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There are a lot of cutting boards out there. Some are pretty, others are practical, and others are mostly useless. It’s hard to know which one to pick if you don’t have experience with an unfamiliar material, brand or style.
Sometimes, being frugal is a virtue. You can learn a lesson from restaurant kitchens by using inexpensive plastic cutting boards. They’re durable, dishwasher-safe and require no maintenance. Their low price means you can keep several colour-coded boards around for meat, bread and veggies, and they’re inexpensive enough that replacing a stained or gouged cutting board won’t break the bank. They stop a knife from slipping on the surface, but they’re also not hard enough to quickly ruin the edge on your blade. Look for them in department stores, supermarkets and kitchen shops. Don’t fool yourself into believing a plastic cutting board makes your kitchen second-rate, and that pros only use wood. That’s simply not true. There’s a good chance the veggies in your last restaurant meal were chopped on a plastic cutting board.
While plastic is practical, wood is a little nicer to use, is a little kinder to knives, is great at gently stopping a knife blade, and, let’s face it, is a whole lot prettier on your kitchen counter. If you go the wood route, know that the trade-off is extra care and maintenance. You have to use a special type of food-safe mineral oil to keep wood boards in top shape, they can take on strong food flavours, harsh sanitizing chemicals can seep in if left to sit on the surface, and they shouldn’t be left to soak in water or to stew in other kitchen liquids. If you’re the kind of person who just tosses a cutting board in the sink to wash later, wood is not your friend.
Bamboo is a new kid on the chopping block. It is similar to wood, but the feel is slightly different. It stops the knife like wood, but the surface sometimes has a harder, more slippery texture. Again, like wood, bamboo should be treated with mineral oil as per the manufacturer’s directions. Not an option for those who just want to throw the cutting board in the dishwasher after meal prep is done.
Regardless of the type you choose, make sure the size is large enough to completely accommodate your knife’s blade while chopping, slicing and dicing, but not so large that the board hangs off the edge of your counter. Remember that it takes more than a square foot of space to break down a chicken, so buy a board large enough – preferably larger than enough – for anything you may use it for.
As for the “mostly useless” category of cutting boards, glass should be avoided if at all possible. They can easily dull or damage your knives, and the surface is hard and slippery to work on – a recipe for otherwise avoidable kitchen accidents. If you have one, you don’t have to throw it out. Instead, repurpose it as a serving platter for cheeses, cold cuts, etc.