Choosing the Right Cutting Board

July  9, 2012

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

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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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • smslaw
  • Nitasha
  • ekok
  • f52otf
  • Brsboarder
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


smslaw January 29, 2015
Bamboo isn't all that green, considering it is typically shipped from Asia. Maple and walnut are from the U.S.
Teak is also from Asia. It contains natural abrasives that can dull knives.

Go to a local hardwood dealer, buy a maple scrap, sand it, oil it and you've made yourself a cutting board. When it wears out, toss it in the fireplace and make another one.
Nitasha January 23, 2014
Great article! My favorite cutting boards are bamboo, and I have the Schmidt Brothers Bamboo Wiki Board you mentioned. It's lasted me a really long time and looks great.
ekok July 15, 2012
I have several cutting boards--plastic, end-grain, bamboo. Plastic is only for meats. The bamboo cutting board sort of "grabs" the knife in an unpleasant way. It's not good for fast chopping. The large end-grain block is my everyday cutting board although it's quite heavy to wash. But I have had it 5 years and use it all the time and it has not cracked. I have never even oiled it. I do use both sides equally, to ensure it doesn't warp.
f52otf July 13, 2012
We have two of Ralph K's gorgeous boards. They work perfectly, they're easy to clean, and they're very tough. And they're so beautiful that we can use them for serving.
f52otf July 13, 2012
We have two of Ralph K's gorgeous boards. They work beautifully, they're very tough, and they're so beautiful that we can use them for serving. http://www.choppingboards.ca/gallery.php
Brsboarder July 10, 2012
I enjoy my epicurean fine enough but would love something beautiful from here: http://www.theboardsmith.com/
Brette W. July 10, 2012
Those are beautiful!
Allysooon July 10, 2012
I spent years admiring beautiful wood cutting boards during and after college but never had the ash or space for one. I recently settled on an end-grain acacia board and am in love. I have a set of cutting mats which I use on top when I'm worried about cross-contamination. They're color coded with an image of the type of food they're meant for (i.e. carrot for veggies) and they're easier to wash than the big board (lazy!)
Brette W. July 10, 2012
Whoa! Cutting mats! What an awesome idea.
Kristy M. July 10, 2012
I love the color-coding, allysooon!
Kitchen B. July 9, 2012
Hmm, learnt something about cleaning boards - salt and lime/lemon. Thanks Brette and sorry I have nothing to offer by way of what to choose! Get 'em all :-)
Brette W. July 10, 2012
That's the ultimate goal :)
PickleMuseum July 9, 2012
I'm definitely a fan of wood cuttting boards. Bamboo is too hard on knives. But you're confusing end-grain and edge-grain. Boards made of small vertical pieces are end-grain.
Brette W. July 10, 2012
Thanks so much -- it's fixed!
China M. July 9, 2012
I have become a big fan of the Epicurean boards made of pressed wood fiber -- a lot less pretty than traditional wood boards, but they require much less care and attention. I don't think you need to worry much about segregating meat, but I've found that it's really helpful to have one cutting board that is allium (and other strongly-flavored food) free, so you never have to worry about cutting up a peach and having it taste like onion.
Kristy M. July 9, 2012
I completely agree with the alliums-only cutting board!
Brette W. July 9, 2012
What a great idea! Thank you!
Burnt O. July 9, 2012
I have a giant, maple board I got at IKEA ages ago. It has a lip on each end to keep it on the counter, and the reverse side is a carving board with deep channels to catch all the juices. It's permanently on my counter and I just wipe everything directly into the sink. Once a week or so, I take a lemon, and a quarter cup of kosher salt and make a paste out of the salt and lemon juice, and scrub it down with the cut side of the lemon and rinse it in super hot water. Every other month or so, I wipe it down with a commercial cutting board oil. I only use it for veggies. I have two colored jelly boards that I use for meats, and those go directly into the dishwasher on a sanitation cycle.
Brette W. July 9, 2012
Sounds like a great system! Definitely going to look into that IKEA maple board -- it sounds so versatile.
Panfusine July 9, 2012

Thanks for this extremely informative series.
My personal choice of cutting boards..Bamboo.. and an edge grain board for taking food pics..
I like to scrub my boards with a tablespoon of sea salt and used up lime , it seems get rid of any stains quite effectively. (My kitchen being totally meatless, I don't have to segregate boards)

Brette W. July 9, 2012
So glad you're enjoying it, Panfusine! Edge grain boards really are perfect for food pictures. So good to keep in mind.