This post contains a small portion of this article. Read the full article here.
For something so simple, cutting boards can be contentious. Ask any chef or serious home cook and they’ll have their own opinions about the type of material and board build that’s best.
We reached out to professional chefs to cut through the controversy and get to the heart of what makes a great prep surface. Here are the five things they always look for, and 10 boards that fit the bill:
Wood vs. plastic.
First, a primer on materials. Most cutting boards are made from either wood (maple, cherry, walnut), bamboo (which is actually a fast-growing grass), or a synthetic material like plastic or rubber.
But is one better than the other? Well, all the chefs we polled prefer working with wood or bamboo boards.
There are a few points in these boards’ favor: For one, they have a softer and more supple surface than plastic, which makes them gentler on knives.
Wood and bamboo are naturally antimicrobial materials, and they tend to be more resistant to scratches that can trap harmful germs.
But while these boards tend to get less dirty, they’re more laborious to clean. Since you can’t put them in the dishwasher, this means you need to be more diligent about cleaning them right away—especially if you’re working with raw meat or pungent flavors like garlic and onion. (Wood boards also retain more water and hold on to smells longer than synthetics.)
You also need to treat your wood board with oil every so often to make sure it’s well-sealed.
They definitely require more maintenance, which celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon, C.N., CHC, CHN, says isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Though somewhat time-consuming, I look at these activities as ways to cultivate a certain type of energy in my kitchen,” Poon tells mbg. “Taking time to care for your kitchen can make your food feel more nourishing and full of love.”
Finally, while wood boards tend to be heavier and more cumbersome; they’re also more aesthetically pleasing than most plastic or rubber surfaces.
Most people who spend a lot of time cooking will use wood as their everyday standby cutting board but also keep a synthetic, lightweight board nearby for quick cleanup after handling smelly or bacteria-prone ingredients. Both of them have a time and a place in the kitchen.
Components of a great board:
No matter what material of board you’re working with, Eric Adjepong, Top Chef contestant and co-founder of Pinch & Plate says you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t slip and slide around your counter, which can make cutting difficult and potentially dangerous. Look for a board that has a stopper on the bottom so it stays locked in place, or place a kitchen towel under your board in a pinch.
Boards that serve more than one function can be great, especially for people with smaller kitchens or minimal storage. Whether it’s pretty enough to double as a serving platter or topped off with a built-in knife sharpener or juice groove, looking for a board that has added functionality is usually a smart move.
On that note, reversible boards give you two prep stations in one. Abra Berens, a Michigan-based chef, farmer, and author of Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes, says that reversible boards can also keep all your food from tasting like garlic.
“One cutting board trick of the trade is to mark one side for onion and garlic and the other for everything else. This keeps your tomatoes and strawberries from picking up any off-flavors by virtue of the surface,” she tells mbg. “You can have that side branded with a fancy label; I just write “Onion/Garlic Only” on one side with a permanent marker.”
Larger boards give you more space to work, which Berens says is essential: “I’m always looking for a cutting board that is big enough to work on an entire project. Small cutting boards are great for presenting appetizers or side dishes, but for prepping, give me an actual surface!”
She recommends boards that are at least 18 by 24 inches—large enough to hold multiple piles of ingredients at once.
Finally, you’ll want to go with a board that will last you a while. “I value craftsmanship and high-quality wood that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and will provide a smooth surface to handle any knife with grace,” says holistic chef Kristin Cole. When properly maintained, woods like maple, cherry, and walnut should be solid kitchen companions for at least five to 10 years.
On top of that, Adjepong adds that it’s important to look for a wood board that’s well-sealed. “Number one in a good cutting board: It shouldn’t be porous at all,” he tells mbg. You need to regularly seal your board at home using oil, but it should have a tight seal to begin with, too.