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sharpening and caring for your kitchen knives

Best Cutting Boards . . . for Your Kitchen Knives

best cutting boards
No doubt we’re all aware there are flotillas of great cutting boards out there. But the fleet winnows down quite a bit if you’re a serious cook and you care about keeping your knives super sharp. Here’s a short list of the best cutting boards as far as the edges of your kitchen knives are concerned. We’re talking types and materials, not so much brand names, and will go from most knife-friendly to least. (Please note: There’s no point in getting too strict about the exact order—it’s simply being aware of generalities that will help the most.)

#1 — Butcher-Block, or End-Grain Wood, Cutting Board

Boos butcher block_15x15The clear, hands-down winner 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″ / $123.)
Hinoki cutting board_Miyabi

#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″ / $120. Note: Amazon lists this board as .25 inches thick which is incorrect. On the Miyabi website it’s clearly identified as 30 mm which equals 1.18 inches.)

#2 — Sani-Tuff (Hard Rubber) Cutting Board

sanituff cutting board_3The standard of 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: NoTrax Beige Sani-Tuff Cutting Board, 12 x 18 x 3/4″ / $38.)

#3 (a tie) — Plastic (Polyethylene) Cutting Board

Oneida plastic cutting boardAs 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, 4) 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.)
JK Adams maple cutting board

#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.)
bamboo cutting boards_striped

#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

Richlite cutting board_EpicureanThis 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.

Hadn’t had enough? For more tips on cutting boards see: Cutting Boards — Wood and Plastic, Cutting Boards — Bamboo and Others, and Cutting Board Cleanliness.

4 Comments
  1. 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?

    Thanks!

    • 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.

      Best, KKG

  2. 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 form now on. :)
    Thanks, Billy.

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