After spending more than 120 hours on research, interviewing chefs and materials experts, chopping 23 pounds of produce, and using and abusing 22 cutting boards, we found that the Prepworks Cutting Board offers the best balance of cutting feel, durability, and ease of cleaning. Although some butcher block boards may look more pleasant, the plastic Prepworks doesn’t require any maintenance and won’t split from misuse. It stood up to sharp knives, dark stains, and strong odors better than other plastic boards. It also fits in a dishwasher and warps less over many cycles, and it’s easy to pick up and put away. And, it’s affordable enough to replace every two years or so.
In the two years since this guide was originally published, I’ve spent at least 120 hours researching and testing cutting boards, using a variety of them in my own kitchen, and interviewing chefs and materials specialists. I’ve scoured hundreds of customer reviews, knife and woodworking forum and blog posts, and microbiology and culinary journal articles and white papers. Since 2005 I’ve also cooked most of the meals for my household, which has given me ample opportunity to think about rectangular cutting surfaces.
To better understand what wood cutting boards require, and how they can fail, I interviewed Eva Haviarova, associate professor of wood science at Purdue University Wood Research Laboratory; Brian Brashaw, program director at the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth; and Doug Gardner, professor of Forest Operations, Bioproducts and Bioenergy at University of Maine. For professional cooking perspective, I interviewed and presented boards to Jennifer Boye, executive chef of The Mansion on Delaware and Nickel City Chef; Michael Dimmer, chef of The Black Market Food Truck and Marble + Rye; and Ken Legnon, sushi chef at Seabar (and soon to join Marble + Rye). I also interviewed Chad Ward, author of An Edge in the Kitchen, about many aspects of choosing and maintaining cutting boards, and specifically about how knife edges interact with boards.
Many experts strongly recommend having one board large enough to chop several ingredients at once: at least 15 inches along one side. Chad Ward notes in An Edge in the Kitchen: “A cutting board 15 inches by 20 inches is about the functional limit for most household sinks … however, you need as much size as you can get to prevent stuff running off onto your countertops.” Sushi chef Ken Legnon agreed, but said 16 by 22 is his favorite size. Since upgrading to a 15-by-20 board for the first version of this guide, I would never go back.
A groove near the board’s edges not only collects juices from roasts, ripe tomatoes, and such, but also can stop stray bits before they tumble off the board. We specifically looked for plastic boards with this feature. Plastic is a better surface for prepping raw meat, as it’s less likely to stain and can be washed in a dishwasher. Generally, a handle or two makes transporting a board easier. This also helps keep your hands free from a contaminated cutting surface.
The best boards sit solidly, without sliding on a countertop. “You want ease in movement with your knife, not the board,” said chef Boye, who dismissed many of our test boards as too light, even with rags underneath them. Plastic boards tend to be more squirrelly, although some compensate for this by adding borders or feet made of rubbery materials. Heavier wood boards move less, but can also be a bear to move for cleaning or storage.
In our original guide, we suggested people buy one wood and one plastic board. But after long-term testing, and considering advice from more experts and Sweethome editors with wood boards, we’re convinced wood isn’t for everyone. Two plastic boards can work just fine. Others may simply not have room for a big slab of wood, or might want, as chef Michael Dimmer put it, a board they can “leave in a sink overnight, or when (they) have people over, and no harm done.”
When asked what board they’d most want to cut on, the chefs I spoke with tended to pick wood or teak blocks. But when asked what they’d buy for a 22-year-old nephew or niece moving into their first apartment on their own, they each replied with some variation of “a plastic board they’ll probably treat terribly and replace in two years”—similar to the boards they received from restaurant supply stores.
To find the best boards to test, we looked for recommendations from trusted editorial sources, like Cook’s Illustrated and the New York Times. We compiled the recommendations of commenters on our site, as well as those from Chowhound, ChefTalk, and Serious Eats forums. We also looked at the best-selling and well-reviewed boards on Amazon, CuttingBoard.com, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
For this update, we considered 30 wood, plastic, composite, and rubber boards that fit our criteria. We discarded those that were too small, too big or thick for most kitchens, or difficult to reliably locate and buy. In the end, we called in 22 boards—nine plastic, eight wood, four composite, and one set of rubber mats—for testing.
