#1 — Butcher-Block, or End-Grain Wood, Cutting Board
The clear, hands-down winner of this best cutting boards list because of the nature of it’s construction. Picture the grains of wood pointing straight up like an extremely tight brush. When your knife slices down into them, they part slightly, offering little resistance to the cutting edge. Sharpness is preserved. Not to underline the obvious, but one of my favorite professional sharpening services confirms this is his preferred choice. If only they didn’t have to be so thick and heavy. . . (Right: John Boos End-Grain Maple Chopping Block, 15 x 15 x 3″ / $162.)
#1A — Hinoki Edge-Grain Cutting Board
A little-known alternative from Japan—a Japanese cypress that’s supple, but quite durable. Sushi chef’s crave it. You know you’re in good company when Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer sells his own custom version. Like the butcher-block above, it can be pricey, but you’re getting primo quality. (Left: Henckels Miyabi Chopping Board, 15.75 x 9.75 x 1.18″ / $129. And a larger, thinner, and more inexpensive version: Shun DM0817 Hinoki Cutting Board, 18 x 12 x 0.8″ / $60 )
#2 — Sani-Tuff (Hard Rubber) Cutting Board
The standard for professional kitchens. It’s easy on knives, can last and last, and can even be resurfaced by sanding. Its only major flaw is its looks—industrial beige. It also tends to grab knife edges a bit and, depending on the thickness and size, be a bit hefty to move around. (Right: Apex 157-651 Beige Sani-Tuff Cutting Board, 12 x 18 x 3/4″ / $48.)
#3 (a tie) — Edge-Grain Wood Cutting Board
Probably the most popular type of wooden board because it blends functionality with cost quite nicely. No, it’s not as knife-friendly as an end-grain board, but as long as it’s made of hard maple (or something comparable), it’ll protect your knife edges and hold up for eons. And the price can be quite reasonable. Even though I’m a bit of a knife nut, this is the type of wooden board I own and use every day. (Left: J.K. Adams Maple Wood Kitchen Basic Cutting Board, 14 x 11 x 3/4″ / $22.)
#3 (a tie) — Plastic (Polyethylene) Cutting Board
As long as it’s a soft pliable polyethylene, NOT impenetrable, plastic’s hard to beat. It’s got plenty of pros: 1) comes in fun colors, 2) is thin, light, and maneuverable, 3) can be washed in the dishwasher, and, to top it off, 4) is terribly affordable. The only major con is that (although it will still be functional) it will score and turn ugly faster than wood. (We humans tend to find distressed wood aesthetically pleasing, but distressed plastic cheesy.) (Right: Oneida Cutting Board, 16-Inch / $17.)
Kyocera Ceramic Santoku Set
BUY NOW @ Sur La Table / Amazon
I have friends that swear by their ceramic blades. They’re way to busy to dream about doing any knife maintenance and are just grateful to have a sharp knife when they need it that will stay that way as long as possible. There are more elegant solutions and Kyocera itself fashions some classier (and pricer) models. But this is the one that started the ceramic revolution!
#4 — Bamboo Cutting Board
Many may be surprised and chagrined to hear this, but bamboo is NOT a sharp knife’s best friend. While it’s definitely durable and tre stylish to boot, it’s got this these thingies called “nodes” (sort of the knuckles in the stalk) that are super hard and nasty on knife edges. For lighter prep work bamboo’s fine, but as a main cutting board? . . .you’ll be wearing down your blades faster than necessary. (Left: Totally Bamboo 3-Piece Stripe Cutting Board Set / $20.)
#5 — Richlite (Wood-Composite) Cutting Board
This falls under the same category as bamboo—stylish, very popular, but less than ideal for keeping knives sharp. It’s just too hard! Use it as a backup (i.e. slicing up apples, etc.), but not for mincing garlic. (Right: Epicurean Non-Slip Gripper Cutting Board, Natural with Brown Silicone Grippers / $22.)
