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Choosing a Cutting Board

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There's no doubt a cutting board is an indispensable tool in the kitchen, but how do you choose the best one for your needs? Here's what you need to know about choosing a cutting board.

Size: For everyday use, buy the biggest cutting board that you can afford and for which you have counter space. Chopping tasks are so much easier when you have plenty of room on your cutting surface – it gives you not only enough space for the finished chopped veggies or fruit but also for the waste scraps. Plus, if the board's big enough, you can also push chopped ingredients to the edge and keep them there as you're prepping all of your ingredients.

You might also want one or two smaller cutting boards. A tiny one (i.e. 6 inches square) is ideal for cutting a piece of fruit for breakfast or lime wedges for drinks, and a medium-sized one is also good for smaller jobs when you don't want to haul out the larger board.

Weight: If you take my advice and buy a large cutting board, make sure that its weight is manageable. Thick wooden boards are especially heavy, which is good in that they won't slide much on the countertop, but they can be cumbersome to take out, wash and put away. If hefting a heavy board is an issue, then choose a lighter, thinner material for your largest board, such as a resin-paper composite or plastic.

Extras: Today's cutting boards aren't just boring slabs of wood; many of them have added features. These can be as basic and traditional as a channel to capture juices as you're carving a steak or a turkey, or more innovative, such as built-in prep bowls or measuring cups. Some boards even can fit right over your sink, which helps create space in a counter space-starved kitchen, and often these types of boards have colanders that fit right into the board. Features like this are great, just be sure that the bells and whistles don't infringe too much on the space of your board, and also that the features are ones you'll actually use. (For some great

How Many: So how many boards do you actually need? As I said before, it's nice to have a large board, plus one or two smaller ones. I also have a smaller board that is reserved only for cutting fruits or bread, so that I won't risk eating a piece of sliced fruit that has absorbed onion or garlic flavor that has seeped into the board. Then, of course, there are the sets of coded cutting boards or mats intended to be used for different types of foods, to avoid cross-contamination. If you are concerned about bacteria, these are a great option, and usually these types of boards are made of flexible plastic so they're lightweight and don't take up much space. Ultimately, only you will be able to determine how many boards you need, and of what sizes – just make sure that you're actually using the ones you have; if you have a size that you never use, give it away so it won't continue to take up space in your kitchen.

Materials

Cutting boards are available in a wide range of materials. Here's what you need to know about each type.

Wood

Pros: The traditional material used to make cutting boards, wood is attractive, seasons nicely, and is a gentle surface for knives. Although some believe that wooden cutting surfaces are unsanitary, studies (like one done by researchers at University of California – Davis) have shown that bacteria on wooden cutting boards is absorbed beneath the surface, where it dies without, making it unlikely that the bacteria would spread afterward (Still, you should take caution and wash a cutting board after each use – and when you're about to switch to cutting a different type of food – with hot, soapy water. You can sanitize it with a mild bleach solution of 1 teaspoon bleach per 1 quart of water).

Cons:Wood warps easily, particularly if it gets submerged in water for a length of time. Also, boards that are joined together with glue can separate or break apart. Wood absorbs odors and can scorch if something very hot is put on it. A good wooden cutting board can also be fairly expensive.

Plastic

Pros: Plastic cutting boards are inexpensive and lightweight. Plus, they're usually dishwasher-safe, which makes them a snap to clean. They're readily available in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors.

Cons: The aforementioned UC-Davis study found that although new plastic cutting boards can be sanitized thoroughly, those that have been scarred by knives, are not as easy to keep bacteria-free because of the small, deep cut marks. Plastic boards also stain and show signs of wear easily.

Glass

Pros: Glass cutting boards often come in decorative designs.

Cons: Glass boards will dull knives quickly. What's more, the surface is so slick that knives can easily slip. Not recommended.

Bamboo

Pros: If you're concerned about the environment, bamboo is a great choice for a cutting surface because it is made from a sustainable, fast-growing resource. Bamboo does not absorb as much moisture as wood, so it won't warp, shrink or swell as much.

Cons: Bamboo is a harder surface than wood, so it could dull your knives faster.

Composite

Pros: Made of a range of materials, composite cutting boards typically combine natural materials, such as paper or wood, with synthetic materials like plastic (One example is Epicurean's recycled paper and resin cutting boards). This often gives the best of both worlds – a gentle-on-knives cutting surface that is still durable enough to go in the dishwasher.

Cons: Usually these boards are thin, so they might slide around on your work surface.

Still undecided? Check out some of the coolest cutting boards for more inspiration.

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