John Boos Newton Prep Master Maple Wood Reversible Cutting Board with Juice Groove and Pan, 24 inche

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John Boos
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Pros: Heavy durable board; well-formed carving groove; maple construction; US-made
Cons: Side-grain; expensive; gimmicky prep insert
Almost 2 years ago now, ChefTalk had a random-draw giveaway for one of these cutting boards. What you had to do was to write a review of a cutting board you use. I wrote one, and it was randomly selected, so I won this cutting board. I was away last year in Japan, but I am now ready to review it.
If you pay any attention to things like cutting boards, and are based in the USA, you probably already know something about John Boos & Co. They've been in business for 130 years, and their core model is to use American hardwoods and craftsmanship to make cutting boards. These days they make a lot more than that, from kitchen counters to commercial stainless steel equipment. But it's still the cutting boards that make the difference.

These things can be VERY expensive. I didn't pay for this one, as I've said, but looking on line a little I find that I could buy one today for $228 + tax, or I could pay $200 more to buy it through Amazon, or I could buy it from some boutique-y super-special kitchenware place and pay about $500. But let's call it $230 for simplicity's sake.

Well, I don't know about you, but to me, $230 for a cutting board is kind of a lot. Granted, it's 2-1/4" thick solid rock maple, but really?

Well, let's start with a comparison:
[h3]A Simple Comparison[/h3]
By way of comparison, a board the same size from Boardsmith, also maple, also extremely highly rated by users:
[table][tr][td]  [/td][td]Boardsmith[/td][td]Boos[/td][/tr][tr][td]Price[/td][td]$300 (including shipping)[/td][td]$227 - $500[/td][/tr][tr][td]Reversible[/td][td]no (has rubber nonslip feet)[/td][td]yes (sort of)[/td][/tr][tr][td]End-grain[/td][td]yes[/td][td]no[/td][/tr][tr][td]Juice groove[/td][td]extra $30[/td][td]yes[/td][/tr][tr][td]Catcher pan[/td][td]no[/td][td]yes (feature of Newton Prep Master)[/td][/tr][/table]
Now what does this really tell you?

In essence, it tells you that large high-end cutting boards are very expensive, and have a bunch of options.

With the Boos board I have, it's the options that hurt.
[h3]The Options[/h3]
End-grain: End-grain wood is like a butcher block. It's a great surface for your knife edges, and it's extremely resistant to scratches and damage. Side-grain is not as good on either count, but it's not bad at all -- at least, not with a wood like rock maple. With some woods, side-grain is disastrous.

Juice Groove: You find these especially on boards intended for carving roasts and such. The advantage is clear: the juice doesn't go running off the edge and onto your counter. The disadvantage is that the groove eats up board real estate.

Reversible: This is pretty much self-explanatory. Either you can use either side equally or you can't.

Catcher Pan: I've never seen one except on this board. Basically what it means is, there's a slot (which conveniently doubles as a handle) in the board, and under it a gap into which you can put this little stainless-steel rectangular pan thing. The idea seems to be that when you cut stuff, you sweep the cut pieces into the hole and they sit in the little tray, ready to be used.

Cleanup: I notice that cleanup is one of the things I'm supposed to rate on this board. I gave it a pretty high rating, and that may surprise people: it weighs about 18 tons, and because it's wood it's intrinsically kind of unsanitary, right? Wrong. First of all, the wood is a far  cleaner surface than any plastic or whatever. Second, the way to clean a wood board properly isn't to shove it under a sink but to use a proper disinfectant spray (very dilute bleach, kept in a dedicated spray bottle out of reach of children and pets). And Boos provides a special mystery treatment oil for periodic maintenance, too. So, yes, it's mildly awkward to clean because it's big, and because when it's damp you have to tip it on its side to dry nicely, but otherwise, it's as easy to clean and maintain as any serious wooden cutting board.
[h3]The Catcher Pan[/h3]
Um, no. Just no.

I've tried using it three ways:
  1. As a "prep board" thing, where I sweep the little bits of minced onion or whatever into it. It's sort of handy, I guess, but it doesn't really work very well. If you put the tray on your side of the board, by your belly-button, you have to lean rather farther forward over the board, and I find that irritating to my back. If you turn it around the other way, then when you want to get the minced bits you have to reach way the heck to the back of the counter to slide the little tray out. Either way, the bits don't fall smoothly. It really only works if you're cutting a small amount of stuff -- in which case, why do you need this in the first place?
  2. In reverse of the prep board thing, you can put your unwanted trimmings in it, to save for future stock-making. In that case I find it best to have the tray on the far side. The problem, of course, is that some of the stuff you do want inevitably skitters to the back of the board and down the chute. A minor irritant, to be sure, but what's the point of a convenience feature that is just annoying?
  3. When carving, as a way of catching the juices and getting them all into one convenient place. That makes good sense, actually, but it doesn't really work very well. For one thing, the juices don't run evenly. More to the point (since you can easily encourage them to run), a fair amount doesn't go through into the pan, and instead just sticks to the underside of the tray's slot.
If the board were just a big slab without the hole, with groove on one side and totally flat on the other, I'd be much happier. I don't know what possessed the Boos people to develop this weird innovation, but it wasn't a success.

There's a further difficulty. Remember how Boos says it's reversible? Okay, but if you reverse it, it's got this huge divot cut out of it because of where the tray was supposed to be! You can sort of use it that way, but as you'd expect, what with Murphy's Law and all, every time something you really want goes rolling away from you, yup -- down into the hole it goes. Rrrrrgh! 
If I were actually going to stump up something on the order of $275 for a big cutting board, my ideal would be end-grain, reversible, with juice groove. That's also in order of priority.

My conclusion, as I'm sure you've figured out, is that I'd rather have the Boardsmith board.

All of which is not  to say I'm sorry I won the draw and got this board free. It's great, in many respects. Just, if I were going to actually pay  for it... I'd choose otherwise.
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