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A chopping board is an essential tool in any kitchen, a great gift, and a beautiful piece of home decor. But with so many different styles and materials (and such a wide range of prices), how do you know what type of board is right for you?
Wood vs. Plastic
High-quality hardwood chopping boards remain the gold standard for everyday kitchen use. Compared to plastic boards, they are more durable, easier on knives, and are more attractive for serving and kitchen display. It’s always recommended to go with fine-grained hardwoods, which include Maple, Walnut, Cherry, Beech, Bamboo, Mahogany, Sapele, and Oak as they stand up well to years of cutting.
We always recommend that you use wood for your primary serving and cutting boards, but at some point, people began using cheaper plastic cutting boards. That’s because the plastic was considered heat and moisture resistant enough to be put through the dishwasher for thorough cleaning. Be careful – once a plastic board develops deeper cuts which become a haven for bacteria, meaning it’s time to replace it.
Back in the late 1980s, a University of California, Davis researcher named Dean O. Cliver – conducted research into whether plastic cutting boards really were safer. Decontamination of Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards for Kitchen Use. Answer: not really.
Much to their surprise, they found that when boards were purposely contaminated with organisms like Salmonella, Listeria and Escherichia coli that are common causes of food poisoning, 99.9 percent of the bacteria died off within three minutes on the wooden boards, while none died on the plastic ones.
When contaminated boards were left unwashed overnight at room temperature, bacterial counts increased on the plastic, but none of the organisms could be recovered from the wooden boards the next morning.
The terms used to describe grain configuration can be confusing for the novice buyer. Generally, if you’ve chosen a hardwood, you can’t go wrong – but it’s easy to appreciate the nuance between the different styles.
End grain cutting boards
- Pros: Most durable, protect knife sharpness, satisfying cutting “feel”, “self-healing”, often considered best-in-class and beautiful.
- Cons: Require more careful cleaning when cutting raw meat, higher prices.
End grain cutting boards are made by cutting the pieces of lumber into blocks and gluing the blocks together with the end grain up, exposing the character of the wood rings and graining. This means that grains face vertically, which presents several benefits:
- Vertical grain absorbs cuts between the grain, providing the least wear on your sharp knives
- Cuts and markings seal naturally over time as the grains pull back together, extending durability
- The “checkerboard” look of an end grain board also makes for an attractive look that can be displayed in low, medium, or high contrast.
Edge grain cutting boards
- Pros: Durable, moisture-resistant, versatile, less expensive than end grain
- Cons: Harder on knives, visible cut marks
Edge grain (or vertical grain) boards are made by facing the long narrow edge of the board upwards, fusing together a number of narrow sections together with glue. The grain that is exposed is the grain that you would see by cutting a tree vertically (top to bottom).
Edge grain boards provide exceptional durability and are great at withstanding warping or cracking from moisture. They wear a bit harder on knives than end grain board cutting boards or butcher blocks.
An edge grain board can also feature a range of designs, as strips of different colors and grains of wood are layered together to form a beautiful pattern.
Face grain boards
- Pros: Durable, more resistant to stains and absorbing moisture, clean look, great for laser engraving, most affordable.
- Cons: Harder on knives, limited thickness, limited design options other than engraving, warping, knife marks
Face grain boards expose the wide face of a typical board cut, providing a clean expansive look. The blank canvas of a side grain cut of a lighter hardwood like Maple is ideal for engraving as it provides a large, open surface to showcase a laser-engraved logo, monogram or other design. Personalized and engraved cutting boards are very popular gifts, offering a personal touch for a wedding or housewarming present.
Face grain cutting boards are typically made from a small number of boards, often just 2 or 3. These boards offer limited thickness since they typically reflect the thickness available in raw lumber. These boards will naturally bend/warp in the direction of the growth rings when the wood dries out. If a 2-3 inch butcher block style cutting board is what interests you, you’ll need to look to the edge or end grain boards.
Cutting Boards vs. Butcher Blocks
In the cutting board space, butcher block is a bit of a vague term. Butcher blocks are still cutting boards, the only difference being that they are usually thicker (2 inches or more), end-grain boards, featuring the checkerboard-style design that’s typical of end grain cutting board assembly.
Of course, true heavy duty butcher’s chopping blocks are still made and can be used as a great prep surface in any kitchen.