New Year, New Kitchen Skills

We're here to help you reach your kitchen goals this year.

It’s a brand-new year! What do you want to do in 2022? Two of my goals include learning to speak Italian and cooking more meat-free meals. I’ll have to look elsewhere for Italian lessons, but for delicious plant-based recipes I’m turning to our award-winning, best-selling cookbook The Complete Plant-Based Cookbook. It contains more than 570 recipes made with vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, plant-based dairy, and plant-based meat products. What are your goals? To cook outside more? Learn how to make homemade pasta? Improve your knife skills? First, we have top-rated grills (both gas and charcoal) and multiple portable outdoor pizza ovens for all your al fresco cooking. Next, perfect your fettuccine, spaghetti, and more with a manual pasta maker. It ensures delicate noodles with just the right amount of tenderness and chew. And last, if you’re going to work on your knife skills, let’s start by choosing a great knife. An 8-inch chef’s knife is arguably the most important knife in your arsenal, and our winner is a longtime test kitchen favorite.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

The Ferrari of the pasta machine world, this model was a little more expensive than the others, but it sure was a pleasure to handle. It sported both the widest and the narrowest thickness settings in our lineup; we barely had to roll dough out to fit it through the machine, and we could effortlessly dial the machine down to produce gossamer-thin sheets. Its laser-sharp noodle attachment produced perfect fettuccine and angel hair every time.

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The deeply beveled edge of this scraper cut through pizza and bread dough quickly and scraped the work surface effectively. The textured polypropylene handle was easy to hold on to, even with greasy or floury hands, and was thinner than other scrapers’ handles, helping us hold it flat to the work surface for easier, more effective scooping and scraping.

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This server’s small perforations drained water without losing pasta; its long teeth grabbed and held long strands with ease (their slightly wide placement meant smaller pasta sometimes slipped out, but this was a minor issue). Its long handle with comfortable silicone grip kept hands a safe distance from hot water, and the gently angled head was just right for easy control.

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Our top-rated sharpener had the winning combination of producing truly exceptional and consistent results quickly, neatly, and efficiently. The manual clearly outlined a few specific steps that must be followed each time, and it took about 2 minutes from start to finish to get a polished, razor-sharp edge. Narrow, spring-loaded slots made it easy and unambiguous to maintain a consistent angle as we moved the knife through the three slots. It rapidly removed a notch we cut in the blade and easily sharpened both our everyday chef’s knife and pricey carbon-steel chef’s knife. We subtracted half a point because the slots left very light cosmetic scratches along the sides of our knives.

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This slightly simplified, more compact version of our top-rated sharpener has one fewer sharpening slot, with the same medium-abrasive diamond abrasive of our winner for shaping, and a flexible stropping disk to polish the edge. As a result, this sharpener created an edge with two reinforcing bevels, as opposed to the three created by the top-rated Trizor model. We noticed only a minor difference in cutting performances between the knife we sharpened in this model and the knife we sharpened in the Trizor, but knives sharpened in this model may require slightly more frequent sharpening to maintain their edges. Like the Trizor, the spring-loaded guides left light cosmetic scratches along the side of our blades.

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Our longtime inexpensive favorite remains a pleasure to use. With a sharp, gently curved blade, it effortlessly dispatched every task we set before it, mincing garlic precisely and breaking down chicken and dense butternut squash with authority. Its light weight and rounded spine made it easy to wield for long periods, and its textured plastic handle was comfortable to grip for hands of all sizes.

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This knife ran a very close race with our winner. It had a very sharp, gently curved blade that tackled every task well, and its rounded spine was easy to choke up on when we used a pinch grip. It’s a little heavier than our winner, but some testers actually preferred that extra weight, finding it “solid” and “authoritative” in their hands. And it’s just as inexpensive. One small quibble? The handle is made from a somewhat slick plastic that sometimes felt slippery when wet or greasy.

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Our favorite santoku wowed testers of all abilities, who raved that it felt “agile, sharp, and really good in hand.” “Solid but light,” it made “fine, level cuts” with “great precision and control.” This knife features an asymmetrical blade with a 70/30 bevel that the company hand-sharpens specifically for either right- or left-handers.

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The lightest knife we tested, this nakiri was a true pleasure to use and seemed nearly weightless in our hands. With a thin, relatively tall, medium-length blade, it was capable of both coarser work (chopping greens or delicata squash) and fine, precise cuts (making carrot brunoise, mincing parsley). Its oval-profile handle felt great in our hands, and the magnolia wood used to make it helped us keep our grip on it, even when it got wet.

