- Cutting boards are usually made of wood, plastic, or rubber.
- You should have at least two cutting boards — one for produce and one for raw meats.
- The best cutting board depends on the size of your kitchen, the dishes you like to cook, and how much time you’re willing to put into cleaning and maintenance.
Say, you’re outfitting your new kitchen. Aside from the more heavy-duty equipment, like an oven and microwave, you’ve added a trusty set of knives and all the essential cookware to cart. You’ve even thrown some oven mitts and a cute apron into the mix.
Now you’re home and ready to break in your new buys with a delicious dinner. Except you can’t — you don’t have anything to prep on. You don’t have a cutting board.
It's easy to overlook cutting boards. Even when you have one, it’s usually covered in ingredients, passed over on the way to the stove, and then quickly rinsed off until the next use. If your kitchen were a movie set, the cutting board wouldn't be the lead or even the co-star — it would be the supporting cast.
And like a good cast member, a good cutting board is one that’s stable, reliable, and long-lasting. In the following sections, we’ll go over everything you need to know — from material to size to usage — in order to find a cutting board that works for you.
Choose Your Cutting Board Material
Cutting boards come in three major materials — wood (including bamboo), plastic, and hard rubber. There are also marble and glass cutting boards, but these are really only for serving food or rolling dough. Such hard surfaces will wreak havoc on kitchen knives and are much too slippery to do any real cutting on. They are therefore not included in the list below.
Wood is used to make the most traditional cutting boards or chopping boards. Its natural material is gentle on knives and even exhibits self-healing properties, which means surface cuts tend to close and won’t leave scars as easily.
The best boards are made from hard, tight-grained wood — specifically, anything that falls between 900-1,500 on the Janka scale (which ranks wood by its hardness). A few popular examples are maple, walnut, cherry, and bamboo boards.
Bamboo cutting boards are technically not wood, but a hard grass. It's actually harder than many varieties of wood but is high in silica, which makes it resistant to water and scratches.
Wooden cutting boards are further divided into edge-grain or end-grain. Edge-grain boards have a stripe-like pattern, made by placing small planks of wood on their edges and pressure-gluing them together. Edge-grain boards are not as thick or strong as end-grain boards, and therefore, cost significantly less. However, this makes them much easier to use and store in the kitchen.
End-grain boards, on the other hand, have a distinct checkerboard pattern. This is formed by gluing several small blocks of wood together with the cut sides facing up. The vertical wood fibers makes the board’s cutting surface extremely durable and hard-wearing. But end-grain boards are thicker and more expensive than other cutting boards.
The nature of wood, however, is porous and not as simple to clean as plastic or rubber varieties. It has to be hand-washed (absolutely no dishwashing) and periodically oiled to keep it from chipping or cracking.
Use a food-grade mineral oil, beeswax, or fractionated coconut oil. Refrain from using natural oils, such as vegetable, corn, olive, peanut, or walnut oil, as these are rich in fat and have the tendency to go rancid and result in a foul-smelling board. Regular oiling — about once or twice a year — will prevent the wood from holding on to moisture and odor.
The majority of plastic cutting boards are made from either high density polyethylene or polypropylene. The surface is opaque, bright white, and usually has a slightly rough texture to prevent knives from slipping.
Plastic is popular for being relatively inexpensive and easy to clean. Because the boards can withstand long exposure to water, they are dishwasher safe and can be thoroughly cleaned with either boiling water or a sanitizing solution. This makes them suitable for raw meats and highly aromatic ingredients. They can also come in handy if anyone in your household has specific food allergies.
Plastic boards come in an assortment of colors. Aside from adding a little color to your cooking experience, this is something professionals prefer as a way to easily prevent cross-contamination. The cutting boards can be color-coded according to use — one for meat and poultry, one for seafood, one for vegetables, etc.
However, plastic cutting boards do scar much quicker than wood boards. In time, a microscopic web of cuts and cracks will begin to form on the surface, making it increasingly difficult to clean and more prone to collecting germs. When it comes to the point where you can't wash away the little lines on the cutting board — or worse, it begins to snag on kitchen towels — it's time to get a new cutting board.
Rubber boards are more common in restaurants and commercial kitchens (specifically the Sani-Tuff brand). While this makes them a little harder to find, more and more home cooks are starting to recognize the benefits of a rubber cutting board.
Rubber boards bring together the best of both wooden and plastic variants — they have the durability and resilience of wood, but the easy maintenance of plastic. Rubber carries a good weight (available in 0.5, 0.75, and 1-inch thicknesses), is odor-resistant, and doesn’t crack, slip, or dull a knife’s cutting edge.
So if you don’t mind the material’s dull, industrial beige color, hard rubber boards are another good option.
Things to Keep in Mind When Buying a Cutting Board
Once you know your cutting board material of choice, you’re more than halfway done with your decision. The other factors are mostly a matter of design, thickness, size, and the like. While these are mostly personal, there are a few things to take note of.
