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Advice on cutting board / butcher block

  • t

I've decided it's time to upgrade to a nice cutting board/butcher block that should (hopefully) last me a lifetime - I'm referring to the pieces of wood you put on your kitchen counter (not the ones with legs that are a stand-alone piece of furniture). I've done some research, and thought I'd get the advice of experts here. I've already read through several threads on this topic on this site, so hopefully this isn't already addressed elsewhere.

Based on what I've read, it seems clear that end-grain is the way to go, and I'm prepared to spend ~$200 for a nice board.

Reversible vs. non-reversible:
It seems that some boards are reversible, while others have little feet attached, which means they can only be used on one side. My initial thought is that reversible is better, as if something goes horribly wrong, I should still be able to use the other side. However, I've read that the feet prevent sliding and help air circulation, so that moisture doesn't accumulate on the under-side of the board. Is one generally better than the other, or is it just personal preference? The one I'm using now doesn't have any feet, and I've never experienced any issues with sliding.

Thickness:
Thicker seems to be better, however, I'm not that tall, and having a 4" thick board on my counter would make cutting uncomfortably high (I've tested it out). I'm thinking 2 - 2.5" is the maximum thickness I could manage, given my current kitchen setup. Is it worth investing in an expensive board of this thickness?

Wood type:
Is maple really the way to go? I love the look of walnut, which is not quite as hard. Is walnut a good choice if I'm looking for something that will last a long time? I don't mind paying extra for walnut, but not if it's not as functional as maple. Cherry also looks nice, but appears to be softer than walnut.

Manufacturer:
Any thoughts on the quality of John Boos boards, compared with some of the smaller companies? I'd prefer to support the smaller makers, but don't want to end up with something that falls apart after a few years!

Thanks in advance!

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    1. tyys, There ain't no flies on John Boos, but Michigan Maple Block generally is regarded as a tad better at the price. http://www.buybutcherblock.com/mm5/me...

      I do not know if Michigan Maple Block, despite its name, also has walnut products.

      1. One of the most highly regarded boards is from The Boardsmith. I am in the process of getting mine done right now, but almost all of the knife nuts at Knifeforums highly recommend the Boardsmith boards as well.

        You can choose your wood (I also like walnut) and size. 2 inches thick is pretty standard, but you can just write (David) to get a custom size that fits your sink for instance, and you can also choose to get juice grooves in it and rubber feet to prevent the board from sliding.

        http://www.theboardsmith.com/

        7 Replies
        1. re: smkit

          Smkit, thanks for this great referral! Do you know how to best think about thickness -- i.e., what is optimal (assuming height is no issue), what is the relevance of thickness/what does it impact, are there diminishing returns after a certain point, etc.?

          Also, any thoughts on OP's question re: optimal type of wood, and one vs. two-sided?

          Thanks in advance!

          1. re: iyc_nyc

            Just as Boardsmith said down thread, it is personal preference (thickness/wood), but you might want to try putting books on your counter at the height the board would be and see how it feels to cut at that height. Also, keep in mind that if you get a non-reversable board and have rubber non-slip feet on it, then that will also add some height too.

            Lastly, keep in mind the other cooking partners in your family. What is just right for you might not be good for someone who is a shorter cook.

            I've gone for the 2-inch because it seems to be a good tradeoff between stability (warping resistance) and heaviness. If the board gets too heavy, it is often used less. And a board that is never used is just a decoration. I also measured my sink to make sure it would fit into it. The bigger boards do get heavy and cumbersome to hand wash, so having it 'fit' your kitchen is a plus.

            Also, just fyi, I personally won't be using my boards to cut protein on. I have dedicated poly boards with a juice grove around the edge that I use for that.

            1. re: smkit

              Great - thanks! Re:washing the board, I have a tiny sink.. I've read that some folks just wipe the board down rt on the counter. If I don't use it for meat, would that be ok?

              1. re: iyc_nyc

                It is definitely easier to clean a board in a sink. You don't need the entire board to fit inside the sink. As long as a good part of the board fits, it will do. Scrubbing a board on the counter is not the problem. It is the rinising part.

                If rinising over a sink is not possible, then you can wipe the board on the counter as you suggested and probably using a scraper and put more efforts on board disinfection. By disinfection, I mean using anything ranging from salt, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, bleach solution... .

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  great - thanks! (sad how i haven't mastered the seemingly simple things in life..)

