Michael's Kitchen
Cutting Boards: Plastic vs. Wood
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.
Shop: KitchenAid Poly Cutting Board with Santoprene Handles 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.
Shop: Catskill Craftsmen Wood End Grain Cutting Slab 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. Shop: Catskill Craftsmen Reversible Wood Turkey Board with Groove Cutting boards with large grooves serve better for carving than for cutting. I recommend having a seperate carving board for carving and serving than the board you normally use for slicing and chopping for preparation.

Shop: Catskill Craftsmen Wood End Grain Round Cutting Slab with Feet 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 boards.

Shop: Target Over-the-Sink Cutting Board Over the sink boards
Shop: Catskill Craftsmen Adjustable Wood Over-the-Sink Board 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.
Shop: Farberware 3-Piece Poly Cutting Board Set 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 Shop: Farberware 12x18 in. Poly Cutting Board with MicroBan
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.
Shop: Farberware 3-Piece Wood Cutting Board Set 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.

Buy from amazon.com
< $10
  • Farberware 3-Piece Poly Cutting Board Set
  • Midnight Granite Poly Cutting Board (9x15 in.) from Target
  • Michael Graves Poly Cutting Board
  • Cutting Board - Midnight Granite (14 x 17")
  • Polysafe Cutting Board (14x17 in.) from Target
  • Farberware 12x18 in. Poly Cutting Board with Microban
  • Farberware 3-Piece Wood Cutting Board Set
  • Wood Cutting Board (14x10 in.) from Target
  • Henckels Birch Cutting Board
  • $10 to $20
  • Over-the-Sink Cutting Board from Target
  • Color-Coded Cutting Boards from Target
  • Trudeau 12-Inch Round Polypropylene Cutting Board
  • Trudeau 8x10 in. Polypropylene Cutting Board
  • Trudeau 13x10 in. Polypropylene Cutting Board
  • KitchenAid Poly Cutting Board with Santoprene Handles
  • Kitchen Cutting Board Set (3-pc.) from Target
  • Catskill Craftsmen Square Wood Chopping Block with Groove
  • Cutting Board with Groove(11x14.5 in) from Target
  • Cutting Board (14x17 in.) from Target
  • Catskill Craftsmen Adjustable Wood Over-the-Sink Board
  • Catskill Craftsmen Reversible Wood End Grain Block with Groove
  • $20 to $50
  • Trudeau 20x24 in. Cutting/Pastry Board
  • Prep and Serve Cutting Board from Marshall Fields
  • Catskill Craftsmen Reversible Wood Turkey Board with Groove
  • Catskill Craftsmen Grandma's Turkey Wood Cutting Board with Feet & Graphics
  • Catskill Craftsmen Wood Cut 'N Catch Board
  • $50 to $100  
  • Catskill Craftsmen Wood End Grain Round Cutting Slab with Feet
  • J.K. Adams Maple Counter Board
  • Catskill Craftsmen Wood End Grain Cutting Slab

  • Related links
  • Cutting boards: Plastic vs. Wood
  • Knives: Who's who in the knife block
  • The Kitchenaid Stand Mixer

  • Last modified: Wed Jun 18 16:02:38 Pacific Daylight Time 2003