It's Soup and Stew Season

As the temperature drops and fall marches toward winter, a bowl of chicken noodle or vegetable soup is a great way to warm up.

While you can make many soups using common kitchen tools, high-quality equipment can help streamline the process. I reach for my Dutch oven all fall and winter long—it’s substantial enough to hold and distribute heat evenly without being unbearably heavy. Plus, its light-colored interior makes it easy to monitor browning when I sear meat or sauté onions and aromatics. I also reach for our favorite blender to get silky-smooth pureed soup at the push of a button. These test kitchen–approved tools will help you achieve soup success every time.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

This perfect, pricey pot bested the competition again. It was substantial enough to hold and distribute heat evenly without being unbearably heavy. The light-colored interior combined with low, straight sides gave us good visibility and made it easy to monitor browning and thermometer position. The broad cooking surface saved us time since we could cook more food at once. The lid was smooth and easy to clean. This pot is expensive, but it was exceptionally resistant to damage.

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With an exceptionally broad cooking surface and low, straight sides, this 7-quart pot had the same advantageous shape as the Le Creuset. It was heavier but not prohibitively so. The looped handles were comfortable to hold, though slightly smaller than ideal. The rim and lid chipped cosmetically when we repeatedly slammed the lid onto the pot, so it's slightly less durable than our winner.

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This blender’s two speeds were well calibrated and were all we needed to bounce from task to task with ease. It was the easiest to maneuver—light and slim, with a grippy body. It had a whisk for perfect whipped cream and a blending cup that contained splatter. We downgraded it a wee bit for leaving small, precise bits of kale in its (still perfectly drinkable) smoothie.

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This quiet, high-powered blender has simple, intuitive controls. As for its blending capability, it was top-notch. It was able to produce fine-textured foods without incorporating excess air, thanks to its narrow blender jar. The tamper accessory was helpful when blending thicker foods, and the blender’s 7-year warranty insured our investment. It’s tall, at 20.25 inches, so it can’t be stored on a counter beneath a standard 18-inch-tall cabinet, and its narrow jar made scraping out its contents a minor challenge.

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With a large, tall-sided, highly perforated strainer and a well-controlled release valve, this bottom-draining model defatted the most stock in every test. And its detachable canister made it the easiest separator to clean by hand. It did have hard-to-read measurement lines, and superficial cracks developed around the drainage hole after 10 washes and 150 times opening and closing it, though it remained leakproof.

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Everything we did with this ladle felt easy and controlled, from scooping chunky stew out of a small saucepan to reaching into a tall stockpot to collect broth. The 45-degree angle of the offset handle put our arms and wrists at a natural angle, giving us full control. The slightly shallow bowl worked well for scraping the bottom of a pot, though it was less convenient for collecting and retaining springy noodles than a deeper bowl would be.

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Testers raved about this classic wooden spoon. Light, long, and maneuverable, it kept our hands far from the heat, and its rounded, tapered handle was comfortable and easy to grip in a variety of ways as we worked. It also suited both right- and left-handed testers. The slim tip of its nicely scooped-out oval bowl was easy to maneuver under food for turning and scooping, and when angled slightly, the head provided sufficient area for scraping fond. Made of teak, the wood resisted staining or drying out, retained its color, and never became rough to touch, even after 10 cycles through the dishwasher. 

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With an ergonomic Santoprene rubber handle and a balanced, lightweight feel, this whisk was like an extension of a hand. It whipped cream and egg whites quickly, thanks to 10 wires that were thin enough to move through the liquid quickly but thick enough to push through heavy mixtures and blend pan sauces to smoothness.

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Still the best—and a bargain—after 20 years, this knife’s “super-sharp” blade was “silent” and “smooth,” even as it cut through tough squash, and it retained its edge after weeks of testing. Its textured grip felt secure for a wide range of hand sizes, and thanks to its gently rounded edges and the soft, hand-polished top spine, we could comfortably choke up on the knife for “precise,” “effortless” cuts.

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.

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This classic model was accurate and had bold, easy-to-read measurement lines that clearly corresponded to specific numbers. The handle, though small, was smooth and wide enough to be comfortable. We also liked that the glass resisted staining and was durable. Our one criticism: Using the cup properly requires crouching down and looking at the lines at eye level, which was uncomfortable for some. 

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This Microplane grabbed the top spot thanks to its great performance and its soft, grippy rubber handle that was slightly more comfortable and secure than that of our old winner. Otherwise, their grating surfaces are identical, so they both shredded cheese, zested lemons, and grated nutmeg, garlic, and ginger with ease. The Premium Classic came sharp, stayed sharp, and looked as good as new after testing. We do wish it had a wider surface so it didn’t form a trench in our cheese while grating, but it’s still the best option out there.

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With a roomy, medium-depth basket of very fine, tight, stiff mesh, this strainer removed lots of bran from whole-wheat flour and produced silky purees. A long, wide hook allowed it to sit securely on a variety of cookware, and while its rounded steel handle was a bit less comfortable than some, it was still easy to hold. This strainer’s sturdy construction makes it worth its high price: It looked as good as new even after serious abuse.

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