Cutting boards are in constant contact with your food and kitchen knives, making it important to choose just the right wood for the job.
The history of the wood cutting board is the history of our ancestors using an unpolished tree stump or log to chop up their catch of the day. For as long as people have been cutting their food, they have needed surfaces to cut on. And the wood was perfect for the job. A cutting board acts at any given moment as a chopping block, food preparation surface, or serving station—sometimes all three. So it’s essential that this can’t-live-without kitchen accessory be made of durable material.
Pro chefs swear by wood because it’s more impact resistant and sanitary than plastic, gentler on knife blades than bamboo, and cheaper than marble or granite. But not all types of wood are superior options.
The choice of wood for your cutting board dictates how it fares against knives, stains, and moisture.
Consider the following key attributes of a wood species before deciding on the best wood for your cutting board or butcher block:
Based on the above criteria, this is the winning combination for a cutting board that’s durable, scratch-resistant, and won’t get grimy. The best wood species for this can be whittled down to the following few:
Maple is the industry standard when it comes to wooden cutting boards — specifically hard maple or sugar maple wood. At 1,450 lbf on the Janka scale, it provides an excellent cutting surface that wears well against daily chopping but doesn’t ruin a good cutting edge. Its dense closed grain and small pores are also effective for blocking bacteria.
While maple’s neutral color and subtle grain are a natural match for every kitchen, it’s hard to hide stains on its lighter-toned surface — we wouldn’t recommend leaving freshly sliced beets or turmeric roots on a maple cutting board.
Walnut is another heavy favorite and is almost the exact opposite of maple. It’s one of the softest closed-grain hardwoods, at 1,010 lbf, which is great on knives but also more prone to scratches. Walnut is prized for its rich, dark hue that can effectively mask everyday stains, as well as lend a chic look to your countertop.
If going by color alone, cherry is the pick of the bunch. A thick slab of deep redwood looks amazing no matter what you do with it.
Beech is a tree that hails from Europe and has many similarities to maple. It’s almost equally hard (at 1,300 lbf), just as hard-wearing, and effective at warding off dirt. Beech has a creamier, soft-pink tone, which slowly stains to a beautiful red with time.
Teak cutting boards rose to popularity a few years ago. Tropical orange-brown hardwood is grown in Southeast Asia, teak’s resistance to mold and warping — even in wet environments — makes it perfect for boat fixtures, outdoor furniture, and recently, kitchen cutting boards.
Thanks to teak’s closed grain and rich natural oils, water is unable to seep in. And as compared to other types of wood, there’s much less need for any added mineral oil or conditioning.
Teak is high in silica (the same substance found in sand and glass) and has a hardness of 1,070 lbf. This makes it a relatively sturdy and scratch-resistant surface but may also dull your knife blade with frequent use.
Bamboo is the environmentalist’s choice. Technically not a wood but a hard grass, it is sustainable, renewable, and needs no chemicals to grow or harvest. (A bamboo sprout reaches full maturity in 3-6 years, while maple trees take over 30 years.)
Bamboo has a hardness rating of 1,380 lbf — greater than many varieties of wood. It is high in silica and resistant to water and scratches, but it’s also relatively hard on knives.
Within the category of wooden cutting boards come, you’ll find three design varieties: face-grain, end-grain, and edge-grain. These cuts aren’t just for show; each pattern boasts a different level of durability.
There’s so much more to a cutting board than just providing a flat surface. From board size to pore size, it’s all the tiny features that will make or break a seemingly good cutting board. Start with your ideal in mind. What will you be cutting? How often will you use it? Do you want your board to double as a serving platter? From there, you’re sure to find the perfect wood cutting board.