Innovative Pot Holders

Published June 2015

How we tested

Every home kitchen should have a few good potholders. We saw several new designs trying to improve on the classic cotton square, and wondered: Could any raise the bar for protection and ease of use?

To find out, we pitted five new potholders against new copies of our old winner, a classic terry-cloth square called the Ritz Basic Potholder; the six ranged in price from $7.99 to $19.98 for a set. The new designs included two all-silicone models: One had a special woven grid pattern designed to improve flexibility and strength, while the other was a set of dainty pinch grips that covered just the tips of your fingers. The third and fourth potholders used both silicone and cotton; one was a standard size and the other a slimmer hourglass shape. The fifth and final new model was a small oval shape made of cotton.

To assess our six potholders, large- and small-handed testers moved hot oven racks and loaded, rotated, and unloaded full baking sheets, cake pans, and pie plates. We also maneuvered 6.5-quart Dutch ovens filled with hot water in and out of 500-degree ovens and did the same with screaming-hot stainless-steel skillets, first empty and then loaded with sizzling whole chickens. We stained each potholder with tomato soup, left it overnight, and then washed and dried each five times (per manufacturer specifications), after which we assessed staining, wear, and shrinkage.

We looked first at the most important factor: how well the potholders protected us from the heat. Size was a deciding issue here. Two of the three smaller holders weren’t sufficiently protective. Two were too small; one was small but well designed. The sole successful smaller design was an oval, with two small pockets for fingers. At 7 by 5 inches, it was trim, but perfectly tailored to protect hands large and small.

The three larger potholders—our old winner, the all-silicone square, and the standard size silicone and cotton combo—ranged from 7 to 10 inches tall and from 7 to 8 inches wide. They were big enough to cover our hands, but only the combo model was fully protective. Here it came down to material. The combo potholder was thicker and made of layered cotton and silicone topped with an additional layer of silicone bars that disseminated the heat effectively. The all-silicone square and the old winner, made of thin cotton, were sufficient for cakes, cookies, and the like (all baked at 400 degrees or less), but for anything hotter, they were too flimsy.

After protection, we looked at the maneuverability of each potholder. The all-silicone square was an absolute wrecking ball. It was so stiff and floppy that it smashed cookies left and right, belly flopped into cake batter, and pulverized pie crusts. The old winning cotton square and the new cotton and silicone hourglass-shaped holder weren’t as destructive, but they were still too unstructured and bulky. We had to constantly tuck them out of the way or else they also ended up in the food. The silicone pinch grips were actually quite deft at rotating pans in the oven but were too small to hold hot things safely, and they put testers’ hands in such a pinched position that it was impossible to hold anything heavier than a pound or so.

The two most nimble potholders were also the two most protective. The trim, smart design of one model was incredibly maneuverable because it had zero extra fabric to bunch up and get in the way. And its small pockets covered our fingers but still allowed us to nimbly pinch, pull, and turn. As when using a folded dish towel, we had to be mindful when using these because there’s no extra buffer, but testers appreciated their agility.

Our overall favorite potholder had a deep, secure pocket that gave testers excellent control along with layers of cotton and silicone and silicone bars that kept testers’ hands safe and cool. For this combination of full protection and maneuverability (plus the handy magnet and loop, and its durability in washing tests), it was our winning potholder.

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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.