Over the course of four months, we used all of the boards, on a rotating basis, in one editor’s kitchen for everyday cooking. We also traded a handful of contenders and quirky boards between other Sweethome editors and writers for testing.
Additionally, we recorded each board’s performance in specific tests. We looked to see if they fit in a standard dishwasher, semi-standard (15- by 20-inch) sink, or a divided 15- by 15-inch sink. We noted whether the boards stained or retained odors after letting beet juice and garlic paste, respectively, sit on them for 15 minutes. We cut a total of 15 pounds of onions and 8 pounds of carrots, noting the sound and feel of the boards, and whether they scarred. To see how well the boards healed after heavy knife use, we cut crusty bread and soft, raw bacon with a serrated knife, and intentionally marked them with a square of deep cuts. We also noted how much each board slipped across a granite countertop, with and without a towel placed underneath.
Finally, with assistance from Wirecutter/Sweethome science editor Leigh Boerner, we researched materials that made up each board1: wood grains and glues, composite resins, and the major types of plastic used in cutting boards, polyethylene (high-density and low-density) and polypropylene.
In the end, we found that form, function, and feel were a better guide to picking out a good cutting board than a strict focus on knife edge retention. If you have a quality knife made of hard steel, the differences in how one plastic board affects your knife edge versus another is small, and offset by many other factors: acids, interactions with different foods, and other kitchen happenings. It was certainly considered—and one of our chef experts was particularly concerned with it—but if you regularly sharpen (and steel) your chef’s knife, none of the cutting boards we considered will cause you to lose your knife edge midway through dinner prep.
Because it’s made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE)1, the Prepworks is softer and slightly slower to dull knife blades than boards made of harder polypropylene (like our alternate plastic pick). Knife expert Chad Ward told us that while he lacks for definitive proof, he suspects that a “softer board will be easier on your edges than the harder board. … The harder board might roll (your knife edge) more readily, leading to more frequent steeling.” Again, though: This is all very relative, as plastic is certainly not harder than the steel of your knife. We also found the Prepworks quieter than polypropylene boards when rapidly chopping. The board’s half-inch thickness helps it absorb sound.
After four months of kitchen rotation, the only discolorations on the Prepworks board have occurred deep inside knife marks, and they are barely visible except up close. Other boards, particularly harder polypropylene models, are showing some dark slices. The same goes for odors: The Prepworks was tied as the most odor-resistant plastic board we tested. It hardly smelled one hour after it was smeared with garlic paste, and it was odorless five hours later.
The 17¼- by 11¼-inch version of the Prepworks is big enough to accommodate fabricating a chicken, carving a 6-pound roast, or holding four piles of chopped vegetables. Yet it’s also small enough to fit in most dishwashers. Many of the large plastic boards we tested were too tall on one side for dishwashers and for divided sinks. And while more testing is needed, the Prepworks has warped only very slightly after a dozen (regular cycle, not delicate) dishwasher runs—less than most other boards, which all warp slightly, and definitely not enough to impact the Prepworks’s stability.
The juice groove on the Prepworks is deeper than those on two other plastic boards we tested, holding 11 teaspoons of liquid (roughly the juice from two lemons). That’s more than the similarly sized Premium Bamboo board’s 8 teaspoons, but far less than larger boards meant for roasts, like the Michigan Maple Block and Epicurean Gourmet Series boards we tested. We did find that the Prepworks’s groove was less likely to spill over when transporting the board than any of the wood versions we tested.
Some of the handles on our tested boards cramped our fingers, or were so big and close to the center that they captured food bits. The handle on the Prepworks, by comparison, is big enough for four large fingers, and because it’s positioned outside the juice groove, food is less likely to roll into the handle’s opening.
For what you get, the Prepworks is a bargain. At $15 to $17, it costs less than any wood or composite board we tried, and it’s cheaper than all but two plastic boards we tested. It’s covered by a satisfaction guarantee stating that products are “warranted to be free from defects under normal use.”
Amazon buyers love the Prepworks: 295 reviewers give it a 4.6 average rating (out of five). We found a perfect summation of this board from verified buyer “2Dogs1Bowl”: “Doesn’t warp the way wood does, you can throw it in the dishwasher, and it has just the right texture for cutting. Doesn’t look fancy or anything, but gets the job done, and doesn’t need any special care.”
