Assuming you already have a fork, spoon, knife, plates, some kind of frying pan and a basic pot of some sort, there are only 3 things that a real cook needs. This is the second. See other posts for items 1 (knife) and 3 (knife sharpener).
The obvious reason for having a cutting board is to prevent you from hacking up the $10,000 of granite counter top you just had installed. That reasoning basically extends to any type of counter top. Enough said.
One might think selecting a cutting board would be easy. No such thing. For one, prices seem to have exceeded any degree of rationality, even for the smallest and least expensive. After all a cutting board is nothing more than a slab of something that’s going to be abused by a sharp knife.
There are two basic kinds of cutting boards, wood and not wood. Not much left out with that kind of logic. Wood tends to be more expensive and harder to maintain. Wood should be hand cleaned immediately after use, dried and put away. Don’t soak a wood cutting board in the sink. Most likely that expensive cutting board will pull apart at the seams and end up as kindling in the fireplace. Wood cutting boards need a light treatment with mineral oil, from your local pharmacy, or with other products which are specifically sold for wooden cutting boards and salad bowls.
Other types of cutting boards are typically some kind of plastic, most often polyethylene. These are usually one piece, so they have no seams to pull apart, need no treatment with things like mineral oil and can usually tolerate a little soak in the sink once in a while. Some cutting boards claim they can be placed in the dishwasher. Typically they are less expensive than wood. Warping can be a problem with plastic boards. If you go the plastic route, get one that has some kind of nonslip surface on the bottom or a nonslip pad to put under them, as they tend to slide on the counter top without something to stop them.
What do I currently use? You guessed it, wood. For some reason wood feels better to cut on. But the real reason is size. My plastic cutting board is about 18 inches by 12 inches. Good for a big slab of meat or a turkey, but a little too big for everyday use. My wood cutting board is about 14 inches by 10 inches. That’s a little handier for everyday use and works pretty well with an 8 inch chef knife. After all, whatever cutting board, it has to be big enough so the knife blade can rock back and forth on it. That was a tedious sentence, but you get the picture.
Having said all this, I’m looking for a smaller plastic cutting board. Haven’t purchased one yet, but I’m hoping one about 8×10 inches will be big enough for the knife and be easier to clean than my current wood board. Here are a couple that look like they might make the grade.