Best Wood for Cutting Boards - The Ultimate Guide

August 17, 2022 15 min read

Pick the Best Wood for Cutting Boards

How to Pick the Best Wood for Cutting Boards

The best wood for cutting boards include maple, walnut, and cherry. Runner-ups include teak and acacia. Let's take a look at why other woods such as pine, cedar, and oak are not appropriate for wooden boards in your kitchen. We'll also take a brief look at why other materials such as glass, bamboo, marble, and plastic aren't ideal for cutting boards.

Why A High Quality Board is So Important

A good cutting board is an important part of the kitchen; it keeps your knives sharp and it makes food preparation more efficient. But more importantly, a quality cutting board is a critical part of food safety. A bad cutting board can have bacterial or mold.

The first step in finding a good board is to understand what different materials are available and what their pros and cons are. The second step is to understand how to care for those materials so that they last as long as possible.

If you're reading this article right now, chances are you've already determined that wood is the best cutting board material (and you're correct). So what is the best wood for cutting boards, and how do we determine the winner?

Our Evaluation Process

chart showing 5 main criteria for wood cutting boards

We’ll look at the top 5 criteria for choosing a wooden cutting board. They are:

  • Toxicity - Yes, some wood are more toxic than others!
  • Hardness rating - softwood vs. hardwood
  • Porosity of wood grain - the more porous the easier it harbors bacterial and mold growth 
  • Sustainability - how fast do the trees grow?
  • Conditioning and Maintenance - how easy is it to maintain?

By the time we’re through, we hope that you’ll be a better-educated chef and have all the knowledge you need to make the best choice for you.

Criteria #1 - Toxicity - Are All Wooden Cutting Boards Safe?

The last thing any chef wants in their kitchen is something that could harm someone. That’s why the number one priority when choosing natural products of any kind—cutting boards, wooden utensils, pottery, stoneware, etc.—is that they are safe and non-toxic.

When it comes to wooden objects like cutting boards, a good rule of thumb is to ask if the trees they come from have edible fruits. Fruit and nut trees like walnut, cherry, and beech are good choices, along with the syrup-producing maple.

three cutting boards with cheese and meatloafon them
Boards

Criteria #2 - Janka Hardness Rating

This standardized rating helps us determine the best "hardiness" surface for a cutting board.

What is the Janka Hardness Rating?

The Janka Hardness Scale was created by Gabriel Janka from Austria. It is used to determine the resistance of wood to denting and wear, and is measured in pounds-force or lbf

The measurement denotes how much force is needed to drive a steel ball halfway through a sample of the wood type. The more force or lbf, the harder and more resistant to denting and wear the wood type is.

This scale or rating is commonly used in comparing wood flooring products, as well as countertops and kitchen goods like cutting boards.

The harder the wood, the more hardy the product will be. This may be fine for your kitchen floor, but for your cutting board, it can be a problem. If the wood is too hard, it will result in more wear and tear on the knives you use on that wood

The chart below shows the Janka hardness rating for the woods we’ve already mentioned, plus a couple of more commonly-known woods for reference.

 

Janka Hardness Rating

 

What wood has the ideal Janka Hardness Rating? 

A wood that’s somewhere on the middle-to-lower end of the Janka scale is ideal. Your sharp knife will stay sharp when used on a cutting board in this range of the Janka rating. Most hardwoods fit this criteria except for a few. Let's take a look at the variety of materials commonly used.

Related: How to Pair the Cutting Boards and Knives

Different Types of Hard Wood Used For Cutting Boards

different types of hardwood in a pile

The most common hardwoods used for cutting boards and butcher blocks are cherry, acacia, beech, teak, maple, and and walnut. Other hardwoods such as oak, mahogany, and birch are also hardwoods. They are great for furniture but they do not belong in the kitchen. These harder woods aren't ideal for your kitchen knives, either.

Having said that, further consideration is therefore needed to examine between cherry, acacia, beech, teak, maple, and walnut. Let's now talk about porosity, which is another factor that helps you choose the best wood for your cutting board.

