Foodies tend to label this equipment or that ingredient a must-have. If the ordinary home cook had them all, there wouldn't be room in the house for anything else.
But you really should own a large wooden cutting board.
A second wooden one, and another in plastic, is helpful, too.
Hardly a dish that comes out of your kitchen doesn't require at least one cutting board.
Think big for safety reasons. Without plenty of room, you're more likely to injure yourself with a knife when food starts piling up and you adjust your slicing motion or hands in awkward ways. Plus, who wants to be chasing food all over the counter?
A large wooden board - about 14 by 20 inches - is also likely to be a bit heavier, so it won't slide around as easily. (Put a wet paper towel or piece of shelf liner under the board if it has a tendency to move.)
Sometimes you'll have to cut or carve something large - a butternut squash or your Thanksgiving turkey. Even some long celery ribs. Food isn't necessarily small, and your board shouldn't be, either.
Wood is better for your knives. Plates and counters are not kind to your blades, which can be dulled on such hard surfaces. Wood and plastic are durable enough to withstand abuse while not affecting the knives. You can wash your wooden board in hot soapy water (just don't let it soak), but apply a layer of mineral oil every so often to keep it from drying out and from absorbing moisture from whatever you're cutting.
A wooden board can serve multiple uses, too. You've got a built-in serving platter, whether for the crudités you just cut on it or a few wedges of cheese. Even a sliced loaf of bread looks better on a board. And a large board placed over the sink can serve as auxiliary counter space when you're cooking and run out of room for ingredients or tools.
An extra board helps prevent cross-contamination. Research done by the University of California, Davis, shows that wooden cutting boards are good at trapping potentially harmful bacteria, eventually causing them to die; plastic boards, especially those with lots of knife scars, can harbor and spread the bacteria. Still, you don't want to immediately put other ingredients - and definitely not ones you won't be cooking - on the surface where your raw meat just sat.
If you think you'll often find yourself in that situation, consider a second board just for meat. You can make that one plastic, as long as you put it through the dishwasher, which the UC-Davis researchers found was effective at killing bacteria on plastic, unlike washing by hand. But be sure to manually wash your wooden boards.
And while you can spend a lot of money on artisan boards, a large wooden workhorse doesn't have to cost a lot. (Plastic boards are even cheaper.) For about $40, you can find a teak one that can stand up to your knives and resists water. The sourcing can be controversial, so look for items from sustainable teak plantations.