Update, April 2020
Our favorite small cutting board, the OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board, was recently redesigned; it is now lighter and thinner than previously, and its juice groove is slightly larger. We ran the new board through the same tests that we did in the original review, and are happy to say that it remains as stable, portable, and easy to use and clean as the version we first tested. We highly recommend this new board; it is our new winner.
Mince 1 bunch of parsley
Chop 1 large onion
Pound 8 chicken cutlets into paillards
Subject cutting board to 500 knife strokes at 10 pounds of pressure each
Mince garlic and chipotles in adobo on cutting board and leave for 2 hours
Wash 25 times by hand or in dishwasher, per manufacturers’ instructions
Drop from counter height 3 times
We love our full-size cutting boards for most tasks. But sometimes we want a more compact board for small jobs or when cooking in cramped spaces. We wanted to find the best small cutting board—one that would be durable and sit securely on the counter but also be easy to maneuver and clean. So we bought nine models priced from $9.49 to $38.95 and made from a few different materials. Each measured about 11 by 14 inches, roughly half the size of our favorite full-size boards. We then put the boards to work, chopping onions, mincing parsley, pounding chicken cutlets, and mincing pungent garlic and stain-inducing chipotle chiles in adobo on them. To see whether any board dulled knives faster than others, we made 500 cuts on each one with a newly sharpened knife, testing the knife periodically by slicing through copy paper. We washed the boards by hand or ran them through the dishwasher 25 times, according to the manufacturers’ instructions, and dropped each off the counter three times, simulating the kind of abuse a board might endure.
Which Material Is Best?
Material mattered. Some testers liked cutting on the softer, slightly textured surfaces of wood and bamboo boards. But these boards weren’t necessarily gentler on knives than the boards made from other materials, nor were they were more durable. After 500 strokes, knives used on the plastic and composite boards were just as sharp as those used on the wood and bamboo ones. And boards of every type sustained a fair amount of wear and tear without becoming gouged, scuffed, or scarred beyond use.
In our testing, though, both wood and bamboo boards stained and retained odors longer than other boards. And wood and bamboo boards require more careful cleanup and maintenance; they must be seasoned with oil before use, washed and dried by hand after each subsequent use, and oiled periodically to keep them from absorbing water and then splitting or warping. We preferred the plastic and composite boards, which didn’t stain or retain odors, are maintenance-free, and can be thrown in the dishwasher when you’re done with them, making them even more convenient and easy to use for quick jobs.
Pitting Portability Against Stability
Plastic and composite boards have an additional advantage: They’re more portable, as they are usually thinner (¼ to ½ inch thick) and lighter than other boards, with most weighing less than 2 pounds. But that user-friendliness sometimes came at a cost. Regardless of material, the thinner and lighter the board, the less securely it sat on the counter and the more likely it was to slip or spin in action, making for unstable and slightly dangerous mincing, chopping, or pounding. (By contrast, a 1¼-inch-thick wood board weighing more than 5 pounds had no trouble staying put on the counter, but its heft and thickness made it a bear to lift, especially when loaded with chopped food.) Although you can always put a damp dish towel or a gripper mat under the board to stabilize it, we’d prefer not to have to do this every time we pull out the board for a quick task. The best boards were moderately thin (about ½ inch) and light enough to be lifted easily. But they also had special features to anchor them to the counter, such as rubbery feet or sides that gave the boards traction without adding too much weight.
Boards of all materials and thicknesses were vulnerable to damage after repeated washes. Even when properly seasoned and maintained, the bamboo boards and some of the wood boards absorbed water and warped and/or cracked after 11 or 12 washes. And several of the thin composite and plastic boards warped in the dishwasher’s heat (despite being touted as dishwasher-safe). After 25 washes, only four of the nine boards still sat perfectly flat on the counter.
Which Small Cutting Board Should You Get?
Our winner is the OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board ($14.95). Made of relatively thin, lightweight plastic bordered on two edges by rubber strips, it provides an ideal combination of portability and stability. While it emerged from testing with a fair number of knife scratches, the damage was cosmetic, and it was one of the few boards that didn’t warp. It’s dishwasher-safe and resisted odors and stains. Testers also liked the way the board’s slightly textured surface gripped their knives. As a bonus, one side has a built-in trench that can collect a small volume of juices from wet food or resting roasts.Our new favorite small cutting board boasts the same features that make the OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board our full-size Best Buy.