Clever features on new carving boards promise easier carving and serving. But does clever always mean useful?
How We Tested
A carving board may seem like a luxury when you pull it out only a few times a year—but anyone who’s tried carving a roast on a flat cutting board knows what a disaster that can be, with juices dribbling onto the counter from all sides. Carving boards are designed to avoid this mess, traditionally by relying on a trench around their perimeter that traps the liquid. Eight years ago we selected the J.K. Adams Maple Reversible Carving Board ($69.95) as our favorite. With a poultry-shaped indentation on one side and generous trenches on both, it’s simple but effective. But when we noticed some new boards with features like pour spouts, clever liquid channeling designs, and innovative ways to anchor the meat, we decided an update was in order. We pitted our winner against nine boards (priced from $19.99 to $142.94) made from various materials (wood, bamboo, plastic, wood composite) and showcasing a range of features. After roasting turkeys and juicy 5-pound beef roasts for each board, we got to work carving.
We knew from our previous testing that we should consider only boards at least 18 inches long—enough space for a large turkey, with room to work. But bigger wasn’t necessarily better. The three models that were nearly 2 feet long felt bulky and hogged counter space. This time around, we also learned that width is important, too. The turkey dwarfed the tiny cutting surface of one board that measured only 12 1/4 inches across. The ideal proportions turned out to be 20 by 14 or 15 inches.
As for height, boards around 1 inch tall had enough heft to sit securely on the counter but were still easy to lift. We liked that thinner boards could be stored easily, but they tended to slip on the counter. Taller boards added unwanted height and weight. The heaviest one tipped the scales at more than 17 pounds and was too cumbersome to carry.
In the Trenches
We expect a carving board to trap at least 1/2 cup of liquid, roughly the amount released by a midsize turkey as it rests. Traditionally, a trench about 1 inch from the board’s perimeter is designed to handle the job. Because the fat released during carving gels as it cools, it will cause the juices to slow down, so boards with narrow, shallow trenches tended to clog and overflow. We were surprised that the two boards with the largest footprints had trenches that held just 2 ounces. At the other extreme, one of the trenches on our old winner held 10 ounces (the most of any board); its other trench held a respectable 5 ounces.
The lone model to stray from the standard trench had flared sides like those on a cafeteria tray. It kept juices off the counter, but the food sat in a puddle. The raised sides also made carving turkey difficult.
Two models sported pour spouts to direct liquid from the trench off one corner of the board. We had hoped that they would make cleanup easy, but because the spouts were cut at such a shallow angle, juices diverted into the spouts during carving, causing liquid to dribble out.
Many models employed innovative features in the centers of the boards. Some were designed to trap and move liquid, like one board’s three-pronged channel that directed juices to a well at the end of the board. It worked, but cutting over the channels, not to mention the huge divot, wasn’t easy, especially when we required the full workspace for carving the turkey.
Small grids and pencil-shaped grooves carved into other boards were designed to not only trap liquid but also hold roasts firmly in place during carving. They worked moderately well, but they also hampered slicing. We were least impressed by the board with 172 tiny wooden pyramids in the center. Because our carving knife made contact with the pyramids at odd angles, our slices of beef and turkey were ragged at the bottom.
Wear and Tear
Finally, we considered upkeep and maneuverability. To test their resistance to knife marks, we made 50 slow, deliberate slices on each board. Of the eight solid wood and bamboo boards, seven showed a few light marks easily treated with mineral oil, but one was left with unsightly dark marks that we couldn’t cover up. The wood fiber composite model easily scarred, but the marks were readily touched up with the oil. Meanwhile, the lone plastic board in the lineup was mostly scratch-resistant, showing only very faint marks.
In terms of cleanup, only the plastic board was truly dishwasher-compatible. (The wood composite board is labeled as dishwasher-safe but didn’t fit in our dishwasher.) Of the wood and bamboo carving boards, bulkier, heavier models were a struggle to hand-wash. Some didn’t fit comfortably in our sink, requiring testers to constantly lift and reposition them to rinse them. Midweight boards with simple designs (i.e., minimal crevices) were easiest to clean and won top marks.
In the end, we can’t even recommend eight of the 10 boards we tested; they were either poorly sized, flimsy, or cumbersome, and their innovative attempts to collect liquid just got in our way. In fact, none could best our old favorite. Its reversible design boasts a flat side suited to slicing roasts and an indented side with a poultry-shaped well to hold chicken and turkey snugly in place. Both sides allow for neat, even slicing without interference, and each sports a spacious trench that holds an ample 1/2 cup of liquid. It’s also durable, handsome, and easy to clean and one of the least expensive boards in our lineup. This is one case where simpler really is better.
We tested 10 carving boards: they are listed in order of preference.
We poured 1/2 cup of water into the boards’ trenches, approximating the amount of liquid released by a midsize turkey after a 30-minute rest. We also measured the trenches’ overall capacity and evaluated the effectiveness of features designed to collect and move liquid.
We carved 5-pound roast beefs, cooked rare for maximum juiciness, and 15-pound turkeys. Boards rated highest if they were roomy enough for large roasts and steady on the counter. We downgraded boards if features designed to hold meat in place interfered with our knives.
EASE OF USE
We rated each board on how easy and comfortable it was to lift, carry, carve on, and clean. We preferred boards that fit in our kitchen sink and didn’t develop deep or unsightly knife marks.