sharpening and caring for your kitchen knives

Bamboo Cutting Boards and Others

Bamboo, a Love Affair Gone Bad

Bamboo cutting boards have become the eco-friendly answer of the new century and bamboo is quite a wonder. It looks super cool and is lightweight but strong. It’s tight-grained and dense, so it’s easy to clean. What’s not to like?

three bamboo cutting boards
I’d used my two smaller-size bamboo cutting boards for years and swore by them—until I saw a negative comment on the web and asked one of my professional sharpening services their opinion. I already knew bamboo was roughly 15 percent harder than hard maple which is the standard—but 15 didn’t seem that far out of line. Turns out hardness is not the main problem. It’s all about consistency. “Maple is far more consistent in hardness whereas bamboo is super hard at the nodes and soft in between,” my sharpening guy said. The nodes will kill you. Or the soft in between. Or, more accurately, the uneven wear between them tends to shred the edge of your blade. Especially if you’re doing a whole lot of chopping. (Photo left: KKG’s three bamboo cutting boards.)
BAMBOO CUTTING BOARD PICKS Here are links to a few of my favorites—I own the first two models by Totally Bamboo and the last is made by them as well. I have rarely used mine for heavy chopping, but have washed them with soap and hot water (NOT submersed) and they have held up very well. (Below: Totally Bamboo’s 3-Piece Cutting Board Set, their Kauai single board, and their w/Silicone Holes, Set of Three.)
totally bamboo cutting boards_3piece-Kauai-Silicone
 
I can’t in good conscience recommend bamboo as the material of choice for your main cutting board.
So I can’t in good conscience recommend bamboo as the material of choice for your main cutting board. But it seems fine as a supporting cast member. That’s how I use my bamboo cutting boards, anyway—for lighter roles like slicing up an apple or serving cheese. Especially since bamboo is so pleasing to the eye. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bamboo board I didn’t want to buy immediately just to take home and look at.

Other Types of Cutting Boards

There are three other types of cutting boards worth discussing—the last of which, like bamboo, I don’t recommend for heavy usage. But you see it marketed on a lot of kitchen gear websites, so I thought it would be worth covering.

Hard Rubber

Hard rubber boards, the Sani-Tuff® brand specifically, are big in the food industry. And for good reason—they’re as pliant yet durable as wooden boards, won’t trap bacteria like plastic boards, are easy on knives, and can even be resurfaced by sanding. And to top it off, they can go in the dishwasher.

So where’s the rub? The biggest downside is that they’re not that attractive—unless you have a thing for industrial beige. They look like they belong in exactly the place they were designed for—a commercial kitchen. They also lean toward larger sizes (which can be cumbersome and heavy), tend to grab your knife blade more than wood or plastic, and are not cheap.

It’s up to you. If you don’t mind the look and heft, they are worth looking into. But whatever you do, don’t order anything thicker than the 3/4 inch—unless you like to weightlift while you cook! (Disclosure: I have no hands-on experience with these, but am relying on my own research.)

SANI-TUFF® BOARDS Here’s a link to (currently) the best-priced merchant: Sani-Tuff All-Rubber Cutting Board 12 X 18 X 1/2. You can also get them on Amazon through a third party seller, but they cost more: Cutting Board Sani-Tuff @ Amazon.
Sani-tuff cutting board

Thin, Flexible Plastic Mats:

Although their thinness varies according to the manufacturer, the big appeal of these plastic cutting mats is that they are ultra-light and ultra-portable. Which means you can stow them away anywhere—in a drawer, behind your knife block—and quickly whip one out whenever needed. Converts rave about the fact you can use the board itself to funnel whatever you’ve chopped up directly in a soup pot. Kuel. And they come in all sorts of festive colors like regular plastic boards, so you can easily code them for different foods if you like. I’ve never used them, but I can see the appeal.

Mats are not designed for heavy-duty jobs.
Please be aware though—depending on the thinness—you should, ideally, use them over something with some give in it like a wooden cutting board. If you put a mat that’s only a couple of millimeters thin over your granite counter and mince away with your favorite newly-sharpened chef’s knife, you will quickly fold over the cutting edge (i.e dull it). And please don’t even dream about chopping with a cleaver on one of these—you’ll slice right through. Mats are not designed for heavy-duty jobs. Also, be aware that, in general, they won’t hold up to sustained dishwasher use, but will warp and curl.