Softwood  - Avoid these For Cutting Boards

Soft woods like pine, fir or cedar aren't recommended for cutting boards because they tend to splinter or crack easily. These types of wood should generally be avoided.

 

Criteria #3 - Porosity of Wood Grain

The porosity of a wood’s grain also helps determine its quality for cutting boards. Larger pores in the wood grain allow moisture, germs, and mold to enter the wood, while smaller pores are less susceptible to these harmful substances.

A tree’s pores are the vessels that carry sap via capillary action through the tree’s trunk and branches. Their amount and size determine whether a wood is closed-grained (non-porous) or open-grained (porous). Generally we want tight grain over open-grained ones.

Pine and other conifer trees are closed-grained, but their softer texture makes them unsuitable for use as cutting boards and kitchen utensils. On the other end of the hardness scale, you find open-grained oak, also not the best choice.

Maple, walnut, and cherry are all small-pored, semi-porous wood grains. They are less susceptible to soaking up liquids containing bacteria and mold. 

 

Criteria #4 - Sustainability and Eco-Friendliness

forest with large tall trees

Just as important as making sure your cutting board doesn’t endanger anyone in its use, we believe that its production shouldn’t endanger the environment.

Domestic woods like walnut, maple and cherry have been harvested in the United States for centuries and are considered a renewable resource due to their rapid growth rate and low demand compared to other species such as oak.

If you choose to purchase an imported exotic wood cutting board (Acacia, Teak, etc.) make sure it has been certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) as sustainably harvested wood. Also, wood that is imported into the United States requires that the wood is first fumigated to prevent pest infestation and cross-species. This hardly sounds like something I'd like to use as food surface.

That’s why, here at Virginia Kitchen Boys, we firmly believe in only sourcing our wood from forests growing at 2.4X the harvest and mortality rate.

We also believe that the packaging used to sell and ship our products should be eco-friendly. That’s why we use US-made materials that are 100% recycled, 95% post-consumer, and printed with vegetable-based inks.

A beautiful piece of wood in your kitchen shouldn’t leave an ugly scar on Mother Earth.

The video below shows the effort we put into reforesting and giving back what we take from the planet.

Criteria #5 - Conditioning

As with any wood product, cutting boards need protection from the changes in the amount of moisture in the air. Wood naturally shrinks and swells when the air is dry or wet, which can cause warping and splitting.

Dry wood boards are more susceptible to dents and nicks from your knives. They can also absorb more moisture from the air, which will eventually lead to damaging the board. This is why proper conditioning is important. The last thing you want is your chopping block be a ground for bacteria to hide in.

Most cutting board manufacturers use cheap mineral oil to do this. We prefer to use coconut oil, for its superior conditioning qualities and longer-lasting condition. It also allows you to use the board as soon as it arrives.

This is known as “preseasoning.”

 

Cutting board with caption: “Each board comes preseasoned with a blend of 100% all natural coconut oil”
8x17 Walnut Cutting Board and Charcuturie Panddle with Handle

Other Considerations When Choosing the Best Wood for Cutting Board

  • Color - Do you prefer a light color, dark color, or a neutral color? 
  • Cost - how much can you afford?
  • Aesthetics - Different wood species have different grain patterns

Color 

panel of many woods with different colors

Maple and beech are the most popular choice for a blonde color wood (think bamboo color). They are also popular for adding custom designs on them - since it is a blonde color, it is easier to see your design. However, keep in mind that some types of wood burning and epoxy additions typically includes using chemicals on your board. This is great if your board is meant to be a display, not if you're planning on actually using it. Also, they show stains more easily than their darker counterparts (love beets, do you?)

Other popular dark woods are mostly dark brown in color, except for cherry, which is a reddish brown. The rich colors of dark brown in these woods are attractive as well as functional because they tend to hide stains better than the light color boards.

Size

different size and shaped walnut wood cutting boards arranged against the wall

See the cutting board collection

Owning several different sizes is ideal, but if you can only afford one cutting board, get a board as big as your kitchen can handle.

