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By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2016

Cooling Racks

Published November 2016

How we tested

A cooling rack isn’t just for cooling cakes and cookies. The combination of a cooling rack and a rimmed baking sheet is our top choice for roasting or broiling meats, holding breaded foods before and after frying, and neatly glazing all manner of confections. The rack lifts up foods so air can circulate underneath for even cooking and cooling, and the baking sheet below contains any mess.

When we discovered that our favorite cooling rack was no longer available, we set out to find a new winner. We zeroed in on racks measuring roughly 16½ by 12 inches because they fit inside standard-size rimmed baking sheets—a basic requirement that eliminated many contenders. We also nixed nonstick models because their slick coatings aren’t broiler-safe. Finally, we dismissed models with parallel bars (instead of small grids) because thin cuts of meat and other small foods can fall through the gaps. To our surprise, we were left with just three nationally available models, priced from $7.99 to $12.95.

We used each rack to cool fragile sugar cookies and to roast and then broil sticky barbecued pork. Then we piled each with 15 pounds (the equivalent of a midsize turkey) of canned goods, checking to see if any of them sagged or bent under the weight. Finally, we washed each rack 10 times to see if it warped, chipped, or rusted.

The racks were all made of plain or chrome-coated stainless steel and had support bars underneath with small V-shaped feet to elevate the rack about ¾ inch. Though the sizes of the grids differed, all of the racks performed well. They were high enough for air to circulate underneath, so cookies cooled quickly and evenly and the roasted pork was crisp and evenly browned. Both metal and plastic spatulas slid across them without sticking or snagging. Scrubbing off broiled-on barbecue sauce required some elbow grease, but each rack cleaned up completely.

Given their solid performance, our ratings came down to a few slight differences. One rack had a touch of wiggle room inside standard baking sheets, while others had none at all. Another rack was not dishwasher-safe. In the end, our new winner is the Libertyware Half Size Sheet Pan Cooling Rack ($15.99 for a set of two). Used alone or with our favorite rimmed baking sheet from Nordic Ware ($14.97), it’s a piece of equipment no kitchen should be without.

Methodology

We tested three wire cooling racks priced from $7.99 to $12.95, focusing on models that fit inside standard-size rimmed baking sheets. We included only racks that were ovensafe up to 500 degrees and broiler-safe. Testers used each rack to cool baked goods as well as to roast and broil meat with a sticky glaze. Models were purchased online and appear below in order of preference.

Baking Sheet Compatibility: Even standard rimmed baking sheets vary slightly in size and design, so we tested each rack’s fit inside eight different sheets. Since the sides of a rimmed baking sheet are flared, a slightly larger rack can fit securely in a sheet even if it doesn’t make complete contact with the bottom of the pan. Good racks sat snugly without significant gaps and didn’t slip or slide around in the sheets.

Strength and Stability: We evaluated each rack’s strength and stability throughout our testing. In addition, we piled 15 pounds of cans atop each rack, checking to see if the bars sagged or drooped. We also transferred delicate sugar cookies onto the racks, rating models highest if both plastic and metal spatulas slid across them without snagging or bumping.

Cleanup: We washed the racks by hand throughout testing, noting how easy they were to clean and checking them for damage each time. At the end of testing, we washed each model an additional 10 times, using a dishwasher if the manufacturer didn’t warn against it. We gave top marks to dishwasher-safe racks that didn’t warp or become damaged.

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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*