Perhaps the best way to approach them is as a disposable accessory that might last for a year max. (They’re extremely affordable, depending on the brand.) Use them when you’re in a crunch—like slicing some fruit over a board you just smashed a garlic clove on—and once they get cracked and scarred, buy a new pack.

CUTTING MATS—TOP PICKS Here are three well-researched possibilities that all come in sets. It’s impossible to know which of these cutting mats will work best—considering the fuzziness of the product specs and range of customer reviews. But all of these brands/models should be thicker than most and less prone to curl. My personal faves are the RÖsle Cutting Mats and Dexas Heavy-Duty Grippmats. RÖsle is German-made with a lifetime guarantee and Dexas is made by one of my favorite plastic board manufacturers and has a string of positive reviews. (Below, from left to right:
RÖsle Cutting Mats; Dexas Heavy-Duty Grippmats; MIU Flexible Cutting Boards.)
three sets of cutting mats_Rosle-Dexas

Wood Fiber Composites

Richlite, a leading wood fiber composite, is a wonderfully green material made of layers of paper pulp and resin. Epicurean makes a long line of Richlite cutting boards which are quite stylish and quite the rage. One can understand why—they’re incredibly durable, won’t stain easily, can take up 350 degrees of heat, are completely sanitary, and can even go in the dishwasher. There’s only one big problem—they’re pretty darn hard. Significantly harder than hard maple, which makes them less-than-ideal for heavy cutting-board use. Even though all the websites selling these boards claim they won’t dull knives, I don’t buy it. I ordered some samples to test out myself and they did not score easily enough (the way any material that will protect your knife edges should). I don’t recommend them as your main board.

Let Them Eat Pie

OXO Steel Pie Server
I own this pie server and I LOVE IT! Two reasons: 1) you can use the serrated edge to actually cut a crisp pie crust, 2) it’s designed with just the right shape and flexibility to enter a pie dish and extract a slice without mangling the pie. Sweeeet!OXO steel pie server

Nevertheless, these Epicurean cutting boards are handsome and sophisticated and can fill a certain niche. If you find them irresistible, I would recommend making them supporting players (like I recommend for bamboo). Relegate them to lighter tasks—halving a melon, sawing up a baguette, serving figs and cheese—and save the heavy lifting for other boards made of more yielding materials. (Below: Epicurean’s Non-Slip Gripper Cutting Board and their Black Cutting Surface.)

Epicurean richlite cutting board
Epicurean black cutting board

Conclusions

In the end, as far as your knives are concerned, the two best all-around materials for cutting boards are still hard wood and plastic—which you don’t have to choose between, but can use in combination. (Sani-Tuff boards made of hard rubber are also a viable option if you don’t happen to mind their industrial appearance.) If you love the look and feel of materials like bamboo and Richlite, try not to use them as your main board for major chopping. They will be harder on your knives than wood or plastic. Better to relegate them to the supporting cast.

And remember, all cutting boards covered on this website (wood, plastic, bamboo, etc.) can be hygienic if used properly because the main thing is how you manage and clean your cutting boards, not the material you slice and dice on. To this end, adopt the Two Boards Concept—have a separate cutting board for raw meat only (including poultry and fish) and one for everything else. You’ll find it indispensable to making your prep work sanitary and simpler. (See Cutting Board Cleanliness for more on this.)

Take care what your knives cut on and they will return the favor by staying sharp longer!
 

Cutting Board Recap

Bamboo
pros: attractive unusual patterns; lightweight; weathers as well as wood; variety of styles; lasts
cons: hard on knives; only light usage, as backup—bread, apple for lunch; no dishwasher

Hard Rubber (Sani-Tuff)
pros: protects knives; more sanitary than plastic; dishwasher safe; lasts forever; can be resurfaced
cons: not attractive; no style selection—only one color, beige; heavy; pricey

Thin, Flexible Plastic Mats
pros: portable and light; variety of colors/styles; inexpensive; semi-dishwasher
cons: flimsy; minimum knife protection; wear out quickly; not meant to last; will warp in dishwasher

Wood Fiber Composite (Richlite w/Epicurean)
pros: attractive modern designs; wears well; variety of styles; lasts as long as wood
cons: hard on knives; should only use lightly as backup—bread, etc.