Ask yourself:

Can the board dry standing up under my cabinets? 

Do I have the counter space or storage space for this cutting board?

Can it fit in my kitchen sink so I can wash it easily? Hint: having a faucet with pull down sprayer helps.

Generally, something around 17 inches by 11 inches wide is suitable for most kitchens - not too big, not too small.

This size is also our bestseller for a reason. Anything smaller than that is probably too small to be the only board, but is fantastic as a second board for quick, small jobs.

Not sure where to start? Check out some of our popular cutting board bundles and save up to $53.

Cost

Different types of wood come at a different cost. Generally:

$$$$ Teak

$$$$ Maple

$$$ Walnut

$$ Cherry 

$ Acacia

Aesthetics

Besides color itself, the grain of the wood also gives cutting boards their unique appearance.

round walnut wood cutting board with unique grains

Maple does not have any grains (the lines that run across a piece of wood). For this reason, they are less unique in their look. Beech is also blonde, but has darker streaks throughout the grain pattern. 

If you want a unique cutting board, you want a wood that has unique grain patterns. Walnut has become a popular choice for cutting boards lately due to its striking beauty and distinctive grain pattern.

Walnut is also a very dense hardwood that's rich in color, which makes it an excellent choice for creating beautiful cutting boards that will last for years without staining or warping. 

Besides making boards along their natural grain, there are other design varieties that gives your board a unique pattern. End-grain boards and edge-grain cutting boards are also popular choices when it comes to the aesthetics of wooden boards.

end grain wood cutting board with veggies on top

These types of boards tend to be a lot more expensive, and with good reason. They require extensive work by the woodworker to achieve the spectacular look. 

Besides looks, however, end-grain cutting boards and edge-grain boards are also excellent choices if you're looking for a heavy-duty board. They tend to be thicker than the regular grain wood boards. 

For a more in-depth discussion of these specialty boards, see our other article on best wood for end-grain boards.

The Winner Goes To: American Walnut

In conclusion, natural walnut ticks all the boxes and meets all the criteria we discussed. At Virginia Kitchen Boys, you won’t find us making cutting boards out of anything other than walnut.

infographic on why walnut is best choice for wood cutting board

Here’s a quick rundown of why we think walnut is the best and only choice for your (and our) wooden cutting boards:

  • Non-toxic wood. Black walnuts and English walnuts have been eaten for thousands of years.
  • Janka Hardness Rating. Goldilocks would love walnut wood. It’s not too hard, not too soft. Most chefs find it just right for their needs. It can be a bit on the softer side for the heavy-handed knife-wielder, but for most chefs and sous chefs, it fits the bill.
  • Closed-grain porosity. Walnut is one of those semi-porous woods that work well in a kitchen environment. All it needs for protection is a bit of oil for conditioning.
  • Sustainability. We’ve already discussed our efforts to replant more trees than we take. Did we mention that all the trees we do take are locally sourced? Everything we make is produced right here in the USA, with materials grown and manufactured right here, too.
  • Conditioning. Walnut wood seasons and conditions easily, and holds its conditioning for months. A walnut cutting board will last you for years if properly cared for.

Related: 3 Unbeatable Advantages of Walnut Wood.

    most checfs find their needs

    Don’t just take our word for it, though. Here’s what a couple of very happy customers have to say about our walnut cutting boards:

    “I love my walnut boards. Amazingly gorgeous. I’ve used them for serving charcuterie. Makes a beautiful presentation.” ~ Margo H.

    testimonial from Linda

    Other Runner Ups: Maple and Cherry

    While we and our customers think walnut is the best choice, we would be remiss if we didn’t give you a side-by-side comparison with at least two of the other popular woods we mentioned in this guide.

    The table below shows you the key attributes of walnut, cherry, and maple cutting board.

