Get the story
Compact cutting boards can be easier to handle and clean than their larger counterparts—if you choose the right one.
We love our full-size cutting boards for most tasks. But sometimes we want a more compact board for small jobs or when cooking in cramped spaces. We wanted to find the best small cutting board—one that would be durable and sit securely on the counter but also be easy to maneuver and clean. So we bought nine models priced from $9.49 to $38.95 and made from a few different materials. Each measured about 11 by 14 inches, roughly half the size of our favorite full-size boards. We then put the boards to work, chopping onions, mincing parsley, pounding chicken cutlets, and mincing pungent garlic and stain-inducing chipotle chiles in adobo on them. To see whether any board dulled knives faster than others, we made 500 cuts on each one with a newly sharpened knife, testing the knife periodically by slicing through copy paper. We washed the boards by hand or ran them through the dishwasher 25 times, according to the manufacturers’ instructions, and dropped each off the counter three times, simulating the kind of abuse a board might endure.
Material mattered. Some testers liked cutting on the softer, slightly textured surfaces of wood and bamboo boards. But these boards weren’t necessarily gentler on knives than the boards made from other materials, nor were they were more durable. After 500 strokes, knives used on the plastic and composite boards were just as sharp as those used on the wood and bamboo ones. And boards of every type sustained a fair amount of wear and tear without becoming gouged, scuffed, or scarred beyond use.
In our testing, though, both wood and bamboo boards stained and retained odors longer than other boards. And wood and bamboo boards require more careful cleanup and maintenance; they must be seasoned with oil before use, washed and dried by hand after each subsequent use, and oiled periodically to keep them from absorbing water and then splitting or warping. We preferred the plastic and composite boards, which didn’t stain or retain odors, are maintenance-free, and can be thrown in the dishwasher when you’re done with them, making them even more convenient and easy to use for quick jobs.
Plastic and composite boards have an additional advantage: They’re more portable, as they are usually thinner (¼ to ½ inch thick) and lighter than other boards, with most weighing less than 2 pounds. But that user-friendliness sometimes came at a cost. Regardless of material, the thinner and lighter the board, the less securely it sat on the counter and the more likely it was to slip or spin in action, making for unstable and slightly dangerous mincing, chopping, or pounding. (By contrast, a 1¼-inch-thick wood board weighing more than 5 pounds had no trouble staying put on the counter, but its heft and thickness made it a bear to lift, especially when loaded with chopped food.) Although you can always put a damp dish towel or a gripper mat under the board to stabilize it, we’d prefer not to have to do this every time we pull out the board for a quick task. The best boards were moderately thin (about ½ inch) and light enough to be lifted easily. But they also had special features to anchor them to the counter, such as rubbery feet or sides that gave the boards traction without adding too much weight.
Boards of all materials and thicknesses were vulnerable to damage after repeated washes. Even when properly seasoned and maintained, the bamboo boards and some of the wood boards absorbed water and warped and/or cracked after 11 or 12 washes. And several of the thin composite and plastic boards warped in the dishwasher’s heat (despite being touted as dishwasher-safe). After 25 washes, only four of the nine boards still sat perfectly flat on the counter.
Our winner, the OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board ($14.95), is the little sibling of our full‑size Best Buy, the OXO Good Grips Carving and Cutting Board ($21.99). Made of relatively thin, lightweight plastic bordered on two edges by rubber strips, it provides an ideal combination of portability and stability. While it emerged from testing with a fair number of knife scratches, the damage was cosmetic, and it was one of the few boards that didn’t warp. It’s dishwasher-safe and resisted odors and stains. Testers also liked the way the board’s slightly textured surface gripped their knives. As a bonus, one side has a built-in trench that can collect a small volume of juices from wet food or resting roasts.
