Kitchen Tool of the Week: Cutting Boards

In yet another discussion of cooking subjects which seem to be too simple to discuss, I present: cutting boards. Outside of pots and pans, cutting boards are one of the few items in the kitchen where it makes sense to have several different sizes of essentially the same product. I'm somewhat challenged to make a specific recommendation for a cutting board, especially once I saw that offers over 3500 cutting boards. Who would've guessed that?

Here are a few things to consider when considering cutting boards:
  • There's only one mistake you can make in buying a cutting board: getting a glass one. My mother-in-law had one built into her 1970's era kitchen countertop. Not only was it ineffective, it was almost dangerous. A knife blade could easily slide sideways once it reached the hard glass surface. At a minimum such a board will make a sharp knife dull more quickly than plastic or wood.
  • What people know of as 'butcher block" style boards are made of end-grain, instead of the long grain dimension of a piece of wood. End grain is very durable, and will better resist warping, but at a price. Expect to pay 2-3 times or more for an end grain board.
  • I have seen boards for sale made of ironwood. It's a dramatically figured, very dark grained wood. However, serious woodworkers tend to avoid working with it because it dulls tools so quickly (it's called ironwood with good reason). So I'd avoid it in the kitchen, as it will likely dull you knife more quickly than other woods or plastics.
  • Bamboo has become popular and is usually inexpensive. Depending on the quality of the brand, bamboo boards may need to be rubbed with vegetable oil during the first few months, to keep the board for getting brittle and splintering slightly.
  • Acacia and Sheesam (Indian Rosewood) are sustainable woods now being used for cutting boards. Each has a rich brown color with very attractive contrasting light brown grain pattern.
  • Studies have shown plastic and wood cutting boards to be roughly equivalent in regard to retaining bacteria. Far more important is how well you clean up your boards and avoiding cross contamination while actively cooking. Multiple boards are the best option. For example, prepare poultry on one board, reserving a different board for vegetable prep. There are sets of multi-colored boards in which you reserve board for different food types. An excellent choice for the anal-retentive cooks out there.
  • Only a few wood boards are diswasher safe.
  • A number of cutting boards now come with non-slip grips of some sort. I think the grips wear out before the board does. I have one, we'll see. A damp paper towel placed under a cutting board will anchor it in place nicely, and helps clean up your counter when you're done cooking.
I recommend having about 3-4 sizes on hand, and a few more of the mid-sized ones for times when you might be "cooking up a storm". Here are what I think every kitchen should have:

  1. One or two everyday cutting boards that range around 10x16 to 18x24 (inches)
  2. I really like having a bar board, about 5x7 or 6x9 for quick jobs (and, of course, the bar).
  3. A huge pastry board is needed, unless you have stone countertops which work even better
  4. One good sized board with channels around the edges to collect meat juices. Instrumental for carving.
You can spend over $150 for a high end butcher block style board, or $1000+ for a free standing butcher block. Functionally, I've only had one "cheap" board ever disappoint me (slight warping). So the price tag is primarily related to aesthetics.
As for me....wood or plastic? I have some of each. I use them interchangeably. I use the plastic more, only because of it's shape and size.

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