What to consider when buying a cutting board

Ease of use

Cutting Board

Cutting Board, Photo credit: jamesonf on Flickr

When thinking of buying a good cutting board, ease of use should be on of your top priorities, along with durability and sanitizing. First, consider ease of use. There are many questions to answer.

  • Where will you be using your cutting board? How big are your counters? 
  • Where will you store it? Is it a big or small space? Store it in a very accessible place that has plenty of room for the cutting board.
  • How strong are you? And how tall are you? Your cutting board should not be too heavy for you to move around several times a day, otherwise you won't use it. Likewise, if your perfect storage space is just beyojnd your reach, find a new storage space!
  • How big is your sink? You will have to clean your cutting board after every use, so it has to fit in your sink, or at least part of it, so you can scrub without making a mess all over your kitchen.
  • Will you be using your board as a server? If so, style may be important.
  • Will the cutting board be on display? Again, style will be an important consideration.
  • What shape do you prefer - square or rectangular or oval or something whimsical? 

What else to keep in mind

Durability and Bacteria

Once you've answered all those questions, you need to consider durability and sanitation. Thining about these two factors may help you answer the last question: What kind of board do you prefer? Wooden, plastic, glass, bamboo, or epoxy? 

For those of you like me, who chop a lot of vegetables, a thick hardwood board is very durable and with proper care (see below) should last years and years. If a wooden board gets badly scarred, so the bacteria have more places to hide, just sand it down. Bamboo is a great choice - more easily renewable resource and you maintain them just like maple. Unfortunately, bamboo is not as durable, so you will need to replace bamboo boards, whereas s good thick hardwood will porbably last a lifetime.

Drip Dry

Drip Dry Photo credit: Christopher Hsia on Flickr

It's also useful to have a few of the virtually disposable plastic ones around for quick jobs or when you are cutting many items, like for holiday feasts or family celebrations. One caveat is to replace these every few months, once they are scarred with knife marks, bacteria have too many places to thrive.

Finally, a separate board just for raw meats is necessary. Don't take a chance on cross-contamination, keep raw meat and its juices separate from all other food you are preparing! I, along iwth many others, used to think that plastic boards were best for this - just pop it in the dishwasher and go. Scientists have discovered, however, that it is easier to recover live bacteria from a cut in plastic than from a cut in wood.[5979] As an aside, glass cutting boards are easy to sanitize and don't mar easily - so they don't harbor unfriendly pathogens. Unfortunately, galss boards are horrendous for knives - they dull the blade so quickly. I also don't recommend them because they are too loud, especially with lots of chopping, not to mention prone to chipping.

Proper Care

4 easy steps to maintaining your cutting boards

Cutting boards, especially wooden ones, need proper care.

  1. Never put your cutting boards in the dishwasher, unless they are made of heat-resistant material and clearly specificy that they are dishwasher-safe. Otherwise, you'll end up with warped wood or melted plastic, a real nightmare to clean up.
  2. After each use, sanitize your plastic boards with a bleach solution or by running through the dishwasher (see point #1). All of your cutting boards need this treatment, even the one you use just for bread or fruits and vegetables; salmonella or other pathogenic microorganisms are found on more than just raw meat and eats. For example, norovirus, which causes 70,000 hospitalizations a year is most commonly found on lettuce and fruit.[5977] So, sanitize!!! One quart of water with 1/2 tsp beach will do the trick. Spray the board with the bleach solution, sprinkle some salt on it, scrub, rinse with warm water, and dry.
  3. To clean your wooden boards, don't bleach. Chemicals in the wood react with the bleach to make it virtually useless. Clean your wooden board after every use by scribbing with a wet soapy cloth, rinsing, and letting it dry completely. If there are any pathogens left, they will die within a few hours with no moisture or other substrate to feed on. Once a week, throughly clean it, using Alton Brown's method[5979]: scatter salt over it and use a lemon half to scrub the salt into the surface (or vinegar if you have no lemons), wipe off the salt with a soft cloth and let it dry. As I mentioned earlier, if your board gets heavily scarred, sand it down to get rid of bacteria-loving grooves.
  4. Finally, every two weeks (or more), wipe down your wooden boards with food grade mineral oil. Put some mineral oil on a soft cloth and gently rub it into the surface. This will condition the wood and prevent it from cracking. If you follow these steps, your cutting boards should last for years.

Which Cutting Board Should you Buy?

My suggestions

With all that in mind, here are ten good cutting boards available at Amazon.

  1. John Boos 24-by-18-by-2-1/4-Inch Reversible Maple Cutting Board - If I were to buy a new cutting board today, it would be this, since I love maple. Its thickness (2 1/4 inches) also matters to me. After time, my boards absorb the sulfur-containing chemicals in onions and garlic, and my fresh bread can pick them up even if I cut the bread on the reverse side. A thicker board makes a bigger barrier. John Boos also carries maple boards in a variety of sizes and thicknesses.
  2. Catskill Craftmen super slab - This is even thicker, 3" of hardwood, and square, if you prefer that shape. this board, like the other hardwoods I list (#1 and #3) will be a lifetime investment. A great choice, although a bit pricey ($104 as of December 1, 2012).
  3. Ironwood Gourmet Acacia-Wood 14-Inch Chef's Board - Acacia is hard and durable, and a little less money than #1 and #2. If you like the look of dark wood with golden highlights and style is an important consideration, this is an excellent choice. Ironwood Gourmet has other sizes available besides this square one.
  4. Core Bamboo Cutting Boards, 3 Piece Set - An inexpensive option ($14.99 for 3 boards, as of December 1, 2012). My bamboo caveat: you will have to replace it after a few years. Because bamboo is softer, it will eventually develop too many knife-grooves that harbor bacteria.
  5. OXO Good Grips Cutting Board, Black, 7.5-inch by 10.5-inch - This is a great, dishwasher safe choice, made of polypropylene, which is strong enough to resist marring from knives. It will last for a long time and sanitizing is easy. It is a good deal at $8.99 (as of December 1, 2012).
  6. Architec Gripper 5 by 7-Inch Cutting Board - This litte guy is perfect for small spaces. Keep it in your small kitchen cabinet, the timeshare condo, picnic basket, camping gear, RV, or have it around for the little chefs in your life. It is dishwasher safe in a range of colors - green, red, yellow, and white.
  7. Norpro Flexible Cutting Boards, Set of 3 - Here's one choice of the flexible disposable boards. The set has three colors - so you can use the green one for veggies, etc. The price comes in at less than $2/board (as of Deember 1, 2012).
  8. MIU Flexible Cutting Board, Set of 5 - Another good choice with 5 boards for $10 (as of December 1, 2012).
  9. J.K. Adams 14-Inch-by-9-Inch Maple Wood Cutting Board, Pig-Shaped - This one reminds me of the bread board we used in chidlhood. One of my four brothers made a pig-shaped cutting board in wood shop class. There was another animal, too, a cow, perhaps, but the pig stayed on the table for everyday use. J.K. Adams also has other shapes, too, like boats, shells, whales, and roosters.
  10. Naturally Med Olive Wood Chopping /Cutting /Cheese Board - If I were buying a new cheese board, it would be one of these beautiful olive wood ones, cut in natural shapes. I might even consider propping it on the counter for decor. It's big enough for serving a variety of cheeses. Of course, you could use it for other things besides cheese.