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August 12, 2021 — 15:06 PM
For something so simple, cutting boards can be contentious. Ask any chef or serious home cook and they’ll have their own opinions about the type of material and board build that’s best. We reached out to professional chefs to cut through the controversy and get to the heart of what makes a great prep surface. Here are the five things they always look for, and 10 boards that fit the bill:
First, a primer on materials. Most cutting boards are made from either wood (maple, cherry, walnut), bamboo (which is actually a fast-growing grass), or a synthetic material like plastic or rubber. But is one better than the other? Well, all the chefs we polled prefer working with wood or bamboo boards.
There are a few points in these boards’ favor: For one, they have a softer and more supple surface than plastic, which makes them gentler on knives. Wood and bamboo are naturally antimicrobial materials, and they tend to be more resistant to scratches that can trap harmful germs.
But while these boards tend to get less dirty, they’re more laborious to clean. Since you can’t put them in the dishwasher, this means you need to be more diligent about cleaning them right away—especially if you’re working with raw meat or pungent flavors like garlic and onion. (Wood boards also retain more water and hold on to smells longer than synthetics.) You also need to treat your wood board with oil every so often to make sure it’s well-sealed.
They definitely require more maintenance, which celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon, C.N., CHC, CHN, says isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Though somewhat time-consuming, I look at these activities as ways to cultivate a certain type of energy in my kitchen,” Poon tells mbg. “Taking time to care for your kitchen can make your food feel more nourishing and full of love.”
Finally, while wood boards tend to be heavier and more cumbersome; they’re also more aesthetically pleasing than most plastic or rubber surfaces.
Most people who spend a lot of time cooking will use wood as their everyday standby cutting board but also keep a synthetic, lightweight board nearby for quick cleanup after handling smelly or bacteria-prone ingredients. Both of them have a time and a place in the kitchen.
Components of a great board:
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No matter what material of board you’re working with, Eric Adjepong, Top Chef contestant and co-founder of Pinch & Plate says you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t slip and slide around your counter, which can make cutting difficult and potentially dangerous. Look for a board that has a stopper on the bottom so it stays locked in place, or place a kitchen towel under your board in a pinch.
Boards that serve more than one function can be great, especially for people with smaller kitchens or minimal storage. Whether it’s pretty enough to double as a serving platter or topped off with a built-in knife sharpener or juice groove, looking for a board that has added functionality is usually a smart move.
On that note, reversible boards give you two prep stations in one. Abra Berens, a Michigan-based chef, farmer, and author of Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes, says that reversible boards can also keep all your food from tasting like garlic.
“One cutting board trick of the trade is to mark one side for onion and garlic and the other for everything else. This keeps your tomatoes and strawberries from picking up any off-flavors by virtue of the surface,” she tells mbg. “You can have that side branded with a fancy label; I just write “Onion/Garlic Only” on one side with a permanent marker.”
Larger boards give you more space to work, which Berens says is essential: “I’m always looking for a cutting board that is big enough to work on an entire project. Small cutting boards are great for presenting appetizers or side dishes, but for prepping, give me an actual surface!” She recommends boards that are at least 18 by 24 inches—large enough to hold multiple piles of ingredients at once.
Finally, you’ll want to go with a board that will last you a while. “I value craftsmanship and high-quality wood that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and will provide a smooth surface to handle any knife with grace,” says holistic chef Kristin Cole. When properly maintained, woods like maple, cherry, and walnut should be solid kitchen companions for at least five to 10 years.
On top of that, Adjepong adds that it’s important to look for a wood board that’s well-sealed. “Number one in a good cutting board: It shouldn’t be porous at all,” he tells mbg. You need to regularly seal your board at home using oil, but it should have a tight seal to begin with, too.
Best wood: John Boos Reversible Maple Board 24 x 18 x 1.5
Cole has been using this reversible maple cutting board from legacy brand John Boos in her kitchen for over 15 years. “It’s made knife work an absolute joy,” she says. At 24 by 18 inches, the durable board is generously sized and heavy enough not to slip around counters. Made of North American Hard Rock Maple, it’s also resistant to knife scarring and is naturally antibacterial.
