There are many types of cutting boards. Choosing the right cutting board is not something we think about very often. Besides my chef’s knife that I’ve now officially used for 30 years (really, no joke), cutting boards have played a major role in the preparation of the meals I make. Naturally, I’ve been asked several times what my favorite cutting board is and why. Well, I don’t have a favorite cutting board, but I do have some reasons why I’m using a particular one for a particular task.
Types of Cutting Boards
Choosing the best cutting board normally comes down to a choice between wood and plastic. Yes, there are also glass cutting boards, but let’s not even go there unless you don’t respect your knives. So the first big question you’re probably asking yourself is “Should I buy wood or plastic?” And the first big answer is “it depends.” Sorry, not really the most exciting answer but the correct one. Are you looking for eye-candy or durability, price or ease of cleaning, protecting your knife or protecting the health of your family? Are you handy and thinking about making your own?
Probably the biggest difference between a wood cutting board and a plastic cutting board is price. Sturdy, full-size (13 ½ x 9 ½) plastic cutting boards can be found starting at $3. Wood cutting boards this size start at a higher price and only go up from there.
How about durability?
The beauty about plastic cutting boards is that they’re cheap and therefore can be replaced more often. But that’s also the not-so-beautiful part about them too. Do we really need more plastic in our landfills and recycling centers?
Wood cutting boards, with the right care, last a lot longer. My go-to meat carving board is over 10 years old and has certainly seen a piece of meat or two since then.
How to clean a cutting board
A plastic cutting board is just that…a piece of plastic that can be washed with dish soap and a sponge or thrown into the dishwasher. Although a friend of mine told me the other day that not every plastic cutting board can take the dishwasher treatment…his ended up warped. It can even be bleached if you’re one of those 99.99% germ-free people.
Wood cutting boards need a little more detail in their care. Of course they can be washed with dish soap and sponge. But I wouldn’t throw them in the dishwasher. One of my favorite ways to clean my wood cutting board is by sprinkling the board with coarse salt and using a cut lemon to rub the surface. Let it sit for about five minutes, then rinse it off with water, then let it air dry. Once a month or so, I put on a nice coat of food-grade mineral oil to prevent moisture and bacteria from seeping in. Please do not use avocado or other fruit oils, as they will get rancid.
What about all those little things called bacteria?
There are a lot of different opinions out there and I’m not a “germologist” (that should be a word, right?), but here’s what common sense suggests:
Plastic cutting boards do not absorb microscopic pieces of food, so therefore they don’t develop bacterial problems. This is true for a brand-new plastic cutting board. But once your chef’s knife starts working on the board, it will create surface cuts deep enough to harbor microscopic food, where bacteria will survive and multiply. Solution: a good cleaning is required, as mentioned above.
Wood cutting boards are porous, therefore microscopic food will find a way in. But here’s the neat thing, according to research:
Wood cutting boards contained less salmonella bacteria than plastic. On wood cutting boards, the bacteria sank “down beneath the surface of the cutting board, where they didn’t multiply and eventually died off.” On plastic boards, however, bacteria got caught in knife grooves that were near impossible to clean out, whether the board was washed by hand or dishwasher (Dean O. Cliver, PhD, from the University of California).
How does your knife feel?
Your knife definitely prefers wood cutting boards, preferably hardwoods like maple and beech. Plastic dulls knives quicker.
So what’s the best cutting board? Wood or plastic?
Actually neither. It’s grass. The best cutting board is made from bamboo (a grass). It’s fast-growing, which makes it a renewable resource and a great choice for the eco-conscious. Bamboo acts similar to wood — it’s somewhat porous but is considered harder than wood. Caretaking is identical to a wood cutting board. Bamboo does have a tendency to crack more easily than wood, though, so make sure to oil it regularly.
Is it called a cutting board or a chopping board?
That’s one question I don’t have an answer for 😀
Any other considerations or cutting board hacks?
Yes, there’s more! If your cutting board tends to slide around on the countertop, put a damp kitchen towel underneath…it will help hold it in place.
A trick I’ve adopted from professional kitchens is color coding. To avoid cross contamination, restaurants generally use six different colored cutting boards. Green: Fruits & Vegetables. Yellow: Raw Poultry. Blue: Cooked Food. White: Dairy Products. Brown: Fish & Seafood. Red: Raw Meat.
So in my kitchen, I use one plastic cutting board for meats: one side for raw, the other side for cooked. And another plastic cutting board for everything else. Both boards are white, but I use a little masking tape on the handle to distinguish them.
And then, of course, there’s my meat carving board. That’s where I rest my cooked meat (tented with aluminum foil) and carve it after. It comes with a moat (anyway that’s what I call it, there’s probably an actual technical term for it). The moat collects all the juices while resting and during carving.
Washing and cleaning your cutting boards is the most important step to keep your boards germ free. But nearly as important is to not just to let them air dry, but to also store them upright, if possible, to make sure they stay dry. Bacteria needs moisture to grow!
I hope you’ve learned a thing or two. Like with many other things in life, it’s not always black and white. You’ll have to decide for yourself what works best for you. I’m actually thinking about making my own wood cutting board this summer. Stay tuned and keep chopping.
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