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This spacious gas-fired oven is our pick for people who want the convenience of propane and the ability to make big, 16-inch pizzas. It has a powerful L-shaped burner located along the left and rear of the oven, which heats both the stone and the air in the oven effectively. We consistently produced pizzas that were perfectly cooked on top and had beautiful char and spotting on their undersides. Because the back left corner gets hotter than the rest of the oven, it’s important to rotate pizzas so that they cook evenly. The oven is impressively sleek, and its legs fold so that it’s fairly compact in storage or transit, but it’s bulkier and about twice as heavy as the Ooni Koda 12.

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If you want the versatility of making pizzas using wood, charcoal, or gas, this large multifuel model is our favorite option. Just know that those fuels are inherently more difficult and messier to use than gas and do not add flavor to quick-cooking foods such as pizza. You need to cut your wood to size, but the tray-style chamber for burning wood and charcoal is the largest of the ovens we tested and is easy to access. The cooking surface, which measures 18 inches wide by 18 inches long, is about 5 inches wider than the cooking surfaces of other models we tested. A chimney adds bulk but helpfully directs smoke out of the oven without getting in the user’s eyes. This oven can also be used to slow-roast meats and can run on wood pellets with the purchase of an additional attachment.

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This fairly compact oven fits 12-inch pizzas and is a good choice for people who like cooking with wood, charcoal, or gas and want to move their pizza oven with relative ease. We loved that the tall chimney—which is essential for wood and charcoal cooking—can be removed and replaced with a small cap while using propane and when transporting or storing the oven. The gas flame, which is located at the rear of the oven and arcs over the stone, is powerful and easy to ignite. Pizzas had nicely melted and bubbly cheese on top while the sides and bottom of the crusts had good char and spotting. Wood must be cut down to size, and maintaining the heat with both wood and charcoal is messy and requires some vigilance. But if you enjoy both the challenges and potential rewards of using those fuels, including the ability to slow-roast foods, this model is fun and easier to use than others we’ve tested.

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Compact and reliable, this gas-fired oven is our recommendation for most home cooks who want to cook excellent pizzas outdoors quickly and easily. A gas flame located at the rear of the oven heated up the baking stone relatively evenly while also heating the inside of the oven. An angled heat deflector on the roof of the oven helped direct heat to the tops of the pizzas as they baked. It was easy to ignite the flame and adjust the heat using a dial located at the rear of the oven.

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The convenience of gas plus the flavor of charcoal make this grill a worthwhile (albeit pricey) upgrade from the basic model. Built around our favorite 22.5-inch Weber kettle is a roomy, easy-to-roll cart (much sturdier than the kettle’s legs) with a pullout charcoal storage bin; a lid holder; and, most significant, a gas ignition system that lights coals with the push of a button—no chimney starter needed.

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A good grill has gotten even better. The Weber Spirit II E-310 put a crisp, brown crust on burgers and steaks and rendered tender pulled pork with real smoky flavor. Weber kept the heavy-duty cookbox of thick cast aluminum and enameled steel with just one narrow vent across the back, which makes it easy to maintain steady heat and distribute smoke. The angle of the lid when open helped channel smoke away from our faces. Among the changes: The burner design was tweaked to increase the evenness of heating from front to back on the grill surface, and Weber now offers a 10-year warranty on the ignition system. One side table now folds down for easier storage, an open cart with a handy shelf replaces the cabinet, the grease tray is easier to access, and the grill rolls on two larger wheels rather than the previous model’s four smaller ones. The control knobs now have a red line indicating their position, making them more intuitive, and notches in the Flavorizer bars give a view of the flames.   More on this test

Our favorite flat-top grill was great to cook on, easy to use, and simple to clean. It made evenly cooked and thoroughly browned food and had the second largest cooktop of the grills we tested, which easily accommodated enough food to feed a crowd. The grill had distinct hotter and cooler zones, making it possible to successfully sear burgers and gently toast burger buns at the same time. It also had four wheels for easy transport, two well-positioned side tables that made it convenient to transfer food to and from the cooktop, and a large opening and drip cup at the back of the grill that made for easy cleanup. Two of the wheels can be locked to ensure that the grill stays in place while it’s being used. While it did emerge from its packaging covered in a sticky factory coating, this came off easily as we seasoned the cooktop.

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