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Choosing the Right Cutting Board

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Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: how to choose the right cutting board.

Stacked wooden boards 1


Sometimes, I wish I were a cutting board. 

Think about it. Cutting boards – good-quality ones, ones made out of the right material – can be bruised, slashed, and riddled with blemishes. They can be whacked with a hammer or a cleaver, or sliced into again and again with an unforgiving blade.

And then, just like magic, they close right back up again. They heal themselves.

Pretty badass.

Up until now in my kitchen research, the beauty of a blank slate has been lost. A blank slate sounds attractive -- until you start building a First Kitchen, the ultimate blank slate. Some pans, it seems, are best seasoned. Some cookbooks, it sounds like, are best tattered and stained.

But now, I want the blankest slate for my first kitchen – a cutting board that will get dirty with the beets and the garlic and the raw chicken I’ll be slicing, that will get stained and slicked and slashed with use. And then, after the wear and the tear, after the breakfasts and lunches and dinners that will be prepared on it, I want it to be blank again.

Mix of stacked cutting boards

Wood, plastic, or bamboo?

When deciding between a wood, plastic, or bamboo cutting board, researching the self-healing properties of each material is key. I want a blank slate that will stay blank for years to come, not one that will splinter and crack after one, heartfelt whack.

Hard woods, like acacia, teak, and maple, are the highest-quality wood boards; since they are less porous than other materials, they absorb less water and bacteria. They also have special bacteria-fighting properties; according to this study at UC Davis, disease bacteria are fought off from the surface soon after they're applied. 

Bacteria-fighting superpowers? Again, pretty badass.

Stacked wood cutting boards

Wood and bamboo have both these properties: they self-heal and fight bacteria. However, wood surfaces, such as the Proteak Edge Grain Teak Cutting Board, are easier on knives; they give more to the blade without dulling them. Bamboo, though, has the whole environmentally-friendly thing going on – and good-quality bamboo boards, such as the Schmidt Brothers Bamboo Wiki Board, can have the long, healthy life of a wood board.

Plastic cutting board scars

Plastic boards, like the OXO Good Grips Carving & Cutting Board, may seem to be safer than wood or bamboo – they’re easier to clean, they can go in the dishwasher, and they’re lighter and easier to maneuver around the kitchen. But since they have no self-healing or bacteria-fighting properties, they don’t last as long – and they’re less safe. Having an extra one or two around the kitchen is helpful, but according to the study at UC Davis, knife-scarred plastic surfaces are impossible to clean and disinfect manually, especially when food residues like chicken fat are present. 

Chicken fat-infected, knife-scarred surfaces? Far from the blank slate I’m looking for.

Edge grain cutting board

End-grain or edge-grain?

If I’m springing for a wooden board, I have an extra decision to make: do I go edge-grain, where strips of wood are laid side-by-side and grafted together (like a famous Boos block), or do I go end-grain, where the board is grafted from many short pieces of hard wood laid vertically (making a checker-board pattern, like this)? End-grain boards are supposedly easier on knives, but as Jared Schmidt from Schmidt Brothers Cutlery told me, the decision is really more about the look that I want. With the right maintenance, both kinds of wood boards will last for years – and will still look handsome on my countertop.

What kind of cutting board do you use, and which would you recommend for my First Kitchen?

As usual, I'll be pinning everything I'm coveting to my First Kitchen Pinterest board, so check it out!

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

Tags: first kitchen, cutting boards, wood, plastic, bamboo, kitchenware, cookware, knives

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