We tested nine small cutting boards priced from $9.49 to $38.95 and made from a variety of materials (wood, wood composite, bamboo, and plastic), each measuring about 11 by 14 inches. We chopped onions, minced parsley, pounded chicken cutlets, and minced pungent garlic and stain-prone chipotle chiles in adobo on them. To see whether any board dulled knives faster than others, we made 500 cuts on each one with a newly sharpened knife. We washed them by hand or in the dishwasher 25 times and dropped each off the counter three times, simulating the kind of wear and tear a board might receive over time. Finally, we evaluated each board on its durability, stability, maneuverability, and ease of cleanup and maintenance. The prices shown are what we paid online. The products appear in order of preference.
Ease of Use: We rated the boards on how easy they were to lift and hold and on how well they gripped the knife, preventing it from slipping around on the board.
Stability: We rated the boards on how securely they sat on the counter without the use of a gripper mat or other stabilizing device.
Durability: We evaluated the boards on how resistant they were to knife damage, cracking, warping, fading, staining, and odor retention.
Ease of Cleanup/Maintenance: We evaluated the boards on how easy they were to maintain and clean.
This fairly thin, lightweight plastic model—a smaller version of our Best Buy full-size cutting board—was easy to hold and lift but was also stable on the counter thanks to its grippy rubber sides. It’s dishwasher-safe, and while it got a bit scratched by the end of testing, it was otherwise intact, resisting warping, cracking, or staining and retaining no odors. Testers liked cutting on its textured plastic surface and appreciated that one of its sides had a small trench for collecting juices from roasts or wet foods.
Testers liked this moderately thin plastic board almost as much as our winner. It’s dishwasher-safe, odor- and stain-resistant, and very durable, surviving testing with only minor scratching and scuffs. And although it’s one-sided, most testers didn’t mind, since 357 thin, rubbery disks cover its underside, making it ultrasecure on the counter. It was slightly heavier than our winner, but still quite easy to maneuver and pleasant to cut on.
This thick, heavy, ultradurable wood cutting board was a pleasure to cut on and barely got scratched over the course of testing. While it stained and retained some odors, these issues disappeared after a few washes. But for most users, the weight and thickness were deal breakers, as this board was a pain to grip, lift, and clean by hand; the maintenance required for a wooden board also put off some testers.
While this board was enjoyable to cut on, its soft wood was scarred more extensively than other boards after repeated knife use. And lacking sufficient weight or any grippy material to stabilize it on the counter, this moderately thin board slipped around quite a bit while in use. The oily resins exuded by the teak helped keep it conditioned, providing extra insurance against warping and cracking; faint chipotle odors and stains faded after two washes.
This dishwasher-safe plastic cutting board saw only minimal scratching and retained no stains or odors. The board’s light weight and thinness made it highly portable but also meant that it slid around uncontrollably on the counter—especially after it warped on just the ninth wash.
Testers loved the way their knives felt on this wood cutting board, and its medium thickness and weight made it both fairly portable and stable—at least at first. Alas, despite an initial seasoning and regular oiling, the board warped after 12 washes and cracked along the edges of its end-grain surface after 23 washes. Chipotle odors and stains took more than three washes to fade.
This light and very thin composite cutting board was easy to grip and lift, but it slid all over the place when we chopped or pounded cutlets. Although it is dishwasher-safe and didn’t require any maintenance, testers found its hard, very smooth surface a little unpleasant to cut on. And while this board also didn’t stain or retain odors, it sustained quite a few scratches and scuffs and warped slightly after 20 washes.
Very thin and lightweight, this board was easy to grip, lift, and clean. It was stain- and odor-resistant, it sustained only a few scratches, and it didn’t warp in the dishwasher. But knives tended to skid and clatter unpleasantly on its hard plastic surface, and because it was so lightweight, this board was impossible to keep anchored on the counter, making it hard to pound chicken or dice onions.
Testers liked the way their knives felt on the 13-inch-long board in this inexpensive set. (We did not test the set’s smaller board.) The lightest model in the lineup, it was easy to lift and maneuver but slipped around so readily that we had to chase it across the counter. It sustained few knife scratches but retained some chipotle stains and odors, which faded after a few washes. Like wood models, it must be seasoned and oiled regularly; despite this attention, it warped after just 11 washes.