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By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2012

Graters

Published May 2012

How we tested

The last time we looked at graters, we selected a classic four-sided box design sporting the usual large and medium holes, a slicing blade, and pinhole-style bumps for fine grating. However, we can’t even remember a time when we used this (or any) box grater’s slicing blade, and for fine grating, we always turn to the super-sharp etched holes of our former winning rasp-style grater.

We got to thinking: Does it really make sense to buy a tool with as many as three out of four functions that you never even use? We decided to revisit the category, selecting nine contenders priced from $12.99 to $35. Holding out the possibility that something extraordinary in a box grater might still compel us to want one, we included a few standard four-sided models. We also singled out two flat paddles and designs with just two or three sides. Some folded, twisted, or flattened shut, and many came with attachable containers for capturing shreds. Our criteria: a sturdy tool that could easily produce intact shreds of everything from soft and hard cheeses to carrots and potatoes on its large holes. But if the grater included a side for fine grating, we wanted this plane to vie with our rasp-style grater, creating fine wisps of Parmesan or ginger instead of just trapping the food in its holes. If it did away with the superfluous slicing blade, all the better.

Sizing Up the Situation

We began by shredding 1-pound blocks of mozzarella on the largest holes of the graters to see how fast each would finish the job without letting the cheese ball up or shear off in crumbles and quickly made an important discovery: A generous-size grating plane mattered more than the sharpness of the grater’s teeth. This was particularly evident in the bigger of the two paddle models, which boasted larger-than-average holes and a grating surface that demolished the block of cheese in less than two minutes, producing long, perfect strips.

While the grating surface on one box model, a remake of our former winner, was a good size, an unfortunate new design twist put a snag in its ability to shred: holes that open in two directions to enable grating upward and downward. According to the manufacturer, this innovation should “cut the grating time in half,” but it left us with cheese crumbles instead of shreds. We got much better results with this tool by sticking to grating down, with gravity.

Design flaws in other models also impeded efficiency. One foldable model refused to stay unfolded. Another, which opened like a fan, rested on a base that walked and wobbled on the counter, thwarting our ability to grate. A tall, slender two-sided grater was hopelessly prone to tipping over—a deal breaker, since grating is a potentially hazardous task, and a grater needs first and foremost not to budge. Some of these nontraditional designs sported absurdly narrow grating surfaces that prolonged shredding time and had smaller capacities that forced us to constantly stop and off-load the shreds.

This test showed us that we preferred plainer designs with uncomplicated features: comfortable handles that eased the repetitive motion of grating and wide, rubber-lined bases or feet that kept the grater securely anchored to the work surface.

Stamped or Etched?

The next contest: grating carrots and potatoes. With these hard ingredients, the most critical feature turned out to be hole design. Grater holes come in one of two styles: stamped or etched. Stamped designs have thicker, more rigid grating surfaces that didn’t budge when we pressed firmly against them in an effort to produce thick, uniform shreds. Etched graters, made by corroding thin, flexible steel with a caustic salt called ferric chloride, have super-sharp teeth that indent just enough to snag foods—and they posed the same danger to thumbs and knuckles. Their thin surfaces also bent with a slight press of our fingers, resisting the hard, dense produce so that the vegetables bounced away, making less contact and resulting in shorter, paper-thin shreds that practically disappeared in cooking. In this test, the stamped surface of the big paddle grater had a definite edge over the flimsier etched surfaces of our other top contenders.

That said, etched surfaces did have the upper hand when it came to grating on the fine holes. Just as they do on our favorite rasp-style grater, the razor-sharp blades effortlessly wore down chunks of Parmesan and knobby fresh ginger. Meanwhile, the multisided stamped designs had the usual useless small pinholes that trapped more shreds than they created.

The Grater Good

The more we considered it, the more we were drawn to the paddle grater. With its sharp, extra-large holes and whopping 22 square inches of inflexible stamped grating surface (the second biggest in the lineup), it whizzed through cheese, potatoes, and carrots faster than any other model, and its rubber-bottomed feet ensured that it stayed put at any angle—a boon for shorter testers, who appreciated the adjustable leverage point. Its bent legs hooked around the lip of large and medium bowls, and without the enclosed tower design we never had to worry about unloading shreds. Another big plus: Its flat design stored easily, even slipping into a jammed 3-inch-high kitchen drawer. We can’t use it for making fine wisps of ginger or Parmesan, but the rasp-style grater we already own fulfills those functions. At $35, our winning grater isn’t cheap, but we think its superior performance is worth every penny. In fact, it’s the only grater in our lineup that we highly recommend.

Methodology

We tested nine graters purchased online.

Ease of Use

We assessed how comfortable a grater was to grasp and whether it had a stable base that made grating feel safe. We also evaluated how easy each model was to clean by hand and to store.

Performance

We shredded mozzarella, carrots, and potatoes on the large holes of each grater, and ginger and Parmesan on the fine holes of the models that had them. We gave highest marks to tools that grated these items quickly and easily and with minimal waste, producing long, thick shreds on the large holes that held up in carrot cake and potato pancakes, and fine wisps on the small holes.

Durability

We ran dishwasher-safe graters through the dishwasher 20 times; cleaned hand wash–only graters in hot, soapy water 20 times; jammed them into nearly full kitchen drawers; and rinsed and left them overnight without drying before inspecting them for rust, dents, and warping.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*