Choosing Kitchen Cutting Boards

The importance of a good cutting board (or indeed a selection of cutting boards) should not be over-looked when setting up your kitchen correctly.  There is a lot of debate over the very best material to use for chopping boards.  Our pre-occupation with germs is one of the biggest considerations by many, but the safety of the board when it comes to keeping our kitchen knives in tip top condition is just as important.

Here we’ll have a look at the key types of board currently available, and why you should or should not be using them!

Wood Cutting Boards

wood cutting boardMy personal choice are wooden cutting cutting boards.  Yes I have toyed with other materials (usually gifts from friends who know just how much time I like to spend in the kitchen.  But, to be honest I simply cannot find anything better than a good wooden chopping board.

To ensure your wooden board lasts well it is a good idea to reseal it every six months or so.  Using a mineral oil designed for the job that will help stop the board from drying out and cracking.

In an ideal world mine would be an end grain hard-wood butchers block.  However, these are pricey and hefty.  Now if you can afford the investment they’re worth it since having the end grain uppermost they are pretty indestructible, won’t get scratched and will probably out-live both your kitchen and you.

However, even a relatively cheap and cheerful wooden chopping board will do you proud.  They are easy to keep clean, and do not harm your kitchen knives.  Of course cheap soft-wood boards will need to replaced every year or so since they will become seriously scratched eventually.

One thing that I think is an absolute must when choosing any cutting board, including a wooden one, is that it has to be reversible.  For convenience in the kitchen you need to be able to turn the board over quickly so that you can switch from one chopping task to another without worry about crumbs or odors from one dish working their way into another.  I’m not talking about chopping raw chicken on one side and then switching it over for salad – that would be pretty silly, but rather avoiding everything I cook tasting of the garlic I chopped up first!

Plastic Chopping Boards

plastic chopping boardsThese have many advantages over wood, and are loved by cooks the world over because:

  • they’re relatively cheap
  • gentle on kitchen knives
  • dishwasher safe and easy to sanitise
  • lightweight and easy to store

You will find silicone, polypropylene and many variations.  All will be hygienic providing you ditch them once they are seriously scratched (and being plastic they will eventually become scratched no matter how much you wish they wouldn’t!).  Once scratched it is even more important to allow them to air dry completely before putting away to prevent mildew forming in the grooves.

One of the biggest advantages of plastic cutting boards is that you can afford to buy several color coded ones for dealing with different types of food.  Or of course you can buy a nice pack such as the one from Joseph Joseph pictured, which will help prevent cross contamination from raw foods to cooked.

You can now buy flexible plastic and non-slip silicone boards.  These are very lightweight and great if you have little room for storage.  Personally I would forget the flexible ones unless you have a dishwasher.  They seemed like a great idea as you can funnel food easily to pour it into whatever cookware you need.  But I found them a nightmare to wash by hand, since they are so it is hard to put any pressure on them.   If you do have a dishwasher though they are worth a look.

Glass & Pyrex Boards

glass cutting boardI know many people (my grandmother included) think glass is a fantastic material for a kitchen cutting board.  They look great and are extremely hard wearing since they are pretty much impossible to scratch.  They’re totally non-porous so really easy to keep hygienically clean, and they will cope with the hottest dishwasher.

But therein lies the problem.  These are hefty things that are not great as far as storage is concerned, and more importantly they are so hard you are likely to find your knives blunted a lot quicker than you ever imagined possible.

Some people say you cannot use glass boards because they are dangerous; the glass could crack hurting the cook, or shards could end up in the finished dish.  In fact I think this is a pretty minor concern.  My grandmother has been using the same glass boards since I was only just able to see over the counter top, and they’re still going strong.  Her knives however, are a completely different story!

For displaying foods such as cheese or desserts glass chopping boards can be a very pretty addition to the shiny kitchen.  But as useful kitchen tools for the home-cook to actually cut things on, I think they are pretty poor really!

However, for bakers they can be very useful for rolling pastry, particularly if you buy one with a grid pattern printed on it.

Corian Chopping Boards

corian chopping boardA newer innovation are Corian cutting boards.  These are beloved of  those with Corian counter-tops since you can have boards that match.

A tough acrylic product produced by DuPont, Corian is said to be non-porous and so easy to keep clean, and very long lasting.

I don’t doubt it, but something being hard enough not to scratch simply has to be a little worrying for your knife blades, so personally I wouldn’t be using these with my best and sharpest Santoku knives, which obviously makes them a little pointless in My Shiny Kitchen!  However, for cheese boards and food display they can be very attractive, if you happen to like Corian.

They are difficult to mark or damage, but not impossible.  Be careful with the tumeric!

Marble Boards

marble pastry boardsI know I should not include marble boards in a piece about choosing the right kitchen cutting board.  But allow me to elaborate…

It drives me mad that people will try to sell cutting boards made from marble.  These are pastry boards, they remain cool and are the perfect place to roll pastry, prepare desserts and display cheeses and so on.  They, absolutely are not good places to cut anything!

And, while we’re talking about it, forget steel, granite or anything else really other than plastic or wood for all your kitchen cutting boards!

These are all easy to use, store and keep clean, and whilst they are unlikely to last forever (unless you have a very hefty butchers block), they will ensure your knives last as long as possible.

Porous v Non-Porous Chopping Boards

The big concern with some is that wooden boards are not as clean as plastic ones.  This is a misnomer.  Wood tends to have anti-bacterial qualities of its own, and is just as easy to keep clean and hygienic as plastic.  Over time (in softwood and cheaper boards) the wood will become worn and scratched just like a plastic one, and then whichever type you have it is probably best to replace them.  Cleaning scratched plastic is just as difficult a job as cleaning heavily grooved wood!

In fact one thing that might be a little surprising, is that whilst bacteria may well be absorbed into porous wood, the surface of the board is likely to be bacteria free.  A non-porous board of plastic might actually be less hygienic on the surface.

Don’t think one board is better than another in terms of hygiene.  Using your boards sensibly, avoiding cross contamination and washing correctly are far more important ways to keep those you are feeding safe.  And, if you don’t believe me check out the USDA’s point of view!

About Kelly Rockwell