The Ideal Thickness
It’s common to think that the thicker the board, the better. And while it’s true that thicker boards are oftentimes sturdier, more stable, and less prone to warping, it also depends greatly on the material. A thinner board of higher quality wood or plastic will wear better than a thicker board made of lower quality material. That being said, it’s generally safe to stick with a board that’s at least 1-inch thick for wood and 0.5-inches thick for plastic.
Aside from high-quality material and a sturdy construction, there’s no need for much else in a good cutting board. Some come with extra design elements, like fancy rubber grips and tiny feet to elevate the board or prevent it from slipping. Not only are these unnecessary, they add to the cleaning process and take away from the cutting board’s overall use. A basic board can be used on either side, and functions as a reversible cutting board. Boards with those extra features, however, are only able to be used on one side.
And if you’re interested in the non-slip aspect, the same thing can be accomplished by placing a damp paper towel or dishcloth between the cutting board and the counter.
The More, The Merrier
The average home kitchen needs at least two cutting boards: one for fruits, vegetables, and general produce, and another for beef, poultry, fish, and other raw meats.
The majority of food-borne illnesses and food poisoning are caused by cross-contamination. When ingredients aren’t handled properly, you run the risk of having harmful bacteria transfer from food to food, and surface to surface. Just the thought of slicing a loaf of sourdough on the same surface you used to chopped chicken breasts is enough to make stomachs turn.
Many cooks will also discover that having cutting boards in different sizes is also useful — a larger board for more complicated, complete dishes (preparing jambalaya, soups, or stew), and a smaller board for quick jobs (chopping chili or slicing lemons).
With so many different ingredients and foods that need chopping, it's best to have a variety of cutting boards at your disposal.
The Best Cutting Board for Your Needs
Like every other kitchen tool, cutting boards require proper usage, care, and storage. And since this duty falls into the hands of most home cooks, it’s good to look for one that best suits your needs. The following are some things to consider when looking for a new cutting board.
Select a Shape and Size
If you’re cooking daily, your cutting board is likely left on the counter or propped up against the kitchen wall. This makes it more important to choose one that suits your space.
While cutting boards come in all shapes and sizes, most standard ones are large and rectangular. If you have the choice (and kitchen counter space), get one as large as possible — one that’s at least 10x17 inches.
A generous surface area makes it easier and safer to work. Not only will you have extra elbow room as you chop, a spacious board can easily hold those piles of minced garlic and sliced onions while you finish the rest of your prep.
High or Low Maintenance
The type of cutting board you buy will dictate how you need to care for it. If you don’t mind a little hand-washing and occasional maintenance, you may enjoy having a wood cutting board. Wood is a beautiful addition to any kitchen and can last years, as long as it’s properly maintained.
After each use, hand-wash your wood board with warm water and soap, and leave it in an open space to air-dry. Once or twice a year (or whenever you notice the wood getting a bit too dry), apply a layer of food-grade mineral oil to the surface and let it sink in overnight.
While some enjoy personally caring for their kitchen tools, others would rather have a quicker clean-up. These kinds of cooks are better suited to plastic or rubber cutting boards. These materials can be cleaned in the dishwasher (although it’s still advised to give them a good rinse and scrub beforehand). Just remember to remove your cutting boards from the dishwasher before the drying cycle, as this can cause any material to warp.
Whether you’re cleaning your board by hand or in the dishwasher, leave them to stand and completely air-dry before placing them back in storage.
Do you prepare a lot of salads and sandwiches, or do you prefer to sear up some steaks and seafood? The meals you enjoy cooking can point you to the best cutting board for your needs.
Wooden cutting boards are perfect for all kinds of produce — from soft fruits to hard vegetables — as their sturdy surface can handle stronger, repeated cuts. Plus, wood works well for ready-to-eat food, like sandwiches or cheeses, as its natural, rustic appearance transitions smoothly from prep station to serving platter.
Other ingredients, like raw meat and poultry or even intensely aromatic vegetables and herbs, are better off being prepared on a plastic board. Plastic can be more thoroughly disinfected and sanitized, using a number of cleaning methods.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend?
The cost of a cutting board can range from under $10 to a few thousand dollars. Most of the ones suitable for home cooks, of course, fall somewhere in between. A good-size, good-quality wooden cutting board is usually priced anywhere from $50-150 each. These are a good investment, as wooden boards are not only beautiful and useful, but with the proper care and maintenance, they can last a lifetime.
Plastic is generally the most affordable material with most being well under $50 apiece. Furthermore, plastic varieties are frequently sold in cutting board sets of three to four, with various sizes and colors.
Rubber cutting boards are in a similar price range as wood and are oftentimes even more expensive. They’re usually sold per piece and in a notably more limited selection.
A Cut Above
Depending on the size of your kitchen, your preference for cooking, and your capacity for clean up, there are a number of great cutting board options out there. Just remember that it’s best to buy more than one cutting board and make sure to use them for their intended purpose.