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Cutting board: need some help

I never thought cutting boards could be so complex. Edge-grain, end-grain, thickness, maple/walnut/cherry, size, etc. What do each of these differences do, and what does the home cook need?

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  1. It really depends on how you will use it. For me, I need one the right size to wash in my sink, the right weight for me to pick up easily and the right size for what I want to do. I have 3 favorite boards right now and none was expensive. The first is a good part of an IKEA butcherblock top which is right weight and size and gives me enough space for a lot of prep--say stew or meatballs. The second is shaped like a peel with a handle in mixed woods and very handsome. I use that for chopping a small amount of whatever. The third is a meat carving Boos board with a channel around the edge for juices. I use that for meats and juicy fruits and vegetables. Stay focused on what you want it for and the rest becomes easier

    1. Edge grain cutting boards are made from strips of wood. The wood fibers run parallel the length of the cutting boards. They are usually cheaper, thinner and lighter:

      http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I...

      End grain cutting boards have the wood fibers run perpendicular to the length of the boards, which is actually parallel in the direction of the knife motion. As such, end grain cutting boards many advantages, such as slightly better at preserving the knife edge and absorbing moisture. However, end grain boards are usually thicker, heavier and more expensive.

      First of all, a cutting board is very important. The cutting board is what your knives interact with. It has effects on how well your knives can cut foods, how much work area you have during food preparation, how long your knives can stay sharp.....etc.

      Second, while it is important, a normal home cook can get by with most wood cutting boards, plastic cutting boards....etc. Just make sure you stay away from the really bad ones like glass cutting boards, or stone cutting boards.

      <what does the home cook need?>

      I would stick with wood and go with the size you are happy with. If you prefer to wash your cutting board in the dish washer, then you will have to use a plastic cutting board.

      1. Hi Winny94 -

        Professionally trained, but an active home cook.

        Not to diminish the good, quality craftsmanship of the capable woodworker, but I look for a stable hard surface, that is easily cleaned for multiple dishes being cooked.

        I use a Rösle cutting board, made of Beech wood, supported on 4 silicone feet, screw attached to the bottom. Onto that I use 1 of 4 cutting mats, that can be washed clean by hand, or a dishwasher, and also do not dull our knives.

        The mats are textured, soft, and flexible so that cut meat, or vegetables can be sliced and then poured by the mat into the bowl, pot, or pan.

        I have 2 boards and a set of 4 mats, since 2009, and the boards themselves look as new as they did on the day I bought them. The mats are cleaned as needed, and the boards are wiped down and checked weekly before being put away in cabinets.

        Most importantly my knives stay razor sharp when using the Rösle mats, unlike before with a thick cutting board only. I do sharpen them, but not as much as before.

        The only exception to the rule is using a Mezzaluna chopper for herbs. For that I use a cupped cutting board fitted to the diameter of the chopping blades. That too is Rösle, but made of bamboo wood, with a U hook on it to wash and then hang to dry o a kitchen rail.

        I hope this is helpful.

         
         
        4 Replies
        1. re: SWISSAIRE

          Bamboo is cheap but I have heard it is very hard so not good for knife edges.

          Do you mineral oil your boards? I got some a year or so ago but not sure it makes any difference. I do use those plastic sheets on top for cutting, transferring and easy clean up, though.

          1. re: divadmas

            Bamboo is indeed not great for knife edges. Not nearly as bad as glass, but noticeably worse than hard wood or even most plastics.

            As for mineral oil:
            It provides some protection against a few things: splitting/cracking, warping, and to some extent foul odors. There are no guarantees, but it improves your odds. Also, some people use beeswax, either alone or in combination with mineral oil, as a sealant. Beeswax can also makes the board feel very nice during use.

            That said, sometimes treated boards still crack or warp or stink, and sometimes untreated boards never develop any problems at all.

            1. re: cowboyardee

              I couldn't agree more. I'm exceptionally casual about oiling my boards. When they begin to look a little chalky, they get some oil. This turns out to be about 2x a year, if that.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                < There are no guarantees, but it improves your odds. >

                Absolutely. Oil does help, but it does not absolutely prevent a cutting board from cracking. On the other hand, I bought a $13 cutting board from H-Mart which I have for 2 years, and I have not oiled it once:

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7907...

