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Broiler-Safe 13 by 9-Inch Baking Dishes

By Cook's Illustrated Published October 2010

How we tested

Since our favorite 13 by 9-inch Pyrex dish can’t go under the broiler, we looked for one that could.

When it comes to casseroles, our favorite pan is the Pyrex Bakeware 9x13 Baking Dish. At just $8.99, this inexpensive workhorse is perfect—OK, almost perfect. Pyrex does not recommend that its oven-safe tempered glassware go under the broiler; abrupt temperature changes can cause it to crack or shatter, a condition called thermal shock. We needed an alternative with roughly the same dimensions and capacity, since many recipes are sized to fit the Pyrex, but one that could handle the heat. We gathered seven rectangular broiler-safe baking dishes, priced between $37 and $125, and cranked up the heat.

Broiler-safe baking dishes are usually made of enameled cast iron or ceramic—materials that are manufactured at temperatures far exceeding the average home broiler. We tested two enameled cast-iron dishes and five ceramic dishes, including two of porcelain, which is lighter, harder, and less porous than many other ceramics. To determine whether these dishes could withstand both prolonged exposure to high heat as well as thermal shock, we prepared Boston Baked Scrod, a dish that cooks entirely under the broiler, and Chantilly Potatoes, a recipe we finish under the broiler.

While all contenders emerged intact from the blasting heat, testing revealed a secondary problem: weight. The enameled cast-iron dishes were a challenge to maneuver, weighing 6.7 pounds and 10.5 pounds empty. Filled with several more pounds of hot Chantilly Potatoes, these dishes were tough to remove from the oven without spilling molten cream and cheese. Ordinary ceramic dishes were a little better, weighing between 4.25 and 5.1 pounds. But we preferred the lightweight porcelain dishes, averaging 3.8 pounds, which were easy to carry even when full.

Because heat comes from above during broiling, the pan’s conductivity has less effect on its cooking performance than it would if used in baking. So it came as no surprise that few differences emerged in the way fish broiled or cheese, cream, and potatoes browned in each baking dish. Instead, design and shape factored largest in a dish’s success. Oversized, shallow dishes offered so much surface area that potatoes spread too thinly, and too much liquid evaporated from the scrod. Smaller, deeper dishes left plenty of juices in the scrod, but tapering sides on one reduced its capacity, causing it to nearly overflow with Chantilly Potatoes. Dishes with flared or scalloped edges were difficult to get into with a spatula for serving.

The single most important factor, however, was the length and width of the handles. All but one of the dishes we tested had handles, though several were too small to grasp securely while wearing oven mitts. It hardly needs saying that a safe, secure grip is essential when you’re carrying a red-hot baking dish.

In the end, we preferred baking dishes that were lightweight, with large, easy-to-grip handles and straight sides, and we hoped not to have to spend too much. Sure, we’ll keep using our basic, inexpensive Pyrex, but when it’s time to turn up the heat, we’ve got a new favorite. At $37.49, our winning baking dish has it all.

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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*