Clever features on new carving boards promise easier carving and serving. But does clever always mean useful?
Published Jan. 1, 2015. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 16: A Roast for the Holidays
A carving board may seem like a luxury when you pull it out only a few times a year—but anyone who’s tried carving a roast on a flat cutting board knows what a disaster that can be, with juices dribbling onto the counter from all sides. Carving boards are designed to avoid this mess, traditionally by relying on a trench around their perimeter that traps the liquid. Eight years ago we selected the J.K. Adams Maple Reversible Carving Board as our favorite. With a poultry-shaped indentation on one side and generous trenches on both, it’s simple but effective. But when we noticed some new boards with features like pour spouts, clever liquid channeling designs, and innovative ways to anchor the meat, we decided an update was in order. We pitted our winner against nine boards (priced from roughly $20 to about $145) made from various materials (wood, bamboo, plastic, wood composite) and showcasing a range of features. After roasting turkeys and juicy 5-pound beef roasts for each board, we got to work carving.
We knew from our previous testing that we should consider only boards at least 18 inches long—enough space for a large turkey, with room to work. But bigger wasn’t necessarily better. The three models that were nearly 2 feet long felt bulky and hogged counter space. This time around, we also learned that width is important, too. The turkey dwarfed the tiny cutting surface of one board that measured only 12 1/4 inches across. The ideal proportions turned out to be 20 by 14 or 15 inches.
As for height, boards around 1 inch tall had enough heft to sit securely on the counter but were still easy to lift. We liked that thinner boards could be stored easily, but they tended to slip on the counter. Taller boards added unwanted height and weight. The heaviest one tipped the scales at more than 17 pounds and was too cumbersome to carry.
In the Trenches
We expect a carving board to trap at least 1/2 cup of liquid, roughly the amount released by a midsize turkey as it rests. Traditionally, a trench about 1 inch from the board’s perimeter is designed to handle the job. Because the fat released during carving gels as it cools, it will cause the juices to slow down, so boards with narrow, shallow trenches tended to clog and overflow. We were surprised that the two boards with the largest footprints had trenches that held just 2 ounces. At the other extreme, one of the trenches on our old winner held 10 ounces (the most of any board); its other trench held a respectable 5 ounces.
The lone model to stray from the standard trench had flared sides like those on a cafeteria tray. It kept juices off the counter, but the food sat in a puddle. ...
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