When you’re shopping for a cutting board, or a butcher block, it’s important to know your priorities and what you plan to use it for. If the cutting board will be strictly decorative if you won’t be using it for slicing but for serving cheese or finger foods, you may want to put aesthetic considerations first. If food safety is a concern, you need to look at what surface is antimicrobial.
If you’re working within a limited budget, some woods will allow you to get more surface area for your dollar. And if you’re trying to make a sustainable choice, you have to see which material is renewable and how the lumber is sourced.
Our recommendations are based on functionality, look, price, sustainability, and availability, as well as the Janka hardness rating, a test which specifically measure how much force is needed to ram a steel beam halfway through a piece of wood; in the US, the numbers refer to measurements of pound-force (lbf).
Let’s have a look at different types of wood on the cutting board market and how they each perform.
Best wood for cutting boards - a short summary
- This hard wood, 1450 lbf on the Janka scale, makes cutting boards durable and long-lasting.
- Its tight grain repels water and makes the surface antimicrobial.
- Maple trees are readily available in North America and sustainably sourced.
- The wood’s neutral tone matches any kitchen décor.
- The prices are among the most affordable on the market.
- This tree produces medium-hard wood, 1010 lbf.
- The look is unusually elegant, its dark tones making it particularly suitable in contemporary kitchens.
- Walnut’s close grain helps repel water and makes the wood antimicrobial.
- This is another medium-hard wood, 995 lbf.
- Cherry wood has a vibrant color, with many tones and looks available.
- Like maple and walnut, cherry has a tight grain that prevents water absorption and makes boards antimicrobial.
A CLOSER LOOK
Maple trees, more specifically sugar maples, are abundant in North American and European forests and have been used for centuries to construct a variety of products, including furniture, tools, floors, and wooden kitchen surfaces. If you visit antique stores, you’ll see quite a few pieces of furniture made with maple that have held up to the test of time.
Maples are hardy as they have adapted to frigid cold winters of the Canadian north and the ever-hotter summers in the United States. The wood’s weight is impressive, 1450 lbf. This helps cutting boards last.
Maples have a tight grain which means cutting surfaces made from these trees don’t soak up liquids as quickly as looser grains, a good quality for boards that get used and washed regularly. It also means the wood is less likely to stain over time.
Wood cutting boards made from maple are also naturally antimicrobial, meaning safe from bacteria that can cause food safety concerns.
Maples are plentiful in their native forests in North America and Europe. They take only 30 years to fully mature and can be harvested before maturity.
A maple board provides quality advantages at a price that won’t break the bank. Although the cost varies depending on the make of the board and other factors, overall the costs will be within budgets of anyone shopping for home or workplace.
Natural maple is a neutral tone that matches any kitchen color scheme. But you don’t have to limit yourself: maple cutting boards come in many lovely shades and patterns.
Walnut is a stunning choice for a cutting board, a top choice for many culinary professionals. The shades run from dark brown to yellow depending on which section of the tree the wood is from (yellow ( usually called sap wood, in the outer rings and darker toward the center). Dark walnut is elegant and especially lovely in kitchens with contemporary décor. The hardness is medium-hard, 1010 lbf, which is solid enough to last, particularly when conditioned properly, but without dulling knives. Like maple, walnut wood has a close grain that repels water and is naturally antimicrobial.
On the other hand, walnut cutting boards are more expensive than maple. Those with nut allergies also might want to consider another material as oils can cause irritation in sensitive individuals.
Another one of the best woods for cutting boards is cherry. Like walnut wood, cherry is medium hard, 995 lbf, which makes a solid board that holds up over time without dulling knives. Cherry wood is particularly lovely, with warm rich tones, and there are many different and beautiful designs available to enhance the aesthetics of any kitchen. Cherry also has a tight grain that prevents water absorption and warping, and is, like maple and walnut, antimicrobial.
Prices for cherry cutting boards are higher than maple, like walnut. Cherry wood can also darken over time, which may not be aesthetically appealing to every consumer.
There are two types of oak, red and white. The looks are different, with white oak having a paler tone and a striped pattern and the red a pinkish brownish color and a unique swirling pattern. Oak, like maple, walnut, and cherry, is a hardwood, but unlike the top three performers, oak has wide pores which make it retain water, swell, and warp. This quality also means that an oak cutting board is not antimicrobial, with food particles getting lodged in the grains which encourages growth of bacteria.
Teak, a tropical hard wood found in Southeast Asia, has become quite popular in recent times for cutting boards. Teak is very hard, 1,155 lbf. The wood contains silica, an element fond in glass, which enhances its hardness and durability.
Because the wood contains a high oil content, it is naturally waterproof; this makes teak popular in outdoor furniture and boat construction. For the same reason, teak is a solid choice for cutting boards. Teak is also stunning, a natural look with brown, warm yellow and gold shades.
However, because teak is found overseas, the sourcing isn’t as sustainable for North American consumers. Teak boards also tend to have a hefty price tag. Some complain of wearing down knives because of teak’s hardness.
Beech is another hard wood, 1300 lbf, and quite popular in Europe. Like maple, walnut, and cherry, the grain is close or tight which means there’s no water absorption problem, no stains, and the wood is antimicrobial. Beech boards are affordable and therefore practical.
Because beech boards tend to have light tones, some complain about staining. However, simply treating the board with stain-resistant product can prevent it. Some have also found that beech boards shrink over time, and it can also become brittle if it’s not conditioned properly. Also, for North Americans, there’s an issue with sustainable sourcing.
Sapele has a vivid look with a lovely graining pattern. Some refer to Sapele as the “inexpensive mahogany,” which means an affordable price tag for sapele cutting boards. It’s an incredibly hard wood, 1,510 lbf.
Sapele wood has an open grain, which translates into boards susceptible to surface damage with a shorter lifespan. One elegant solution is a cutting board made of maple or walnut with sapele accents.
Lesser-known exotic woods
There are exquisitely beautiful cutting boards on the market today that are made from woods like paduak, yellowheart, zebrawood, and rosewood. Some of these boards are the top choices of famous chefs and priced accordingly. Because of the cost as well as performance issues and potential sensitivity to oils, one can think of exotic wood cutting boards as works of art best suited for display or food service rather than traditionally functional cutting boards.
Wood cutting boards are a beautiful and functional addition to any kitchen. But knowing what is the best wood for cutting boards before you buy is important so your decision is the best for your particular circumstances. Check out our stock of cutting boards here; whether your priorities are aesthetics, food safety, or high functionality, our stock has top quality choices that will perform and delight for years to come.