Cutting boards: Let’s cut to the chase, they can be big, small, made out of wood, plastic, glass…there are so many options how do we choose? Here is our quick guide to choosing the right cutting boards for your kitchen needs and how to care for them so they last longer.
Why do we need/use cutting boards in the kitchen? There are many reasons but here are two valuable ones: They help keep your knives from getting dull (although you should remember that all good kitchen knives should be sharpened regularly), and they provide a dedicated, easy surface to clean after food preparation. So how do you choose what’s best for your needs?
Size is a key factor. Bigger is usually better, so you are not struggling to keep all your food corralled into one place. Some newer, modern versions include prep bowls in the cutting board so you can simple slide your chopped items into handy little compartments for later use in your recipe.
If you are an omnivore (meaning you eat meat/dairy/fruit/veg) then you are likely going to want a variety of cutting boards (plastic and wood).
If you are a vegetarian/vegan you might only need or desire one type, but you might also dedicate specific cutting boards to specific food preparation (one for fruit, one for veg), or even for baking and pastries (think kneading bread on a nice large dedicated surface). Remember that fruit/veg can also carry bacteria, so choose boards that fit your lifestyle and are easy to keep sanitary.
Most original cutting boards were made out of wood so it’s not surprising that wood is the most popular choice in top kitchens. But not all wood cutting boards are created equal. The key is to find a cutting board made out of hardwood (typically Maple) that is difficult to damage, allowing the board to remain more sanitary and to last longer in the kitchen. Larger grain woods can easily split, allowing for bacteria to seep in and grow. Cost difference can vary between edge grain and end grain, general consensus is that end grain boards are going to be kinder to your knives and last longer, be heavier to lift, and cost more. While they are more difficult to damage (and supposedly “self-healing”) they can often be prone to warping. So you need to weigh the positives and negatives.
The other thing to consider when purchasing a wood cutting board is the maintenance. Wood cutting boards should be oiled regularly to prevent drying out, and there are a variety of liquid options for this: mineral oil, beeswax, coconut oil to name a few. The key is always to use food-safe materials to treat your boards. Check out this handy list of materials you can use and what to avoid.
If you are looking for an alternative to wood (and often a cheaper alternative), you might consider a bamboo cutting board. They are considered a grass, not a wood, but are typically just as durable due to the hardness of the material. But like wood, bamboo does also require oiling and regular cleaning and can be prone to warping just like wood boards, so consider the maintenance when purchasing.
Plastic is a great material for cutting boards for a few reasons. First, it tends to be a cheaper alternative to wood, and second, because it’s easy to toss in the dishwasher. Not up for the cost or the labor of regular seasoning of a cutting board (skip the wood) and pick up a good solid plastic cutting board.
The general consensus about plastic cutting boards are that they tend to be more sanitary for raw meat preparation and cross contamination of foods. While this may be true due to the ability to throw them in the dishwasher, recent food safety studies have shown that this may not be entirely true due to the ability to create deeper cut grooves in plastic where bacteria can grow.
It’s important to note too that some knives can do heavy damage to plastic boards. So keep an eye out for plastic stuck to your butcher’s knife when breaking down a whole chicken, and be sure to replace them regularly when they show signs of significant wear.
We won’t spend much time on glass cutting boards except to say this. While they can be easy to clean, durable, and typically dishwasher safe, they are also a good way to ruin your knives. So if you’ve got a favorite chef’s knife you want to cherish for a long time, best to avoid these types of boards and opt for either plastic or wood.
A few cleaning tips:
Look no further than your kitchen cabinets or fridge for some easy ways to keep your cutting boards clean. White vinegar will act as a great disinfectant killing off bacteria like E.Coli, just keep a spray bottle of it on your counter for regular use. Baking soda (which is magical for many reasons) is also a great tool for removing stains (hello beets!) from your boards. After cleaning and drying, sprinkle baking soda on the board surface and scrub with hot water. Voila! Clean boards. Lastly, are your cutting boards just too stinky? Lemons to rescue. Check out this simple lemon and salt method for keeping your cutting boards smelling fresh.