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I'm a bit overwhelmed by the number of options for the type of wood in a cutting board. I've tried searching Google with every combination of phrases that I could think of, and I don't feel like I've found conclusive information explaining how different types of wood would affect the qualities of a cutting board.

Between some of the popular options (perhaps maple, cherry, and walnut), will there be any tangible difference in the use or upkeep of a cutting board? Or is the difference, for all intents and purposes, only visual?

  • I'm curious: with other modern materials available, why would one choose wood over all else? I know it's better for your knives...but One would think at the end of the day it will also just absorb all the food and especially meat gunk, no? – Pdxd Mar 28 '14 at 4:45
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    @Pdxd : it self-heals (unlike plastic), it doesn't ruin your knives (unlike ceramic and glass), it's less slippery ... there are lots of reasons. The issues with meat are solved by washing your board (and as it self heals, there aren't issues with gouging that may not scrub clean) as you have with plastic boards Cracks are a problem, but in general, properly maintained wood boards may be safer than plastic, especially if you don't own a dishwasher : faculty.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/faculty/docliver/Research/… – Joe Apr 1 '14 at 21:44
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The main difference between types of wood is hardness -- a softer board will be more prone to damage and absorb liquids more quickly, while a harder board may require you to hone your knife more often.

What's likely going to be more significant is how it's constructed:

  • Is it a solid piece of wood? If so, that's going to warp horribly when it gets wet.
  • Is it a bunch of strips of wood, with the grain running in the direction of the strips? It'll be more stable, but still might warp a little bit.
  • Is it a bunch of bits, stacked together so the end grain is on the surface? It'll be the most stable, but it's probably going to be thicker and heavier.
  • If it's constructed from multiple pieces, what size are they? Narrower strips will warp less than wider strips if it's similar wood (hardness, size of grain, etc.) but increases the cost.

I'm also not a huge fan of end-grain boards ... they're so heavy, I use something else to transfer, rather than moving the whole cutting board ... for me, that means that if I get some water on the counter, it might get under there, and then I have mold starting to grow. (yes, I admit, I don't lift and sanitize under my board after every time I cook)

More important in my selection are issues like:

  • Does it have feet? Makes it more stable, but non-reversable
  • Does it have a grove to catch drippings? Useful when carving meats, but reduces the effective work area.
  • How expensive is it? Exotic woods are great for decorative cutting boards (placing out some cheese at a party, etc.), but I'd never use them for my main prep.
  • How tight are the joints? Look for gaps in where it's glued together ... any gap is a place for bacteria to grow and fester, and a change it'll crack prematurely.

Personally, when I have a choice, I'd probably go for maple.

The only ones I haven't been a real fan of are bamboo (I know, technically a grass not a wood)-- I love it for cooking utensils, but I'm not a fan of it for cutting boards. They wear down my knives faster, and they seem to die earlier (I don't know if this is an issue w/ being harder means they're less strong, as they can't absorb forces, an issue with those who manufacture bamboo boards, or something specific to the material (eg, does it not absorb the glue as well?)

But I'd probably first consider all of the other considerations that were mentioned (unrelated to the specific wood) at Cutting boards: What are some general tips on purchasing and using a cutting board?

  • Add expense to the cons of edge grain. – BZink Mar 27 '14 at 22:16
  • @BZink : the amount of wood + the number of joints is going to increase the cost. (unless you manage to luck out and find one at an estate or garage sale ... I managed to get a really nice (but not end-grain) maple board for $0.10 once. I used it for years before it developed a crack.) – Joe Mar 28 '14 at 0:00
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There really isn't that much difference, there's no magical quality in one type of wood which makes it some great choice compared to other woods. Harder woods wear better, but are heaver than softer woods. Thicker boards will last longer, but again can be a lot to lug around. In the end it really comes down to the aesthetic.

  • There's a lot more than just aesthetics; see cooking.stackexchange.com/q/183/67 – Joe Mar 27 '14 at 12:18
  • @Joe, the question is about wood boards, not other materials – GdD Mar 27 '14 at 12:25

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