Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have heard various debates on the merits of wood versus synthetic cutting boards, and their affect on food safety, knife edges, and ease of cleaning and storage.

What are the pros and cons of the following and why?

  • Wood versus plastic or other materials
  • Affect on food safety and cleanliness
  • Cost to purchase
  • Affect on knife edge and ease of use
share|improve this question
4  
Not real question: You're asking for a discussion. –  Eight Days of Malaise Jul 9 '10 at 20:34
    
I think this could be reworded to make it not a discussion –  user73 Jul 9 '10 at 20:36
6  
I think the beta community are overly eager to close things. :P –  JYelton Jul 9 '10 at 23:56
16  
Yep I think there's a bit of over eager closing here. Cooking unlike programming is subjective. We are not all the same chef. –  Kev Jul 10 '10 at 0:23
1  
I think this is a good question, though maybe having the title be something about wood vs plastic would be helpful, since that's mainly what you're addressing (as opposed to glass or other material boards). –  JustRightMenus Sep 4 '10 at 15:35
show 3 more comments

7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I use two types of cutting boards: wood and [soft] plastic. The plastic is for meat, or anything that could ruin a wood cutting board. Wood is for everything else. If you can afford it, try to get an end-grain wood cutting board.

Bamboo is a popular choice right now (it's affordable and sustainable), but I don't have any personal experience with it.

Most other materials, especially glass, will ruin your knives.

share|improve this answer
    
You provide some excellent points that are reinforced when I talk to my cooking class instructor. I'd add that a wood board (especially a lower quality one or one that is old) has pores that are difficult to clean, and can create sanitary problems when used with meats. Bamboo is popular and sustainable and, in my opinion, looks very nice in a kitchen with wood cabinets. –  JYelton Jul 11 '10 at 16:52
6  
I read elsewhere on the site (cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/618/…) that the pores in wood boards are precisely the reason you would want to use wood with meat. Obviously this is a matter of some debate and it would be nice to discover if any de-facto answers exist to clear it up. –  JYelton Jul 11 '10 at 20:03
    
@JYelton - aggreed. I would love to see some real facts pop up. I've heard from reliable sources (including Alton Brown) that meat will taint wood cutting boards. I've also heard (from a B&B operator) that butcher block counters are a huge problem for the board of health (for the same reason). –  user73 Jul 11 '10 at 21:45
    
Regarding wood cutting boards & meat. I don't have any references at the moment, but this is my understanding. Meat won't "taint" a wooden cutting board under normal usage. Letting meat sit on it for a prolonged period, and not washing it for a prolonged period is not considered normal. However, to be totally safe (and slightly paranoid imo) washing a cutting board requires an aggressive wash with very hot water, an aggressive/strong cleaner, for a "long" period. This equates to very harsh treatment of a wood cutting board. –  hobodave Jul 16 '10 at 3:33
add comment

One thing not yet mentioned: For an everyday plastic board, it's great to have one just small enough to easily fit in the dishwasher - easily and perfectly sanitized every time.

share|improve this answer
add comment

How about something on the edge of the board (like a soft rubber "fence" maybe .5" tall) that keeps the food from falling off. I realize this is tricky b/c you don't want the "fence" to interfere w/ the cutting. But it drives me nuts that food is always falling off the edge (just a tiny amount but enough to make a mess).

share|improve this answer
add comment

My selection involves:

Bamboo for general purpose veg, small bits of meat (e.g. bacon slices), I also occasionally cut meat on it - it is smooth and juices etc run straight off it. Several Plastic for when I have several dishes on the go or lots and lots of veg and also meat and fish. Wood for bread, cheese and cooked meat - It looks nice when I serve cheese boards or antipasti. I have a glass one but only use it as a heat mat as well as dulling knives it also makes a horrible noise when you do need to cut on it.

I have an endgrain wood board that is designed for meat (it has a groove around the outside for collecting juices). But I find it too big, heavy and hard to clean to actually use - annoyingly it was also my most expensive.

I know people who have granite work tops and do not use a board - This is as bad as glass and will dull your knives also.

Wood boards can also absorb juice - so regularly cutting onions, garlic or "smelly" things may cause your board, and therefore other things you cut on it to pick up the smell.

Wood is also annoying to maintain - it needs oiling occasionally as well as disinfecting.

share|improve this answer
add comment

One thing not mentioned is feet/pads on the bottom of the board. Boards without anything on the bottom except a flat surface can slip. You can resolve this by adding rubber feet or a damp towel but if you are buying a new cutting board it might be something worth looking into.

Also, check out the size of the board in terms of your sink. A large board is great for cooking, a large board is a pain in my side for cleaning as it barely fits in the sink and creates a mess just by cleaning it.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Besides the material itself, there are lots of other factors --

Surface : There are smooth plastic cutting boards, and there are rougher ones. I prefer the rougher ones, as smooth means things are slipping all over the place and its can be dangerous. Plastic will roughen up with use, but cuts and nicks in plastic boards means more places for germs. For those thin plastic cutting mats, they're so lightweight that you have to worry about both the food sliding, and the mat itself sliding.

Thickness : Those 'butcher block' wooden boards look great, but I don't like them for two reasons: I'm short, and it raises the surface that I'm cutting at; they're heavier, and I like being able to pick up my cutting board to take to my stove, as my cutting area is near my sink, not my stove.

Size : Large enough to hold the amount of food you tend to prep at one time, and not so overly large that it's a pain to move / clean / etc. I like about 18" x 24" (45cm x 60cm), but if you're cooking for one in a small apartment, that might be a little large. (although, one of my apartments was small enough that I used a large board, so I could span the sink, as there was all of maybe 30" (75cm) of counter space.

All this being said -- I use wood for all vegetables, and plastic cutting mats for meats and poultry, just because it saves me time sanitizing everything between cutting. (although, I typically try to cut all of the vegetables first, then the meat, just to save on cleaning a knife).

Part of the complaint against wood is that it's very hard to get germs out once they get into wood -- but research has shown that if you clean the surface, wood cutting boards are unlikely to transfer germs to other food, and a well-maintained wooden cutting board will self-heal and continues to be safe over time, whereas plastic can't be simply wiped down once it starts developed scratches from use. To sanitize wood boards, use half a lemon, and coarse salt (I use kosher salt), and use the cut side to scrub the board. Rinse, let it dry, and give it some food-grade mineral oil every few months, depending on how humid your area is. If it's looking sad, you can always sand it down, re-sanitize it and re-oil it.

share|improve this answer
    
wow... salt can be not kosher? –  Joel in Gö Jul 12 '10 at 11:57
1  
@Joel -- it's actually salt used for koshering meat -- it's a coarse salt, but in flakes, so it sticks well to moist items. For info about koshering, see : chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/82678/jewish/… –  Joe Jul 12 '10 at 12:51
    
+1 for some great information on the topic –  JYelton Jul 13 '10 at 16:11
add comment

Don't use a glass board. It dulls the edge of the knife and the food you are trying to cut is more likely to slip than on a wood/plastic board.

share|improve this answer
    
A good tip, but you don't address all the points of the question. –  JYelton Jul 9 '10 at 20:48
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.