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Wearable Timers

Published January 2016

How we tested

An extra minute of cooking time can spell disaster for a dish. Timers that hang from a lanyard around your neck or clip to a pocket allow you to move freely around the house while still tracking the progress of your recipe. Our longtime favorite from Polder is compact and reliable, but it has a flaw: The small crevices around each of its small buttons trap food. Could we find a timer that matched its performance but was easier to clean? To find out, we rounded up five new wearable models (all between about $20.00 and $35.00), including one multievent model capable of tracking three times at once. After checking that all models were perfectly accurate against an online atomic clock, we assigned them to a team of test cooks for two weeks of intensive kitchen use. In addition to evaluating the timers’ ease of use, digital displays, audio alerts, and any additional features, our panel evaluated the comfort and security of the clips and lanyards.

All of the timers have clear digital displays and audible beeps that sounded whenever we pressed their buttons or when the timer finished, but they weren’t all easy to use. Five models had rows of numbered buttons, allowing us to quickly type in the desired time down to the exact second. Setting a model with click-through hour, minute, and second buttons took nearly three times as long. When we’re adding just a minute or two of cooking time, 30 seconds of fumbling is far too much. But that wasn’t our only criticism: Those buttons went up but not down, so we had to clear out the time and click up from zero again if we overshot the desired setting.

Although a functional and easy-to-use countdown timer was our primary objective, a stopwatch (count up) is useful for timing incremental mixing tasks. One model had only one setting—a basic timer—and our testers missed the versatility of the clock and stopwatch settings. Four other models boasted all three settings, and on most of them we could quickly toggle from one mode to another by pressing a button or sliding over a small plastic tab. The one exception was the multievent timer. Its three time displays are stacked in a single digital frame, with start/stop and mode buttons on the sides and several columns of buttons on the front of the model. With so much to look at and so many buttons to press, the learning curve was too steep to justify its use for people who rarely monitor more than one dish at a time.

Finally, we considered the wearability of the timers. Our testers hated the shape and design of the two clip-on models. Their clips were difficult to attach, they felt big and blocky (and tugged at lightweight clothing), and they fell off even when we walked slowly. The other four models performed much better. Their lanyards (all at least 34 inches around) were long enough to slip overhead, and the slim, rectangular timers could be comfortably tucked inside a pocket. The best lanyards were woven into a soft, flat shape that sat comfortably against our necks.

In the end, one model jumped ahead of our old favorite, thanks in large part to a smooth, water-resistant material that is easy to clean and keeps the timer safe from wet hands and spills. It also has a neat feature: Pressing any button will silence the alarm and trigger a count-up feature that records the time elapsed before you’re able to check your food. From now on, we’ll be stocking the ThermoWorks TimeStick, which combines the versatility, portability, and easy-to-clean construction we were after. Plus, it’s exceptionally easy to use.


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.