Published May 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
Rather than risk scraping our knuckles on a box or rasp-style grater, we prefer to shred cheese tableside with a rotary grater.
To find a tool that works quickly and with the least possible amount of pressure, we asked testers with various hand sizes to try four models ($9.99–$34.99). We gave them everything from hard Parmesan to semisoft cheddar to soft mozzarella, and even a chunk of chocolate.
Not surprisingly, the most important factor turned out to be the size of the grater’s barrel: The larger its diameter, the faster it worked. Models with barrels narrower than 2 inches in diameter came in with correspondingly sluggish grating times, while the widest-barreled (2 5/8-inch) grater zipped through an ounce of cheddar in 15 seconds.
The other major considerations—handle comfort and cleanup—were all about simplicity. Graters that disassembled quickly and contained fewer pieces made cleanup a breeze. We also much preferred classic designs—in which one hand presses a clamp against the cheese to hold it in place while the other hand rotates the handle—to innovative devices. Operating one sleek-looking model, for example, meant balancing its T-shaped body in your palm while painfully pressing the cheese clamp against the barrel with only your thumb. Even an ultra-wide (2¾-inch) barrel couldn’t compensate for the gimmicky peppermill-like design of one model. To generate any shreds at all required twisting the body with considerable force, and even then it produced scrappy, squished bits of mozzarella and a paltry pile of grated chocolate.
The bottom line: No rotary grater is going to match the speed of a box or rasp-style tool, but our favorite rotary model, which sports an ergonomic turn-crank handle and a pair of easily interchangeable wide-mouth drums (fine and coarse), makes short work of small, at-the-table grating tasks—and cleans up in the dishwasher.