Best Cutting Board Materials – Wood To Plastic

Every kitchen has cutting boards, but often, very little thought goes into buying them. Many home cooks just grab the cheapest plastic one off the shelf and call it a day.

However, choosing the wrong cutting board can seriously impact your cooking style, your health, and also do some serious damage to the most important of all kitchen tools – your knives.

There are a variety of things to consider when shopping for cutting boards: what kind of food you tend to prepare, what style of knives you use, and what aesthetics you prefer.

While people tend to disagree about what material is the best when it comes to cutting boards, they do all agree that you need more than one. Cross-contamination and food safety is a big issue, and it’s best to have at least two boards – one for meat and one for everything else.

So with all the options out there, what is the best cutting board material?

You can’t go wrong with a quality hardwood option. Acacia is our top pick. It’s the right blend of affordability and attractiveness without being too high-maintenance, and has great, water-resistant qualities.

SEE ALSO: Cutting Board Reviews

Best Wood For Cutting Boards

For as long as we can remember, it’s been drilled into us that wooden cutting boards are dangerous and unhygienic – particularly if used for preparing raw meat – harboring bacteria that can make you and your family sick.

Well, it’s now been proven that this isn’t the issue we thought it was. In fact, wooden cutting boards are more hygienic than plastic.

Here’s the reality: plastic boards will receive deep cuts and scratches from your knives over time. Bacteria will pool at the bottom of these scratches, lying there in wait to contaminate your food next time around.

Wood is far more porous than plastic. Any bacteria are absorbed down inside the board, into a hostile, dry environment where bacteria can’t survive.

Wood is by far the best material for your kitchen knives; it won’t damage the edges and you’ll need to sharpen them less frequently.

Another advantage of wooden cutting boards is their heft – they are usually sturdy and won’t slide around. They can also easily be resurfaced to make them as good as new using a sander or sandpaper.

Are there any disadvantages to wooden cutting boards? Yes, there are a few. Firstly, they are more difficult to sanitize and clean. Generally, you can’t use bleach or harsh chemicals on wood, you can’t throw them in the dishwasher or submerge them in water.

Wooden boards also require a bit of maintenance; you’ll need to oil them regularly to keep them in good condition.

Cutting boards made of wood can generally be divided into hardwood and softwood. The best types of wood for cutting board construction are dense, have a tight grain and are extremely hard.

Hardwood Boards

Hardwood boards are less porous, so more hygienic, as bacteria and water don’t soak down into them quite as much. Because of this, they are easier to clean than softer woods.

Although the wood is hard, it’s still more giving than most other materials, so kind to your kitchen knives. Hardwood can still be scratched and dent, but this only adds character to your gorgeous natural board – and you can resurface it if you wish.

Hardwoods do tend to be more expensive than other materials.

Some common hardwoods used to make cutting boards are maple (although some maple can be softwood), cherry, teak, beech, acacia, and walnut.

  • Maple is the most commonly used material for cutting boards. It’s approved for use by the National Sanitation Foundation. Maple has lovely, subtle grain marks. It’s affordable and grown sustainably throughout the United States.
  • Acacia is a popular choice. It is water resistant, durable, good looking and less expensive than its hardwood counterparts. It requires oiling from time to time to keep it from splitting but isn’t too high maintenance.
  • Walnut is one of the most expensive hardwoods, but it is extremely durable and attractive. If you don’t oil your board regularly it will start to crack and become more prone to harboring bacteria. A walnut board is hefty, won’t slide around, and keeps your knives in great condition.
  • Teak is also in the higher price range. However, it does last a very long time. Because teak is a dense wood, it won’t scratch or mar easily, so is a great choice for those concerned about health and safety. It’s low maintenance – you don’t even need to oil it.
  • Cherry is a little bit softer, so may suffer more scarring than other hardwoods. Conversely, this means it’s much better for your knives. Although cherry is beautiful, it’s a bit sensitive. If it gets too wet it will warp. Cherry also needs regular oiling.

Softwood Boards

Softwood boards are even kinder to your knife’s edge, but because they have larger grains, they are more susceptible to cracking and splitting, creating nice environments for bacteria to multiply.

These woods are not so commonly used for cutting boards, but when they are, the manufacturer will use special end-grain construction.

Using the end-grains for the board’s surface means your knife will cut against the end of the fibers instead of across them, so there’s less chance of the fibers cracking and scarring.

Overall, we don’t recommend softwood boards. They may be cheaper, but they absorb everything more easily, including soap, chemicals and pungent food odors.

Bamboo Boards

Another option for cutting board construction, bamboo is actually a grass. Bamboo cutting boards are extremely durable and absorb less liquid than hardwoods.

bamboo cutting board grain

Bamboo has a tight, dense grain. Bamboo also contains nodes of extremely hard, fibrous material which can take the edge off of your knives – it’s 19% harder than maple so will dull your knives faster than a traditional wooden board.

Because bamboo cutting boards are made of many pieces of lumber glued together, they are not a good fit for the dishwasher and some people have concerns about the toxicity of the glue.