With heavy use, our pick’s very-white surface will darken with knife marks in the middle. White plastic doesn’t age as gracefully as a more translucent gray (like that of our runner-up), or black or dark brown—and certainly not like wood. The upshot? It’s easier to see when the Prepworks should be washed than with darker boards.
As noted earlier, the Prepworks board requires a rag, towel, or, in a pinch, a moistened paper towel underneath it to stay in place on a smooth counter like granite or composite. This is a habit you should get into regardless: Even with grips or feet, any plastic board should be stabilized.
Unlike some other plastic, wood, and composite boards we tested, the Prepworks is not NSF certified, but it hardly matters. NSF certification is mainly intended for professional kitchens, and many boards from well-known manufacturers—OXO, IKEA, and Oneida, to name a few—lack NSF certification.
Finally, while the textured surface of the Prepworks board helped keep food in place and gripped rags and towels better, minced onions and cucumbers stuck to the surface, requiring a second, more thorough knife scrape-down to get them off. And a serrated knife will quickly chew up the polyethylene surface. If you have a hard-crusted loaf to saw into, do that on another surface.
The OXO is made with a harder, more slick material (polypropylene), with some slight marbling applied to give the surface more grip. Your knife won’t gouge the plastic on most chops and slices, but when it does cut in, it locks your knife in place as if it’s cutting on a rail. It’s a small thing that only happens sometimes, but it happens. The board is also louder to cut on than our main pick, especially if you don’t have a particularly thick towel or rag underneath it.
Our OXO board also bent more than we would have liked through two years of use, despite never going into the dishwasher. That slight bend somewhat negated the rubberized feet, as not all four make firm contact with the counter. And in our more recent testing, it held onto odors longer than the Prepworks.
That said, the OXO is still a better board than most. After two years of long-term testing, it has been worth its price. It is rather light for its size and easy to handle. It looks professional and more presentable than most plastic boards. The juice groove on the 15- by 21-inch board holds roughly 9 tablespoons of liquid, about twice as much as the Prepworks’s groove. It won’t fit into most dishwashers, but its smaller version, at 10½ by 15 inches, will.
The board receives an average of 4.5 stars across 981 user reviews on Amazon. Negative reviews address two main concerns: counter slipping, when the board is used with only its rubber feet and no towel underneath, and knife scarring. Cook’s Illustrated and our own testing saw an OXO board scar under hundreds of knife marks, but so does any board. Another note: Do not buy the strange bamboo version of this board, intentionally or accidentally. It is not well-reviewed.
All of OXO’s products are covered by a satisfaction guarantee, which states that you can return any product for any reason if you are not satisfied after contacting the company’s customer service department.
In every test, the Proteak allowed for smooth motion with a very sharp knife, both parallel to and against the grain. Compared with the dry-feeling Michigan Maple Block, the too-hard Premium Bamboo board, or the sometimes too-soft hinoki boards we tested, the teak was hard enough to allow for clean cuts, but soft enough to feel smooth while maintaining a relatively sharper knife edge. Sushi chef Ken Legnon agreed: “It’s durable, but it still helps maintain your edge, long-term.” Cook’s Illustrated calls the Proteak “knife-friendly.” Amazon buyers cite the Proteak’s “great feel” in many reviews.
Teak also fights off moisture more effectively than the most common wood cutting board materials, so it requires less oiling. In fact, Teak has been used in boatbuilding for more than 2,000 years because of its remarkable moisture-fighting properties. It is “the gold standard for (rot) resistance.” Its 2.0 shrinkage (T/R) ratio is about the lowest of any wood considered hard enough to be used as a cutting board. That’s likely why the Proteak looked better after months of kitchen duty than our prior maple pick from Boos. In their own tests, Cook’s (subscription required) found the Proteak “retained its satiny, flat surface,” due in part to oily resins sealed in the board, even after three months of heavy use in its test kitchens (“the equivalent of years of use in the average home kitchen”).
