Switching from plastic cutting boards to wood is one of the most meaningful yet least practical coming-of-age moments for the home cook. No restaurant kitchen subject to American food safety standards would allow its meat, vegetables, or knives anywhere near a piece of wood, since they’re naturally porous and totally un-sanitizable. Similarly, obsessive clean freaks and the OCD types who wash their hands the very second they put down the piece of raw chicken (or even worse, only handle it if they’re wearing gloves) (do people actually do that at home? Who are these people? Are they the same people who treat their cutting boards the way accountants treat client files?) recoil in horror at the thought of using a wooden cutting board for anything. Maybe, maybe they’ll use one for bread.
But the thing with wooden cutting boards is this: they’re beautiful. No one photographs a perfectly seared t-bone steak on a green plastic cutting board; you shoot it with its juices running along the surface of some exquisitely grained slab of maple. And this: they last for freaking ever. Properly cared for (which largely means: don’t be stupid about it), a wooden cutting board can last for generations. Over time, the edges will soften, the knife scars will darken. It’ll take on patina. It’ll take on character. No injection-molded plastic cutting board has ever had true character. Plus, if you’re serious about your knife, you’ll know that wood’s hard-yet-giving surface is a good blade’s soul mate. I’m not saying don’t have plastic cutting boards. I’m just saying don’t not have a wooden one, too.
The king of the wooden cutting board is John Boos, whose heavy slabs of maple are objects of worship for a certain type of cook. You might want to be that type of cook. You might want to spend a little less dough and not be that type of cook, but still not be the kind of jackass who only owns a plastic cutting board. Your call.
(Do not even talk to me about glass or marble cutting boards. Those aren’t cutting boards. Those are, I don’t even know, surface protectors? Slabs on which to make custom-mixed ice cream? Nobody even cares.)
My pick: I covet a Boos block, but along with the ancient Le Creuset I inherited from my great aunt, I also snagged two of my parents’ old wooden cutting boards. One has a handle and is technically a bread board, the other has a channel around the edges to catch the juices that run out of meat as it’s carved. Both are old and scarred and remind me in an almost embarrassingly severe way of my childhood.
“…anywhere near a piece of wood, since they’re naturally porous and totally un-sanitizable.”
That is not true – wood has anti-bacterial properties that actually make them safer than plastic. Many of studies lately have shown that plastic harbors bacteria longer in the scratches that the knives leave. Also harder to kill the bacteria in the cuts on a plastic board. While you can put a plastic board in the washer, the average temperature (130-40 degrees) in a dishwasher is not sufficient to reliably kill bacteria.
People have been using wood for thousands of years – it is COMPLETELY sanitizable if properly cared for, like many things.
This site also has some really nice, very high quality boards, and good advice for their care:
“I’m just saying don’t not have a wooden one, too.” – Exactly. That’s why, even though I rarely use it, my John Boos one just sits top-lit and framed on the wall, adjacent to the kitchen, lording its superiority over the ones I actually do use.