The Winners of Our Geekiest Tests
Understanding why some products win our tests and others don't is the most challenging part of our jobs—but it’s also often the most fun. To figure out the secret behind robot vacuums, Lauren stuck each one in a storage closet, dusted the floor with flour, and took long-exposure photographs of their movements. Some moved in methodical grids while others bounced around randomly and left behind lots of debris. We apply that same rigor when testing knives, too. We’ve looked at them under a microscope at MIT and done days-long temperature tests of French press coffee makers. Read on for more information on the winners of some of our geekiest, most illuminating tests.
—Kate Shannon, Senior Editor, Tastings & Testings
The most current Instant Pot multicooker is a great, easy-to-use appliance. Its flat-bottomed interior pot allows for even searing. Stay-cool handles mean you can easily move the pot, even when it’s hot. The streamlined interface was easy to navigate. A “favorites” feature lets you save go-to recipes. It has a pressure-release switch that keeps your hand away from the hot steam when you vent the machine, and a diffuser on the vent makes the steam disperse slightly more gently. We liked that we could disable the “keep warm” function so that the food wouldn’t keep cooking once it was done. You can also program a timer to alert you after 5 or 10 minutes of natural pressure release, which saves you a trip back to the machine between cooking stages. A few quibbles: The baking function uses steam, so it’s excellent for cheesecake but not much else. The machine doesn’t have a fan to circulate the water and isn’t as accurate as a good sous vide machine, so it’s not capable of true sous vide cooking. It also couldn’t slow-cook large cuts of meat well. But none of these issues was a deal breaker for us. The pressure-cooking, rice, sautéing, yogurt, and steaming functions were all excellent and are reason enough to get a multicooker.
At nearly half the price of our favorite multicooker, this inexpensive model produced excellent pressure- and slow-cooked food but had a busier, less intuitive control panel. Instead of a digital screen, the button-heavy panel was inundated with presets, making it tougher to navigate. It made excellent white rice and pressure- and slow-cooked beef stew and baked beans, though, yielding tender meat and beans within our recipe times. This multicooker’s nonstick cooking pot was easy to clean, but browning beef took longer. It reduced liquid efficiently and sautéed well, and we liked that it had a manual start button. Overall, this more budget-friendly model produced great results.
BUY FOR $119
It takes slightly longer to say “OK, Google” than “Alexa,” and the Google Assistant is a bit less natural than Alexa in responding to casual human speech, but this device has all of Google search at its disposal for seeking answers and resources for you, and it always lets you know the source of the information being shared, providing links if you want to know more. Its gesture-only and facial recognition features are useful, and Alexa can’t do them (yet). A major downside is its user-unfriendly app. While this smart display’s function is mostly speech-based, you use the app to set up the device, add people and smart devices to the account, keep shopping lists, and other functions.
BUY FOR $119
This D-shaped robot uses a special set of lasers to scan and map the room so it can chart an efficient path through the space. Because of this, the Neato takes one-third as much time as other robots that cleaned more randomly to thoroughly cover a room. It hardly bumps into walls or furniture and easily navigates from room to room without the help of virtual gates or physical barriers. Testers loved watching this robot’s efficient, grid-pattern cleaning and liked that the robot largely steered clear of major obstacles, though it still occasionally got caught on cords or under furniture. Its unique shape allowed it to cozy up to walls and fit perfectly into corners—key spots every other robot missed.
Our winning air fryer was the first model we’ve tested that delivers on its promise to offer an extra-large capacity. Though it’s only a foot tall, this drawer-style model was large enough to fit four chicken cutlets or two 15-ounce bags of frozen french fries, cooking everything to crispy, golden perfection. We were even able to cook a whole 4-pound chicken in it. A quick 2-minute preheat ensured that the interior was hot when we added food. The wide drawer-style basket was easy to remove and insert—and our hands were safeguarded from the heating element—and its sturdy handle allowed us to shake its contents for easy redistribution. Intuitive digital controls (including a simple knob to set the time and temperature) were brightly lit and easy to operate. This fryer is a great option for a family of four or anyone who is looking for more cooking space without adding much bulk.
While this air fryer’s digital controls weren’t quite as intuitive as those of our favorite models, it was still easy to set the time and temperature once we got the hang of the multiple buttons. It cooked foods quickly, and its display was bright, large, and easy to read. Its drawer and automatic shutoff were a boon to safety, and its nonstick interior was easy to clean. Its small capacity wouldn’t work for a crowd, but it cooked our recipes for two and small batches of frozen fries without issue.
Certified by the SCAA, the updated version of our old favorite (the KBT 741, now also $299) meets time and temperature guidelines with utter consistency. As a result, it produces a “smooth,” “velvety” brew. It’s also intuitive to use. The carafe lost some heat after 2 hours but still kept the coffee above 150 degrees.
This processor had a sharp blade with great coverage. It turned out crisply cut vegetables and nuts and fluffy parsley. Its strong motor blended hummus and pesto with minimal scraping, and its small feeding tube allowed us to slowly add oil for fantastic mayonnaise.
This thick, insulated pot was as simple to use as a traditional glass press, but it kept coffee hotter much longer. It’s also sturdier, with a round, comfortable handle. It took top honors in our tasting, producing coffee that tasters called “rich,” “rounded,” “nutty,” and “full-bodied.”
Like our favorite highly recommended full-size Dutch oven, this smaller pot’s light-colored interior and low, straight sides allowed us to easily monitor browning, and its large looped handles made it easy to move, even when filled with 4 pounds of short ribs. It had excellent heat retention, and French fries emerged golden brown and crispy. The one drawback? Its shorter stature meant that a pile of short ribs were slightly cramped; however, the end result was still excellent.
BUY FOR $370
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.
This mixer aced nearly every test, with the exception of the high-hydration pizza dough, flawlessly completing everything from the most basic of tasks (such as whipping two egg whites) to making enough frosting for a three-layer cake. The speed controls and tilt-head lever were straightforward and simple to operate, and the bowl and attachments were easy to put on and take off. We do wish that the bowl had a handle and that the price (about $250) was a bit more relative to the mixer's size (the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer is about $230); however, if you want a smaller machine, this is a great option.
All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.