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Published August 2013
Update: April 2014
Bragard, maker of our winning chef's apron, has changed the model number and width of the apron we tested. We purchased the new version and feel it is an acceptable replacement. The apron looks the same, and is now called the Bragard Travail Bib Apron, model number 7590-0256. Although the manufacturer's website says that the apron is now slightly narrower (35 inches wide to the old model's 39 inches) we measured the new apron and it was still 39 inches.

How we tested

We waded through a lot of ruffles, pleats, and chintz—and fronts reading “Kiss the Cook”—to round up seven no-nonsense, utilitarian cooks’ aprons in different materials and lengths, priced from $6 to $69. Since grease and other kinds of splatters often land above the waist, we stuck with bib-style aprons. Styles ranged from the most basic, no-pockets, nonadjustable shapes to feature-laden designs such as one that included a towel in its own carrying loop and a built-in corduroy potholder.

We enlisted seven test cooks, including men and women of different heights and girths, to try them all on and assess their comfort and fit. Then we assigned each cook one apron to wear for a week in the kitchen. We got the aprons back, along with an earful about what worked and what didn’t. While making a fudgy brownie pie, we saw the advantage of the widest apron of the lot, a 39-inch-wide cotton/linen combination that wrapped completely around all testers and offered handy coverage for chocolate splatters.

Last came our stain-making test: a dousing of yellow mustard, soy sauce, chocolate, and coffee that we let soak into each apron overnight. Not everything came out in the wash. In fact, our winner was the only apron to emerge completely clean in one wash. This was a nice addition to its other advantages of comfort and coverage. With an adjustable neck strap, long strings that wrap around the back to tie in front, and a chest area reinforced with an extra layer of fabric, it was soft but rugged. Its look is pure practicality—which suits us just fine.

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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.