Sharpen Up

5 Things Your Knives Want You to Know About Cutting Boards

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

I have been using the same single cutting board for several years. It is bamboo, maybe? I think it is bamboo. I am happy with it, but are my knives happy with it? Is it the best kind of cutting board? Am I secretly doing something that is ruining them in some way I do not yet know of but will live to regret?

If you have these questions, too, read on to find out what your knives want you to know about cutting boards.

1. Glass is bad.

This is arguably an overstatement. There are uses for glass cutting boards. For example, feel free to serve cheese and crackers on them, if that would make you happy. But if you are interested in actually cutting things, the rule of thumb is to do it on (almost) anything else.

Glass is admittedly easy to clean, which can make it seem like a good and responsible choice. And it is true: glass is nonporous and it won’t get grooves that harbor bacteria. The problem is that it’s terrible for your knives. As we’ve noted before, glass is really, really hard, which can cause your knives to get dull really, really fast — or worse, to chip or break.

2. Same goes for stone.

Good for serving, great for rolling out pastry dough, and terrible for cutting.

3. There is, however, no shame in plastic.

A favorite of professional kitchens, plastic cutting boards are exceedingly affordable and easy to sanitize, and they’re not bad for your knives, either. Since they’re less absorbent than wooden ones — and since most of them are dishwasher-safe — they’re a great choice if you’re going to be dealing with raw meats.

4. Not all wood cutting boards are created equal.

In keeping with the general theme of life, there is no single perfect cutting board, because different individual knives have different individual needs.

A bamboo board is both inexpensive and eco-friendly, while also requiring minimal maintenance. It will not last you a lifetime — eventually, it will get beat up enough that you’ll want to replace it, either for aesthetic reasons or because of food safety concerns — but again, bamboo is cheap. The downside to bamboo is that it’s relatively hard, as woods go, so it’s probably not the best choice for more delicate knives.

A softer wood, like teak or maple, is gentler on your knives. These boards are pricier and higher maintenance (you do have to oil them periodically), but then, you’ve invested this much in your knives already; it’s probably worth it. They also have the aesthetic advantage and if you take care of them, they can last for ages.

5. A good cutting board won’t make up for bad knife skills.

Ultimately, no cutting board can compensate for lackluster knife technique, so take care with your knives. While it is very, very tempting to drag the sharp edge of your knife along the cutting board, we must somehow resist. Knives are not all-purpose scraping tools. Get a bench scraper.

Similarly, while vigor is appreciated in most things, overly energetic chopping isn’t necessarily the way to go. Obviously, cutting requires some force, but for the sake of your knives, don’t overdo it when you don’t have to.

A few more knife mistakes to avoid: Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Chef’s Knife

Do you have a cutting board you love? Do tell.