Occasionally (for my own piece of mind), I just have to weigh in on topics or debates about culinary matters for which my opinions are quite honestly as much a matter of personal preference as based in scientific or gastronomic fact.
Having said that, there are solid arguments (and scientific facts) supporting both sides of this debate, so I don’t think I’ll lead you astray with my personal thoughts.
The topic is which cutting board is really best to use in my kitchen? Wood or plastic?
Pros and Cons of wood versus plastic cutting boards
My personal preference is wood. Let me explain:
If you were to spend the time to research the pros and cons of wood versus plastic cutting boards (and I’ll save you the time), you’ll discover that regarding food safety/bacterial growth and sanitation (which are key issues), both wood and plastic have equally compelling advantages (or disadvantages, depending on how you look at it). Here are some of them:
Wood Cutting Boards
Wood is rather water absorbent, so it dries quicker and gives bacteria less time to survive than plastic, which absorbs no water and takes longer to dry.
A study at the University of California at Davis Food Safety Laboratory has shown that wood contains natural antibiotic agents that retard bacterial growth. In addition, wood’s capillary action seems to draw bacteria inward, where they no longer reproduce and eventually die.
End-grain wood cutting boards (where the grain is facing upwards) have a good deal of self-healing properties (meaning the cut mark on the wood reseals). Fewer scars on the surface of ANY board make it less likely to harbor bacteria and make the board easier to clean.
So I’m confronted with the counter arguments:
But plastic is harder and lasts longer. (And I agree, but that means it’s also harder on the blades of your knives, which means their lives are shortened. And a dull knife causes all sorts of other safety issues.)
But I can throw my plastic cutting board in the dishwasher. (Yep, where the water never reaches true sanitation temperatures of 190+ F. Thus a wood board in a sink with soap, hot water and a five-percent bleach solution (about two tablespoons of bleach to a quart of water) will accomplish the very same thing).
Plastic is cheaper, so when the board gets scarred up, I can just throw it away! (Agreed, and when a wood cutting board gets scarred, you can just sand it or plane it and then keep it.)
Plastic cutting boards are lighter and easier to move around. (No argument here. Having said that, with a sharp knife in my hand and foods on the board that I’m trying to keep stationary while cutting, the LAST thing I want is a light cutting board that might easily move around.)
Plastic cutting boards come in all sorts of pretty colors and shapes that allow me to match my décor. (I have no comment…).
Okay, in reality, I’m not really down on plastic. From a purely microbiological point of view, it doesn’t matter which you choose as long as you clean and sanitize it properly.
If you do choose wood, I WOULD recommend a BIG, heavy one, if possible–at least 18” x 24” in size. I also like my largest board to have a recessed groove around the interior of the perimeter to catch juices. You might also want to consider a smaller second board reserved just for raw chicken and then a third for meats or produce to avoid cross-contamination with bacteria. This recommendation is also valid for plastic, if you choose that surface.
Now I also like wood for some purely aesthetic reasons. It just looks more attractive than plastic. It also has a longer history, and a good, solid board can be passed down from generation to generation.
Regarding other surfaces, ceramic, glass and metal are WAY too hard to be practical, and personally, they hurt my ears. Another surface, high-density rubber, has some “professional” fans, but these boards are hard to find.
Wash, sanitize and keep your boards dry. Bacteria just LOVES moisture.
If the board becomes well scarred, replace it or resurface it.
Consider multiple cutting boards to avoid bacterial cross-contamination.
Keep your knives sharp.
Which do you prefer? Wood or plastic? Discuss why you love your cutting board in the comments below.