My #1 Favorite Kitchen Tool (And It's Not My Knife)
What’s your favorite cooking tool, the one you invent an excuse to use? Our writer has an enduring love affair with one good teak cutting board.
Maybe it’s your granny’s Pucci espresso set from the ‘60s, or your gleaming red Dutch oven, or that foxy Japanese knife that’s mesmerizing to look at: For those of us who love to cook, there’s usually something that draws us back into the kitchen. For me, it’s simple, sturdy, functional and good-looking—a cutting board. (And before I get all breathless on you, know that I bought it with cold hard cash, don’t accept free appliances, and don’t get kickbacks!)
Proteak sells thick teak cutting boards made using “end grains,” which on a 2-by-4 are the rough ends on either side. My favorite board, which doubles as a butcher block, is five years old and measures 16” x 12” x 2”. You can find it here.It is a beauty of a thing. Sitting on top of a cheap IKEA cart, steadying it with its weight and gravitas, it glimmers in the late afternoon Brooklyn sunlight. In fact, it looks almost identical to when I bought it, making it the only five-year-old item—I’m looking at you, chipped but still lovely Staub enameled Dutch oven—I own about which I can say this.
Why do I love it so? It is sturdy as all get-out, and gorgeous. Its wood was sustainably harvested, and it requires a minimum of care. I can rest a whole roast chicken or steak on it, carve the meat, and then bring dinner directly to the table without setting out a trivet. Everything I serve looks more impressive on it, whether it’s an ad-hoc French picnic with sliced salami, cheese, and gherkins, or a loaf of homemade bread plopped next to a ramekin of butter. A handy “well” carved into the board acts as a moat for meat juices, so I don’t lose a single precious drop when I go to drain the jus to make gravy. And on the rare occasions when a few scratch marks start to show, I can rub inexpensive vegetable oil into it and watch it soak in quickly and easily, seeming to seal right back up, and looking like new again. At $99, it wasn’t cheap, but having watched every other cutting board inevitably split or warp after about a year, it was worth it.
In fact, Proteak’s site touts the “self-healing” quality of teak end grain, but as Berkeley, California furniture maker Alex Elsinga, owner of Teak Me Home, said, “I’ve never heard anything like that before!” (He added, “I’ve been in the business a long time, made tons of products, and never had anyone tell me ‘self-healing properties’—because if there is a self-healing property and I’m not aware of it I can market the hell out of it!”)
Elsinga makes new furniture from reclaimed teak homes that date to the 1800’s, and loves teak because “it’s one of the hardest woods out there.” Because of its density—it’s harder than oak and walnut—and its water-repellent qualities, which make it popular for boat-building, it is a common pick for high-end cutting boards. And you do need to oil it periodically, he confirms: “You need to oil any type of wood, because it’s a natural product and if you don’t oil it, it’ll eventually dry out and crack.”
So if you can afford one or have a gift certificate kicking around, I can’t recommend one of these enough. In an uncertain world, there’s a lot to be said about having something in your kitchen that soothes you, and can make chopping cauliflower or slicing bread feel downright meditative.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.