Wood vs plastic cutting boards? It's the age-old question that home cooks need to answer. We take a look at the features, advantages, and disadvantages of each to help you decide what's right for you.
Wood Cutting Boards
Wood is the most traditional material for cutting boards, and it's great for a lot of tasks. The most common types of woods used for cutting boards are maple, walnut, teak, and acacia. Maple is considered one of the best woods for a cutting board because it's hard enough to be durable but soft enough to not harm your knife blades.
Teak and acacia are the most sustainable choices, but aren't as good for your knives as maple or walnut.
Another consideration for wood cutting boards is edge grain or end grain. Edge grain boards are cut with the wood grain, and end grain boards are cut against the grain. End grain boards are more durable and show fewer cut marks (and also more expensive). They are recognizable by the checkerboard pattern where chunks of end grain wood are bonded together.
Wood cutting boards are a more expensive choice than plastic boards. Prices vary based on size, wood type, and grain, but they can range from about $50 up to about $400. A good quality board large enough to do standard prep work is going to start at about $100.
For more information, see our article The Best Woods for Cutting Boards.
What Wood Cutting Boards Are Best For
Wood cutting boards are excellent for prepping vegetables and fruits, chopping herbs, and other basic cutting tasks. They also make great carving boards for roasted meats. Cooks like them because they're easier on knives than plastic cutting boards, and they can hold up to years of regular use (even inexpensive ones).
Wood cutting boards are naturally anti-bacterial, but if you use them for raw meat, you still have to disinfect them. For this reason, a lot of people prefer to use plastic cutting boards for raw meat.
How to Care for Wood Cutting Boards
Wood cutting boards can't go in a dishwasher, but they're easy to care for:
Wooden Cutting Board Pros and Cons
Plastic Cutting Boards
Plastic cutting boards come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. They're inexpensive and a popular choice because they're so easy to care for.
Thin, flexible cutting boards are a good option for moving food easily from board to pot and are also easy to store. Many are color coded for different tasks: Red for meat, green for vegetables, yellow for poultry, and purple, which is the international color for food allergens (so you isolate the purple board to use for people with food allergies).
What They're Best For
You can use plastic cutting boards for everything, but they're harder on knives than wood cutting boards, so a lot of people reserve their plastic cutting boards for high pathogen foods like raw meat.
How to Care for Plastic Cutting Boards
Plastic cutting boards are easy to care for: you can wash them with warm soapy water, or you can toss them in the dishwasher.
Ease of care is the main reason people use plastic cutting boards, especially for raw meat.
Plastic Cutting Board Pros and Cons
What to Look for in a Cutting Board
This section discusses features to look for in a cutting board (of any material). Important features vary depending on what you're looking for: a main prepping cutting board, a board for raw meat, a board for charcuterie, a serving board, a smaller secondary board, etc.
Think about your preferences, too. Do you value sustainability over knife friendliness? Beauty over easy maintenance? A large board or a small board? How much do you want to spend?
Material options for cutting boards include wood, plastic, rubber, bamboo, laminated materials (like Epicurean), glass, and marble.
It's common for cooks to have more than one type of cutting board because different materials are good for different tasks.
The overall best cutting board materials are wood and plastic. We recommend using glass or laminated boards for serving only because these materials will dull your knives quickly if you use them for cutting.
See our rubber cutting board review for more information.
See our bamboo cutting board review for more information.
Size and Weight
Size is one of the most important features of a cutting board. For a main prepping board, you want the largest size that fits your counter space because a large board makes meal prep easier.
Sizes will vary, but a large cutting board is approximately 18 x 24 inches; a medium board is around 10 x 14 inches, and a small one is about 8 x 10 inches. 10 x 14 inches is the smallest size we recommend for a main cutting board.
For meat, you want a board big enough to handle a whole chicken (or better yet, a turkey).
Smaller boards are good for cheese, fruit, presentations, or any secondary board to use when your main board is dirty or in use.
Think about weight, too. If you have ergonomic issues, go with a plastic or laminated board over wood because they're lighter, especially the thin, flexible plastic cutting boards. However, light boards can slide around on the counter, making them harder to use. A board with some heft is preferable to a too-light board.
Handles and Grooved Edges
Handles: If a board is heavy or if you'll be moving it frequently, handles are useful. Handles can be cutouts in the side of the board, attached handles, or a long handle on one end. Attached handles make a board easier to move, but also increase the space needed to use and store the board. If you want to hang a board, get one with a hole in the handle.
Grooved edges: If you're going to use a cutting board for prepping raw meats or carving roasted meats, a grooved edge will catch juices. Grooved edges can make a cutting board more versatile, but grooved edges reduce the usable size of the cutting board.
Rubber feet have pros and cons. They prevent a board from sliding around while you're using it, but they mean you can only use one side of the board. If you want to use both sides of a cutting board (e.g., one side for veggies, one side for fruits or meat), rubber feet aren't a good feature.
