Shortly after we applauded the durability and convenience of the Snow River Utility Cutting Board ($16.99) in a recent test, we were disappointed to learn that the company discontinued the board. It is now producing another dishwasher-safe board, the Snow River Grande Epicure ($19.95), which, like its predecessor, boasts a composite core sandwiched between sheets of real maple. But instead of being 7/16 inch thick, the new board has a thickness of just 3/16 inch.
We subjected the Grande Epicure to the same battery of tests as the other boards. We sliced onions, whacked chicken thighs through the bone with a cleaver, cut on it 750 times with a new knife, minced deep-staining chipotle chiles, ran it through the dishwasher, and dropped it on the floor. Fresh out of the box, the board was noticeably curved, and it had warped dramatically by the end of testing. Cutting on it felt hard and unpleasant under the knife. And as for the maple surface, our testing left raggedy fissures and deep scars. We can’t recommend the Grande Epicure as a replacement for the Utility Board. For a cheaper, dishwasher-safe alternative to our winning board, we’ll stick with the plastic Architec Gripper Nonslip ($14.95).
Buying a cutting board starts with deciding on its material. Until recently, there were just two good options: wood and plastic. Wood boards appeal to cooks who love how they feel and don't mind that they need to be hand-washed. Fans of plastic rate a dishwasher-safe, maintenance-free board over everything else—even if it means a surface that will never feel as cushiony as wood. Recently, eco-friendly bamboo boards claiming to match and even surpass the benefits of wood have appeared in kitchenware stores everywhere. Alongside them are lightweight composite boards, fashioned from laminated wood fiber, which look like wood but clean up like plastic. Do these newcomers offer anything better than the old standbys?
To find out, we gathered a lineup made from all four materials (plus a glass board; we haven't liked glass in the past, but we know many people do). We whacked at them with a cleaver, subjected them to hundreds of cuts with a new, factory-sharpened knife, and repeatedly knocked them off the counter. When we were done, we chopped chipotle chiles in brick-red adobo sauce to see how easily they would clean up. Our ultimate goal was to find the ideal surface: soft enough to keep your knife and hands in good shape but sturdy enough to take on any cutting job without undue damage.
The Tried and True
At the outset, we were impressed by what many consider the king of cutting boards: a 10-pound maple butcher block from John Boos. Heavy and solid (with a $75 price tag to match), this board's end-grain wood took cleaver strikes and repetitive cuts without showing any damage to its surface or the knife. But the board's virtues were also its undoing: its heft made it uncomfortable to set up, wash, and put away. And despite being oiled, it split along a glue line after routine use. We preferred a lighter yet still substantial maple board from J.K. Adams, which had a convenient size-roomy but not unwieldy or heavy-that felt great under the knife and took all the abuse we could dish out.
In the plastic category, two didn't measure up-a folding board that proved more gimmicky than useful and a plain plastic board that was too slick, making the knife, food, and board itself skid around as we worked. This board's soft surface also became deeply stained and cut up. But the Architec Gripper board we've loved in the past remains highly recommended for its durable surface and hundreds of rubber feet, thermally bonded to the plastic, which make the board a pleasure to cut on by keeping it rock-solid on the counter. Any stains on this board were blasted clean in the dishwasher, but we weren't influenced by its sanitized appearance. Our lab tests have shown that, contrary to popular belief, bacteria doesn't wash off plastic boards any more easily than it does off wood ones (see related science article, Bacteria on Board).
Composed of Composite
We were most skeptical about wood-composite boards. Despite their purported resemblance to real wood, the two first boards we tested looked like the thin, hard particleboard they were. The Epicurean model (a product we see everywhere) immediately lived down to our low expectations, making a nasty clack under the knife and giving off sawdust under repeated cuts.
However, the Snow River composite board took us by surprise, winning some of our highest accolades. An innovative twist to its design-softer layers of maple veneer surrounding a hard inner core-made it almost as comfortable to cut on as wood. This board held up extremely well under abuse. When we checked with the manufacturer, we found out why: The board's maple veneer is not simply glued onto the core, but bonded with it from the beginning through the application of resin, high heat, and thousands of pounds of compression. The fact that the board can go in the dishwasher, like all boards of this type, made us appreciate it all the more.
The Bamboo Advantage
Bamboo boards are lightweight and attractive, but we wondered about their endurance. This material is often misunderstood to be a type of hardwood; it's actually a kind of grass. Bamboo does have definite advantages over wood: It grows in poor soil and in almost any climate, and it renews itself in years rather than decades.
Like our favorite composite board, the butcher-block-style Totally Bamboo Congo Board turned out to be a pleasant surprise. In test after test, it matched the outstanding comfort and ease of cutting on a classic maple butcher block-and it was so impervious to abuse that it looked new after hundreds of cuts. Like wood, this board can't go into the dishwasher and would benefit from occasional oiling, but we were more than willing to trade those inconveniences for its superior feel. An unexpected bonus: Lab tests confirmed bamboo has natural antimicrobial properties that help kill bacteria even before you wash it.
But not all bamboo boards are created equal. The other bamboo boards' surfaces were not as durable or forgiving as the Congo's, due in part to their construction and possibly also to the age of the bamboo at harvest—the younger it is, the softer the cane and the cheaper the board.
The Final Cut
So are the new materials any better than wood and plastic? If you choose overall design and construction carefully, the answer is yes-but only by a hair. In the final analysis, our top-rated boards cut across material distinctions, displaying similar features of comfort, durability, and solid construction. If you're willing to wash by hand and do occasional maintenance to keep your board in peak form, the top-performing Totally Bamboo Congo board and J.K. Adams's Takes Two maple board are good choices. If the dishwasher is the only way you'll go, you have two fine options: the composite Snow River Utility board and the plastic Architec Gripper Nonslip board.
Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
|★ ★ ★||★ ★ ★||$19.95|
Wüsthof Classic Boning Knife
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasnt sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|★ ★||★ ★ ★||$99.95|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Mundial Boning Knife: Flexible
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
|★ ★||★ ★||$19.95|
Shun Gokujo Filet Knife
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
MAC Boning KnifeChef Series
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Flexible Boning Knife
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.