I wanted to spend some time talking about something that is usually overlooked in most kitchens: cutting boards. They don’t get more than a few seconds of thought during the cooking process and more often than not they are purchased without much thought or research. I’m here today to tell you that you should spend more than a few fleeting moments thinking about and choosing your cutting surface. Initially, I had the impression of, “Who cares?”, as long as it’s sturdy and flat I’ll use it as a cutting board; however, as I began to be in the kitchen more, I noticed that selecting and having the right cutting board made the task of cooking all the more enjoyable. We’ll be taking a look at a few different kinds of boards today, but one we’ll be leaving alone is glass. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve never used a glass cutting board and I will wager to guess that a fair number of my readers haven’t either. Probably for good reason too as plastic boards are easier to care for and are (slightly) cheaper than glass cutting boards. If you are a glass cutting board aficionado, I would love your take on why they are superior (and I’m sure my readers would as well). Are you finished with the introduction and ready to get your learning hat on? If not, too bad! Let’s get on with it.
Wood Cutting Boards
I had no idea what I was missing out on by not having a wood cutting board. I heard of their benefits before, but had dismissed them and assumed it was for more “professional” cooks. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong. Much like cast iron, wood cutting boards take a little extra care, but the effort is well worth the results.
Knives seem to absolutely love wooden boards as chopping, dicing and slicing are much easier and faster than when using plastic. One prevalent myth I hear about using a wood board is that they are a harbor for all sorts of bacteria. Well, I’m here today to tell you that simply is not true. As long as you take proper care of your board, you should have zero worries. By spritzing some of the bleach solution we made back in our food safety post, we can ensure that all the bacteria on the surface of our cutting boards are eliminated. Now, it is true that bacteria will live in the nooks and crannies inside your board which sounds bad, but in reality there isn’t much to fear. The question becomes: how can that bacteria infect your food? The simple answer is it can’t because it’s not coming in direct contact with your food. If you start taking a meat cleaver and hacking up your board to bits, then you might have a problem, but for most of us, this shouldn’t cause anyone to fret.
I don’t want to spend too much time on alternatives to wood, but if you are especially green-conscious, I’d recommend checking bamboo cutting boards. They are extremely light and bamboo is well known for its role in the green/conservation movement; however, be prepared for some sticker shock as bamboo boards will be 3x – 4x more than a traditional wood cutting board.
End-Cut vs. Flat-Grain
The two major types of wood cutting boards come in either the end-cut or flat-grain varieties. End-cut is exactly what it sounds like. The ends of boards are cut off and arranged so that the cut side is facing up. This is a more expensive manufacturing process due to it’s complexity, but it’s the highest quality wood cutting board you can find. What makes it so desirable is that the fibers of the wood are facing up so when you cut/chop/dice on the board, your knife is actually moving the wood fibers out of the way and going in between them. Contrast this to a flat-grain board which uses the side of a piece of wood for the cutting surface. Now, instead of parting the wood fibers each time you use your knife, you are simply hitting them on the side. While that sounds bad, its no different than using any sort of synthetic material for your cutting surface. The benefit of going flat-grain over end-cut is the cost savings – flat-grain boards are about 25% cheaper than end-cut boards.
John Boos & Co. + Recommendations
John Boos & Co. (colloquially known as Boos Blocks) are the gold standard when it comes to manufacturing wood cutting boards. They’ve been in business since 1887 in Effingham, Illinois and have been cranking out cutting boards for over a century. They are so ubiquitous that if you’ve ever watched a cooking show/competition on TV, there is a 95%+ chance that the chefs were using a Boos Block. I was lucky enough to receive one as a gift and it has been a joy to use ever since. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
- Flat-Grain Board – This 18×24″ board is the exact same board I use, except its thinner. The model I received is 2-1/4 inches thick which makes it quite heavy and hard to move around. Instead, I’d opt for the 1-1/2 inch thick model as it will make it quite a bit lighter and the additional thickness doesn’t add much to the board. Although, I will say it likes mighty impressive on the counter.
- End-Cut Board – If you want to spend a few more bucks for a slightly higher quality of board and want something visually appealing to look at, look no further than an end-cut cutting board. This model comes highly recommended even though its a bit smaller than the flat-grain board above. I think that 15×20 inches will be plenty big of enough for the majority of your tasks.