    Type of Wood Pros Cons
    Maple
    • Very durable due to its hardness factor
    • Scratch-resistant
    • Subtle grain
    • Stains easily
    • Heavy
    • Needs frequent conditioning
    Walnut
    • Stain-resistant
    • Lovely chocolate brown color
    • Gentle on knives
    • Works well as both a presentation and preparation board
    • Not the best choice for heavy-handed choppers
    • Needs regular conditioning
    Cherry
    • Lovely reddish color
    • Gentle on knives
    • Requires little maintenance or conditioning
    • Too soft, does not last long
    • Stains easily
    • Dents and nicks easily

    How to Clean and Care for Wooden Chopping Boards

    Proper care is important for wood cutting boards, so that they last a lifetime. If you have never owned a wood cutting board before, don't fret - these tips will make it easy!

    How to Clean

    Most important rule to remember - never put a cutting board in the dishwasher!

    Hand wash with gentle soapy water - use warm water, not hot water! Dry gently with a dish towel and let dry completely standing up (not lying flat on your countertop). Proper care for your board is very important so it does not warp or crack!

    coarse salt and lemon scrub

    For a deeper clean you can use a half of a lemon and scrub coarse salt on the surface for stubborn food residues. 

    Related: How To Clean Your Cutting Board The Right Way (With Pictures)

    Benefits of Oiling Wooden Cutting Boards

    Regular maintenance with oil is important to keep it your cutting board in tip top shape. It also helps prevent the board from warping, drying, and cracking. Common oils used include mineral oil, walnut oil, or coconut oil (our choice). Common vegetable oils such as canola or olive are not appropriate due to their rancidity.

    So, how do you know when your board needs to be seasoned? 4 easy ways to tell:

    wood cutting board shows water stains

    1. It shows "water" stains when dry.
    2. Water droplets absorbs right in instead of forming a droplet on top.
    3. It has a stain, or has a amber-yellow surface
    4. It starts to smell or has weird odor issues

    Related: Mineral Oil vs. Coconut Oil - What Oil Should I use?

    Related: How To Tell When Your Board Needs Oil (with pictures)

    What about Wax?

    Optionally, you can add wax as part of your maintenance routine. It keeps the board even more waterproof, and makes cleaning very easy - food residue literally slide right off. It also prevents staining much better. If you cook with food that tends to stain easily such as turmeric or beets, this is especially important.

    homemade wood wax for wooden butcher blocks

    You can make your own wood wax with beeswax and oil (recipe here), or check out our ready-to-use cutting board wax - made with beeswax and coconut oil. 

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What wood should not be used for cutting boards

    1. Wood that are too hard - Hardwoods like mahogany, teak, or rosewood (too hard) are not acceptable choices for cutting boards.

    2. Soft woods - Avoid all softer woods such as pine or cedar. These woods tend to splinter easily, and they're too porous so they harbor bacteria more easily.

    3. Open-grained woods (pores visible) such as oak and ash are poor choices because they take love taking in moisture and this makes them a feeding ground for mold and bacteria.

    Woods you can use: walnut, cherry, maple, acacia, teak.

    What material should not be used for cutting boards

    Although popular materials such as glass, bamboo, compressed cardboard ("Epicurean"), and plastic are available for cutting boards, there are many reasons not to use them:

    Marble and glass cutting boards: the hard surface is too tough on your knife blade - no one wants to end up with a dull knife in their kitchen drawer. They are, however, easy to clean than wood surfaces and can generally be put in the dishwasher, which is why some households prefer them.

    Bamboo cutting boards: commonly thought of as a "wood", bamboo is actually a grass. They are sustainably produced, and resembles a wooden cutting board pretty well. However they do not have inherent antibacterial and self-healing properties that wood trees have. Wood boards can be sanded, renewed, and restored whereas bamboo cannot. 

    What cutting board is best for raw meat

    Generally, if you keep your board clean, any type of cutting board can be used for raw meat.

    If you want to cut your chicken into thin slices or your veggies into thin strips, a thin plastic board will work just fine. On the other hand, if you want to chop meat or fish, you'll need a wooden cutting board that is solid enough to withstand the force of chopping.

    Make sure you take care of your board properly to prevent bacterial growth. See our other article here about seasoning your board, and the how to clean your board.

    If you are still concerned about using raw meat on cutting boards, having a separate board for raw meat only is also a popular choice. 

