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Dry Storage Containers

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2016

How we tested

Dry storage containers are designed to ensure that staples like flour and sugar stay fresh, dry, and safe from bugs or dust. Recently we’ve noticed lots of new containers sporting features like snap-down flaps, press-button seals, and built-in measurement levelers. Could any of these improve upon a simple plastic tub and lid? To find out, we scooped up eight models priced from $9.03 to $23.74 and had a team of test cooks and editors put them through their paces. Our ideal: a spacious, durable, and easy-to-clean container wide enough to let us dip a measuring cup into its contents and sweep a knife across the rim of the cup to level it off without spills, with a lid that seals tightly and simply.

Moisture is the enemy of dry goods, so we started by testing whether each container could keep products fresh and dry. We filled each model with a measured amount of desiccant pebbles that change color when exposed to moisture. Every product passed this test, with all of the pebbles remaining bright blue and dry after two weeks.

Next: We expect a storage container to hold a standard 5-pound bag of flour with a little extra headroom so that we can scoop without spilling. One model utterly failed (it’s from New Zealand, where “standard” bags are smaller); a few 3½- or 4-quart containers technically fit the full flour bag but with minimal space at the top. Our favorites had a 6-quart capacity.

The shape of the container makes a big difference in how easy (and neat) it is to use. Narrow, rectangular containers (and those with openings less than 7 inches across) are compact on the shelf or counter. But they have less clearance on either side of a measuring cup, so dipping into the flour and leveling off the cup (a procedure we call “dip and sweep”) was difficult, and we often spilled flour onto the counter or the edge of the container. Square (or nearly square) containers were far easier to use, usually with plenty of room to level off any excess flour right back into the container.

Simpler models also proved better. Dry goods like flour and sugar are inherently messy, and anything we spilled got caught in the hinges and grooves of models with lids that fastened with snap-down flaps, where they either impeded the locking mechanism or spilled onto the counter. Sealing gaskets and valves also trapped water and were difficult to dry thoroughly after washing, dampening and therefore ruining our flour. Built-in ledges for leveling off a measuring cup just got in the way and were hard to use when the containers were full. Containers with plain, unadorned edges and lids worked best.

To test their seals, we opened and closed each model 50 times. We also washed them 10 times and then checked for signs of deterioration or loosened seals. Although models with snap-down flaps and gaskets took much longer to dry, all of the containers passed these tests.

In the end, our old winner, the Rubbermaid 6-Quart Space Saving Container and lid ($12.71), and a similar model from Cambro, the 6-Quart Square Storage Container and lid ($23.74), aced all of our tests. Their squat, square containers sit securely on the counter, and they’re free of nooks and crannies that trap ingredients. We have a slight quibble with the Rubbermaid model: Its lid looks square but is actually slightly rectangular, and thus must be oriented correctly before sealing. This gave the top spot to the perfectly square Cambro, which makes storing and measuring dry goods so easy you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

Methodology

We tested eight plastic dry storage containers, priced from $9.03 to $23.74. Prices shown were paid online. Models appear below in order of preference.

CAPACITY

We poured a 5-pound bag of flour into each container, docking points if the containers were too small to fit the entire bag or if they had extra features that were useless when the models were full. Products fared best if they had wide openings that made them easy to fill and scoop from and enough headspace to close without overflowing.

NEAT SWEEPING

A team of testers evaluated how easy it was to “dip and sweep” using 1-cup and 1/4-cup dry measuring cups when the bins were full and almost empty. We preferred models with low sides and wide openings that allowed us to level off the excess flour back into the containers.

LID DESIGN

We rated each container on how easy it was to open and close. Models with simple press-on lids fared best, while items lost points if they had hard-to-close mechanisms or gaskets and valves that trapped spilled flour or water after washing.

SEAL

We filled the containers and knocked them over three times to test the tightness of the seal. We opened and closed each model 50 times to assess long-term durability. Finally, we filled them with desiccant pebbles that change color when exposed to moisture and monitored them for two weeks. Models earned full marks if they sealed tightly, kept out moisture, and showed no signs of deterioration.

CLEANUP

We washed each container and lid 10 times, using a dishwasher on all dishwasher-safe items. We docked points from containers that had to be hand washed or had small nooks and crannies that were difficult to clean and dry properly.

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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*