Mandolines

From Cook's Illustrated | May/June 2014

Too often, these precision slicers sit tucked away in a cupboard. We wanted one so easy to use, clean, and store that we’d reach for it every day.

Overview:

You don’t have to be a restaurant chef to appreciate a good mandoline. These tools can thin-slice, julienne, and (in some cases) waffle-cut produce far faster than a skilled cook wielding a sharp knife can, and with utter precision. That uniformity is at least as valuable as the time savings—and not just for cosmetic reasons. When cuts are uneven, so is cooking.

But for a mandoline to be truly useful in a home kitchen, not just an appliance you break out for the occasional vegetable gratin or elegantly shingled fruit tart, it must be easy to set up, clean, and store. And given that you’re working with sharp blades, it must also be as safe to use as it is efficient.

We came to these conclusions when we evaluated mandolines in 2008, passing on those that required fussy setups and maintenance or that came with blades for making every conceivable cut—a level of operation that most home cooks just won’t use.

We thought that we found everything we wanted—a compact, intuitive, reasonably priced slicer that would expedite everyday… read more

You don’t have to be a restaurant chef to appreciate a good mandoline. These tools can thin-slice, julienne, and (in some cases) waffle-cut produce far faster than a skilled cook wielding a sharp knife can, and with utter precision. That uniformity is at least as valuable as the time savings—and not just for cosmetic reasons. When cuts are uneven, so is cooking.

But for a mandoline to be truly useful in a home kitchen, not just an appliance you break out for the occasional vegetable gratin or elegantly shingled fruit tart, it must be easy to set up, clean, and store. And given that you’re working with sharp blades, it must also be as safe to use as it is efficient.

We came to these conclusions when we evaluated mandolines in 2008, passing on those that required fussy setups and maintenance or that came with blades for making every conceivable cut—a level of operation that most home cooks just won’t use.

We thought that we found everything we wanted—a compact, intuitive, reasonably priced slicer that would expedite everyday cutting tasks—in our previous winner. Compared with the pricey professional models in the lineup, this model was also relatively easy to set up. Yet over time and with repeated use, we’ve realized that the device is somewhat inconvenient. Our biggest gripe: Extra blades are stored under the body, and unless you remove them first—an annoying step—food rains down on them during slicing, making it necessary to pull them out anyway for cleaning. Plus, unfolding the blade storage tray and then reassembling this gadget can feel like acrobatics; as one tester noted, it’s like playing with a Transformers toy that changes from a car to a robot.

Those flaws have heightened our appreciation for our previous Best Buy, an utterly simple, ultracompact paddle that slices food into four thicknesses. The catch: That’s all it does. But if we could find a mandoline that offered multiple cuts and similar convenience, we’d have an even more useful tool at our disposal. From a new crop of supposedly more user-friendly slicers, we selected seven models priced under $50 to pit against our old favorites.

Novel Failures

We quickly realized that most of these contenders weren’t more convenient than our previous winner—and that several were actually fussier. Most mandolines operate similarly: You hold the food with a hand guard and push it along the surface to the blade, adjusting slice thickness by changing the distance between the platform and the blade. One model we tested takes a different approach: To keep your hand away from the cutting edge, this device has you pull a handle that moves the blade to the food, which waits in a 3 1/2-inch chamber on the platform. Of course, to fit a larger item like a russet potato in that chamber, we had to dramatically trim the spud, creating work and waste, not to mention some really stumpy French fries.

Another model's novel design also failed. This device does away with slice thickness adjustment by lining up two blades, one for thin cuts and one for deep ones, about 3 inches apart on its platform. Problem is, you want to make long strokes when you’re slicing, and that setup makes it hard to avoid bumping into the cover of the unused blade. Plus, this model’s platform is so skinny that it can barely accommodate the width of a potato, much less a tomato.

Finally, there were storage issues, particularly with one model. Its body doesn’t house its many extra parts (which carry out nontraditional mandoline functions like juicing and shredding—most of which didn’t work well), so we had to toss them in a zipper-lock bag.

Staying Safe

Most models didn’t feel all that safe. In some cases, particularly with the paddle slicers, that was because the hand guards did a poor job. Whereas two models featured broad guards that offered maximum protection and held food securely on long prongs, paddle slicers usually came with dinky guards featuring shallow spikes that mangled food more than they gripped it.

In other cases, swapping out blades felt more perilous than operating the slicer. Doing so brought our hands dangerously close to sharp edges, especially unsnapping one model's julienne blade to move it from its holding spot. Even the designed-for-safety model we tested felt unsafe when we switched blades; the force needed to remove the blade platform made the whole mandoline snap and jerk.

The only models that did feel safe were those that limited, or eliminated, the need for handling blades. Flip a switch on one model's handle, for example, and the slicer goes from thin to thick; flip another one on the tool’s side and julienne spikes pop up. Another model we tested also offers a built-in julienne blade, as well as a switch that adjusts thickness—features that would have elevated it in our rankings if its dull blade hadn’t torn apart a tomato.

Sharpest Tool in the (Vertical) Box

Built-in blades weren’t the only design that kept hands away from blades. One model has you change slice thickness by easily popping out, rotating, and sliding a smooth plastic plate into place; the blade itself never moves. Two additional plates with julienne spikes keep your fingers at a safe distance from their edges. These and other pluses helped make this tool our favorite. First, it was effortless to push food through its razor-sharp blades, and every piece of produce that we sliced or julienned emerged with stunning, diamond-cut edges. Its lone shortcoming is that it makes just four cuts—two thicknesses each of slicing and julienning—but the julienne feature makes it a more versatile upgrade to our runner-up. Our winning mandoline is also one of the few models with a long, unobstructed platform, which enabled us to produce long, graceful zucchini planks and full-length French fries. We never had to pretrim foods, so waste was minimal.

Finally, there’s its unique perk: a caddy that stands vertically, which limits the mandoline’s footprint to inches. That setup is a boon to cleanup and safety, too. After washing, simply load the parts into the caddy to air-dry, where sharp edges are covered, and hang the hand guard on its hooks like a hat. Just don’t pack it into a cupboard; you’ll be breaking it out again in no time.

Methodology:

We tested nine mandolines, cutting firm russet potatoes and soft ripe tomatoes with all available slice thicknesses. We julienned potatoes and carrots, sliced zucchini lengthwise, and made wavy/waffle slices when available. We observed how easy the slicers were to set up, how safe they felt, and how hard they were to clean and reassemble.

SLICES/JULIENNE/OTHER CUTS: Each available cut is listed, as applicable, with dimensions of the food noted in millimeters.

EASE OF USE: We preferred models that required less effort and felt more comfortable to set up, slice a variety of foods to specific thicknesses, change blades, clean, and reassemble.

SAFETY: Mandolines received higher scores if they had large, comfortable hand guards that securely gripped foods and kept fingers away from blades, as well as other features to keep the user safer at all stages of handling.

CLEANUP: We gave high marks to models that had few nooks and crannies or design elements that trapped food, making them easier to wash.

PERFORMANCE: We preferred models that produced crisp, uniform, intact slices and juliennes on every setting and sliced smoothly and quickly.

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