First, a primer on materials. Most cutting boards are made from either wood (maple, cherry, walnut), bamboo (which is actually a fast-growing grass), or a synthetic material like plastic or rubber. But is one better than the other? Well, all the chefs we polled prefer working with wood or bamboo boards.
There are a few points in these boards’ favor: For one, they have a softer and more supple surface than plastic, which makes them gentler on knives. Wood and bamboo are naturally antimicrobial materials, and they tend to be more resistant to scratches that can trap harmful germs.
But while these boards tend to get less dirty, they’re more laborious to clean. Since you can’t put them in the dishwasher, this means you need to be more diligent about cleaning them right away—especially if you’re working with raw meat or pungent flavors like garlic and onion. (Wood boards also retain more water and hold on to smells longer than synthetics.) You also need to treat your wood board with oil every so often to make sure it’s well-sealed.
They definitely require more maintenance, which celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon, C.N., CHC, CHN, says isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Though somewhat time-consuming, I look at these activities as ways to cultivate a certain type of energy in my kitchen,” Poon tells mbg. “Taking time to care for your kitchen can make your food feel more nourishing and full of love.”
Finally, while wood boards tend to be heavier and more cumbersome; they’re also more aesthetically pleasing than most plastic or rubber surfaces.
Most people who spend a lot of time cooking will use wood as their everyday standby cutting board but also keep a synthetic, lightweight board nearby for quick cleanup after handling smelly or bacteria-prone ingredients. Both of them have a time and a place in the kitchen.