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Not all cutting boards are created equal. While plastic cutting boards are inexpensive, they are certainly less attractive than their wooden counterparts. Bamboo boards are gaining steam, but how do they hold up with regular use? We’ll answer these questions in our comparison of wood vs plastic vs bamboo cutting boards. (Bonus: we’ll also cover glass and composite cutting boards too!)
Cutting boards are workhorses in the kitchen, an essential prep surface. You’ll want to ensure you select the best cutting board within your budget and needs.
Perhaps more important than the type of material used is regular cleaning and maintenance. A filthy, scratched up wooden board that cost a small fortune is no better than a pristine, plastic cutting board that cost a few dollars.
Why it’s important to use the right type of cutting board
If you cook regularly, chances are, you’ll use some type of cutting board every day. Cutting boards come in contact with everything from raw vegetables to raw meat making them a potential source of food contamination and foodborne illnesses.
Food safety is one of the main concerns when it comes to cutting boards. While raw meat is often the culprit when it comes to risks of cross-contamination, even vegetables and fruits are sources of food-borne pathogens too.
Once upon a time, everyone used wooden cutting boards. Then the use of plastic cutting boards became more prevalent. Plastic, many people assumed, is supposedly more sanitary.
So, is it true that plastic cutting boards are more sanitary than wooden cutting boards?
Well, not really. While plastic cutting boards are easy to use and clean (most are dishwasher-friendly), they tend to harbor bacteria within grooves and cuts on the surface that develop overtime with use.
One study published in the Journal of Food Protection looked at the difference between wood and plastic cutting boards that were contaminated with different types of bacteria including Salmonella and Listeria. The results showed:
“Bacteria inoculated onto Plastic blocks were readily recovered for minutes to hours and would multiply if held overnight. Recoveries from wooden blocks were generally less than those from plastic blocks, regardless of new or used status; differences increased with holding time.”
So wooden cutting boards tended to have less surface bacteria than plastic ones regardless if they were new or used. However, wooden cutting boards absorbed the bacteria completely after 3-10 minutes.
Despite absorption, wooden cutting boards are still considered safe to use on meat. Wood cutting boards inhibit bacterial growth and any bacteria that’s absorbed into the cutting board eventually dies.
What makes a good cutting board?
When deciding upon the criteria of a so-called “good cutting board,” there are a few factors to consider. Some factors may be more important to you than others:
- Price: Plastic cutting boards can set you back a few dollars while high-end wooden cutting boards can cost several hundred dollars.
- How you’ll use it: Are you planning on using it for cutting raw meat, or just some vegetables and cheese?
- Durability: Often durability and price go hand-in-hand—the steeper the price, the longer it’ll last. Of course how well you take care of it plays a vital role too.
- Easy on knives: Unless you want love sharpening knives, you’ll want to consider a cutting board that won’t dull your blades.
- Size: A mid-sized cutting board is good for most purposes, but sometimes it’s handy to have a small one for slicing lemons or other small foods.
- Maintenance: Do you want to throw everything into the dishwasher? Most plastic boards are easy to clean, while others like wooden boards require good, old-fashioned handwashing.
- Aesthetics: While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I think most of us can agree that wooden cutting boards beat plastic in the looks department.
Which type of cutting board is most durable?
Quality, wooden cutting boards are the most durable, hands-down. They can last for years and maybe a lifetime if well-maintained. Unlike plastic cutting boards, wooden cutting boards can be sanded down to remove any scratches, grooves, and knicks that develop over time. Use a food-grade mineral oil to treat your wooden boards and never soak it in water.
Depending on how often you use your plastic cutting board, they tend to last one to two years before needing to be replaced. Bamboo durability falls somewhere in the middle.
Which type of cutting board is best for knives?
Cutting boards with a hard surface are harder on knives. Glass cutting boards for example, are very hard and quickly wear down knives. Over at the CuttingBoard.com, they say succinctly, “you can either have a low maintenance cutting board or a low maintenance knife, but not both.”
A better bet for keeping knives sharp would be to pick a softer material such as wood, and in some instances, plastic.
The most common type of material used for knives for home-use is stainless steel. Here’s a chart summarizing types of cutting boards and how they fare together with a stainless steel knife:
|Cutting Board||Knife Maintenance||Knife Chipping||Board Life|
|Rigid (glass, marble)||Poor||Fair||Good|
Pros and cons of wood vs plastic vs bamboo cutting boards (plus glass and composite too!)
Wood cutting boards
The darlings of the cutting board world, wood cutting boards are favored for their appealing looks and durability. The main types of wooden cutting boards can be broken down into softwoods and hardwoods.