The 15- by 20-inch, 1.5-inch-thick model of the Proteak clocks in at 12 pounds, and it barely budges on some counters. Sliding even just one or two layers of damp paper towels underneath eliminates any minor movements. The Proteak board has handles that, while oddly shallow and unfinished, do help with lifting the board. If counter stability without a towel was more important to you than reversibility, you could easily glue some rubber feet to this board.
Like well-established hardwood board makers, Proteak offers reams of information about the wood it uses: its planting, harvesting, carbon policies, and certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council. The company’s edge-grain cutting boards are harvested on Mexico’s pacific coast, then processed in Vietnam. Proteak’s wood is specifically not sourced from Burma, where human rights abuses have caused some nations to ban Burmese teak imports.
Each Proteak board is different, more so than with maple boards, and ages over time into richer colors. Our sample board arrived with alternating dark stripes and rich brown sections. Chef Jennifer Boye, who collects cutting boards, was quickly drawn to its unique looks and pattern, and recommended it as her top wood pick. At least three coworkers who saw this board when it arrived praised its appearance. As it has been stained, smeared, cut upon, and slightly abused, the wood has not taken on a lighter, worn appearance at the center as with a Boos board we tested. It has simply picked up a few marks here and there.
Proteak warranties its products for one year against “defects in workmanship and material,” but not “damage resulting from neglect or misuse of the product”—a very standard warranty for a wood cutting board.
As noted, Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country (the same parent company) highly recommend the Proteak in two separate articles. Amazon reviewers have given Proteak’s boards 4.3 and 4.0 star averages (for the 20 by 15 and 24 by 18 sizes, respectively).
The biggest flaw for any wood board is the need for maintenance and caution with liquids to avoid warping, cracking, and splitting.
Teak withstands moisture better than most woods, but you must still keep liquids or even subtle moisture from sitting on the board for more than a few minutes. After you’re done cutting, you should wipe the board down with warm, soapy water, but never immerse the board in a sink full of water. And you must oil the board―roughly once a month, or more if the board gets “thirsty” (more on this in Care and maintenance).
The Proteak’s glaring design flaw is the handles. They’re shallow, so you get only your fingertips into the board. What you feel inside is the unfinished end of the teak pieces. It’s not an unbearable experience, but it’s an incongruous bit of an otherwise solidly built board.
The Proteak lacks a juice groove. We generally recommend cutting meats and messy things on your plastic board, but if you’re dedicated to using only one board in your kitchen, you’d do well to invest in a mat to cover this board for juicy foods.
It’s simple to keep plastic boards clean and ready for work. Whenever possible, use the dishwasher to sanitize them, particularly after working with meats. Use the dishwasher’s delicate/econo setting, or set a timer to pull out the board during the drying cycle to keep boards from warping. If the dishwasher isn’t an option, experts recommend a hard scrubbing with soapy water under fast-flowing water. Using a dishcloth is ideal, because they dry out before they can cultivate bacteria and transfer it to your board.
For wood boards, Chad Ward’s An Edge in the Kitchen offers two cleaning techniques if you need more than a quick, soapy wipe-and-dry after chopping. One is to keep a spray bottle filled with a 25 percent vinegar, 75 percent water solution. Spray your board down with the solution, then either turn it on its side to dry (perhaps in a dish drainer) or wipe it down after a bit of soaking. This works for a plastic board, too, if you can’t get it into the sink or dishwasher.
For real peace of mind, and for boards too big to pick up and turn over, Ward recommends making a thick paste of kosher salt and water, rubbing it across the surface of your wood board, letting it sit overnight, and scraping it off in the morning (with a bench scraper, if you have one). Smells, stains, and germs should be gone.
Proteak offers a variety of cleaning techniques for its boards, including undiluted vinegar, a hydrogen peroxide solution, and bleach. Ward, however, recommends against using bleach, and so do we after seeing how it dried and discolored a Boos board after one night under a towel soaked in diluted bleach (per Cook’s recommendation).
There is no one schedule for oiling boards, much like there is no one schedule for watering plants—it depends on the environment in which you’re storing the board. When we asked our wood experts, chefs, and Chad Ward how often they oil their wood boards, the universal answer was “less often than I should.” Proteak recommends oiling every week or two; Cook’s suggests twice a year for the Proteak board. Every month is a smart middle ground for the Proteak, with some grace built into the more humid summer months. But there is absolutely no harm in oiling your board if it looks thirsty. We like this tutorial.
