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Vegetable Peelers

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2012

How we tested

Maybe the wartime cartoonists who depicted military KP duty weren’t directly commenting on how punishing it can be to peel vegetables with a lousy tool, but the images of grimacing soldiers surrounded by piles of potatoes suggest the same point: that dull, inefficient peelers make a mountain of tiresome work out of a simple task.

A good peeler should be fast and smooth, shaving off just enough of the skin to avoid the need for repeat trips over the same section but not so much that the blade digs deeply into the flesh and wastes food. Whatever the task, the peeler should handle bumps and curves with ease and without clogging or losing its edge. And when the work is done, your hand shouldn’t feel worse for the wear.

Those were the standards I kept in mind as I rounded up vegetable peelers to test: 10 models (whittled down from an original roster of 16 after preliminary tests) of various shapes, materials, and prices ($3.50 all the way up to $18). My goal was to see if anything could best our old favorite, the Messermeister Pro-Touch Fine Edge Swivel Peeler. One by one, I put each peeler through produce boot camp, subjecting the tools to lightweight tasks like potatoes, carrots, and apples, as well as more challenging terrain like gnarly celery root, tough-skinned butternut squash, delicate ripe tomatoes, and knobby ginger. I also ran a precision test by pulling each blade across pieces of Parmesan cheese and chocolate, noting whether the peelers chipped at and stumbled along the blocks or if they pulled off long, elegant curls.

By the end of testing, all but three of the peelers had passed muster. Even better, we found two models that tackled every task effortlessly, including a dark horse that narrowly eked out the win.

Mind the Gap

Peelers are simple tools—basically evolved paring knives with double blades—and with the exception of a few innovative designs, most models can be classified in one of two categories based on the orientation of the blade to the handle. On “straight” peelers, the blade extends directly out from the handle; “Y” peelers look like wishbones, with a blade running perpendicular to the handle. In practice, they function similarly: You can both whittle away from yourself and pare toward yourself.

Right off the bat, I discovered that, with one exception, the type of material used to make the blade wasn’t a tipping point for how a peeler performed. While the lone ceramic blade had dulled and discolored by the end of testing, the other nine stainless or carbon steel blades came away more or less unscathed. So what accounted for why some models removed peels with ease while others struggled? After closer scrutiny, I realized that it boiled down to a handful of subtle design distinctions.

First: the distance between the peeler’s blade and the bridge that arches across it, holding it at each end. Ideally, this gap measured about an inch at its highest point; any narrower and the peels got stuck in the opening, forcing testers to tediously stop and off-load the waste by hand. The OXO was a good example of this, as its 1/2-inch opening clogged frequently. Worse, the space on the Chef’n peeler was so tight that chocolate curls shattered and vegetable peels didn’t lift away. Conversely, models with wider apertures discarded peels easily but lacked leverage and control.

Cutting Edge Design

Another significant design detail lies in how the blade of a vegetable peeler is constructed. The reason peelers have two parallel blades is that the leading half of the blade—the one that travels first as you pull or push the peeler over the food—acts as a guide for the cutting edge that follows.

This “guide” blade doesn’t cut: It just holds the cutting blade at a fixed angle and depth, so it skims along taking off the peel, rather than bouncing off the top of the food or digging too deeply and sticking. The entire peeler blade rotates to follow the curves of the food, so the guide and blade stay in the same relationship to the surface of the food, peeling consistently.

However, depending on the relative positions of the guide and blade, some peelers, such as the Calphalon model, dug in too deeply, taking off too much food with each stroke, while others (the OXO and Rachael Ray models) skimmed too shallowly or bounced off, requiring many extra strokes to skin a vegetable.

Then there was the ride itself: how fluidly—or, in several cases, jerkily—the peeler moved across the surface. Not surprisingly, potatoes and carrots were smooth sailing for most models. It was the gnarly, tendril-wreathed celery root and curvy fresh ginger that weeded out the weaker peelers, but we didn’t understand why until we consulted Dr. Daniel Braunstein, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He explained that a good guide should reduce friction and, in turn, surface drag. But the most important distinction he pointed out was that two of our top three peelers sported a raised ridge running along the front of the guide. This ridge has two purposes: It reinforces the guide’s stiffness, and because it protrudes, it means that less of the guide’s surface will be in contact with the food, allowing the peeler to glide like butter.

One of those two ridged models was our all-around winner. It's a featherweight (3/8 of an ounce), but surprisingly sturdy, and its razor-sharp blade effortlessly skinned anything we threw at it—and at $3.50, it’s a steal. Alternatively, for those who prefer a straight peeler, our former favorite followed close behind.

Methodology

 

Performance

We measured time and average peel thickness as we pared potatoes and carrots. We also peeled bumpy celery root, tough butternut squash, ripe tomatoes, and knobby ginger root and made Parmesan shavings and chocolate curls. Peelers rated highest if they were smooth and efficient in all tests, with minimal food waste.

Ease of Use

We rated each peeler on how easy and comfortable it was to use on a variety of foods, averaging the impressions of testers with varying hand sizes.

Design

We considered weight, shape, material, and other factors that contributed to comfort, efficiency, and durability. As a final test, we compared the peelers we’d used in the testings with new versions of each tool while peeling apples, assessing whether they had lost sharpness over the course of testing.

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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*
Best Buy
Recommended

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*