Off the List Entirely
Glass, Hard Plastic, Metal, or Anything Else that Hard. If you’re dicing on any of these materials and wondering why your MAC MTH-80 – Professional Series chef knife isn’t staying sharp, you’ve found the reason!
Best Cutting Boards Wind-up
Wood, plastic, and hard rubber cutting boards—as far as your knives are concerned—will all work well as your main chopping board. If you’re especially concerned about keeping your edges sharp, then stick with the top top three (end-grain/butcher-block, Hinoki, or hard rubber). If price and ergonomics are paramount, then edge-grain wood or plastic will do just fine. And if you really have a thing for bamboo or Richlite, cast them in supporting roles, not as stars. Stick to these tips on best cutting boards and your kitchen knives will flourish!
Hadn’t had enough? For more advice on cutting boards see: Cutting Boards — Wood and Plastic, Bamboo Cutting Boards and Others, and Cutting Board Cleanliness.
Great article! Explains the function & appeal of each type!
How long should one expect a plastic board (polytheylene) to last if used every day? Is it still usable even after it turns “ugly” or does it need to be replaced at that point?
Good question, but still hard to answer. Because it not only depends on how often you use it, but how hard you use it when you use it. Are you slicing cantaloupes or dicing large onions?
That said, I would say, with light usage, a plastic board could easily last 6 or 7 years and with heavy usage maybe only 3 to 4. It would still function fine, but it would begin looking rather scarred and unattractive. If you’re regularly cutting a lot of meat on it, you might want to switch it out even sooner for sanitary reasons.
Hi Nate, I agree 100% about the bamboo cutting boards and have had a few knives become dull faster than they should. They look so darn nice and bamboo is sustainable and all that.
I was bummed out to see the wood composites ranked below the bamboo but you’re right – that composite material is very hard. I guess I’ll have to keep the end-grain cutting board out on the counter from now on. :)
Beauty versus functionality (i.e. protecting your knife edges) — it’s a constant battle :)
Have you tried boards made from camphor laurel timber, either edge-grain or end-grain? They are a medium density timber and I believe also kind to your knives….cheers
Any thoughts on silicone cutting boards?
Too pricey for my use today, but http://hasegawaboards.com/softcuttingboard.html Japanese synthetic that is dishwasher safe. Very pretty.
Actually, those boards look most excellent! The silicone should be super-easy on knife-edges. But they’re highly impractical for a home kitchen (even the smallest size is huge) and, yes, crazy expensive.
The Japanese Asahi board (available from Amazon) is the plus, ultra of cutting boards. The synthetic rubber keeps the knife edge sharp far better than wood, plus no cracking, warping, staining, etc. Easy to clean in normal use, but can even take boiling water or bleach, should the need arise. I used to have to touch up my knife on the stone once a week or so, but since switching to the Asahi I can now go weeks without edge maintenance.
I would never go back to wood again.
Thanks, Harold, for the tip! I would assume these are very, very similar to the Sani-Tuff covered in the article above. Other than the color—the Asahi look more yellow, more festive—are you aware of any significant differences?
Thank you for this fabulous article!
I have a question regarding bamboo. I recently purchased an end-grain bamboo Zwilling chopping board. Are end-grain bamboo boards gentle on a knife’s edge?
My understanding is the main problem with bamboo is that it has nodes in the stems which are super-hard, harder than the rest of the stem. (I believe on the plant, its those rings that look like knuckles.) And they are hard on knife edges and will resist more than the rest of the bamboo. So what you get is uneven wear on your knife edges. Not good.
But with an end-grain board there should be much fewer nodes and the bamboo stems should be giving way (like a brush) to your knife blades. So the uneven wear should be minimized.
This said, if they were my knives, I would not take any chances. And I would NOT use any kind of bamboo board for heavy chopping and dicing. Period. I would only use bamboo for light slicing, that sort of thing.
Sorry if you spent a lot on that end-grain bamboo board. :)
P.S. Check out Bamboo Cutting Boards and Others for more details. . .