Whether you’ve invested in a butcher block of high-end cutlery or are purchasing pieces one at a time, you’ll want to keep your carving, boning, paring, bread and other knives in tip-top shape. While you obviously need to be mindful of their care and maintenance (i.e. cleaning them by hand and avoiding using them to saw or cut materials they aren’t meant for), don’t underestimate the importance of an often overlooked accessory.
Much more than just a base for chopping your veggies, mincing your garlic or carving your roasted chicken, your cutting board plays a crucial role in helping your knives both stay at the ready and better do their job. Here are some tips for selecting, maintaining and storing boards so you can be the sharpest home chef on the block.
Pick the right board for the right job
“When choosing a cutting board, I always look for high quality wood and substantial weight — I use a big Boos Block for most of my prep [and] like butcher block and bamboo for big jobs,” says says Jamie Gwen, celebrity chef and television/radio personality, adding that the many “scars” on her favorite board are both indicative of its constant use and proof of great dishes. “As for plastic cutting boards, I find them useful when cutting raw meat or chicken, for the cleanliness factor, [as] they’re easy to rinse clean and sanitize in the dishwasher.”
Spendier options are a worthy cut above
“Don’t buy cheap,” advises Bobby Griggs, vice president of Heritage Steel cookware and Hammer Stahl Cutlery. He is a big fan of JK Adams, which he deems to be “beautiful, easy to maintain, cut fast and are the best on your knives,” and will last for generations if well-kept. Griggs also like Epicurean, which also let you cut relatively fast, are lightweight and easier to store. “They are a little harder on blades, but are dishwasher-safe and easy to sanitize.”
Wood boards keeps knives looking and feeling sharp — but not all of them are created equally.
Wooden cutting boards provide “give” when you are cutting, chopping, slicing and mincing, according to Sean Osborne, creative director for JK Adams. End-grain hardwoods — made by cutting across growth rings rather than along the length of the trunk — are most prized in the cutting board world for their ergonomics, durability and ability to keep your knives feeling like new.
“The material literally moves with the blade’s motion, and ‘self-heals’ as the cut is made on its surface,” he explains. “Because of the orientation of the fibers in the wood on end grain boards, the knife has a fluid and non-damaging motion, while the board can regain its structure for durability.” This is the preferred material of those who frequently reach for chefs’ knives, santoku blades and cleavers.
However, if you are a fan of carbon steel or Japanese VG steel knives, which are brittle and can be more prone to chipping than their stainless steel counterparts, you’ll want to select a softwood board, advises Scott Samuel, vice president of culinary for online culinary school Rouxbe.
Be sure to clean and store that precious wood the right way
Osborne recommends hand-washing wooden cutting boards in the sink with very warm water and a gentle soap using a brush or sponge — never wash them in the dishwasher. Afterwards, fully towel-dry them with a lint-free cloth to prevent warping, cracking or splitting that can come from any remaining moisture; you can also apply a wood conditioner when the board is dry to the touch.
“Store cutting boards flat, Ideally on a slotted pantry rack, having air ventilation coming from all sides” Osborne says. “Keeping boards away from excessive heat, humidity, and general moisture will prolong their lives.” If you follow these tips, a hardwood board can be a passed-down heirloom; once it starts to split it’s time to replace it, as bacteria can harbor and spread within its cracks.
What about glass, plastic or composite boards?
While wood and bamboo will best let you maintain the sharpest knives (he’s partial to walnut or teak), other materials do have a place in the kitchen, according to Samuel. “I use a plastic (HDPE) board for working with items like garlic and onions as these types of foods tend to infuse flavor into a wooden cutting board,” he says.
Composite boards can be workhorses in commercial kitchens as they are durable and last longer than wood, but he says they can quickly dull your knives. Never on the table are glass boards, whose hardness prevents them from scoring and can dull even the highest-quality knives. And flexible cutting mats are convenient when you are chopping and going right to your pot or pan, but tend to wear down quickly.