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Universal Knife Blocks

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2016

How we tested

Knife blocks allow you to store your knives without mounting a magnetic strip on your kitchen wall or taking up valuable drawer space with an organizer. Because conventional blocks hold only knives of specific sizes (the small slot for the paring knife, the deep slot for the slicer, etc.), we prefer universal blocks, which are designed to accommodate knives of all sizes in any configuration. There are two types of universal knife blocks: those that use magnets to secure the knives and those that use a mass of bristles or folds or an open grid to hold them. To find the best universal knife block on the market, we tested 10 models priced from $24.99 to $248.64, using them to hold both our winning and Best Buy six-piece à la carte knife sets (which both include a pair of shears).

What did we find out? While nonmagnetic models were generally cheaper, they were less durable: Plastic bristles shed and bent out of shape, plastic folds got nicked easily, and the wooden grid chipped with extended use. Worse, nonmagnetic models were often smaller and less safe, crowding the knives together and/or leaving larger portions of their blades sticking out.

We preferred magnetic models, which generally exposed less of the blades and held the knives more securely—usually in a side-by-side configuration that made it less likely that the knives would scrape against each other and dull or scratch the blades. We liked blocks with magnets that were just strong enough to hold a heavy cleaver without letting it slip but not so strong that we struggled to remove it. To learn more about the magnets in each block, we used iron filings to locate and measure them. Magnet type, size, shape, or number didn’t seem to matter, but magnet coverage did: Blocks with large gaps between their magnets had less usable space overall and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives.

Stability was a final and important concern. We preferred heavier blocks with wide bases lined with rubbery nonslip material, features that helped keep the blocks from tipping over when we removed knives or bumped the blocks. Too light—or too narrow—and the blocks became dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

At $248.64, our winning block, the 360 Knife Block by Design Trifecta, is a serious investment, but it will serve your knives well for years to come. It weighs almost 14 pounds, ensuring that it will never budge from your counter. It’s roomy, sturdy, and durable, surviving extensive testing with nary a scratch. With excellent magnet coverage, it was easy to attach and remove knives—a rotating, lazy Susan–esque base allowed for quick access to all six of its sides. It was also simple to clean. For a lower-priced alternative, we also recommend the Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block, $67.99. Because it has a plastic guard, it was a little less easy to use and clean, but it did a good job of holding all our favorite knives securely.

Methodology

We tested 10 universal knife blocks priced from $24.99 to $248.64, using them to hold our winning and Best Buy à la carte knife sets, each featuring a chef’s knife, serrated knife, paring knife, slicing knife, boning knife, and shears. We also checked to see if the models could hold our favorite heavy cleaver. We used iron filings to assess the number, size, arrangement, and strength of the magnets, where applicable. Blocks were evaluated on their design, safety, durability, and ease of cleanup. All models were purchased online and appear in order of preference.

Design: We gave more points to blocks that fit our winning and Best Buy six-piece à la carte knife sets comfortably and made it easy to attach/insert and remove knives.

Safety: We gave more points to blocks that sat securely on the counter, had guards that protected our fingers from accidentally coming into contact with blade edges, and were tall or wide enough so that no knife blade stuck out.

Durability: To simulate long-term use, we inserted or attached and removed a chef’s knife 100 times for each block, evaluating the block for any damage and the knife for any dulling. We liked knife blocks that showed less wear and tear after repeated use.

Cleanup: We spattered each block with tomato sauce and washed it by hand; dishwasher-safe models went through the dishwasher an additional five times. Blocks that were easy to clean received higher marks.

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.

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Durability
$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.

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$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.

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$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.

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$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.

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$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.

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$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.

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$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.

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$35.88*

Bodum Bistro Knife Block

Our former winner has been redesigned since we last tested it. Though stable, this plastic-bristled block was short and narrow, making it hard to fit all our knives without crowding the blades; longer blades stuck out. Stiffer, thicker bristles made knife insertion tough, and the bristles themselves were a pain to clean by hand and got nicked and bent out of shape easily.

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$40.60*

Wüsthof 13-Slot Designer Knife Block

This attractive wood block used a grid system to make a classic slotted knife block shape universal. But it was difficult to clean and to insert knives into the grid; the posts chipped easily when we failed to aim the knives just right. Long blades didn’t entirely fit in the block, and without anything to secure the blades once inside, shorter knives swung free through the open sides.

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$199.95*