Sep 022010

Oh My God!  He’s not really going to try to write an entire post about cutting boards, is he?

Well, as a matter of fact I am.  Cutting boards are among the most basic, necessary, and misused kitchen tools you can have.  Most kitchens have one or more cutting boards, and most cutting boards are chosen based on appearance rather than utility.  On the occasions when utility is considered, folks often choose a cutting board that performs exactly the opposite of what they intended.

First, let’s talk appearance.

While cutting boards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, appearance is usually a function of the material a cutting board is made from.  A wide variety of materials are used with little consideration given by the manufacturer or the buyer regarding appropriateness for the board’s intended use.  Some of the more common materials used include wood in a variety of species and hardnesses, HDPE (high density polyethylene, AKA plastic), marble, granite, metal (usually stainless steel), and glass.

Wood and HDPE are the two most common, and most sensible, materials used for cutting boards.  The other materials are usually chosen due to their appearance, but are actually horrible choices.

The biggest problem with boards made from stone, metal, and glass is the fact that they are very destructive to the sharp edge you keep on your kitchen knives.

You do keep a sharp edge on your knives, don’t you?  I don’t hear you.  What did you say?  No answer?  Hmmmm…no answer probably means you have some really dull knives.  OK, that means we’ll have to cover knife sharpening in another post.  For right now let’s get back to cutting boards.

The extremely hard, non-porous surface of glass, metal, and stone boards, while looking attractive and being easy to clean up, will dull a knife edge faster than just about any other use you can put a knife through in the kitchen, and a dull knife is a dangerous knife, not to mention ineffective.

I only use cutting boards made of one of two materials, either wood or HDPE.  While HDPE isn’t attractive, wood is, and for appearance you can do as I do.  Both of my good looking wood cutting boards are out where they can be seen (actually, the large one is built into my counter as a part of my countertop), and I keep my ugly HDPE cutting board down below in the cabinet underneath my usual food prep area.

Which material do I consider superior of the two?  Well, once past appearance, each has its benefits.

HDPE is good for its ease of use.  It is lightweight, thinner and more easily stored than wood, takes more abuse, and can be put in the dishwasher without ruining it, unlike wood.  It is also far less expensive than a decent wood cutting board.

Wood, on the other hand, is durable, its looks improve with use (at least in my opinion), and looks a LOT better than plastic.

Also, I’m more than a bit retro and the traditional look of wooden cutting boards is somehow, comfortable and homey…and we all know comfortable and homey is right up my alley…LOL.

I have three cutting boards…two wood and one plastic…and, given my lazy nature, I often opt for the plastic so I can put it in the dishwasher, but if my choice were based on food safety, the right choice would be wood.

That’s right…wood.  Wood is safer than plastic regarding food cleanliness!

Dean Cliver, food safety researcher from the University of California at Davis, published a series of articles regarding the dangers of bacterial contamination inherent in cutting boards made of various materials and effective methods of cleaning them.

The study was done at the request of the US Department of Agriculture which was looking for scientific evidence that would support their long held recommendation that, in the interest of food safety, plastic, instead of wood, should be the material of choice for cutting boards in the home kitchen.

Cliver began with the assumption that the USDA’s recommendations were right, and that the study would bear out their truth.  He was surprised when his study found that, instead of being more prone to bacterial contamination and harder to clean, wood was actually MORE hygienic.  From the study, in Cliver’s own words:

“Our research was first intended to develop means of disinfecting wooden cutting surfaces at home, so that they would be almost as safe as plastics.”

Instead, rather than “almost as safe as plastics”, the study found wood SAFER than plastics.

Again, from the study findings:

“We soon found that disease bacteria such as these were not recoverable from wooden surfaces in a short time after they were applied, unless very large numbers were used. New plastic surfaces allowed the bacteria to persist, but were easily cleaned and disinfected. However, wooden boards that had been used and had many knife cuts acted almost the same as new wood, whereas plastic surfaces that were knife-scarred were impossible to clean and disinfect manually, especially when food residues such as chicken fat were present. Scanning electron micrographs revealed highly significant damage to plastic surfaces from knife cuts.”

The study looked at contamination rates for several contaminants with emphasis on E coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, the two most commonly found pathogens in the kitchen.

It seems that the natural material, wood, has an inherent ability to inhibit bacteria that is not present in plastic.  What does this mean in practice?  It means that the natural inclination to use wood cutting boards for the “safe” foods, like veggies, mushrooms, herbs, etc., and plastic, or HDPE cutting boards for “dangerous” foods like pork, chicken, and fish…is backwards.

That is what I did for a long time and I was surprised to find out I had been wrong.

Huh?  Did I just say I was wrong?  Me?  Wrong?  Impossible!

Anyway…now you know.  You can have attractive…and appropriate…cutting boards in the kitchen, so go out and get one or several…


For those of you who have gotten this far, and have put up with me acting like a know-it-all, telling you what to buy…and not to buy…with your own money for your own kitchen, and just because I’m glad you are here…and to entice y’all (that’s “bribe” to some folks) to keep visiting…

…after all, if I do this once I may do it again, maybe with something more needed in your kitchen…

…there is a reward. is giving away a custom hardwood cutting board similar to this one:

A winner will be chosen at random from all entrants.  Entry is open until 6:00 PM Saturday, September 4, and a winner will be announced after they have been notified by email.

The winner can email me with the size they want (up to 24”x24”) and specify if they want it with or without a blood gutter (that groove around the top that catches all the liquid so you don’t have to mop the floor).

To win, in the comments section below, finish the following sentence:

“If I win the cutting board, my main use for it will be____________”

You might buy your chicken whole and cut it up on the board.  You might use it to “rest” your cooked roast before cutting it.  You might be a baker and use it to roll out cinnamon bun dough.  Shucks…maybe your idea of cooking is microwaving a frozen dinner and it will be countertop camouflage to make guests THINK you cook.  There is no RIGHT answer…but creative ones might give me ideas for future posts…LOL (yes, I DO read all comments!)

Good luck…have fun…and keep coming back to!

Coming next:  An Island Breakfast

All about Bob the nutjob!

Bob is a N Georgia blogger, homesteader, yurt liver, self-sufficiency nutjob, pig farmer, political activist, politician baiter...and the best damn cook you know that doesn't make a living at it.He can be followed onTwitter. You can also "Like" our Facebook page.

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