If you cook, you cut stuff. Unless you’re willing to ruin your countertops, you need a cutting board. What is the best cutting board? Not too long ago, you had a choice only of what kind of wood to get. Then, plastic cutting boards came along, followed even more recently by bamboo. So how do you choose?
Cutting boards must have a surface that’s hard enough that your knives won’t damage it and soft enough that it won’t damage your knives. When you’re finished with your cutting board, you have to wash it. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of these three cutting board materials.
Wood cutting boards
Avoid cheap wood or wood composite cutting boards. When my parents redesigned their kitchen, they got a cutting board that conveniently slides under the counter.
They could pull it part way out for quick cutting jobs or all the way out to put it on the counter or kitchen table. It’s very convenient and seemed like a neat feature at the time, but the years haven’t been kind to it.
No more than an inch or so thick and basically a single hardwood board, its surface soon became a crazy web of nicks and cut marks and some gouges.
Every Christmas we made Chinese food. We needed every cutting board in the house for all the chopping. So that one got heavy use. I hate to think of how unsanitary it became.
Nowadays, you can find cutting boards made from particle board with a hardwood veneer. Most of them are no better, eventually giving off sawdust as you cut. There might be some wood composite cutting boards that hold up better, but they’re generally the least desirable of all the choices.
A good wood cutting board will be hardwood (most likely maple) and have the end-grain as the cutting surface. That means that the entire board will comprise lots of pieces of wood glued together. It will hold up under any kind of knife, including pounding it with a cleaver, but after a while, it’s likely to split along a glue line.
You can’t put this kind of wood cutting board in the dishwasher or even submerge it for very long in the sink unless you want it to fall apart quickly. After hand washing and oiling it, you cannot depend on having washed off all the bacteria. Make sure it has dried thoroughly before using it again.
Plastic cutting boards
Enter plastic. Plastic cutting boards are much lighter than wood and impervious to water. You can put them in the dishwasher without fear.
The light weight can be a disadvantage, though. Many of the thinnest, lightest ones can skid around the counter as you try to cut something on them.
Every store that carries cutting boards at all probably offers quite a selection of thin plastic cutting boards, with little feet on them to keep them raised a little above the counter. Eventually, one by one, the feet fall off.
I have seen really thick plastic cutting boards, though. They make up for that problem––if they’ll still fit in the dishwasher. Plastic reputedly has one other big advantage over wood: it seems to be easier to wash all the bacteria off, making a plastic cutting board more sanitary than a wood one.
The main problem with plastic is that, unfortunately, it’s plastic. At least it’s not single use plastic.
Consider the environmental hazards in drilling for oil, transporting it, and manufacturing plastic with it. More than that, plastic is biologically indestructible. If a plastic cutting board breaks, it is not recyclable. It will sit in a landfill for thousands of years, contributing to leachate that will have to be collected and processed to keep it from polluting ground water.
Bamboo cutting boards
Bamboo, the new kid on the block, is as durable as wood and has environmental advantages over either wood or plastic.
It is 16% harder than maple, but it’s not wood at all. It’s a grass. It grows like a weed without much human intervention. Harvesting bamboo doesn’t kill the plant, and a harvested culm will grow back ready for reharvesting in a few years.
It takes at least three years; for higher quality products it is better to wait for four or four and a half years. Hardwood, on the other hand, must be replanted and it takes at least 30 years, maybe as much as 60, before the new tree is big enough to harvest.
The best advantage of bamboo as a cutting board is its naturally antimicrobial properties. When you wash a bamboo cutting board you need not be as concerned with getting all the germs off, because the bamboo itself will kill them before you even start to wash it.
Like the high-quality maple cutting boards described earlier, bamboo cutting boards still needs to be hand washed, and for the same reasons. They will benefit from occasional oiling.
Like the maple cutting boards, bamboo has superior feel and durability compared to plastic. For people who care about the environment as much as they do the quality of the products they buy, bamboo is the material of choice for the best cutting boards.