(Below are also recaps from my article Cutting Boards — Wood and Plastic.)

Wood
pros: protects knives; beautiful, natural look; weathers well; variety of styles; lasts long time
cons: can’t wash in dishwasher

Plastic
pros: protects knives; looks great at first; variety of colors; dishwasher safe (except for dry cycle)
cons: eventually scars—doesn’t weather as well as wood; careful drying in dishwasher

7 Comments
  1. Thanks for the good article on bamboo cutting boards! I noticed the Amazon products that you gave links for have some very poor buyer ratings. I found this one on Amazon with a good feature — non-slip silicone edges. It seems all reviews are great. Here’s the link: Bamboo Cutting Board with Silicone Edges

    • Thanks much, Kutluay! I’ve owned two Totally Bamboo boards (the product you’re concerned about) for over a decade and they have held up incredibly well. They have not split, warped, or cracked. I rinse them (or wash them) with a sponge or scrubber after use, let the excess water drop off a bit, and stand them to air dry. I never, ever immerse them in water. Ever. Perhaps their manufacturing standards have changed, but I sort of doubt it :)

      Nonetheless, I’ve noticed this phenomena of contradictory reviews on Amazon quite a bit over the years with a variety of products—although it seems particularly vivid with cutting boards. And I’m guessing one thing that might account for it is the fact that there must be a wide range of how people treat their cutting boards. . .

      • Totally agree with you, it is really important how the cutting board is being treated…

        Thanks again for the site and the guides :-)

  2. I was wondering: Which type of wood do you think is the best choice in reference to “being nice” to knives? Not too soft, but not too hard?

    I’ve been using a small bamboo board for a few years now—it has quite a few cut marks. I’ve been using it as my main board, even though it’s so small, because it’s much lighter than the other one I have. (I don’t have a need for more than 1 small + 1 larger one.)

    Now I’m in the market to replace my heavy 10 x 14 inches polypropylene board that I just hate. I’ve been looking at the Epicurean Richlite boards, but I don’t want to dull my knives.

    I have a big bamboo butcherblock (17¾” x 14¼” x 1¼”) that’s now mostly used to cut bread on—it’s simply too heavy (over 7 pounds!) and cumbersome to regularly wash. It also has lots of cut marks, even through the nodes, so I’m not quite sure if I just have shoddy bamboo quality or really sharp knives. ;)

    • Hi Silence,

      First off, please please please stop doing your major cutting on bamboo. You’re just beating up your knife edges!

      Second, you should read these two posts on cutting boards:
      Cutting Boards — What’s Better, Wood or Plastic?
      Best Cutting Boards . . . for Your Kitchen Knives

      In both posts, I discuss some of the issues you’re wondering about. But in a nutshell—hard maple is one of the best, easy to find, and inexpensive woods to use for cutting boards. If you want something more exotic, you can try Hinoki which is more expensive, but a wonderful wood.

      I can see why you’d want to replace a large polypropylene as your main board. . .ugh!

      If you’re like me, and you don’t like lugging around thick heavy boards, then I highly recommend the 3/4 inch thick, 14 x 17 board by J.K. Adams. The only caveat is that you must care for it properly by: oiling it regularly, always getting both sides wet when washing, NEVER immersing it in water, and ALWAYS drying it off and then letting it air dry. I bought one a year ago and I love it and it’s holding up very well (not warping). But I take care of it!!

      Please feel free to follow up if you have more questions!

      Best, KKG

Leave a Reply to Kutluay Cancel reply


 

Latest Posts

Most Popular Posts


Other Resources

An Edge in the Kitchen
by Chad Ward

Mastering Knife Skills
by Norman Weinstein

Facebook

Twitter

LinkedId

Google Plus

Follow Me on Pinterest