                  1. re: iyc_nyc

                    Your welcome. Please feel free to post your questions. No one master everything in life. The most intrguing part of life is learning and experiencing new things. Life would be boring if you think you know everything there is to know. Best.

          2. re: smkit

            Agree. I have never used The Boardsmith, but its reputation is unrivaled among knife experts.

          3. Tyyz, I'm glad you posted as I'll soon be in the market for a board -- so thanks!

            For what it's worth, I did some (actually, a lot) of research earlier when I was looking for a butcher board kitchen cart, and heard mixed reviews re: John Boos. I was all set on getting one of their butcher block-topped kitchen carts that I'd been eyeing for several years; and then read reviews that their butcher blocks have had warping/splitting problems. Who knows how many they sell and what % actually go bad so it could be that a disproportionate number of dissatisfied customers who got bad apples submitted reviews -- but I read enough of them that I reluctantly decided to get something else.

            That said, a cutting board is a lesser investment than a whole cart (especially John Boos', which can be very pricey), so I might consider John Boos for a cutting board only. (vs. a cart where if the cutting board on the cart goes bad, the whole cart becomes much less useful).

            Also, if you are set on reversible, which sounds like a good idea to me, you can always get silcon mats/coasters/bumpers to place underneath the board to minimize slippage and provide some ventilation.

            3 Replies
            1. re: iyc_nyc

              Agree. I have heard mixed review for John Boos. It seems certain types of their boards have very good reviews and some not good.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Do you remember which Boos boards were generating complaints and which ones weren't, specifically which camp would the reversible end-grain Boos maple cutting board fall in? I know maple and end-grains to look for in a cutting board, but with Boos' mixed reviews... I skimmed through their Amazon reviews, and nothing really jumped out as to which ones were the good ones and which ones are the bad ones.

                It seems like Boos boards were seen as the best cutting boards out there for so long that I'm curious if these poor reviews are a recent phenomenon or if Boos boards were never quite that good in the first place.

                1. re: hobbess

                  End grain cutting boards are nice. I think Boos cutting boards are solid standard. However, I used to read some bad reviews from Williams Sonoma website. Williams Sonoma no longer carry many of the Boos cutting boards, so those bad reviews can no longer be found. Here is one:

                  http://www.williams-sonoma.com/produc...

                  On the other hand, I am not sure if the faults lie with the customers as opposed to the Boos cutting boards.

            2. Well, personally I prefer reversible as you mentioned. Many people like using different surfaces for meats and vegetables. For a reversible board, you can use vegetables on one side and meats on the other side. I don't think "moisture accumulates on the under-side of the board" is a concern. During usage, I put a dish dryer mat underneath my chopping block. It soaks up excess liquid and keeps the block from sliding. After usage, I store the board on its side. Nonetheless, nonreversible boards are excellent too. It is just a personal choice. This is the dish dryer mat I use:

              http://www.amazon.com/Garden-Botanika...

              People say thicker is better because a thicker wood board is more stable against warping. However, you really don't want to go against ergonomics and strain your wrist, arm and shoulder . Between a longer lasting cutting board and a healthier posture, I always pick the latter. I have recently switched away from my 5" end grain chopping block. I can use a gyuto/chef knife on it, but it does not pair well with my Chinese chef's knife (a Chinese chef's knife has a wide blade and lift my hand further up). A good rule of thumb is: your hand should be slightly below your elbow when you are cutting, definitely not above your elbow.

              Wood type. I don't know. I think I will get shot. I go against the conventional belief. I have a pine wood end grain cutting block. I know many people would say no-no to pine, but mine seems to have worked out fine for me. As mentioned, I have put it aside for now because it is very tall/thick, but I am looking forward using it when I get a new house with a new counter and all. Here is what it looks like.

              http://www.chow.com/photos/420502?tag...

              I think it is more important learning how to take care of the board than buying an expensive board.

              Best wishes.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                CK, super helpful as always - thanks!

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  One option instead of reversing the cutting board that I did was I first bought some of those thin plastic cutting mats, then I ordered my boards to fit the cutting mats. That way, instead of flipping the board over I can just scrape off the food, put another matt on it and cut away. Also, if I ever need to cut a protein on my board, this will reduce food contact with the wood. The flat mats are easy to clean and can be switched out quickly.

                  I have a couple Dexas grippmats that I use and got at Sears for $6.