Pastry/Basting Brushes

Published February 2010

How we tested

A few years ago, we recommended our favorite pastry brush for its ability to handle a range of tasks, from spreading thick barbecue sauce to delicately painting egg wash on pastry. We chose eight new pastry brushes, both natural and silicone, and went back into the kitchen to see if any came close.

We tested these models on a variety of tasks: painting runny egg wash on dumplings (folds and crevices included), basting grilled chicken with barbecue sauce, oiling a hot pan, and brushing crumbs from a cake before frosting it. Brushes with thin silicone bristles had advantages, reaching difficult crannies and spreading egg wash easily, but they struggled to pick up heavier barbecue sauce, which slid right off. Silicone models with substantial bristles lapped up thick sauces but handled delicate pastry like a bull in a china shop. Natural boar’s-hair brushes whisked away loose cake crumbs, but that’s all they were good for. As soon as anything wet and heavy hit, bristles clumped. When brushing a hot pan, they shriveled, blackened, and broke. (Silicone bristles handled heat with aplomb.)

A good pastry brush has a comfortable handle that’s easy to control at all angles. In our testing, metal handles became slippery when splashed with butter or egg wash. Flat wood and cumbersome plastic handles were less comfortable to use than slimmer, rounded wood and textured nonslip silicone handles. The collars (called ferrules) that surround bristles are important, too: On silicone models they are a single molded piece of silicone, a design that prevents bristles from falling out or food from falling in. But natural boar-bristle brushes are bound by separate ferrules, which often leave strands behind and create a trap for food. Innovative bristles on two models we tested featured perforated center flaps that worked like a child’s bubble wand to hold liquid—but buyer beware: One pastry brush had a stiff central flap that resembled a net, trapping all sauces and never letting go. A better option is the flap on our winner, which separated into three parts, flexing to release liquid. Finally, all the models lay flat except our winning brush—its gently tilted head lifted bristles off the countertop, and this angle also helped us maneuver around pastry corners and chicken wings.

After each test, we ran the brushes through the dishwasher and sniffed. Boar bristles held scents longest (especially after garlic butter), but surprisingly, even some silicone models resisted coming clean. No one wants cake to taste like garlic bread, so this was a major sticking point. Only three silicone brushes were scent-free.

Although manufacturers have released many new models since our last testing, after exhaustive brushing, basting, heat, and smell tests, our original winner once again proved that it has all the right stuff. Its angled head, comfortable handle, light weight, and innovative perforated flaps helped it excel at every task we threw at it. This brush can handle heavy basting and delicate brushing with equal aplomb.

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The Results


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.