Money doesn’t necessarily get you a “better” board, though. Contrary to what many folks will tell you, we have reason to believe that in practice, there is very little difference in how wood and plastic boards perform. In preliminary tests using robots to simulate long-term use, we found that wood boards and plastic boards dulled knives at about the same rates. In the test kitchen, we’ve used both types of boards for years. If anyone would notice a difference, it would be our test cooks, who use them for nearly 8 hours a day, five days a week—and we’ve never had a test cook complain that their knives were being ruined by our favorite plastic boards.
That said, wood, bamboo, and plastic boards all look, feel, and sound very different. Many folks prefer the aesthetics and action of a wood or bamboo board—and some are very beautiful indeed. Others don’t care much what their boards look or sound like; after all, a board is first and foremost a tool. Preferences are personal, but they also depend on nonaesthetic factors.
Simply put, wood and bamboo cutting boards take a little more work to use, clean, and maintain than plastic boards do. For one thing, wood and bamboo boards are usually heavier than plastic boards of comparable size. Our favorite wood cutting board weighs 10 pounds and our favorite plastic board weighs about 5. If portability is your greatest concern, go with plastic.
Wood and bamboo boards also must be seasoned with oil before use, washed by hand and carefully dried, and maintained with regular applications of oil to keep them from cracking or warping. Some folks love these tasks—they find that all that TLC makes them feel closer to their boards, and they enjoy the soothing routines of cutting board maintenance. If you like sharpening your knives or restoring old cast-iron cookware, you’ll probably love having a wood or bamboo board. As a bonus, our favorite wood cutting board is actually fairly low-maintenance, so unless you’re really putting your board to restaurant-volume use, you probably won’t have to oil it very often anyway.
Plastic boards are the ultimate convenience product. You can hand-wash them if you like; because they’re so light, they’re easier to maneuver off the counter and around a sink. But you can also throw them in the dishwasher—a boon if you hate scrubbing dishes or are squeamish about handling the board after you’ve prepped poultry, fish, or meat. (Don’t worry, wood cutting board fans—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety and Inspection Service assures us that as long as you scrub your boards thoroughly with soap and hot water, there’s no reason to believe that they’re any less hygienic or safe to use than plastic.)
Even large plastic cutting boards can fit in the dishwasher if you’re strategic about their placement. Our pro tip: Take out your dishwasher’s silverware drawer to help get your board in.