Cutting Boards

Cutting Boards – Wood vs Plastic – Which Is Best?

Let’s kick off with a fact – One of the best things that you can do to prolong the life of your kitchen knife is to buy the right chopping board. However, when it comes to cutting boards, wood vs plastic is always a debate that tends to come up time and time again.

Even in this age of high-tech materials where you can buy anything from glass and marble through to porcelain and even steel, the best materials for your knives are still wood or plastic.

Why?

Because they are both soft enough to take the continual impact of a knife without causing any major damage.

You see, the issue with cutting boards that aren’t wood or plastic is that they’re made from materials that are hard and unyielding. Although they look sleek and contemporary, the truth is that they can ruin your knives quicker than you can say ‘tabbouleh!’

Think about it for a second…

The blade of a knife is actually quite a delicate thing. It’s a fine-tuned instrument that needs love and care. So relentlessly pounding away on hard materials like marble, granite and even steel, is likely to sound the death knell for your knife in super-quick time.

Instead, if you’re serious about your knives, then the best chopping boards are ultimately going to be either wood or plastic.

So now we know what chopping board materials not to use, let’s take a closer look at the best cutting boards to use, starting with wood!

First there was wood – Wood cutting boards

When it comes to the ‘cutting boards wood vs plastic’ debate, wood has many admirers and not without good reason. It’s not only a beautiful and natural material, a good wood chopping board can last for many years. Yet surprisingly – as far as your kitchen knives are concerned anyway – it should be soft enough to support your knife.

Every time you make chopping action, the wood fibres should be soft enough to cushion the impact. This prevents the knife blade from rolling over. It is in fact that ‘rolling over’ action that causes the knife to become blunt.

It’s kind of like when you drop a ball into a soft pillow from height – it pretty much stays where it lands. Likewise, this cushioning effect is vital to keeping your knives staying sharper for longer.

Here’s an important point however…

When it comes to the right chopping boards, any wood from any tree won’t always cut it – if you’ll excuse the pun 🙂

Some woods are too soft, some are too hard; some are not dense enough and some even lack uniform texture. The best wood to use for cutting boards are without doubt:

  • Maple
  • Walnut
  • Cherry and
  • Beech

All are sufficiently durable enough to last, yet remain soft enough to take the impact of a knife. But in addition, they are not overly porous so they tend to wear well with time.

They come in a wide range of colours shapes, sizes and costs so you can buy the right wood cutting boards to suit your tastes, kitchen design and of course, budget.

Top tip look for wood with a tight grain – it won’t soak up too much water and therefore will be less prone to warping.

Wooden cutting boards – End-grain vs Edge-grain

Although you can buy wood chopping boards from a single plank of wood, most cutting boards are made from several planks or boards that are glued together. These provide strength and are less likely to crack.

The 2 most common types of construction are:

  • End-grain and
  • Edge-grain

End grain boards are the easiest to identify because they have a checker-board pattern. As an example, traditional butchers blocks are mostly end-grain construction. See the picture below

They are usually the most expensive because they take longer to make but they are also kinder to knives. They are often thicker and heavier than other boards (usually 3-4 inches) but don’t mark easily.

Conversely, edge-grain chopping boards as the name suggests are made in such a way that the edge of the grain is arranged side by side together rather than in layers (similar to if you were looking at a piece of 2×4).

They are often less heavy than their end-grain counterparts and less expensive, as a result they are the most common. The finish often produces something that is aesthetically exquisite. While they are designed to be sanitary and long lasting, they do have a tendency to show cuts and scratches – more so than end-grain cutting boards.

What about combination wood cutting boards?

In addition to single wood varieties, chopping boards can also be made from combination woods. While combination woods can create something that looks great, the jury is still out on whether or not they are ideal for your knives.

Remember, unless the woods are perfectly matched in terms of density, you could be subjecting your kitchen knife to unnecessary and uneven wear and tear. This is something you need to be aware of.

Then there was plastic…

In the great cutting boards wood vs plastic debate, many would say that it’s wood all the way.

But let’s not disregard the plastic just yet because as I mentioned earlier, polyethylene (the material that quality plastic cutting boards are made from) has very similar properties to wood.

It’s durable enough to last a considerable time, yet can be soft enough to absorb knife strikes so it’s kind to the knife blade.

But while we kind of like the look of a weathered old wooden board – cut marks and all – a similarly worn plastic board is often enough to freak us out.

That said a polyethylene (plastic) cutting board is usually a fraction of the price of its wooden counterpart. What’s more, you can throw it in the dishwasher should the need arise. So in terms of costs and functionality, there is definitely an argument to ‘go plastic’.

Another advantage when deciding on cutting boards, wood vs plastic is that plastic boards are manufactured in a rainbow of colours. This is ideal if you want a funky colour to match your kitchen, but equally, it allows you to do what professional kitchens do and use separate coloured boards for preparing different foods. This prevents cross-contamination.

Talking of food…

Plastic cutting boards don’t absorb pungent cooking smells as much as wood. If you’ve ever chopped garlic or prepared salmon on a wooden chopping board, you’ll know it takes time for the smell to dissipate. Not so with a plastic chopping board. Smells can usually be eradicated quickly with a simple rinse using soap, water and a dash of vinegar or lemon juice.

Plastic chopping boards – a point to remember

One important point to remember is that not every plastic cutting board is the same. It’s worth ensuring that the plastic you buy is soft enough. Even though a retailer may tell you that a product is ’safe for professional kitchen knives’ it doesn’t necessarily make it so.

Instead the key is to look for a plastic chopping board that’s soft enough to easily cut a thin slice from the side.

It really does need to be this soft!

If it isn’t, then the team at Blade-Sharp would probably advise against using it for serious chopping.

Of course you may be tempted to opt for harder plastic as it will stay nicer for longer but as mentioned, it’s pretty brutal on your knives. On the other hand, softer plastic will get marked quicker but be better for your knives.

Cutting boards – wood vs plastic – the final factor

There is perhaps one more topic to discuss when talking about plastic vs wooden cutting boards and that’s contamination. As a general rule of thumb, wooden cutting boards tend to harbour less bacteria than plastic varieties and this should always be considered when cleaning plastic boards

That said, provided you do what professional kitchens do and designate various chopping boards to preparing raw meats and fish, then the difference between wood and plastic becomes negligible.

Chopping board wood or plastic – which is best?

The importance perhaps isn’t whether you buy wood cutting boards or plastic boards, but instead it’s the right kind of plastic or the right kind of wood that really matters. Master this and you should have a product or products, that look good in your kitchen while being kind to your knives.

Wood vs plastic cutting boards – a quick (and final) glance

Wood

Pros – Beautiful natural look, weathers well, long lasting, protects knives

ConsCan be heavy, can be expensive, can’t place in a dishwasher

Plastic

ProsInexpensive, protects knives, comes in a variety of colours to aid cross contamination, dishwasher safe

ConsCan scar easily, can harbour more bacteria than wood, aren’t as long-lasting.

If there is anything we haven’t covered or that you’d like to ask, then feel free to drop us a line in the comments section or check out our blog where we answer a ton of hints, tips as well as offer advice.

Until next time – Stay Blade Sharp!

 

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