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Innovative Cutting Boards

By Cook's Illustrated Published February 2012

How we tested

A cutting board that folds! Lets you chop and scoop! Comes with color-coded corresponding knives! Straddles the sink to save space! The bells and whistles on one-gadget-does-it-all cutting boards could fill an hour-long infomercial. And since rinsing and dicing is half the battle for most home cooks, we got to wondering whether any innovative cutting board could help cut down on prep time. We compared eight, priced from $11 to $80, to each other and to our favorite traditional 18 by 24-inch rectangle of wood.

First, no innovation means a thing if the board can’t perform basic tasks. Your cutting board should be roomy and have a slightly grippy surface for cutting without the knife or food sliding; it shouldn’t be easily warped, cracked, gouged, or stained. We minced onions and stain-inducing chipotle chiles, whacked through bone-in chicken thighs with a cleaver, cut crusty loaves of bread with a serrated knife, and sliced juicy watermelons. We washed the boards repeatedly—in the dishwasher if permissible, by hand if not. Finally, we shoved them off a kitchen counter; survivors won points for durability.

The bad news: Several boards failed at the basics. All but two were too small for cutting anything bigger than an onion, and while we’ve never set minimum cutting board measurements in stone, using some of these boards really drove home the need for space—at least 14 by 18 inches of it. A “hybrid” board, cork on one side and bamboo on the other, gripped the counter cork side down so that we could hack, slice, and dice without worry. Too bad this board (the largest available) was just 12 by 15 inches. As for the plastic boards, they were small and prone to sliding. One model—designed like a hanging file, with four color-coded boards and corresponding knives to prevent cross-contamination—disappointed us with its tiny, slick plastic boards and lousy knives. Worse, it was the most expensive in our lineup.

Trying out the advertised innovations proved that all too often they solved one problem only to create another. One board that folds up like a chute, which its manufacturer touts as a three-sided colander, was unquestionably a bridge too far. It never fully unfolded, and when we tried to fold it to transfer diced onion to a pan, it jammed, sending food flying. Another board looked like a shallow dustpan, with raised sides and a handle; it helped funnel diced food and juices, but the sides obstructed the knife. Another small board, sloped at one end for sliding off prepared ingredients, left us with stray dice littering the counter. The slope offered barely any flat area for chopping, and while working on it, a tester sliced her finger instead of an onion. Only one chop-and-transfer model worked as promised: It featured a sliding tray underneath to gather scraps or cut food and neatly corralled liquids in a juice groove.

Over-the-sink boards created welcome workspace and provided built-in colanders. One plastic model used a retractable handle to reach across the sink, but with the least pressure from slicing, the board bounced and scooted until it fell in. (We tried different sinks and testers, with the same scary result.) A larger (12 by 23-inch) bamboo board worked flawlessly, proving spacious and stable. We used its built-in silicone colander to wash and transfer food to the board, hold chopped food as we worked, and then carry it to the pan. Collapsible for storage, the large, footed colander can be used separately.

This space-saving gadget is one innovative board that actually works. We recommend it when space is at a premium, but it won’t be replacing our larger go-to basic board.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*
Best Buy
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*