- The best cutting board material is one that can be easily cleaned, and doesn’t damage or dull knives.
- Common options for cutting board material are wood, plastic, rubber, and bamboo.
- Wood cutting boards are superior for their hard-wearing and self-healing properties, and their ability to preserve a knife edge.
When the first cutting board was made, or hacked rather, from a sturdy tree log by our culinary cavemen ancestors, they were simply utilizing what they had on hand. As it turns out, what they had on hand is still the best material to make cutting boards from today.
There are, of course, other options available. New materials have since been developed for kitchen use, with the most common being plastic.
But for the most part, wooden cutting boards remain the best when it comes to food preparation. Read on for everything you need to know about this natural material and why it’s still a cut above the rest.
When you think of doing kitchen work, you imagine a smooth, sterile surface. The shiny metal of your favorite frying pan, the crystal clear glass of a mixing bowl. You wouldn’t expect wood, with its natural grain and porous surface, to have a proper place in the kitchen. But it does.
What happens when hard material comes into contact with other hard material? Clinking, chipping, and inevitably, breakage.
Of course, heavily-used kitchen equipment like cookware and knives take the brunt of the work and must be built tough enough to tackle the tasks at hand. However, anything that comes into contact with these shouldn’t be as hard. The perfect complementary material would be something dense but with a slight yield, something that would withstand daily use but not damage a knife’s blade — it would be something like wood.
There are many types of wood and many benefits to using wood as a cutting board surface. Not only is it naturally strong and hard-wearing, some wooden boards even exhibit self-healing properties against constant knife cutting. The grain and fibers tend to close back up. Plus, wooden cutting boards are beautiful.
Wood vs. Plastic
The runner-up in cutting board material is plastic. The two types of plastic most common in the kitchen are high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA) — with both being tough enough to cut on but still gentle enough on knives.
Plastic cutting boards are also comparatively lighter, more affordable, and available in a wide array of colors (a preference for cooks who like to color-code their boards to prevent cross-contamination). They are also easy to sanitize, as HDPE and PVA can tolerate most food-safe cleaning solutions, long periods of soaking time, and cycles in the dishwasher.
However, plastic does have a few shortcomings. When the material is cut, it stays cut — leaving open areas where bacteria can easily enter and fester. So while plastic boards may offer an easier surface-level cleanup at first, they are more prone to retaining dirt, stains, and smells with every use, which actually makes them harder to clean in the long run.
The lighter, thinner construction of most plastic cutting boards can also create an unstable work surface. The last thing you want while wielding a sharp knife and fresh ingredients is a precarious, lightweight cutting board.
Compared to wood, plastic is also a bit harder on kitchen knives. While there have been a few new materials that claim to offer a softer cutting surface, these are not yet the standard among plastic boards and the new materials may even wear down quicker. (When buying a plastic cutting board, always make sure you get one that's NSF-compliant and FDA approved.)
Wood vs. Rubber
You’ve probably seen a few rubber cutting boards in open-kitchen restaurants or on cooking shows. These are the thick, dull beige-colored boards that are becoming more and more common in professional kitchens.
Rubber is able to simulate the same properties as wood, being heavyweight and durable, yet gentle enough to retain a knife’s cutting edge. The material is also known to have similar self-healing properties. Furthermore, rubber boards are low maintenance, can hold up against most food-safe cleaning solutions, and are oftentimes dishwasher-safe.
However, rubber does melt. It can’t be used under a hot serving dish or as a serving platter — not that its industrial appearance invites you to do so. And with a rubber cutting board being about the same price as the original wooden variety, most home cooks are better off with a high-quality wooden cutting board.
Wood vs. Bamboo
Contrary to what most may think, bamboo is actually not a wood but a really hard grass. It’s actually harder and less porous than most hardwoods, falling somewhere in between walnut and maple. (On the Janka scale, an industry-wide standard that measures the hardness of wood, bamboo is 1,380, while walnut is 1,010 and maple is 1,450.)
The natural density of bamboo produces a cutting board that’s highly resistant to scarring and absorbing liquid, which means it’s less likely to harbor bacteria.
Furthermore, bamboo is a highly renewable resource and makes a beautiful board. If you have a bamboo board in your kitchen, it can serve as a handy cheese board or appetizer tray.
Wood vs. Glass or Marble
There a lot of photos floating around online moodboards that feature a seed-crusted loaf, some soft white cheese, and fresh seasonal berries on a beautiful marble board — so beautiful, in fact, that you might feel inclined to go out and get yourself a marble board of your own. Don’t.
If you’ve ever tried slicing something on a glass or marble board (or been near someone who has), you probably realized that these materials are not meant to become cutting boards. The unpleasant clanking sound is enough to know your knife is getting duller with every cut. Plus, the slick surface makes it all too easy for your knife or hands to slip. And lifting a large marble board from cupboard to counter? Forget it.
That being said, glass or marble boards do have their purpose — which is to act as a serving tray or a cold surface for rolling dough. They should never (ever!) be used for cutting.
When properly cared for, however, glass and marble boards are very attractive pieces to have in the house and can last a lifetime.
Proper Care for Your Wooden Cutting Board
Even if you decide to maintain more than one chopping board, at least one of them should be wood. Not only is it a functional and beautiful kitchen tool, it can also last a lifetime if properly maintained.
The best way to clean a wood board is to scrape off all remaining food residue from the surface after each use. Then, simply hand wash with warm water and soap, and leave out to completely air-dry. Wooden cutting boards should not be submerged in water and should definitely not be cleaned in the dishwasher.
When you notice the wood becoming a bit dry — usually every few months — give the entire surface a good wipe down with food-grade mineral oil. Refrain from using food-based oil, like vegetable oil or walnut oil, as these have a tendency to go rancid. This regular maintenance will ensure your wooden cutting board remains splinter-, odor-, and stain-free.
Not many products today are made from the same material as the initial prototype. Wood, however, still proves to make the best cutting boards. It’s naturally dense, durable, and gives just the right amount of pliability to retain a kitchen knife’s cutting edge.
Furthermore, wood is a naturally-grown, organic material that can be easily carved and shaped into the ideal cutting board for any kitchen.