- For Parties/Serving – If you want something that looks striking and would be perfect for serving hors d’oeuvres at a dinner party, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the circular boards Boos creates. No doubt you’ll be getting a lot of comments on this great looking option.
Cleaning and Care
Much like everything in your kitchen, taking small steps every time you use your wood cutting board will make your life easier. However, before we get any further, there’s something I need you to know: never, ever put your wood cutting board in a dishwasher. Don’t even think about it. The intensity and heat of a dishwasher is no friend to your cutting board so please keep the two separate.
Depending on your usage and what you are putting on your cutting board surface, you need to wash your wood cutting board every week or two with warm, soapy water. Afterwards, rinse it thoroughly and allow it to air dry. One recommendation: don’t just put it down on the counter and walk away. Instead, prop it up on one end so more air has a chance to circulate around the board; you will also want to rotate it once as it dries to ensure that every surface has a chance to get exposed to air. Failure to do so could eventually lead to water getting trapped in your board which will cause cracks or splitting. For daily use, as mentioned above, just spray and wipe down the cutting board with a diluted bleach solution and let air dry.This will kill any lingering contaminants on your board.
The final piece of extra “work” that is required when owning a wood cutting board is you have to season it. It’s basically the same principle as when seasoning cast iron, instead we have to use a special oil versus any ol’ cooking oil. Luckily enough, Boos makes a “Mystery Oil” that helps to seal the board and prevent any cracks or splitting. The process of seasoning is dead simple, wash your board and dry it according to the directions above. After it’s thoroughly dry, apply a healthy coat of oil to all surfaces of your board and allow to sit for an hour or so before wiping down with a paper towel to remove any excess oil from the surface. Doing this every 4 weeks (+/- a week) will keep your board protected and looking brand new.
Plastic Cutting Boards
After extolling the virtues of wood cutting boards, most of you probably think I’m going to trash plastic cutting boards and say that they are crap, cheap and useless. Oh, how wrong you would be. I use plastic cutting boards quite frequently in my kitchen for three main applications:
- When cutting raw meat. I know up above I said that there isn’t anything to worry about when it comes to wood and bacteria and that’s still absolutely 100% true; however, I do this for laziness reasons, not because I’m afraid of contamination. Usually, cutting raw meat isn’t the last thing I’m doing in the cooking process; in fact, its usually one the first things I do. Normally, I’ll also chop up some ready-to-eat foods during cooking. Instead of having to spray and wipe down the wood cutting board with bleach and allowing it to air dry, I simply use a plastic cutting board that I can then throw in the sink when done. If I can find ways to save time or make things easier, rest assured, I”ll be taking full advantage.
- When dealing with heavily seasoned foods. This is similar to reason #1 why I use plastic boards. Anytime I make something that has a lot of paprika or other herb/spice that is strong and especially colorful I reach for my plastic cutting boards. This is again due to laziness as I don’t want to have to hand wash my board everyday.
- When transferring food from a cutting board to a cooking vessel. When making a soup, stock, braise or anything else that has multiple levels of ingredient instructions, I like to reach for my flexible, plastic cutting boards. This enables me to chop up onions, garlic, carrots, etc. and transfer those directly from the board to the pot or pan. Hopefully you are sensing a theme here because again, I do this out of laziness. I find it much easier to transport everything on the board, bend in the edges and pour it into the pot/pan versus putting the ingredients in a bowl and bringing it over. Who wants to do extra dishes for no reason? (hint: not this guy)
Now that you understand where plastic boards can fit into your kitchen repertoire, let’s take a look at some recommendations to make you kitchen a better place to chop, cut, dice, slice and shred.
- Flexible, Plastic Cutting Boards – I own this set and can’t recommend them enough. I especially like the non-slip backs so the board doesn’t move while you are working on it. Disregard the color combinations that the packaging tells you to follow. As long as you wash them properly, there will be no issues.
- Rigid Plastic Cutting Board – While never having used this board from OXO, all I’ve heard are great things about it. Unlike the flexible boards this is reversible and it features two, hefty rubber grips to ensure the board stays in place. This board is ideal if you are doing more heavy duty chopping and slicing.
I would pick the one that meets your needs the best, but both would be great additions to your kitchens.
Well folks, there you have it: a nice, handy guide to buying cutting boards. If you have any questions that I cover, ask away. Got any other ideas, tips or recommendations? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you. Until next time, you can be sure I’d Cook That.