NOTE: You can prevent sliding around by placing a damp towel or paper towel underneath a cutting board without feet.
Ease of Care and Maintenance
Most cutting boards are easy to take care of, but some (plastic) are easier than others (wood).
Plastic, laminated, and glass boards can go in the dishwasher, while wood, bamboo, and most rubber boards can not.
However, wood board maintenance is not hard. Warm soapy water and a good rinse is all you need to clean up a wood cutting board. To disinfect, scrub with salt and lemon juice.
Woods boards also need to be oiled occasionally or they'll dry out and can split. This is easy to do: just rub the board with food grade cutting board oil monthly or at least a few times a year.
Plastic cutting boards are the easiest to maintain, but there are other reasons to choose wood, such as beauty, heft (they stay put while using), and they're better for your knives.
The harder a cutting board material, the worse it is for your knives. If you have expensive knives or just want to get the most out of your knives between sharpening, hardness is an important consideration for a cutting board. A too-hard board will cause your knives to go dull faster and thus need more frequent sharpening.
Wood is a better material for your knives than plastic (though woods differ in hardness, so some are better than others). The best knife-friendly woods are maple, cherry, and acacia, while the least knife-friendly woods are teak and mahogany.
This is only a consideration if you're going to use your board as a trivet (or want the option to). If so, then go with wood over plastic, as plastic can melt if exposed to high heat.
To avoid warping, you have to go with a fairly thick cutting board for both wood and plastic.
If a wooden board does warp, you may be able to straighten it out by wetting the unwarped side and allowing it to dry.
Other Types of Cutting Boards
Wood and plastic are the most common materials for cutting boards, but you have other choices, too. These include bamboo, laminated boards, rubber, glass, and marble.
Bamboo is a highly sustainable material and also affordable. But it's hard on knife blades--some people think even harder than plastic.
Rubber cutting boards are a newer thing, designed for use mainly with high end Japanese knives. Rubber is one of the best materials for knife friendliness and is more hygienic than wood (so usable in professional kitchens). But it can be expensive, and some people find its high friction surface frustrating to use (hard to slide food around or use a scraper to scoop up food).
Glass and marble are terrible for knives and should only be used for presentation; please don't cut on these surfaces.
Wood Vs. Plastic Cutting Boards FAQs
Here are some common questions about wood and plastic cutting boards.
Which Is Better, a Wood or a Plastic Cutting Board?
It depends on your preferences and how you're going to use the board. Wood is best for knives, prettiest, and the most durable. Plastic is affordable, better for raw meats, and dishwasher safe. Both wood and plastic make good cutting boards.
Which Is More Hygienic, Wood or Plastic?
Wood harbors less bacteria than plastic, so is technically more hygienic. However, plastic can go in the dishwasher, so it's easier to disinfect. If you're going to use a board for raw meat or other high pathogen foods, plastic is the better choice.
Which Type of Board Is Easier to Maintain?
Plastic is easier to maintain than wood because it's dishwasher safe. Wood also needs to be oiled with food grade mineral oil or cutting board oil a few times a year to prevent cracking.
What Type of Cutting Board Lasts the Longest?
Most wooden cutting boards will outlast most plastic cutting boards. Wood can "heal" itself where knives cut into it, so cuts don't show as much as they do on plastic. Once a plastic board has deep cut marks on it, it's no longer hygienic and hard to cut on.
What Cutting Board Is the Most Sustainable, Wood or Plastic?
Wood is the more sustainable material over plastic, especially if you choose a sustainable wood like acacia or teak. A discarded wood board will naturally biodegrade in a landfill, and a plastic cutting board won't.
What Cutting Board is the Most Affordable?
Plastic cutting boards are much more affordable than wood cutting boards. You can get a large plastic cutting board for under $50, while a large wood cutting board will start at around this price.
Final Thoughts on Wood Vs. Plastic Cutting Boards: The Verdict
So which is best, wood cutting boards or plastic cutting boards? The answer is: both!
Most cooks like to have both wood and plastic cutting boards: a heavy wood board for basic prep work, and a plastic one they can throw in the dishwasher for raw meats. Having a few different cutting boards is always a good idea if you cook--and entertain--a lot.
If you can only have one cutting board, a plastic one is the best choice because it's easier to disinfect. You don't want to use a wooden board for raw meats if you don't have to: yes, wood is more resistant to bacteria, but for raw meat, disinfecting is very important, and plastic is easier to disinfect.
You also want a cutting board for bread, cheese, fruits, and presentations. You don't need a separate cutting board for each of these, but you probably want a third (and possibly a fourth) that you don't use for veggie prep and raw meat. Keep one board looking nice for entertaining, too; this could be a glass or marble board (which you never cut on).
Thanks for reading!
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