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Bar Boards

Published April 2021

How we tested

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. Small 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.

Size Matters

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.

Stability Is Key

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. 

Materials Provide Trade-Offs

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.

Extra Features Can Be Nice

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.

The Best Bar Boards: OXO Good Grips Prep Board and Teakhaus Square Marine Board with Juice Canal

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.

Methodology

  • Test nine bar boards, priced from about $5.50 to about $22.00
  • Cut a lemon into wedges
  • Chiffonade basil
  • Mince a shallot
  • Slice salami
  • Slice a block of cheddar cheese
  • Slice half a baguette
  • Leave chipotle in adobo on the boards overnight and then wash them
  • Wash each board according to the manufacturer’s instructions 25 times

Rating Criteria

Ease of Use: We evaluated the boards on how well they accommodated foods of different (small) sizes, how pleasant they were to cut on, and how easily they resisted stains and odors.

Stability: We rated the boards on how securely they sat on the counter during use.

Versatility: We rated the boards on how easily they could be used for both cutting and serving foods.

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*

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*