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February/March 2012

Innovative Cutting Boards

New twists on traditional cutting boards promise to streamline food preparation. Do they?

How We Tested

A cutting board that folds! Lets you chop and scoop! Comes with color-coded corresponding knives! Straddles the sink to save space! The bells and whistles on one-gadget-does-it-all cutting boards could fill an hour-long infomercial. And since rinsing and dicing is half the battle for most home cooks, we got to wondering whether any innovative cutting board could help cut down on prep time. We compared eight, priced from $11 to $80, to each other and to our favorite traditional 18 by 24-inch rectangle of wood.

First, no innovation means a thing if the board can’t perform basic tasks. Your cutting board should be roomy and have a slightly grippy surface for cutting without the knife or food sliding; it shouldn’t be easily warped, cracked, gouged, or stained. We minced onions and stain-inducing chipotle chiles, whacked through bone-in chicken thighs with a cleaver, cut crusty loaves of bread with a serrated knife, and sliced juicy watermelons. We washed the boards repeatedly—in the dishwasher if permissible, by hand if not. Finally, we shoved them off a kitchen counter; survivors won points for durability.

The bad news: Several boards failed at the basics. All but two were too small for cutting anything bigger than an onion, and while we’ve never set minimum cutting board measurements in stone, using some of these boards really drove home the need for space—at least 14 by 18 inches of it. A “hybrid” board, cork on one side and bamboo on the other, gripped the counter cork side down so that we could hack, slice, and dice without worry. Too bad this board (the largest available) was just 12 by 15 inches. As for the plastic boards, they were small and prone to sliding. One model—designed like a hanging file, with four color-coded boards and corresponding knives to prevent cross-contamination—disappointed us with its tiny, slick plastic boards and lousy knives. Worse, it was the most expensive in our lineup.

Trying out the advertised innovations proved that all too often they solved one problem only to create another. One board that folds up like a chute, which its manufacturer touts as a three-sided colander, was unquestionably a bridge too far. It never fully unfolded, and when we tried to fold it to transfer diced onion to a pan, it jammed, sending food flying. Another board looked like a shallow dustpan, with raised sides and a handle; it helped funnel diced food and juices, but the sides obstructed the knife. Another small board, sloped at one end for sliding off prepared ingredients, left us with stray dice littering the counter. The slope offered barely any flat area for chopping, and while working on it, a tester sliced her finger instead of an onion. Only one chop-and-transfer model worked as promised: It featured a sliding tray underneath to gather scraps or cut food and neatly corralled liquids in a juice groove.

Over-the-sink boards created welcome workspace and provided built-in colanders. One plastic model used a retractable handle to reach across the sink, but with the least pressure from slicing, the board bounced and scooted until it fell in. (We tried different sinks and testers, with the same scary result.) A larger (12 by 23-inch) bamboo board worked flawlessly, proving spacious and stable. We used its built-in silicone colander to wash and transfer food to the board, hold chopped food as we worked, and then carry it to the pan. Collapsible for storage, the large, footed colander can be used separately.

This space-saving gadget is one innovative board that actually works. We recommend it when space is at a premium, but it won’t be replacing our larger go-to basic board.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.