Another way to tell if your wooden board needs some oiling is to simply sprinkle some drops of water on the board with your fingertips, as suggested by J. Kenji López-Alt at The Food Lab. As with a waxed car, water should bead up and seemingly float on top of a well-oiled board. If you see the water disperse, or seemingly soak into the wood, give it more oil.
López-Alt also provides the most specific guide to sanding down your board. Do this when your board becomes so marked up that it looks unsightly, or seems to catch food bits:
Use a fine sandpaper that is made for dry or wet surfaces. The higher the number on a piece of sandpaper, the smoother the finish it will give. I recommend a grit of at least 220, but for a buttery-smooth finish on your board, hand-sand it with a 400-grit paper. Once you’ve sanded your board, wipe it free of dust with a damp sponge, let it air-dry, then oil it to get it ready for your next use.
Very close contenders
We loved how our knives felt under the Shun Hinoki cutting board ($60), made of very forgiving Japanese cypress. It smells like rich cedar and was the favorite board of sushi chef Legnon, and Sweethome editors were impressed. But it requires wetting before you cut on it. Even then, we found it absorbed odors. “After cutting garlic, zucchini, squash, bok choy, and broccoli, it smells a little food-y,” one Sweethome writer said. It also scars very badly; a serrated knife will butcher this board. We think this is too high maintenance for most people. At $60, it’s also spendy, and you can likely find cheaper hinoki boards.
Oneida’s Colours 16-inch cutting board ($15) has rubberized grips on two ends and comes in a nice size, but it doesn’t have a juice groove and we found its large handle holes allow juice to drip on the counter. This would be less of an issue if the 20- by 12-inch version with a juice groove were available; the company could not help us locate one in stock.
The Dexas 14- by 17-inch Pastry Super Board ($14) feels smooth under a sharp knife, and the surface has a roughed-up texture that keeps food from slipping. The board’s Midnight Granite color hides knife marks and stains. But this board slips quite a bit, even with damp towels underneath. It’s too large for many dishwashers, and we also found it warped after a dozen runs through the dishwasher.
This reversible maple board by Boos ($80) was our previous wood board pick. It feels good under a knife and has held up over two years of testing, and counter slipping is almost non-existent (given the board’s 18-pound heft). But this board requires a lot more upkeep than the Proteak. It developed a small crack in the handle after the first year of use. Even with regular oilings, it has developed a lightened circle near the center where the majority of cutting happens. The board looks better after monthly oilings, but often appears dried out, especially in winter months.
The first version of this guide had a 15-inch Boos Chop-N-Slice board ($55) as its top recommendation. After seeing a downward trend in Amazon reviews for the board, and learning more about how the wood dries, splits, and cracks, we recommend a slightly thicker board made from more forgiving materials.
Brooklyn Butcher Block’s edge-grain board in Walnut ($80) was a wonderfully dark and rich-looking board, and its 12- by 18-inch size was about the same as our main plastic pick. It felt like it was scraping quite often during our onion slicing tests, and requires just as much oiling and moisture avoidance as other wood picks. Otherwise, it performed quite well, but we don’t think it’s quite as good a value as the Proteak.
A few different experts and chefs told us they used colored cutting mats, either on top of wood boards or on other surfaces. We tried out three Enviroboard antimicrobial mats ($25 for three), color-coded for chicken, fish, and vegetable cutting. They are thicker than most other meat mats, and round instead of square, like the popular and functional CounterArt ($10 for four) and Prepworks ($13 for six) mats. They also have a gripping texture and a very slight juice groove. The handle hole on the Enviroboards seems like an odd choice given the juices you’re working with. But being able to toss them into the dishwasher or microwave to utterly sterilize them did make cleaning up quick. Mats are recommended if you make a good number of multi-meat feasts or lack the space to store multiple cutting boards.
We tried out a few composite boards, including three boards from Epicurean: a 15- by 11-inch Kitchen board in Nutmeg Brown ($25), an 8-by-6 Kitchen board in Natural ($12), and a 15- by 20-inch Gourmet Series board with a slate core ($75). We also tested a 15- by 10-inch board from The Adventuresome Kitchen ($30), a family business. Overall, we found them too hard on kitchen knives and our experts agreed. When he tried them, Buffalo chef Michael Dimmer said they “feel like nails on a chalkboard … just too hard.” Chad Ward says he likes to use this kind of board when staying at a cabin or bringing food to a friend’s house. But overall, they’re not great for daily use.
