Bar boards are the littlest members of the cutting board family—the baby boards, if you will. As their name suggests, they were originally used in bars for cutting citrus and small fruit for garnishes. But they’re handy in the kitchen as well. Petite and lightweight, they’re perfect for any tiny task you might have: cutting an apple, slicing some cheese, or mincing a few herbs to put on your lunch. They’re also highly portable, making them a great choice for picnics or other on-the-go slicing and dicing.
We’d never tested these boards before and wanted to know which one was best, so we bought nine models, priced from about $5.50 to about $22.00. Bar boards come in a range of sizes, but we focused on models that were about half the size of our favorite small cutting board, which measures about 14 by 11 inches, or even smaller. And while plastic boards are most common in this size, we also considered wood, bamboo, and composite boards. On each board, we cut a variety of foods, mincing shallots; making lemon wedges; chiffonading fresh basil; and slicing salami, blocks of cheese, and baguettes. To test stain and odor retention, we smeared chipotle in adobo on each board and let it sit for 3 hours before washing. Over the course of testing, we washed each board 25 times to see whether any would warp, crack, or split.
We wanted a board that was small—but not, as it turned out, too small. One of the boards was the size of a postcard, so tiny that an 8-ounce block of cheddar cheese didn’t entirely fit on it. Technically, this board was big enough to hold a lemon, but once we started cutting the lemon into wedges, we ran out of room for the cut sections. We preferred boards that were at least 64 square inches in area, or about the size of a small paperback book. Our favorite boards were some of the largest we tested—the biggest was about the size of an iPad—but still small enough to fit comfortably in a handbag or backpack.
As with all cutting boards, stability was critical. You don’t want your board slipping around when you’re cutting. The most stable models had rubber grips that anchored the boards to the counter. Weight was a factor, too. Heavier models stayed put better than lighter-weight ones.
We didn’t have strong preferences when it came to material. All the boards proved equally durable, with every model scarring when we used a serrated knife to cut baguettes on them. But none of the boards warped or cracked, even after 25 washes.
Ultimately, the choice of material is up to you. Plastic and paper composite boards require no special maintenance and are easy to clean—they can just be thrown in the dishwasher. And they didn’t stain or retain odors after our chipotle test. By contrast, wood and bamboo boards require a little more maintenance; you must oil them periodically to keep water out so that they don’t warp or crack. They also required a few extra washes to remove chipotle stains and odors. But they’re more handsome than the plastic boards, ideal for use as mini cheese plates or small serving platters—a nice bonus in our book. And it was a little quieter to cut on them than on the plastic or paper composite models, which sometimes made loud clacking noises under our knives, particularly when we used extra force to slice salami or cheese.
As in previous cutting board tests, we slightly preferred bar boards that were reversible, as they were more versatile. Some of these reversible boards had sides with juice grooves, or trenches around their perimeters, that collected any liquid runoff from the foods we were cutting. We liked having this feature, as it helped keep our counters clean when cutting juicy lemons into wedges, and it might also prove useful when slicing a cooked chicken breast or pork chop. But a juice groove wasn’t strictly necessary. We didn’t penalize boards without them.
In the end, we had two favorite boards. The best plastic bar board is the OXO Good Grips Prep Cutting Board, the smallest sibling of our favorite small cutting board and lightweight large plastic cutting board. It was the largest of the bar boards we tested, providing ample room for us to perform every task. Silicone grips kept it steady on the counter, and it was reversible, with a juice groove on one side that helped contain small spills. Our favorite wood board, the reversible Teakhaus Square Marine Board with Juice Canal, had plenty of room for chopping foods, and it’s pretty enough to serve cheese or charcuterie on, too. Because it’s made of teak, it exudes oily resins that keep it conditioned, so it required less maintenance than bamboo or other wood boards. That same slight oiliness helped protect it from staining a little better than the other natural-fiber boards, too.