walnut butcher block that is designed to withstand the test of time.
- Viking Acacia Butcher Block: Smaller and more affordable than the above option, this cutting board makes a nice secondary cutting board.
- Joseph Joseph Folio Large Cutting Board Set: I recommend this kit as the secondary board set for meat prep or for sharing the kitchen prep with guests. These large plastic cutting boards are simple and easy to clean.
Needs: Medium-small kitchen space but wants higher-end materials.
Features to Look for: Aesthetics and versatility
Products to Consider:
- Cangshan Walnut Cutting Board: This smaller version of the quality end-grain walnut cutting board still carries plenty of weight and will need to remain on the countertop at all times.
- Viking Acacia Carving Board: With Juice grooves and a lighter-weight construction, this cutting board could potentially be stored out of sight.
- Joseph Joseph Nest Boards Set: First choice as the secondary set of boards for meat prep and versatility. The medium-sized boards come with a storage folio and are all easy to throw in the dishwasher.
Finding the Right Cutting Board for Your Kitchen
I recommend having more than one type of cutting board for different tasks. I also recommend having more than one material type for versatility. If you’re still unclear about what you need, know that you’re always invited to chat with me or one of my fellow Kitchen Experts to get recommendations based on your specific needs.