Published May 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
A box grater has always been the go-to tool for shredding cheese and vegetables by hand. But given that most of us only ever use one side, shouldn’t there be something better?
The last time we looked at graters, we selected a classic four-sided box design sporting the usual large and medium holes, a slicing blade, and pinhole-style bumps for fine grating. However, we can’t even remember a time when we used this (or any) box grater’s slicing blade, and for fine grating, we always turn to the super-sharp etched holes of our former winning rasp-style grater.
We got to thinking: Does it really make sense to buy a tool with as many as three out of four functions that you never even use? We decided to revisit the category, selecting nine contenders priced from $12.99 to $35. Holding out the possibility that something extraordinary in a box grater might still compel us to want one, we included a few standard four-sided models. We also singled out two flat paddles and designs with just two or three sides. Some folded, twisted, or flattened shut, and many came with attachable containers for capturing shreds. Our criteria: a sturdy tool that could easily produce intact shreds of everything from soft and hard cheeses to carrots and potatoes on its large holes. But if the grater included a side for fine grating, we wanted this plane to vie with our rasp-style grater, creating fine wisps of Parmesan or ginger instead of just trapping the food in its holes. If it did away with the superfluous slicing blade, all the better.
Sizing Up the Situation
We began by shredding 1-pound blocks of mozzarella on the largest holes of the graters to see how fast each would finish the job without letting the cheese ball up or shear off in crumbles and quickly made an important discovery: A generous-size grating plane mattered more than the sharpness of the grater’s teeth. This was particularly evident in the bigger of the two paddle models, which boasted larger-than-average holes and a grating surface that demolished the block of cheese in less than two minutes, producing long, perfect strips.
While the grating surface on one box model, a remake of our former winner, was a good size, an unfortunate new design twist put a snag in its ability to shred: holes that open in two directions to enable grating upward and downward. According to the manufacturer, this innovation should “cut the grating time in half,” but it left us with cheese crumbles instead of shreds. We got much better results with this tool by sticking to grating down, with gravity.
Design flaws in other models also impeded efficiency. One foldable model refused to stay unfolded. Another, which opened like a fan, rested on a base that walked and wobbled on the counter, thwarting our ability to grate. A tall, slender two-sided grater was hopelessly prone to tipping over—a deal breaker, since grating is a potentially hazardous task, and a grater needs first and foremost not to budge. Some of these nontraditional designs sported absurdly narrow grating surfaces that prolonged shredding time and had smaller capacities that forced us to constantly stop and off-load the shreds.
This test showed us that we preferred plainer designs with uncomplicated features: comfortable handles that eased the repetitive motion of grating and wide, rubber-lined bases or feet that kept the grater securely anchored to the work surface.
Stamped or Etched?
The next contest: grating carrots and potatoes. With these hard ingredients, the most critical feature turned out to be hole design. Grater holes come in one of two styles: stamped or etched. Stamped designs have thicker, more rigid grating surfaces that didn’t budge when we pressed firmly against them in an effort to produce thick, uniform shreds. Etched graters, made by corroding thin, flexible steel with a caustic salt called ferric chloride, have super-sharp teeth that indent just enough to snag foods—and they posed the same danger to thumbs and knuckles. Their thin surfaces also bent with a slight press of our fingers, resisting the hard, dense produce so that the vegetables bounced away, making less contact and resulting in shorter, paper-thin shreds that practically disappeared in cooking. In this test, the stamped surface of the big paddle grater had a definite edge over the flimsier etched surfaces of our other top contenders.
That said, etched surfaces did have the upper hand when it came to grating on the fine holes. Just as they do on our favorite rasp-style grater, the razor-sharp blades effortlessly wore down chunks of Parmesan and knobby fresh ginger. Meanwhile, the multisided stamped designs had the usual useless small pinholes that trapped more shreds than they created.
The Grater Good
The more we considered it, the more we were drawn to the paddle grater. With its sharp, extra-large holes and whopping 22 square inches of inflexible stamped grating surface (the second biggest in the lineup), it whizzed through cheese, potatoes, and carrots faster than any other model, and its rubber-bottomed feet ensured that it stayed put at any angle—a boon for shorter testers, who appreciated the adjustable leverage point. Its bent legs hooked around the lip of large and medium bowls, and without the enclosed tower design we never had to worry about unloading shreds. Another big plus: Its flat design stored easily, even slipping into a jammed 3-inch-high kitchen drawer. We can’t use it for making fine wisps of ginger or Parmesan, but the rasp-style grater we already own fulfills those functions. At $35, our winning grater isn’t cheap, but we think its superior performance is worth every penny. In fact, it’s the only grater in our lineup that we highly recommend.