Apr 272011

[photo-kitchen cutting boards]

A cutting board is an essential that any cook will need, whether you are just starting out or a veteran in the kitchen.  Today, numerous cutting board options exists, differing by material, color, size, shape, and price.  Which one is right for your kitchen? Lets explore these various choices, highlighting their pros and cons and how they affect a cutting board’s usability.

Due to the large amount of information I have to share on this topic, I am dividing my writing to two parts.  This is Part 1 which covers several popular wooden boards.  Part 2 of Choosing the Right Cutting Board will focus on boards made of other materials like plastic and glass.

Wood and Bamboo Cutting Boards:

Within the wooden cutting board category, several different kinds of wood can be used.  Materials like Pine, Maple, and Bamboo (a hard grass) are most common.  Wood boards in general are not dishwasher-friendly, and they require periodic oiling to prevent the wood from drying and cracking.  However, they provide a more attractive and natural look than plastic cutting boards.  The natural wood grain can also  help keep food from sliding or slipping on the cutting board surface.   When choosing a wooden cutting board, ones with an end-grain surface is stronger and longer lasting than those with a flat-grain composition.

Pine Wood Cutting Boards

  • Pine wood cutting boards are softer than most other wood boards.  They help preserve your knife blades longer, which means less knife-sharpening work.
  • The natural pine oil in this wood serves as a natural disinfectant to reduce bacterial growth on the cutting board surface and in between grooves.
  • Knives also do not slip easily on pine board surfaces, making it an easier surface to chop and cut on.  Because of this, pine wood chopping blocks are often used in Chinese BBQ booths to chop whole roasted chicken, duck, goose, or BBQ pork.
  • This wood however is less durable and tend to crack more easily than other wood boards.
  • Example product: Pine Wood Chopping Block

[photo-pine wood chopping block]

16" Pine Wood Chopping Block


Maple Wood Cutting Boards

  • Maple is a popular hard wood material for cutting boards.  It is used by many home cooks and professional chefs in restaurants.
  • Unlike pine, maple is a hard wood and less porous.  This makes maple cutting boards longer lasting and a lot less likely to warp or splinter than pine wood.  Maple will also absorb less liquid and odor since it is more dense.
  • When compared with bamboo, maple is a little softer.  This may actually be a good balance for some in terms of durability and gentleness on knife blades.
  • Example products: See a list of maple wood cutting boards

[photo-maple wood cutting board]

John Boos Reversible Maple Wood Cutting Board


Bamboo Cutting Boards

  • Bamboo is a newer type of material used as cutting boards.  Bamboo is botanically classified as a grass with a hard woody texture.  It is often marketed as a “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” material due to its ability to grow quickly and continually sprout new shoots.  Harvesting this material for man use thus creates less destruction to the natural ecology.
  • Bamboo is naturally anti-bacterial, which makes it a good choice as a kitchen cutting board.  Growing bamboo does not require chemicals like pesticides either due to its inherent bacterial resistance.  The independence from pesticides is yet another reason why bamboo is touted as an eco-friendly resource.
  • Bamboo cutting boards are extremely hard and durable, yet lightweight.  They do not crack easily and are long lasting.  They make a good surface for transferring chopped foods around the kitchen.
  • On the flip side, knife dulls more quickly on hard bamboo cutting boards.  A knife can also slip more easily on this surface.
  • A bamboo cutting board tends to bounce a knife back during chopping.  This can create vibrations or even pain in the wrist after prolonged periods of heaving chopping on this surface.  Normal cutting and slicing however is fine.
  • Bamboo cutting boards tend to be the more expensive.  Ones made out of older mature bamboo are usually on the higher end of the price range since they are harder and more durable than cutting boards made with younger bamboo.
  • Example products: See a list of bamboo cutting boards here.

[photo-large bamboo butcher block]

Totally Bamboo Large Butcher Block


What Should I Use to Oil My Wood Cutting Board?

Wooden cutting boards should be oiled regularly to prevent it from drying or cracking.  Special wood cutting board oils can be purchased for this purpose.  Alternatively, you can use Walnut Oil, Almond Oil, or other mineral oils.  If you go with a nut oil, be aware that you may have occasional guests over for a meal who is allergic to nuts.  Other food-safe oils that do not spoil can also be used.  Vegetable oil however is not a good choice as it can degrade and cause odor over time.
See related post Part 2 of Choosing the Right Cutting Board where I compare plastic and glass cutting boards.


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