September 9, 2012

Choosing a cutting board: A dicey proposition

With all the options out there, how do you know which one is right?

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Wood, plastic, glass or bamboo? Three inches thick or pancake thin? On-the-counter or over-the-sink?

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Architec’s Indian Sheesham Gripperwood board sells for $24.99.

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Architec wood boards come in a variety of sizes and range in price accordingly.

Courtesy photos

Additional Photos Below


YOU COULD ARGUE that it doesn't really matter what kind of board you use as long as you are diligent about cleaning it regularly.

WOODEN BOARDS SHOULD be washed in warm, soapy water, then treated with a wash containing vinegar or bleach.

"I HAVE A nice big wood one at home, and I use it for everything," said Jane St. Pierre, co-owner of Kitchen & Cork in Scarborough. "But I really am careful about washing it, rinsing it, and then I'll keep a small bottle of bleach and water in a spray bottle and just kind of give it a spray and then let it air dry."

WHEN IT COMES to bleach, a little goes a long way. Scott Jones, a chef instructor at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School, advised that a good rule of thumb is a capful of bleach to a quart of water. Jones tends to use wooden boards for things like fruit, vegetables and breads so they don't have to get too wet during cleaning.

"IN CULINARY SCHOOL, I learned that the best way to clean wooden cutting boards is with lemon juice and salt," Jones said. "You scrub it and then give it a wipe with a damp cloth with vinegar on it. That's a good way to sanitize your cutting board without running it through your dishwasher."

WOODEN CUTTING BOARDS should also be treated regularly with a little food-grade oil or mineral oil to keep them from cracking and drying out. Do not use vegetable oil or olive oil, because it will seep into the board and turn rancid.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD a board be treated? St. Pierre says it depends on how often you use it. "We do ours here once a month, but we're constantly using ours every day," she said. Jones thinks every couple of weeks is appropriate for a board that gets daily use.

- Meredith Goad

Shopping for a cutting board can be a challenge, given all the options that are available today. And once you make your way through the maze of function and form, there's style and color to deal with -- do you want that maple board in a simple rectangle or in the shape of a cute cow?

Here's some advice from people who use cutting boards every day that should help narrow down the choices.


The traditional choices, wood and plastic, both have pros and cons.

Wood is easier on your knives, but you can't really throw it in the dishwasher because if it gets too wet, it will split and crack.

Plastic is convenient because it's dishwasher safe. A lot of people like that they can get it in different colors, so they can have separate boards for meat, veggies and fish. But plastic will show knife marks more readily, and when the cuts get deep enough, they could harbor bacteria.

"The problem is with any of those plastic boards, they do sort of scar up faster," said Suzie Rephan, manager of LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street. "But you could put them in the dishwasher, whereas you can't put wood cutting boards in the dishwasher. They'll just get ruined."

Whether a hardwood board or a plastic board is better for fighting bacteria that could cause foodborne illess is still "up in the air, actually," said Scott Jones, a chef instructor at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School.

"They're still debating that," he said. "Lately, it's been proven that wood has a natural anti-bacteria fighter in it. I'm not a scientist, but I know that's what they're leaning towards now. They're saying plastic isn't as safe because when you wash it and run it through the dishwasher, it's not porous. It doesn't breathe. If you don't dry it, the water just stays on the cutting board, and then that can help harbor bacteria too, if your cutting boards are wet. So when you wash them, you want them to be dry."

What about bamboo?

Bamboo is also better for your knives and "sort of naturally anti-bacterial," Rephan said, but like hardwood, shouldn't be put in the dishwasher or soaked overnight.

Rephan said Epicurean boards made out of a tough wood composite material are big sellers in her store. They treat knives well like a wood cutting board does, but they can go into the dishwasher with no problem.

Jones said Epicurean is his favorite brand, and it's what he uses at home. He said that in addition to the wood composite boards, the company has a new board made out of recycled milk jugs ($19.99 to $34.99) that doesn't harbor bacteria and can also go into the dishwasher. He likes the fact that they're environmentally friendly.

"Another thing I like about them is they come in different colors, which I tend to do at home," he said. "I have cutting boards that come in different colors, depending on what I'm using it for. If I have a green cutting board, I know my vegetables go on the green. And if I have yellow, that's for raw chicken, and red would be for raw beef.

"And I have one that's brown for cooked beef, and then you can have a blue one for fish and things like that. That way you can know exactly what you're using for what color so you're not transferring bacteria."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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J.K. Adams’ fanciful pig board ($30) is made of maple. You can also get a chicken, a cow, a rooster and a fish. They have a food-safe antique stain and retro-colored edges, and are lightly distressed.

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Kitchen Series boards are thin and lightweight. Made of compressed wood that is easier on your knives, they can go right into the dishwasher.

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Epicurean Eco Plastic boards are made out of recycled milk jugs. The Kitchen Series/Eco Plastic boards range in price according to size from $11.99 to $34.99.

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Epicurean designer color-coded boards come in a set of four for $129.99. Each is meant to have a separate use.


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