Next to the coffee pot, the cutting board is a kitchen’s main workhorse. This guide will show you how to choose and care for the best cutting board that can stand up to your daily kitchen tasks.
Tip: To increase stability of a cutting board, place a kitchen towel or slightly damp paper towel underneath before you begin slicing and dicing.
Best Cutting Board Sizes
A large main cutting board can be augmented with smaller boards.
A 15 x 20-inch cutting board will provide ample space for food prep and is large enough to stretch across a sink to create extra work space. Smaller cutting boards are often sold in multipacks; these can be useful for more detailed tasks, such as creating food decoration like charcuterie.
Best Cutting Board Material
Choose a wood, bamboo or plastic cutting board to protect your knives. The next few sections outline some different cutting board materials and their advantages.
Wood Cutting Boards
Wood cutting boards are made from a number of different types of wood, which helps account for the wide range of price points.
The best wood cutting boards will have low-porosity (to help the wood repel moisture and bacteria) and a medium-to-high Janka hardness rating. This rating is a measurement of the force tolerance of wood; the higher the rating, the more resistant the wood cutting board produced from that species will be to scratches and gouges from cutting tools.
Hardwoods like maple, teak, beech and walnut make the best woods for cutting boards. Avoid exotic woods when selecting a board; these can leach out toxins that can contaminate your food. For cutting board materials, choose wood from trees that produce edible sap, nuts, leaves or fruit.
End Grain vs Edge Grain:
Another factor in the price of wood cutting boards is whether the board is an edge-grain board or an end-grain board. You can distinguish between the two by looking at the surface pattern of the cutting board. On edge grain, the pattern lies lengthwise; the surface looks like long strips of fused wood. End grain creates a checkerboard pattern of small fused squares.
Edge-grain cutting boards are the most common; of the two styles, edge grain is less expensive. These boards are created by fusing cut wood with the long sides facing up. Their simple construction allows for a lower price point. End-grain cutting boards are formed by fusing cut wood with the short ends of the boards comprising the cutting surface. The board ends have the advantage of structure that is very easy on knife blades. In addition, the open, fibrous composition of the wood on the end facing is better at "self-healing”; after the knife strikes an end-grain board, the wood fibers close back up again.
Thicker edge-grain cutting boards and butcher blocks are more affordable, heavier and more stable than a similarly sized end-grain product. However, the cutting surface of the board does not have as much give and it has less ability to self-heal. Over time, both your knives and the board itself will show greater wear. However, an end-grain board, though better at protecting knives, requires even more diligent maintenance. The open-cell structure will also abosorb water more easily than an edge-grain cutting board. Edge-grain cutting boards have to be washed quickly and carefully, always by hand, and dried thoroughly after each use or they may warp.
In all, wood cutting boards in general have many advantages and the best wood cutting boards will last for years if properly cared for.
Bamboo Cutting Boards
Bamboo is more of a hard grass than an actual wood. It is renewable, fast-growing, moisture-resistant and 19 percent harder than maple wood. This makes it a highly sanitary choice of material for a cutting board. The best bamboo cutting boards will be easy to maintain, are durable and offer an aesthetically pleasing grain pattern on the surface.
However, the surface is also somewhat tougher on a knife blade than traditional wood. Knives used with bamboo boards must be sharpened more often. In addition, the cutting action of the knife is slightly less smooth than with wood or plastic.
Plastic or Poly Cutting Boards
The best plastic cutting boards are economical, simple to clean and easy to replace when necessary. They are an excellent option for a busy kitchen; having a number of boards handy for different types of daily food prep allows you to get more done without having to stop and clean your board between tasks. Other advantages to plastic are:
- Easy to maintain; inexpensive to replace
- Available in a variety of colors
Tip: Purchase multiple plastic cutting boards of different colors and designate one color for each type of food (e.g. red for meat, yellow for chicken, green for veggies). This will prevent cross-contamination and each board will last longer since it won’t get daily use.
Best Cutting Boards for Meat
There is some debate in culinary circles over the best cutting boards for raw meat. While a plastic cutting board is generally easy to clean and sanitize and can even go into the dishwasher, they do develop cuts on the surface more easily from knife contact. These grooves make ideal hiding places for bacteria. As the board ages, it becomes more difficult to clean carefully, and many home cooks will keep a cutting board much longer than they should.
Wood boards and bamboo are more naturally resistant to bacteria growth. However, some home cooks are reluctant to use them for raw meats because these cutting boards should not be submerged in water nor washed in the dishwasher; they require more care than a plastic board. They are also typically a greater investment than plastic boards, since the price points for wood and bamboo cutting boards tends to be higher than plastic. However, for cooked meats, wood cutting boards are fine, and are often used both in home and restaurant environments.
When looking for the best cutting board for raw meat, there are a few features that one can look for:
- Double-sided to help prevent cross contamination.
- Juice groove on one side of the board to help contain runny messes.