                It does not have the slightly sign of cracking or splitting.

          2. Edge or end grain in any of the woods you've mentioned will work well, provided the board is well made.

            Me, I love end grain boards. I like their greater variation in pattern and color, as well as the way they feel after just a few years of use. I think because they're softer, my knives like them more, too. My end-grain acacia board, which is harder than the other three woods, is still plenty soft for cutting. I've only had it for 7 years, but within about 4 years it had already developed a velvety soft patina. Truly, it feels soft like velvet.

            It is similar to this one, but after years of use is as dark as walnut.
            http://www.amazon.com/Ironwood-Gourme...

            1. I have an end grain board I LOVE, but I also keep some basic plastic boards around for meats to go in the dishwasher or when I need to be gluten free (SIL with celiacs requested as such, so cause she's worth it. . .)

              Now if I could get my mom to give up her glass board. . . but her knives are hopeless at this point anyways but still a gal can dream

              1. I take a simple approach. End grain is not necessary unless you are using a heavy cleaver to chop things, in which case a very thick and heavy chopping block is needed. Few home cooks need this. A home cutting board should be hardwood laid in laminated pieces with edge grain. A good woodworker will arrange the grain alignment to equalize stresses in the wood if shrinkage or swelling occurs, but the end user needn't worry about this. The particular hardwood used is mostly a matter of decor, not performance as a cutting board. Any hardwood that can be made into a flat surface which will remain flat will function as a cutting board. Mine is unspecified hardwood, pissibly a mix. A board of one specific wood will usually cost more.

                A good board is large enough to provide a convenient working surface and heavy enough to stay in place while in use. But it should not be so heavy so as to be difficult to use. Mine is 17 by 23 inches and 1 1/8 inches thick. This is about as small as I would want. For many years I lacked a large cutting board and having a good one is a big convenience.

                I avoided the brands usually placed at the top of the list in order to get a better value, and I'm not sorry. Mine does the job very well, as it should. After all, it is merely a hunk of laminated wood. This isn't rocket science.

                1. Since my town's recycling does not include styrofoam, I wash the styrofoam trays that hold the meat and produce I buy, and use them when I'm doing smaller cutting jobs. They cushion the blades well and get tossed in the trash when I'm done, so I don't have to use (and clean) my plastic or wood cutting boards as often.

                  1. I like my rubber Sanituff boards. I have a big one and a huge one, forget exact dimensions.

                    8 Replies
                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I actually read your review of it the other day.
                        I honestly have never used anything else. In my ~6 years of taking cooking seriously I've never owned a wood board, end grain or otherwise. I want to try a boardsmith but my Sanituff is just so convenient, sanitary, easy to clean (can sand a new surface into it). I bet it dulls knives a little faster though, not sure if it's 3x but I really wouldn't know. I'm still super new to sharpening too but I don't mind gettin out the edge pro to make adjustments.

                        1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                          I should not be so negative. Actually, come to think of it, I do have fond memories of the Sani-Tuff cutting board.

                          1) Very dense and provides a good weight and does not move around (unlike some thin wood or plastic boards)
                          2) Very easy to clean
                          3) Resistant to warp (unlike wood)
                          4) Non-slip surface, so foods do not move around on the board and the board itself grab onto the counter surface (unlike glass or stone or some light weight cutting boards)
                          5) No special treatment needed (unlike wood)
                          6) Can be resurfaced (unlike plastic)

                          I read so many articles that rubber cutting boards like Sani-Tuff are very good for knife edge. Yet, in my hand, all of my knives seem to get dull faster on it than on my wood boards.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Definitely has some advantages. I actually originally bought it because it was recommended for Japanese knives. Funny how they end up being at least some degree harder on knives.

                            I managed to warp mine,transporating it in a hot car on a long drive. Fixed it with weights and mt oven but apparently they can warp.

                            1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                              <but apparently they can warp>

                              Agree:

                              "To clean, scrub with soap and water; putting it in a dishwasher is not recommended, as the rubber could warp."

                              http://www.nytimes.com/1999/08/04/din...

                              "Cons to rubber cutting boards :

                              Require more care than plastic. You can't use hot water on it or else it'll warp, since its rubber."

                              http://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/sho...