    Is wood or plastic cutting board better

    Wood has been used as a cutting surface since prehistoric times. It washes easily and has natural antibacterial properties. It is also more sustainable than plastic, and can be restored as needed. Plastic, on the other hand, needs to be replaced frequently. Plastic also poses a higher food safety risk when they are worn out, and cannot be restored the way a wood board can be.

    Related: See a more in-depth comparison of Plastic vs. Wood Cutting Boards here.

    Are bamboo cutting boards better than wood

    Bamboo an affordable option, but it is technically a grass, not a wood. While a bamboo board is good for food prep and make excellent cutting surfaces, they aren't as durable as wood cutting boards. Once they show signs of wear such as knife marks and stains, bamboo cannot be sanded, restored, or refinished. Your wood board, however, can be made new over and over again. 

    Bamboo also has very little uniqueness to them - every bamboo board looks like the next one. Wood boards give you dozens of color options. 

    What kind of cutting board does Gordon Ramsay use

    Gordon Ramsay uses a wooden cutting board made by Bottega Veneta. He loves his cutting board because he says it's easy to clean and looks great on display. Also, Gordon Ramsey likes that it's sturdy and doesn't chip easily. He says that it's important to him to keep his kitchen tools organized and functional, and that's why he chose this cutting board.

    Which are the Best Oils for Cutting Board Conditioning?

    Most board conditioners, creams, or wax is made with a combination of beeswax and oil in various ratios. Most brands uses mineral oil since it's very cheap and readily available. At Virginia Boys Kitchens, we choose to go with naturally food-safe coconut oil instead of a refined petroleum by-product that is mineral oil (see our full article on mineral oil vs. coconut oil). 

    How to Oil Your Chopping Board

    4 steps to seasoning wood cutting board

    1. Clean the surface of your cutting board and let dry completely.

    2. Pour oil onto the board one section at a time.

    3. Use a non-piling cloth or oil applicator such as this one and apply in circular motion.

    4. Once entire surface is applied, let dry standing up. Repeat on other side.

    See our complete guide with video and pictures on our 4-step to season your board here.

    What cutting board do chefs use?

    Bamboo and plastic are popular among home cooks because of their ease of maintenance. Plastic cutting boards are inexpensive and easy to clean, but they tend to dull quickly. They're also prone to absorbing smells and flavors from foods.

    If you're planning to host a dinner party, consider using a wooden cutting board. Wood absorbs odors and flavors, and it doesn't stain easily. Also a dark wooden board makes a spectacular display.

    Can you use cedar for a cutting board?

    Cedar is a great wood for your closet, or to grill your salmon with. But since it is a softwood, it is most definitely not appropriate for use as a cutting board. It splinters easily, and is a very porous wood - which means bacteria can hide inside very easily.

    Is black walnut good for cutting boards?

    Black walnut is the best wood for cutting boards. Not only is it beautiful, but it also has the perfect Janka hardness rating for your kitchen needs.

    Black walnut grows fast and is native to the United States, meaning that it's a sustainable tree that won't deplete our resources. It also looks spectacular in your kitchen—like a dark wood that will really add some character to your place!

    Should I Get a Reversible Board or a Board with Feet?

    Well, it depends on what you need it for.

    If you're going to be using the board in a professional kitchen, go for the rubber feet. They'll provide greater resistance against any vibrations from other appliances and will keep the board from moving about. 

    However, if you're going to be using your cutting board in a home setting, it's best to go with a reversible board. A reversible board generally has a juice groove along the edges to catch meat juices - an excellent choice if you love steak or whole chickens.

    wood cutting board with juice groove catches juice from a turkey or chicken when carving

    The other side is generally smooth and makes an excellent serving board - burgers and fries, anyone? The larger boards can also double as cheese trays or an appetizer tray for small gatherings or large parties.

    A board with rubber feet will keep the board in place while you're using it - but you end up being able to only use one side of the board.

    See our entire collection of reversible wood cutting boards made from sustainable walnut wood here.

     

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