Picking The Right Cutting Board

Choosing the right cutting board(s). Boy, is this one of the most overlooked decisions people make in their kitchens! You may not think about it much, but your cutting surface can make a ton of difference in your cooking. The wrong cutting board can leave behind germs, dull your knives, and just generally make it harder to cut. There are several types out there; some better than others. Here are some of the more common ones you’ll come across.

Wood

Wood cutting boards are often made of a hard maple (or similar woods like teak or cherry). Why do people like them? When it comes to a cutting surface they hit on pretty much all cylinders. They are easy on your knives. They offer a rough enough surface to keep food in place. A lot of times (OK, maybe not always) there's enough roughness in their surface to keep them in place on your countertop also.  And let’s face it, a nice solid wood cutting board just simply looks good. 

There are some (minor) downsides. They leave behind some scratches. Can germs fester inside those scratches? Possibly. Oiling them can help by providing a moisture barrier between food and the wood surface.

Over time, some boards have been known to warp as well.

Just a little warning - you’ll be faced with the edge-grain vs. end-grain decision. Edge-grain is where strips of wood are laid side-by-side and grafted together. End-grain is where the board is grafted from many short pieces of hard wood laid vertically (like a checker-board pattern). The truth is this is more about looks than which one is tons better than the other. Both are great. It's really about the look you want and the budget you have (edge-grain costs less). End-grain is a little easier on your knife edge and has been described as "self healing" (the small cuts on the surface of the board may actually "close back up" to some degree).

Bamboo

Did you know that bamboo is actually considered a grass, not a wood. So, it gets it’s own little category. But in many ways they are similar to wood, but are still somewhat porous.

Bamboo is eco-friendly because they are made from fast-growth bamboo. So it’s considered a renewable resource.

Bamboo is often dense enough to resist knife scarring and naturally resists water penetration and letting bacteria find a place to form. Bamboo does absorb less liquid than wood boards, so they may be as sanitary or more sanitary than wood boards.

One thing to know is that bamboo is 19% harder than maple (one the woods many cutting boards are made from), so you may find them to be a little harder on your knives than the more traditional wood boards. 

Composite

In recent years, we've seen more and more cutting boards made from a composite of several materials like wood and plastic. They hold up well. over time They are easy on your knives.

And (in my opinion) they look great. Another benefit? They are dishwasher-safe and are nonporous.

One word of caution here too. These tend to be harder than wood boards, so they can dull your knives faster.

I have to be honest, these have become my favorites. Although I think they are a little harder on my knives their other benefits outweigh that.

Plastic

The biggest thing (as it relates to germs) that people like is that plastic is a nonporous surface, so the board can be cleaned easily and juices can’t get embedded inside the board. Can germs fester inside those scratches? Yes. The fissures that get created under the surface can help germs catch and grow.  After a while those knife-scars become almost impossible to clean when hand washing. Some people like the plastic cutting boards because they believe them to be much more sanitary. The truth? Although they have some properties (non-porousness, dishwasher-safe, etc.) that could help, over time they tend to accumulate just as much (if not more) germs than wood. 

You will find that plastic is durable and will typically last quite a long time. And they are pretty good on your knives - but not quite as forgiving as wood or bamboo.

Glass

No, no, no! I get it. Glass boards can have their appeal. They can be manufactured into many colors and designs. They can really look good and were all the rage a few years back. But really they are a hard, unforgiving surface for your knife. They will nick and dull your knives quickly. And their usually slick surface allows food could slide around too much and make it unsafe. I'd avoid them.

Stone

Ditto, glass. The surface is usually not as slick as glass - but the knife-killing properties are still there.

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Sooooooo, what’s the BEST? I’d say it’s more important to know which materials to avoid - and then take care of the ones you buy. As I said, I have become partial to my Epicurean composite board. But I love my wood board and use my plastic one a ton also.

When selecting a cutting board, think about these characteristics:

  • Material. Think about the tradeoffs I described above. I'm partial to wood and the composites like Epicurean.
  • Size - we typically use ones that are way too small and then struggle to it a bunch of food into a tiny space. This can lead to poor cuts and even finger slicing because it’s all too crowded.
  • Non-skid bottom surface. In my mind, this is critical. You don't want your board sliding around your countertop. Chasing your food across a moving board is one of the best ways to cut yourself. A hint: If your cutting board slides around too much, you can put a wet paper towel or a dish towel under it to help keep it in place.

And just one final thought to consider. Many people say that it’s best to have at least two cutting boards. One is dedicated purely to the cutting of raw meats, poultry, and fish. You may want to consider that too. I have several boards, but I don't dedicate one as a "raw meat" board and I've never had a problem. I just clean them thoroughly pretty immediately after use.

If you liked this post, you may also want to check these out:
"What the Heck is Anodized - and Why Do I Care?"
"The Knives You REALLY Need"
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