- Non-slip grip to help with moving the board around while loaded.
- Microban antibacterial protection fused into a plastic board to help discourage pathogen growth.
- Plastic mats sold with wood boards to allow for use of the same board with multiple foods.
Cutting Board Comparison Chart
Cutting Board Cleaning and Care
Keep your cutting boards in top shape with the right care.
Clean your cutting boards after every use and you will extend their life.
Wood and bamboo cutting boards should never be soaked for any length of time, but all cutting boards benefit from a good scrub under hot water to loosen any fats on the surface of the board that might give bacteria a place to hide.
For lingering odors or stubborn stains, sprinkle a teaspoon of coarse salt onto stained areas and rub the surface with half a cut lemon. Then, wash and treat as usual.
Wood boards must be conditioned with food-grade mineral oil or beeswax a minimum of once every three months. Some types of wood experience more shrink as they dry out than others and need to be oiled more often. Follow all manufacturer's instruction for care and conditioning.
Do not use olive or other food oils to treat wood cutting boards; the oil can become rancid, creating unpleasant odors and flavors that can transfer to food.
Best Cutting Boards for Serving
Stone or glass cutting boards can nick or damage blade edges and can make cutting more dangerous since the smooth surface provides less traction for the knife. While not recommended for use as a cutting surface, they make excellent decorative kitchen decor or serving pieces for entertaining.
Stone and glass boards usually have the surface area to hold a variety of foods, and you can use marker or pencil to label your treats. Stone and glass are simple to clean; most can go into the dishwasher, making them the best cutting boards for serving if you want a low-fuss but aesthetically pleasing option.
Cutting Board Safety
Cross-contamination happens when bacteria is passed from one type of food to another, specifically from raw animal products (seafood, meat or poultry) to cooked foods, fresh produce or baked goods. Preventing this is one of the main keys to maintaining a clean kitchen and preventing food-borne illness.
- Use separate cutting boards for poultry, seafood and meats.
- Fresh produce and baked items can occupy the same cutting board, but be sure the surface of the produce has been washed before cutting.
- Cutting boards used for raw proteins can be wood, plastic or bamboo, but any board should not be reused until it has been cleaned and sanitized.
Cleaning vs Sanitizing:
Cleaning removes soils or stains. Sanitizing reduces pathogens on surfaces. Both must be diligently employed with cutting boards to prevent cross contamination.
Cleaning and sanitizing follow a 4-step process:
- Clean the cutting board with hot, soapy water. Scrub the board on all cutting sides with a brush or medium cleaning pad to remove any traces of fats and oils that might sink into board grooves and prevent the soap from thoroughly cleaning.
- Briskly rinse the board with clean, running water.
- Sanitize the board with a bleach solution. Mix 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach into a gallon of water. Cover the surface of the board with the bleach solution and allow it to stand undisturbed for 5 to 7 minutes. Rinse the board with clear water.
- Allow the board to air dry thoroughly before putting it away. If needed, you can also pat the board dry with clean paper towels and reuse.
If allowed by manufacturer’s directions, acrylic and plastic cutting boards can be washed in the dishwasher. However, you should still clean and scrub the board before placing it in the dishwasher. Wooden and bamboo cutting boards should always be washed by hand.
Since a bamboo cutting board is harder than other woods boards, it resists knife grooves and does not absorb much moisture. Since it is more resistant to bacteria, sanitizing for a bamboo board is optional. Cleaning it with hot soapy water is usually sufficient. Periodic oiling helps it retain moisture.
Replace Worn Cutting Boards:
Once any cutting boards develops extensive scarring, it should be replaced. Wood boards and many plastics can be recycled. Check your local recycling program to see if your community offers a recycling program.
Cutting Board Storage
When storing cutting boards, place them in an area that is going to be handy when you prep food, close to counter space or a kitchen island if you have one. Make sure there is good air circulation in the storage area.
One advantage in cutting board storage is that boards can be stored in a number of ways that can save space.
Some cutting boards are sold with loops for hanging them up, and some wood cutting boards have holes that can be used for storage on hooks, which can be installed on a free wall or even alongside a cabinet. If a board does not have a pre-drilled hole, a drill fitted with a spade bit or Forstener bit can be used to create one.
Multiple cutting boards can be stored together in a bin or basket. A high-sided bin is useful for containing larger cutting boards, but even a low, decorative basket can be employed for countertop display. Place the container in such a way that the backsplash or a wall helps provide support for the boards.
Cutting board organizers are also commonly sold. You can usually find models that allow the boards to be stored vertically; these are useful if you have multiple sizes of cutting boards to be kept is a compact space. There are also organizers that store the boards flat. Both types normally have open sides to make sliding out and replacing the cutting boards easy.
Analyze your cooking and entertaining habits to determine which is the best cutting board material and the best cutting boards for you. In the end, you may find that you will collect a few different types of cutting boards in varying sizes to accommodate all your kitchen tasks and entertaining needs.