Our longtime winner excelled, with uniform, steady heating and good visibility inside the saucepan to monitor browning. Its cup-shaped stay-cool handle was easy to grip, and a helper handle provided another grabbing point when the pan was full. Even after brutal whacking on concrete, this model emerged with only tiny dents inside and one slight dent on the bottom, and it still sat flat on the counter.
This budget-friendly pot aced nearly every test: White rice was fluffy, meatballs were browned, and French fries were crispy. We liked its light interior, which allowed us to easily monitor browning. Though its helper handles were a bit smaller and the pot was nearly a pound heavier than the Le Creuset, it was still fairly easy to lift and maneuver. The Cuisinart’s smaller size and cooking surface did mean that a full batch of short ribs were a bit too snug and we could fit fewer meatballs. Overall, though, this is an excellent Dutch oven at a bargain price.
Our longtime favorite skillet still beats all newcomers, with a clean design that includes no unnecessary frills. We appreciate the wide cooking surface and low, flaring sides that encourage excellent browning and evaporation; a steel handle that stays cool on the stovetop and won't rotate in your hand; and an overall weight and balance that hit the sweet spot between sturdiness and maneuverable lightness. It resisted warping and withstood thermal shock and outright abuse with nary a scratch or dent. Its three layers of cladding, with aluminum sandwiched by steel, make for deep, uniform browning.
The shorter version of our favorite 12-inch tongs, this model easily picked up foods of all shapes and sizes—from dainty blueberries to a hefty jar of salsa—and was extremely comfortable to operate. The uncoated, scalloped stainless-steel tips allowed us a precise grip, making it especially easy to lift and arrange thinly sliced fruit, and the tongs' locking mechanism was smooth and intuitive.
This thin, lightweight plastic model was easy to hold and lift but was also stable on the counter thanks to its grippy rubber sides. It’s dishwasher-safe, and while it got a bit scratched by the end of testing, it was otherwise intact, resisting warping, cracking, or staining and retaining no odors. Testers liked cutting on its textured plastic surface and appreciated that one of its sides had a small trench for collecting juices from roasts or wet foods.
With all-over tiny perforations that don’t allow small foods to escape, our longtime favorite colander has a draining performance that remains unmatched. Its 1 1/8 inches of ground clearance was enough to keep nearly all the drained pasta from getting hit with backwash. The model cleans up nicely in the dishwasher, and its handles are slim but still substantial enough to grip easily.
Classic shape provided "plenty of room" in steak and chicken tests, but small handle made pan feel heavy when lifted. Eggs stuck "considerably" and took "tons of scrubbing" to clean the first time around but barely stuck and cleaned up easily the second time. Corn bread was crusty, with perfect release.
Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean. They can be used in the microwave and the oven. While the bowls in this set were the only ones to break when dropped, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.
"There's a reason we have 20 or 30 of these in this kitchen," said a tester; others agreed, calling it "Old Faithful." They found it notably sharp, with "great maneuverability." In sum: "This is exactly what a knife is supposed to be."
Update: November 2013 Since our story appeared, the price of our winning Victorinox Swiss Army 8" Chef's Knife with Fibrox Handle has risen from $27.21 to about $39.95. We always report the price we paid for products when we bought them for testing; however, product prices are subject to change.
Everything prepared in this sturdy, warp-resistant sheet cooked appropriately and evenly. Best of all, our new favorite is a few bucks cheaper than our old winner.
Although the grid pattern on this rack is slightly larger than on the other two models, it’s reinforced with an extra support bar that runs perpendicular to the three main bars. It had a touch more wiggle room in the baking sheets, but it kept pace with the other racks during recipe and durability testing.
These precut parchment sheets, which come in a large plastic zipper-lock bag, are the only ones in our lineup that are stored completely flat. They're also sized just right to slide easily into a standard rimmed baking sheet, although we did have to use two overlapping sheets when rolling jelly roll cakes into coils. Their superior convenience made them the runaway favorite. Don't let the purchase price distract you: The per-sheet cost falls squarely in the middle of our lineup.
Comfortable from any angle, this spatula boasts a thin front edge and moderately flexible head with a slight upward tilt that kept food secure. It melted slightly at 380 degrees, despite the manufacturers' claims that it was heat resistant to 430 degrees.
Our favorite pot holders are fashioned as pockets with a sheet of silicone on one side, a panel of cotton fabric on the back, and soft cotton lining in between. The silicone layer offered excellent protection from the heat. Our hands never became too hot during kitchen tests and we were able to hold a 350-degree cast-iron skillet comfortably for 23 seconds. They were also flexible, which allowed testers to feel like they had control when maneuvering hot pans. Although both the silicone and cotton fabric remained stained after our durability tests, it didn't shrink or warp. We liked that it is machine-washable.
This model made juicy and tender chicken, turkey, pork, and chili, and caramelized onions were evenly cooked. Testers liked its bright, intuitive control panel, with tactile buttons and beeps that alert you to changes. Cool-to-the-touch handles were a bonus.