One of the most essential kitchen tools for any home chef is a good cutting board. Just about any time you’re going to be doing actual cooking, you’ll need to put knife to food, whether that means chopping vegetables or slicing meat. And having a quality cutting board that’s up to the task is nearly as important as having a good kitchen knife. But which cutting board material is best? Wood, plastic and rubber cutting boards are the most common you’ll come across, so read on to see the pros and cons of each and determine which cutting board material works best for you.
Wood Cutting Boards
Easy on Your Knife: While a cutting board protects your countertop, it also protects the edge of your knife's blade. This is an area where wood cutting boards excel, as their naturally porous surface allows them to absorb a knife's cuts without wearing down its edge as quickly. Softer woods like maple and walnut are the best to look for, but you should probably avoid bamboo cutting boards if this is a big factor for you, as they're harder and less porous, making them rougher on your knives than other wood materials.
Durable: As long as they're taken care of (more on that in a bit), wood cutting boards will last for years or even decades if you buy an heirloom-quality board. Any cuts or stains (you'll get both) can be sanded down, and regular oiling will keep your board looking and feeling great.
Heavy: Heaviness may seem like a con, but the last thing you want is a cutting board that slides around on your counter while you're chopping — that's a safety hazard. Wood cutting boards are usually substantial enough to keep this from being an issue.
Tactile Feedback: For people who are really into knives, there's no beating the feel of a wood cutting board, as the natural material provides just the right blend of softness and hardness. Plastic cutting boards tend to be too hard, and rubber too soft, but wood cutting boards are just right in terms of feel.
Expensive: You don't necessarily have to spend an arm and a leg for a wood cutting board, but high-quality examples can cost hundreds of dollars, and they're certainly more expensive than comparable plastic cutting boards.
Germ Magnet: The porous nature of wood may be great for your knives, but it also makes wood cutting boards a haven for bacteria. Germs can easily get inside these pores, which is why it's recommended to thoroughly clean and sanitize your wood cutting board immediately after chopping raw meat. One exception is bamboo cutting boards, as their less-porous nature makes them naturally antimicrobial and a bit easier to clean.
High Maintenance: Because of their germ magnetism, wood cutting boards require more intensive cleaning than other materials, and they're best washed in the sink (don't leave them soaking, though, as the wood may split). Not only that, but they also require regular oiling with cutting board oil to prevent drying and cracking. All types of wood cutting boards require regular oiling, even bamboo.
John Boos is the first name in wood cutting boards, and they come in all forms, materials, sizes and prices. This example falls somewhere in the middle. It's made of sustainably-sourced maple and is reversible, with one flat side and one side featuring a groove for collecting any juices that run over.
Plastic Cutting Boards
Easy to Clean: Arguably the biggest advantage of plastic cutting boards is how easy they are to take care of. Most are dishwasher safe — the only material where this is the norm — allowing a carefree cleanup when you're done chopping.
Affordable: Another win for plastic cutting boards is how inexpensive they are. If you don't cook a lot and want to save money on a cutting board, the most affordable options on the market are going to be plastic.
Antimicrobial: Unlike wood, plastic cutting boards naturally resist germs, giving you peace of mind and making them a lot easier to maintain than they're more beautiful brethren.
Lightweight: While you may appreciate a plastic cutting board's lightness when moving it around your kitchen, you'll wish it had a bit more heft when you're actually cutting food on it.
Susceptible to Warping: There's a reason why plastic cutting boards are so cheap: they aren't made to last. Over time, they can lose their shape, especially when exposed to heat. And once your cutting board is warped, it's time to get a new one, as you're not going to want to chop on a lopsided surface.
Harder on Your Knife: Plastic cutting boards are hard. Too hard, in fact, for your knife. They offer little give when chopping, which means they'll dull your blade faster, which means you'll need to sharpen it more often. Plastic cutting boards themselves may require less maintenance, but the wear and tear they'll cause to your knives kind of evens things out.
Any time you're looking at buying a product made of plastic, it's worth checking for a sustainable option. And that's exactly what the reBoard from Material is. The BPA-free board is made from a mix of recycled plastic kitchen scraps and renewable sugarcane, making it a plastic purchase you can feel good about. It also comes in several snazzy colors, easily ranking as the best-looking plastic cutting board you can buy.
Rubber Cutting Boards
Easy on Your Knife: Like wood cutting boards, rubber cutting boards are porous, and they rank the best in terms of treating your knife with kid gloves. Rubber cutting boards are usually what you'll find in professional kitchens for this reason.
Durable: Also like wood boards, rubber cutting boards are built for the long haul. Any nicks and cuts can be sanded away, just like on wood, and while they may not be as attractive as a wood board, they'll last just as long, if not longer, and they're easier to maintain. Unlike wood cutting boards, you'll never need to oil a rubber cutting board.
Heavy: Like wood examples, rubber cutting boards are heavy and quite thick — usually 0.75"-1" — and they don't slide around when you're chopping.
Antimicrobial Here's where rubber cutting boards separate themselves from wood. Like plastic, rubber cutting boards won't hang on to germs, meaning you don't need to be quite as finicky when it comes to washing them.
Expensive: Given their professional quality, it's unsurprising that rubber cutting boards do not come cheap. Most are made in Japan, and they almost always come in over a hundred dollars — in many cases, well over.
Not Dishwasher Safe: Unlike plastic cutting boards, rubber cutting boards are not dishwasher safe. High heat, like the type you'll get in a wash cycle, is the one thing that can cause them to warp.
Less Tactile Feedback: This is mainly a non-issue, given how many professional chefs use rubber cutting boards, but since the material is softer than wood, you don't get quite the same feedback as you do on the natural material.
Sani-Tuff cutting boards are made from a high-density rubber compound that's extremely forgiving on your knives, treated to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi and will basically last forever. They're also tested and certified by the National Sanitation Foundation. If you want to chop like the pros, this is the cutting board to get.
Really, the decision is up to you based on how you'll use your cutting board. If you're on a budget and don't cook a ton, then a plastic cutting board will suit you just fine. If you can afford to spend a little more, want something beautiful and don't mind the extra upkeep, then perhaps wood is the way to go. But if you truly want the best cutting board from a performance perspective and money is no object, then there's no beating rubber.