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All-Purpose Whisks

Published June 2012

How we tested

Judging by what we’ve seen in most kitchens, nobody has just one whisk. Fat or skinny, tapered or short, with wires that twist at odd angles or sport a colorful silicone coating, there seems to be a whisk for every facet of cooking. Has the market overreached? Can’t one all-purpose whisk tackle everything from whipping cream to blending a silky pan sauce? 

We began by placing our bets on skinny whisks. In the past, we’ve found that slim, tapered French-style whisks and “skinny balloons” work best at getting into the corners of a saucepan, where wide balloon whisks can’t reach. As for whipping air into egg whites and heavy cream, a skinny whisk is nearly as handy as a fat balloon, provided your arm can sustain enough speed. So we rounded up 10 stainless steel French models and skinny balloons, priced from $2.49 to $29, and tried them out on these tasks. 

Sure enough, most of our contenders whipped 1 cup of cream to stiff peaks in a nonfatiguing two minutes or less and brought four egg whites to full foam even more quickly. But some whisks were clearly better at incorporating air than others. The more wires a whisk has, the more streams of air it pulls through liquid, creating foam. Our top performers had at least 10 wires; whisks with seven or eight wires took up to 30 seconds longer to whip cream and egg whites into stiff peaks. The best whisks also had wire loops that were thin and flexible. The more flexible the wires, the more quickly we could pull the whisk through the thickening mixture. The real drags were heavy whisks with eight thick, stiff wires, which fatigued testers’ forearms as they slowly churned.

Wire thickness varied greatly from whisk to whisk: 1.16 to 2.25 millimeters. Thicker, stiffer wires worked best with pan sauce: They were able to break up browned bits in the pan and incorporate them into the sauce. Whisks with very thin, flexible wires tended to brush over the browned bits without scraping them up. Some heft and stiffness in the wires also helped blend heavy cookie dough and custard as it thickened, plus thicker wires had good shape memory, so that after even vigorous bending, they returned to their proper form. Moderately thin wires (1.3 to 1.4 millimeters) were best able to address both ends of the whisking spectrum: They tackled pan sauce and cookie dough as efficiently as thick, stiff whisks, and they churned cream and egg whites almost as quickly as did those with the thinnest, most flexible wires. 

Overall whisk length was also important. When whisking and deglazing pan sauce in a 12-inch skillet, we found that the 11- and 12-inch whisks kept our hands safely away from the heat. Longer whisks felt more proportional in large mixing bowls, although they did have an annoying tendency to flip out of a medium bowl if we left their handles resting on the bowl’s edge for a moment to attend to another task. The 10- and 11-inch whisks stayed perched, even in small mixing bowls. 

Whisking is repetitive and taxing. Throughout our triceps-building whisking sessions, we began to see the virtue in a comfortable handle. The ergonomic rubber handle on one contender made it feel like an extension of a hand. Too-slender handles made a few minutes of cream whipping feel like a lifetime, and handles with metal loops at their ends (for hanging) felt awkward when we gripped them as we reached into tall saucepans.

With its slightly bulbous, rubbery handle, our winner was big enough not to get lost in skillets and all but the largest mixing bowls. Its moderately thick wires could scrape the browned bits in pan sauce and also whip heavy cream quickly, and its light overall weight made using it effortless. It was also the second-cheapest whisk we tested, making its range of abilities an even better bargain.

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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*