                              My understanding is that rubber boards warp under heat, not water. Therefore, they are more warp-resistance compare to wood boards in a home kitchen setting -- as long as excessive heat is avoided (which is not difficult).

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I've out mine through the wringer, always just go nuts on it with superhot water. Thats also warped it, but onlu slightly.
                                I just recently got the huge one. I only use it for big jobs but its great, hard to clean though since it won't even fit in my sink.

                                1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                  If you ever go use your Japanese knives on wood boards (for awhile), then let me know if you notice any edge retention difference between using them on the rubber board vs the wood board. Thanks.

                                  I think it could be my technique. I suspect that rubber board is in fact pretty gentle for the knives when the motion is mostly up and down cutting. However, I use a lot of forward and backward motion during my cut, and I noticed that the rubber board "grab" onto my knife edge quite a bit. I suspect that is what hurt my knife edge.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Someday hopefully not too far off I'm going to get a giant boardsmith board to compare.

                                    Technique definitely plays a huge part too. I try to mostly push cut and when I don't I try to minimize contact with the board for the most part. Unless I'm prepping like 3-4 kilos of veg for stocks and whatnot, then I mostly go for speed and clean up the edge later.
                                    The rubber board is definitely grabby, at times it can be aggravating, especially with super thin blades.

                    1. As the others have stated, edge grain boards are less expensive but will do a good job. However they are more prone to damage since the knife edge cuts across the wood fibers. End grain will also do the job very well and is less prone to damage since the knife edge is cutting between the wood fibers and the fibers will not be cut. End grain boards are more expensive due to the additional labor required to make them.

                      Wood choice can be critical. The general rule of thumb is to use wood from a tree with edible running sap, fruit or nuts. Some exotic woods can be toxic to humans, spalted wood contains a dangerous bacteria and if the bugs won't eat the wood, maybe you shouldn't eat off of it either.

                      Depending on the quality of your knives and how careful you are with the edges, the harder surfaces like bamboo might be a good choice. Glass looks good but it will turn an edge is a second. Plastic boards are okay but the knife scores can harbor a lot of bacteria even after machine washing.

                      Perimeter grooves are an option but they can be difficult to clean, take space away from the actual working area and they can make it difficult to scrape cut items off the board.

                      Look for tight grained wood from a tree you have heard of. You also get what you pay for and the cheaper versions sold in discount stores will not have the same quality as higher priced boards.

                      As for size, the board needs to be washed with warm water and a good detergent after cutting raw meats, poultry and fish. Finding one that will fit into a sink isn't hard. Up to 16" wide should pose no real problem there.

                      Sanitizing isn't that heard. Just wash in the sink with warm water and a good detergent, scrub the surface with a scrubber, rinse thoroughly and dry immediately.

                      Oil as needed with mineral oil you can buy at the local drug or grocery store. Oil as needed when the area used most looks lighter in color than the surrounding area. Apply, rub in a little, allow to absorb then buff with a clean paper towel. There is no schedule for oiling a board and you can oil to much.

                      Good luck with your search.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: BoardSMITH

                        Hi BoardSMITH,

                        I don't understand a couple of your statements and hope you can explain things to me:

                        <Look for tight grained wood from a tree you have heard of.>

                        What's wrong with using a board made of an exotic? We can easily find out anything we want to know about the wood species, right?

                        <The general rule of thumb is to use wood from a tree with edible running sap, fruit or nuts. Some exotic woods can be toxic to humans, spalted wood contains a dangerous bacteria and if the bugs won't eat the wood, maybe you shouldn't eat off of it either.>

                        Provided we're not hacking deeply into and then eating wood chips from our boards, it seems to me that any amounts of toxin ingested will be minute, especially with an end-grain board. Black Walnut has edible fruit, but the shells and wood are toxic. I've never seen anyone say it's a bad candidate for a cutting board.

                        Duffy

                        1. re: DuffyH

                          There actually is a very fine line (or maybe fuzzy) line between calling something toxic and something antiseptic. All antiseptic compounds at high levels are toxic to human.

                          For example, pine oil from pine cone, pine wood...etc. has antiseptic effect, which means it can mildly prevent bacterial growth in the wood, which is a good thing. On the other hand, pine oil at high enough level is toxic. Is pine wood really dangerous for practical purpose? Many Chinese butcher and BBQ chefs love to use pine wood cutting block. They look like these round blocks:

                          http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/ar...

