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Weber Gourmet BBQ System

Published September 2011

How we tested

Since many grilling gadgets promise more than they deliver, we wondered if we courted disappointment with the new Weber Gourmet BBQ System. Designed to expand on our longtime favorite charcoal grill, its mechanics are simple: Replace the cooking grate on the Weber 22 1/2-inch One-Touch or Performer Grill with a stainless steel grate ($29) featuring a removable inner 12-inch circle and insert any of three cast-iron attachments: a crosshatched sear grate, a griddle, or a wok While the sear grate ($29 or $54.99 with the stainless steel grate grate) created beautiful, professional-looking crosshatch grill marks on large cuts of meat, the widely spaced pattern was far less discernible on smaller cuts and burgers.

Furthermore, inserting the sear grate into the grate once the coals were hot was challenging; a few times it slipped into the fire. We recommend assembling the two components on a flat surface before placing them over hot coals.

The griddle attachment allowed us to get great crust on delicate proteins such as scallops and salmon, and eliminated the sticking and tearing associated with traditional grates. It also kept vegetables nicely contained. But a solid pan bottom limits exposure to smoke flavor—and what’s the point of grilling if you don’t get good grill flavor? Unlike the sear grate, the griddle must also be removed after cooking to prevent a burned-on mess (a maneuver requiring elbow-length potholders and a trivet). If we want to prevent sticking or keep smaller items corralled, we’re better off with our favorite grill pan, whose perforated bottom allows smoke to penetrate. (Plus, it doesn’t require the purchase of a specialized grate.)

Finally, we tried the wok, preparing beef and vegetable stir-fry. Each batch seared beautifully. But when we were ready to add the vegetables, the wok had cooled, so we needed to cover the grill and wait for it to reheat. Overall the wok performed adequately, but it took more than twice as long as stir-frying indoors. Furthermore, it added no grill flavor, and its rough texture made it difficult to wipe with paper towels between batches. Last but not least, cleaning a 10-pound pan that’s hard to fit into a sink is a big chore. (The wok is the only component not available in a set with the modular grate.

We found one final fault with the Gourmet BBQ System: the stainless cooking grate isn’t as seamless as a traditional grate. Its hinges and connecting parts create areas in which any food grilled around the perimeter of an attachment can easily become lodged. These areas also make bumps that snag your spatula.

The bottom line: We might consider buying the sear plate and the griddle for the fun of it, but the wok is definitely not worth the expense.

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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*