Hardwoods are preferable to softwoods as the grain is smaller and tighter which leaves less room for bacteria to thrive in. Common hardwoods that are good choices for cutting boards include birch, cherry, oak, walnut, and hard maple.
Softwoods such as cypress and pine have a larger grain which tends to split and create ridges, grooves, and indents, These softwoods are not as durable for cutting boards.
A type of popular cutting board these days are ones made of acacia wood. Not only are these genuine wood, they are more affordable than traditional hardwoods, and also are attractive and water-resistant.
Pros of wooden cutting boards:
- Durable: Can last for many years or a lifetime with regular care.
- Attractive: There’s a reason you often see them out on display on countertops—they’re easy on the eyes.
- Natural material and renewable resource
- Can be sanded down to buff out scratches
- Won’t dull the blades of your knives
- High-quality wooden boards inhibit bacteria growth
Cons of wooden cutting boards:
- Can be expensive: Quality hardwoods can cost anywhere from $100 for a slab to $300+ for high-end pieces.
- Requires regular maintenance: To maintain a natural buffer, wooden cutting boards need a regular coating of food-grade mineral oil.
- Handwashing only
- Can absorb odors and bacteria if not properly cleaned after each use
Plastic cutting boards
Most cutting boards are made of polyethylene, or high-density polyethylene plastic (HDPE). While most people would not consider plastic attractive, plastic cutting boards are practical for everyday use, at home and in commercial kitchens. Others avoid plastic for environmental, or health reasons.
Some types of HDPE cutting boards are designed to be knife-friendly, meaning they don’t dull the blade of a knife. HDPE materials are FDA-approved for use in the kitchen and are food-safe. To protect both knife and board, avoid using serrated knives on plastic cutting boards.
Pros of plastic cutting boards:
- Available in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes
- Easy to clean (dishwasher-friendly)
- Low maintenance (compared to wooden boards)
Cons of plastic cutting boards:
- Less durable
- Becomes scuffed or scratched over time making it easy for bacteria to find a home
- Plastic material is generally not considered environmentally-friendly
- Some low-quality plastic boards can dull the blades of your knives
Bamboo cutting boards
While many people classify bamboo as a “wood” this is not entirely accurate. Bamboo is technically considered a type of fibrous grass. The USDA recommends bamboo cutting boards for their durability.
Applauded for its sustainability, bamboo is an eco-friendly material. While hardwoods can take decades to grow and harvest, bamboo grows in a fraction of the time.
Overall, bamboo is a solid option and a popular cutting board type. It also strikes a balance between looks and price—less expensive than wooden boards but comparable in appeal.
Pros of bamboo cutting boards:
- Eco-friendly and renewable
- Less porous than wooden boards
- Antibacterial properties
- Comparable in looks to wooden boards
- Less expensive than wooden boards
Cons of bamboo cutting boards:
- Bamboo is a fairly hard material and can dull knives over time
- Handwashing only
- Requires a bit of TLC with mineral oil like wooden boards
Note: Some bamboo boards use formaldehyde-based glues which can release over time. Check the label before purchasing.
Glass cutting boards
We used to see these in kitchens a lot. Over time, they’ve become less popular. This might be partly due to the fact that glass cutting boards are hard on your knives, and just unpleasant to work on (who wants to hear clank, clank, clank with every movement?). However, if you’re looking for a nonporous cutting board, glass is a good bet.
Pros of glass cutting boards:
- Easy to clean
- Hard, non-porous surface
Cons of glass cutting boards:
- Very hard surface easily dulls knife blades
- Easy to chip or crack
- Cold to work on
What about composite cutting boards?
You may have heard of composite boards which are essentially a hybrid of wood and plastic. Made of wood fibers and phenolic resins, many of these boards claim to be knife-friendly; however their hard surface says otherwise.
Pros of composite cutting boards:
- Available in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes
- Dishwasher safe
Cons composite cutting boards:
- Very hard surface often not considered knife-friendly
- Thicker types can be pricey
- Some thinner composite boards tend to flake over time
So which type of cutting board should you use?
If you’re still scratching your head over which type of cutting board is best, why not use a combination of boards?
For most daily tasks such as cutting fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads, you can’t go wrong with wooden or bamboo boards.
For raw meats, there’s a raging debate about whether plastic or wooden cutting boards are better. Both work fine—just be sure to clean them thoroughly after each use and replace your old cutting board once it’s showing cut marks and grooves. Plastic doesn’t absorb liquids like wooden boards and are easy to sanitize and clean. On the flip side, you can safely cut meat on wooden boards, and they harbor less bacteria than plastic cutting boards, but properly cleaning it afterwards and properly maintaining it requires more effort.
And while we don’t recommend glass cutting boards for actually cutting on, they are handy to use when rolling out dough.