Kitchen Essentials 7: Cutting Boards


Kitchen Essentials is a series for new cooks.  The aim is to give you the basics of food prep, a kitchen utensil guide, and set you up for success as a home chef.  This weeks installment will cover the basics of cutting boards.

Cutting boards may not be the sexiest thing to write about, but they are an essential in the kitchen.  A good cutting board will make your food preparation a breeze, while a bad one could sour you on the whole endeavor.  With so many choices on the internet and at your local box store, buying a cutting board can be overwhelming.  We may just simply grab the closest one instead of thinking through our decision.  These three tips should give you a starting point from which to choose a cutting board that will fit you perfectly.

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1. Size Matters

Size matters, at least for cutting boards.  You want as large a board as you can reasonably handle.  Small cutting boards simply do not provide the working area that you need to properly chop, dice, or filet.  As you cut, the chopped food needs to go somewhere.  If your board is too small either the food will overflow onto your counter top, or you will have to stop constantly to remove the cut pieces; that is a lot of unnecessary work.  A large cutting board allows you to continue to work while giving your food a safe place to hang out until you are finished with your prep.

A large cutting board also has the advantage of handling larger food items.  If your cutting board is too small to hold your Thanksgiving Turkey, where are you going to carve it?  How will you slice your watermelon if your cutting board is small?  The larger the cutting board the better, in every imaginable way.

“These three tips should give you a starting point from which to choose a cutting board that will fit you perfectly.”

2. Weight Matters

A larger cutting board is simply going to be heavier than a smaller one of the same material, that’s a given, but different boards of the same size are going to vary dramatically in weight based on the materials used to make them.  In my opinion cutting boards can be both too heavy and too light.

A light cutting board may seem advantageous at first.  It certainly will be easier to move from place to place and that has its upsides.  A light cutting board can also move around when you are working with it easily too, though, and that is a very bad thing when using sharp knifes.  Most of the lighter cutting boards can also be flimsy, making transferring food from board to bowl a less than ideal experience.

Really heavy cutting boards have the opposite problem.  They are extremely sturdy and stay where you put them, however moving them is an olympic sport.  A cutting board that is too heavy to lift comfortably with one hand makes transferring food cumbersome.  The best cutting boards are midrange in regards to weight.  They are heavy enough to stay put while cutting, yet they are light enough to be moved with relative ease.

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  • 3. Material Matters

    When it comes to cutting board technology much hasn’t changed in the past 1000 years.  All you really need for a cutting board is a flat surface to cut things.  How could we improve on that much?  The truth is, humanity hasn’t.  Your grandmother would instantly recognize your cutting board, and visa versa.  The only real difference in cutting boards today is that there are a few new materials from which to choose, most notable plastic.

    In the past wood was the go-to choice for cutting boards.  It was hard enough to not be destroyed by your knives, but soft enough it wouldn’t damage your blade.  It is a great material for cutting boards if it wasn’t for the annoying fact that it breeds bacteria like crazy.  Recently a lot of companies are using bamboo as a “green alternative” choice, but it has the same problem as its wooden predecessors.  All the nicks and knife marks left behind are magnets for bacterial infestations.  Of course if you have a high temp dish washer they could be safe, but the dish washer will eventually ruin the wood and bamboo.  I stay away from any cutting board made from organic material.

    On the opposite end of the material spectrum is glass or stone cutting boards.  They are super sterile, and it is almost impossible to scratch them with your kitchen equipment.  They are not going to discolor, melt, or break easily, and so last a life time.  They would be perfect except for the fact that they are so hard they ruin your knives’ cutting edge.  They dull blades extremely quickly, which makes them less than desirable, unless you like spending and hour every day reforming a sharp edge.

    There is a perfect middle ground between the wooden and glass boards.  Plastic.  Plastic cutting boards bring the best of both cutting board worlds together.  They are soft enough they wont kill your knife-edge, but they aren’t so soft you will create bacteria havens.  They are sturdy, non-organic, and wash easily.  Plastic is the material of choice when it comes to cutting boards, hands down.

    So when looking for an ideal cutting board, look for a large plastic cutting board that is heavy but not grotesquely so.