Although bamboo is an attractive modern option because it is so eco-friendly and affordable, you will probably need to replace it regularly. After long-term use, it goes a little furry and is not so bacteria-repellant.

Keep these factors in mind when selecting your primary cutting board; bamboo cutting boards may be handy at the bar for lemons and limes, but it may not be the best choice as your main kitchen cutting board.

Silicone Cutting Boards

These flexible and easy to wash cutting boards are ideal for raw meat. Not only are they dishwasher safe, you can also purchase them in many colors.

If you have young cooks in your household, this can be a nice reminder to handle meat differently and reduce the risk of cross-contamination leading to food poisoning.

One of the advantages of silicone cutting boards is their flexibility. While some flimsier plastic cutting boards can be difficult and slippery to handle, silicone cutting boards have a much better grip and a bit more thickness to them.

Because they can be rolled up for storage, these cutting boards are ideal for those working in a small kitchen.

If you need to use your silicone cutting board before you’re ready to run the dishwasher, wipe it clean, roll it up and microwave it for one minute at full power to disinfect the board.

Plastic/Polyethylene Cutting Boards

Plastic cutting boards are the cheapest you can find. They are super easy to maintain and can be thrown in the dishwasher where the hot water will destroy any bacteria.

plastic silicone cutting board

You can also use harsh chemicals on them to disinfect without damaging the material.

Although a brand new plastic board can easily be disinfected, one that has been used heavily and is covered in deep knife scratches can actually harbor more bacteria than a wooden cutting board. Once they are heavily scratched, you should replace them.

Plastic is pretty gentle on your knives and should help them stay sharp for a long time. Some models are too light and thin, but you can find thicker, heavier models.

Unlike wood, some plastic boards don’t make ideal hot pads, as they may melt and warp.

Rubber Cutting Boards

Rubber cutting boards are growing in popularity. Rubber is kind to your knives and doesn’t hold onto moisture or bacteria.

They are low maintenance and can go in the dishwasher and tolerate harsh cleaning chemicals; however, can be prone to staining. Thicker models can be sanded down and resurfaced like wooden cutting boards.

Rubber is nice and heavy and won’t slide around your countertop. It’s a sustainably grown material made from renewable resources.

The disadvantages of rubber cutting boards are their higher price tag, the fact they will melt if used as a hot pad, and they are by no means anywhere near as attractive as a wooden cutting board.

Marble And Granite Cutting Boards

The best way to confirm that a cutting board will be kind to your knives is to see if you can score it. Solid surface cutting boards are not good choices for cooks who are particular about their knives.

marble cutting board slab

The best cutting board is the one that you can mar with a knife, not the one that takes the edge off your favorite kitchen tool.

However, if you enjoy working with fresh pastry dough, a marble cutting board can serve very well as a pastry board.

Because it maintains a consistently cool temperature, working with puff pastry dough, pie dough or sweet cream dough on a marble slab is a breeze.

You don’t need a sharp knife to shape pastry, so save that heavy board for an ideal rolling surface when rolling out sugar cookies, molasses cookies or pie dough.

Marble is certainly gorgeous to look at, but it’s an expensive, non-renewable resource and disaster for your knives.

Glass Cutting Boards

Glass cutting boards are pretty and easy to wash. Use them for a charcuterie presentation, or a nice selection of cheeses but don’t use them for cutting unless you want to damage your knives.

Although they are easy to clean and very hygienic, they are delicate and will break if dropped. The surface is too smooth; it can be easy for your knife to slip and you may be at risk of cutting yourself.

We do not recommend glass cutting boards for regular use. They will make your knives blunt in no time at all and there are far better options out there.

Butcher Block

Butcher blocks can be found in chunky, free-standing units for countertop use, or can be built into kitchen islands for a wide expanse of ideal cutting surface.

Butcher blocks aren’t really necessary for the average home chef. But if you are a huge meat fan who regularly debones, fillets, chops and does some hardcore food prep with meat, you need a larger surface like this that can handle a bit of abuse.

Most butcher blocks will be at least 1.5-inches thick and made from tougher, end grain wood which is resistant to cutting and scarring.

In fact, end grain wood has self-healing properties. Over time, damaged fibers often join together back into place.

Final Thoughts

Cutting raw meat on a separate board is a practice you should implement in your food preparation for the safety of all your diners. Food poisoning is not worth the risk.

Invest in a good silicone board in a bright color just for meat, and run it through the dishwasher each time you use it.

For the really strong smells, consider an extra board for onions, garlic or anything that may stain.​

Save the really hard surfaces for presentation pieces or pastry tools, but don’t ruin your knives on them.

Wooden cutting boards may look rough, but with a bit of elbow grease and TLC you can bring them back into shape and they can last for years or even decades before they need replacing.

Acacia is popular for good reason. You can find yourself a beautiful cutting board made from this material for a great price, and it will go the distance. It’s safe for your food, easy to care for, and will keep your kitchen knives sharper for longer.

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