                          Japanese, especially sushi chefs, prize Hinoki wood.

                          http://forums.egullet.org/topic/13587...

                          Hinoki wood also has antiseptic property (probably more so). Should we also say that it is toxic?

                          Let's face it. Almost everyone of us probably inject a lot more antiseptic/toxic compounds by rinsing our mouth with mouthwash.....

                            1. re: DuffyH

                              :) Just modified a bit (above) about Chinese use of the pine wood and Japanese use of the Hinoki wood. Both antiseptic.

                        2. re: BoardSMITH

                          To expand a bit on my statement about exotic woods, some of the garage hobby builders will use anything they find which might look good. I have seen photos using every kind of exotic wood without thought or regard for the end user. I have even seen some use Baltic birch plywood. A reaction could occur if the oils in the wood were ingested and not necessarily chips from the board. The bacteria causing spalting is highly toxic and unless the wood was dry kilned properly and not air dried, the bacteria will still be present. Other woods like red and white cedar contain oils which repel bugs and would be a poor choice due to the smell and those same chemicals.

                          Walnut can be a problem for some people so caution there is advised. The wood isn't toxic for humans as stated but the chips can cause a problem with horse hooves and unless properly composted the saw dust is not a good ground cover around ornamental bushes and flowers. The leaves and branches from cherry can cause problems for farm animals if eaten or chewed on so farmers keep them out of pastures. (Actually Fred at Foodie Forums stated it was a poor choice and we had discussions about that some years ago.) I make a lot of boards from cherry and walnut and have never had a problem.

                          The long and short of the discussion is to purchase from a reputable maker who has experience.

                          1. re: BoardSMITH

                            Thanks boardSMITH-

                            Good informative post.

                            I just learned a few things from you.

                            I could not agree more with your last paragraph.

                            Cheers,
                            -R

                        3. Buy yourself one really great cutting board for show and for the cook's pleasure. Then buy several cheaper ones, and put them into the dishwasher after use. I did not know you could do this until just recently. I keep meat boards that are not overly expensive, and after use, they go into the DW so they stay relatively sanitized. A case of salmonella is no fun.

                          I don't like plastic cutting boards for several reasons. They stain, they are often not stable, and they tend to blunt knives.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sueatmo

                            I would think the dishwasher for wood cutting boards would be terrible because of warping and splitting. I try to keep mine dry by using plastic cutting sheets on top. Of course any meat juices and you need soap and water.
                            I thought scientists did a study and found wood boards were actually more sanitary than plastic, contrary to their expectations. Wood had some kind of germ killing effect.

                          2. It's been fairly well covered, but I feel compelled to add my $0.02. Wood boards can be face grain, edge grain and end grain, in assending order of "quality" and likely price. Face grain boards are most prone to warp and suffer most from the knife constantly working across the grain. Edge grain boards are a significant step up and the disadvantage is the knife cutting across the grain of the wood, now it may take forever to actually notice how much wood has slowly dissapeared, but it happens. End grain boards are the best, easiest on the knife edge, this is because the fibers of the grain are sticking up like the bristles of a dart board and the knife parts them much like a dart parts the bristles. This is a bit of an over exageration but it explains the principle.

                            As for wood, walnut/cherry/maple are all good choices or use all three. You want to use a closed grain wood so "stuff" doesn't run down into the grain. Most woods are safe but as Boardsmith said, if it provides sap or nuts you can eat, it's almost always safe. To answer DuffyH's question, some woods although probably not actually toxic, although there are woods that are toxic, will cause an alergic reaction, sometimes just from contact. There are exotics that can be used, but I typically use them around the edges.

                            Size, more or less what you can handle. Keep in mind wood is relatively heavy and you may not want to deal with a 25 lb cutting board, so be thoughtful on dimensions including thickness. Unless you're chopping, you don't need a 4 inch thick board.

                            What you need is a board the size you can handle, either edge or end depending on what you want to spend and then thake really good care of it.

                            1. I now use a set of three different sized orange plastic cutting boards that I bought @ Costco a few years back similar to these offered @ Amazon:
                              http://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Double-...

                              They are easy on my knives edges and they aren't stained, even by blood or tomato juice. The best feature is I can easily clean and sanitize them because they all fit in my dishwasher.