We considered some rubber cutting boards, most notably Sani-tuff rubber mats, a favorite of cooks and knife enthusiasts. But because these mats are very heavy, sometimes only available through specialty vendors, and almost always come in hospital-beige colors, we didn’t think they were best for most home cooks and opted not to test.
The surface on the Premium Bamboo ($35) we tested truly felt like it was grinding our knife edge. Picking up small bits of onion with our fingers was difficult, as the surface felt dry and scraped our fingertips. The unfinished juice groove was especially unpleasant, and it allowed its 8 teaspoons of liquid to easily leak out at the slightest tilt. Bamboo might work better as a stylish cheese or serving board.
Other plastic boards
Williams-Sonoma offers an exclusive antibacterial cutting board ($25). It’s a good size at 16-by-12 inches, and it has Microban-like bacterial protection baked into its plastic. Its texture is similar to the Prepworks, if not quite as gripping, and its knife feel is better than most dismissed boards. But its wide, smooth 11-teaspoon juice groove releases liquids more easily than the Prepworks or OXO, and its handles are so barely indented as to be superfluous. And $25, plus shipping, is a bit much for a plastic board this size.
We liked the counter-gripping feet and the surface texture on the Dexas Granite Grippboard ($14). If Dexas made this board at a size larger than 11-by-14 inches, it would have made it into another round of testing, but this model could barely hold half a diced onion. It also took on deep orange/red stains after a run through the dishwasher and it warped slightly.
The 15-by-20 Cutting Board Company plastic board ($18) doesn’t have handles, grooves, or any other stand-out features. Onion dicing felt good, carrot dicing was a bit loud, and a very sharp knife made mostly shallow surface scratches. But this board slips wherever you push it on a counter. It is so flat and lightly textured that it can suction itself to very smooth counters if moisture gets underneath it. There’s just nothing particularly great about this board.
We found the Stanton Trading Company’s board ($25) softness can be off-putting while slicing and chopping, and after a week’s worth of meal prep, the board had cuts on it that felt too deep . A serrated knife left remarkably deep scars on this board.
IKEA’s Legitim chopping board ($2) is 13½ by 9½ inches of quarter-inch-thin polyethylene. You can bend it with your hands. A freshly sharpened knife leaves murderous gouges in it. It does cost less than $2, but it’s wasteful for anything except slicing single fruits.
Other wood boards
This 12-by-18 end-grain cherry board by Brooklyn Butcher Block ($150) illustrated the trade-offs of end-grain boards over edge-grain too perfectly. Its offset bricklayer-style pattern looks quite nice, it stays right in place, and slicing and dicing on this board felt good. After weeks of rotation and some intentionally abusive tests, this board looked almost untouched. But it still had not lost its beet stains after a few months and a few lemon/salt scrubs, and its sides tend to dry out more frequently than other boards. For those willing to care for it, this $150 board could be worth the price, but we think Brooklyn’s long-grain (edge-grain) board looks and cuts about as nicely for about half the price.
The 18-by-12-inch Michigan Maple Block board we tested was nowhere near as finished as it appeared in its online image. After two thorough oilings with board cream, the board’s surface still felt like freshly sawn wood. That’s likely why, months after our beet staining test, and after two attempts to scrub out the stains with lemons and a kosher salt paste, the Michigan Maple board still looked like evidence in a (vegetable) murder case. The board’s size, weight, and handles make it a good midpoint between leaving out and stashing in a drawer, but the wood looks and feels constantly “thirsty.” It requires a good deal of caution and upkeep for $55.
Bengston Woodworks sent us a sample cube of their end-grain boards. We couldn’t put it through all the tests we put other boards through, but its artistic patchwork look drew just as many stares and praises from people who spotted it. If you really want to create a home base for food prep in your house, and you can dedicate yourself to caring for it, you’d do well to order a board from Bengston or Brooklyn Butcher Block.
Originally published: July 31, 2015