The surface on which you cut your meat, poutry, fish, and vegetables is as
important as the knives you cut with. Once an
appropriate size of cutting board has been chosen, the question of buying
plastic or wood comes up. Which is better for the knife? Which is safer?
What's the best value? These are some questions that come up when choosing
between these two materials. We'll try to address them here.|
Most wood boards are made of a hard wood like maple or pine which may give your
kitchen a much more attractive look than plastic boards. A good, sharp knife
will cut into a wood board to some degree, so be forewarned that the cutting
surface of your elegant wood cutting board will look worn, especially if
you are heavy handed. The grain of the wood helps keep the food from slipping.
A plastic board will usually have a roughened surface to aid in keeping food
from slipping off. Most people would say that a plastic board's appearance
leaves much to be desired, but it's size, shape, and weight make it extremely
handy around the kitchen. Unfortunately, no matter what a manufacturer claims
about how gentle the plastic is on knives, there is no substitute for cutting
on wood to keep your knives in tip top shape.
Because plastic boards are nonporous and nonabsorbent,
it is easier to clean off stain causing fluids than from a wood board.
Simply scrub and rinse. Of course, don't let juice from freshly chopped
beets stay on your board and dry for cleaning the next day - stains will
occur. A properly oiled wood board will also help resist staining to some degree,
but prompt washing is always the best policy to follow.
Oiling a wood board once every couple of weeks is a great way to maintain the
board. Oiling protects the
board from soaking up too much moisture and cracking or warping. It also protects
against the absorption of some bacteria. Use an edible
oil that has no taste, but don't use vegetable oil because it will turn rancid
over time. Mineral oil is a popular choice. Wood boards can also be sanded to
return the surface to a smooth finish. Beware that after sanding the board should
be washed, dried, and set out for several hours to eliminate bacteria that may
have been released from the interior wood.
Grooves are often cut into the edge of the cutting board to catch juices.
Cutting boards with large grooves serve better for carving than for cutting.
I recommend having a seperate
for carving and serving than the board you normally use for slicing and
chopping for preparation.
Some cutting boards have feet. This limits your cutting surface to one side
of the board. With wood boards, feet are not necessary since placing the board
on a wet towel will firmly cement the board to the counter. Depending on the
weight and texture of the board, this trick can also work on plastic boards.
Often, wood boards with feet work well as attractive carving boards or cheese
Over the sink boards
For the space limited kitchen, manufacturers offer both wood and plastic
boards that can be placed or hooked over the kitchen sink. Over the sink
boards also make clean up easy when dealing with messy fruits or vegetables
that make produce a lot of juice, like tomatoes.
It is often said that plastic is easier to clean than wood, but this is not
necessarily the case. Foods that stain are much easier to clean off plastic,
but if you're concerned about bacteria, plastic may not be the material you
want to choose to use.
Plastic cutting boards have a
nonporous surface that provides no place for
bacteria to dwell. However, bacteria can just as easily live on the surface
and after using the board for a while, your knife will probably chew up
the fine surface of the board providing plenty of hiding spaces for bacteria
to survive even through vigorous washing. This is troublesome to deal with
and it is wise to scrub the cutting board down immediately after using. What
about those plastic boards that have built in antibacterial chemicals? These
only serve to inhibit bacterial grown that causes stains and odors - they
do little to kill food-borne bacteria. If they did, you'd be ingesting poison
agents every time you used your cutting board. Vigorous scrubbing with hot water
and soap and an
occassional cycle through the dishwasher is probably your best bet when it
comes to plastic. (Be careful, some low quality boards may warp in a dishwasher.)
Unfortunately, even a dishwasher's high temperatures may
not be enough to kill all the bacteria. You're sure to kill quite a few of them,
though. Pouring bleach (diluted in water) over the board is also a good way
of purging the board of bacteria.
Once you've got the board clean, keep it dry. A few hours of
complete dryness will kill the remainder of the bacteria. Make sure you prop
up a corner of the cutting board if you're leaving it on the countertop so
moisture won't be sandwiched under the board.
Wood cutting boards deal with bacteria
in the opposite way that plastic boards do. Wood boards actually absorb the
bacteria into the wood. After the surface of the wood has been cleaned and
dried, the bacteria near the surface dies. It turns out the wood near the
surface forms a hostile environment for bacteria to live in. There are lots
of bacteria living in the cutting board, but about 1/8 in. below the surface.
This is deep enough that a heavy handed chop into the wood is unlikely to
release bacteria (unless the wood splits). If your cutting board fits in
your microwave oven, heating up the board in the microwave for 30 sec. or
so will completely cleanse the board of bacteria, inside and out. As with
plastic boards, prop a corner up to keep moisture from collecting.
In general, plastic cutting boards are less expensive than wood cutting
boards. For $10, you can purchase a set of cutting boards for cutting
poultry, fish, and meats, or you can divide them up by size. For the same
$10, a set of three wood boards will be servicable, but noticably
lower quality. A good wood board can run upwards of $100, although a
$10-20 board should make a great cutting surface. If you have expensive
knives and don't mind oiling every couple weeks, then get a modest wood
carving board. If you're on a budget, like the convenience of multiple
cutting boards, and can stand dealing with vigorous
scrubbing and the occassional bleaching, then plastic is the way to go.