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Citrus Zesters/Channel Knives

Published January 2017

How we tested

When we want fine wisps of citrus zest, we reach for a rasp grater. But sometimes we want wider, longer strips to use as aromatics or to garnish desserts or cocktails. While you could just use a vegetable peeler to remove large swaths of peel and then cut each swath into strips, there are tools that promise to make this process neater and more efficient. These tools typically have two components: a citrus zester, which makes several thin threads of peel at a time, and a channel knife, which cuts a single thicker ribbon of peel.

We wanted to know which zester/channel knife combination tool would best allow us to cut long, attractive, pith-free strips of zest from all sorts of citrus. So we bought seven models priced from $6.74 to $18.00 and used them to zest and channel oranges, lemons, and limes.

Most of the tools did a decent job of zesting all the citrus, leaving no pith on the tiny strands. The trouble started when we tried to use the channel-knife end of the tool. For one thing, most of the knives are not ambidextrous but are instead oriented in such a way that users are forced to pull the blade from right to left, an unnatural motion for lefties. But even righties struggled to cut long, continuous ribbons with the channel knives. Some of the knives just weren’t sharp enough, skidding across the citrus skin and breaking off shorter strands of uneven thickness. Others had knives that were located too close to the handle, preventing the blade tip from getting sufficient leverage to really bite into the citrus skin in the first place. Knives at a distance of at least 0.75 inch from the top of the handle made it easier to angle into lemons and oranges, but almost none were able to latch onto the limes well.

Even when the blades were sharp and well-positioned, there were other issues with the channel knives. Some tools cut too deeply into the fruit, making straight-edged ribbons that were thick enough to twist into cocktail or cake garnishes but that had a lot of bitter pith. Others didn’t cut deeply enough, avoiding the pith but making limp, narrow, thin, and/or ragged-edged ribbons that lacked the structure to be used as twists. We found we liked tools that made substantial but not overly pithy ribbons that were at least 0.25 inch wide and between 0.05 and 0.08 inch thick.

Handle length and material were important. We preferred handles that were at least 4.25 inches long—anything smaller cramped the hands of all but the most petite testers. And we preferred handles made of rubbery or textured material, which allowed us to maintain our grip even when our hands were covered in expressed citrus oil.

Our winning citrus zester/channel knife, the Messermeister Pro-Touch Combination Zester, $8.99, is not lefty-friendly, but it has a comfortable, grippy handle and excels at zesting citrus of all kinds. And with a sharp channel knife set at a good distance from the handle, it consistently produced long, clean-looking ribbons from all but the limes, leaving relatively little pith on the peel. Capable of channeling an entire lemon or orange with a single continuous cut, it was the favorite of nearly all who tried it.

Methodology

We tested seven combination citrus zester/channel knives priced from $6.74 to $18.00, using them to zest and channel oranges, lemons, and limes. We also had users of different ages, genders, hand sizes, and dominant hands try them. We tested their durability by using them for an entire day without washing them, leaving them out overnight to see if the residual citrus oils and juices contributed to rusting, and then examining them for any signs of damage; we also put them through the dishwasher 10 times. Models were evaluated for their performance in zesting and channeling and for their handle design. All models were purchased online and appear in order of preference.

Zesting: We gave more points to models that cut long, pith-free threads of peel from oranges, lemons, and limes.

Channeling: We gave more points to models that cut long, relatively thick but pith-free ribbons of peel from oranges, lemons, and limes. We also gave more points to models with channel knives that could be used by both righties and lefties.

Handle Design: More points were awarded to models with comfortable, easy-to-grip handles that were at least 4.25 inches long.

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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*