John Boos Reversible Maple Board ($127.95)
Best bamboo: Totally Bamboo Big Easy Chopping Block
In his home kitchen, David Atherton, Great British Bakeoff winner and author of the upcoming cookbook Good To Eat, opts for a large bamboo board. “I’d like to say it is purely for its eco-credentials (which are considerable), but they’re also so affordable,” he tells mbg. This option from Totally Bamboo offers plenty of prep space and nonskid feet for minimal slippage. Though it’s not reversible, it’s designed to double as a lightweight serving platter. Not bad for under $70.
Totally Bamboo Big Easy Chopping Block ($69.99)
Best plastic: OXO Good Grips Prep Cutting Board
Just because this plastic board is inexpensive doesn’t mean it’s cheap! With nearly 1,000 5-star reviews on Amazon, the reversible OXO model gets high marks for its durability and stain resistance. It’s also a breeze to clean, making it perfect for smaller cutting jobs that you don’t want to break out the big board for.
OXO Good Grips Prep Cutting Board ($11.97)
Best for meal prep: Food 52 Five Two Bamboo Cutting Board
“I love the Food52 cutting board that was designed after consulting with hundreds of home cooks,” raves functional food expert Kanchan Koya, Ph.D. “It’s made with bamboo, which is antimicrobial, sustainable, and water-resistant, and it has these incredible grooves to collect liquid as you chop and even pour into your recipe once you’re done cutting! Totally genius.” At less than $60, this one’s also an affordable option for the home cook.
Food 52 Five Two Bamboo Cutting Board ($59)
Best small board: Public Goods Small Eco-Friendly Cutting Board
This board is made from a unique blend of paper and wood fibers, making it the best of both worlds: It’s scratch-resistant and gentle on knives but also dishwasher safe. Lightweight with silicone corners for stabilizing, it’s a great board to stow away in the cabinet until you need to chop something small that you’d rather not mix with the rest of your food, like onions, garlic, or hot peppers.
Public Goods Small Eco-Friendly Cutting Board ($29)
Best design: Recycled Large Cutting Board
These boards from Instagram-friendly home goods company Pattern are downright dreamy. Made from 100% recycled plastic, each one has its own unique marble finish. They come in two sizes and colorways and can double as beautiful serving platters and backsplash displays.
Pattern Recycled Small Cutting Board ($85)
Best for meat: JK Adams Pro Edge Maple Carving and Prep Board
Get those carving tools ready: This maple board from JK Adams is perfect for cutting meats and large braises due to a built-in juice groove, pour spout, and knife sharpener. It also features a slot for your phone or tablet if you’re cooking from virtual recipes.
JK Adams Pro Edge Maple Carving and Prep Board ($85)
Best multipurpose: Crate & Barrel Teak Root Wedge Reclaimed Wood Serving Board
Made from reclaimed wood, each of these boards has its own unique shape and grain structure. Well sealed and finished, they’re incredibly multipurpose, with reviewers using them for everything from tabletop decorations to wall hangings, cheese boards, and of course, light chopping stations.
Crate & Barrel Teak Root Wedge Reclaimed Wood Serving Board ($34.95)
Crate & Barrel
Best budget: Greener Chef Extra Large Bamboo Cutting Board
This board from Greener Chef ticks all the boxes: It’s made from knife-friendly bamboo, reversible with grooves on one side, large enough for multiple ingredients but still lightweight, and treated to be scratch-resistant and nonporous. And at $13.99, it’s a total steal.
Greener Chef Extra Large Bamboo Cutting Board ($13.99)
Best reversible: Catskill Craftsmen Hardwood Reversible Cutting Board
This thick yellow birch slab features finger grooves for easy flipping and reversing. With two sides of durable, well-sealed wood, it can handle all your cutting needs and also function as a pretty circular tray.
Catskill Craftsmen Hardwood Reversible Cutting Board ($86.99)