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January/February 2018

Small Cutting Boards

Compact cutting boards can be easier to handle and clean than their larger counterparts—if you choose the right one.

How We Tested

We love our full-size cutting boards for most tasks. But sometimes we want a more compact board for small jobs or when cooking in cramped spaces. We wanted to find the best small cutting board—one that would be durable and sit securely on the counter but also be easy to maneuver and clean. So we bought nine models priced from $9.49 to $38.95 and made from a few different materials. Each measured about 11 by 14 inches, roughly half the size of our favorite full-size boards. We then put the boards to work, chopping onions, mincing parsley, pounding chicken cutlets, and mincing pungent garlic and stain-inducing chipotle chiles in adobo on them. To see whether any board dulled knives faster than others, we made 500 cuts on each one with a newly sharpened knife, testing the knife periodically by slicing through copy paper. We washed the boards by hand or ran them through the dishwasher 25 times, according to the manufacturers’ instructions, and dropped each off the counter three times, simulating the kind of abuse a board might endure.

Which Material Is Best?

Material mattered. Some testers liked cutting on the softer, slightly textured surfaces of wood and bamboo boards. But these boards weren’t necessarily gentler on knives than the boards made from other materials, nor were they were more durable. After 500 strokes, knives used on the plastic and composite boards were just as sharp as those used on the wood and bamboo ones. And boards of every type sustained a fair amount of wear and tear without becoming gouged, scuffed, or scarred beyond use.

In our testing, though, both wood and bamboo boards stained and retained odors longer than other boards. And wood and bamboo boards require more careful cleanup and maintenance; they must be seasoned with oil before use, washed and dried by hand after each subsequent use, and oiled periodically to keep them from absorbing water and then splitting or warping. We preferred the plastic and composite boards, which didn’t stain or retain odors, are maintenance-free, and can be thrown in the dishwasher when you’re done with them, making them even more convenient and easy to use for quick jobs.

Pitting Portability Against Stability

Plastic and composite boards have an additional advantage: They’re more portable, as they are usually thinner (¼ to ½ inch thick) and lighter than other boards, with most weighing less than 2 pounds. But that user-friendliness sometimes came at a cost. Regardless of material, the thinner and lighter the board, the less securely it sat on the counter and the more likely it was to slip or spin in action, making for unstable and slightly dangerous mincing, chopping, or pounding. (By contrast, a 1¼-inch-thick wood board weighing more than 5 pounds had no trouble staying put on the counter, but its heft and thickness made it a bear to lift, especially when loaded with chopped food.) Although you can always put a damp dish towel or a gripper mat under the board to stabilize it, we’d prefer not to have to do this every time we pull out the board for a quick task. The best boards were moderately thin (about ½ inch) and light enough to be lifted easily. But they also had special features to anchor them to the counter, such as rubbery feet or sides that gave the boards traction without adding too much weight.

Long-Term Issues

Boards of all materials and thicknesses were vulnerable to damage after repeated washes. Even when properly seasoned and maintained, the bamboo boards and some of the wood boards absorbed water and warped and/or cracked after 11 or 12 washes. And several of the thin composite and plastic boards warped in the dishwasher’s heat (despite being touted as dishwasher-safe). After 25 washes, only four of the nine boards still sat perfectly flat on the counter.

Which Small Cutting Board Should You Get?

Our winner, the OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board ($14.95), is the little sibling of our full‑size Best Buy, the OXO Good Grips Carving and Cutting Board ($21.99). Made of relatively thin, lightweight plastic bordered on two edges by rubber strips, it provides an ideal combination of portability and stability. While it emerged from testing with a fair number of knife scratches, the damage was cosmetic, and it was one of the few boards that didn’t warp. It’s dishwasher-safe and resisted odors and stains. Testers also liked the way the board’s slightly textured surface gripped their knives. As a bonus, one side has a built-in trench that can collect a small volume of juices from wet food or resting roasts.

Methodology

We tested nine small cutting boards priced from $9.49 to $38.95 and made from a variety of materials (wood, wood composite, bamboo, and plastic), each measuring about 11 by 14 inches. We chopped onions, minced parsley, pounded chicken cutlets, and minced pungent garlic and stain-prone chipotle chiles in adobo on them. To see whether any board dulled knives faster than others, we made 500 cuts on each one with a newly sharpened knife. We washed them by hand or in the dishwasher 25 times and dropped each off the counter three times, simulating the kind of wear and tear a board might receive over time. Finally, we evaluated each board on its durability, stability, maneuverability, and ease of cleanup and maintenance. The prices shown are what we paid online. The products appear in order of preference.

Ease of Use: We rated the boards on how easy they were to lift and hold and on how well they gripped the knife, preventing it from slipping around on the board.

Stability: We rated the boards on how securely they sat on the counter without the use of a gripper mat or other stabilizing device.

Durability: We evaluated the boards on how resistant they were to knife damage, cracking, warping, fading, staining, and odor retention.

Ease of Cleanup/Maintenance: We evaluated the boards on how easy they were to maintain and clean.

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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.