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Muddlers

Published July 2019

How we tested

A muddler is an important tool for any home bar; it's primarily used to crush fruit and herbs so they express their essential oils and/or juices for use in cocktails. We wanted to know which muddler was best for home bartenders, so we ordered seven widely available options, priced from about $5 to about $18, and used them to muddle lime wedges, mint, and sugar cubes in a variety of vessels and to make mojitos.

All the muddlers were capable of making decent drinks, but a few factors made certain models more durable, easier to use, and better performers overall.

Dimensions Matter

The first factor? Length. Most of the time, we muddle directly in a cocktail shaker so that we can add and mix the rest of the drink ingredients afterward. Because the mixing cups of most cocktail shakers, including our winner, are 6 or 7 inches tall, we preferred muddlers that were at least 9.5 inches long. The longer the model, the taller it stood in the shaker, giving us more to hold on to when we pounded limes and mint. Shorter models worked well enough when we muddled sugar cubes in a squat old-fashioned glass but left only a stubby inch or so to grab when we used them with the shakers.

For similar reasons, we also liked muddlers that had discrete handles, or at least a bit of a taper or indentation between the muddling end and the end meant to be held. With no indentations, cylindrical models were a bit harder to grasp for longer periods since they didn't provide a natural resting place for our hands. We also preferred models made from materials that were easier to grip, such as unvarnished wood or bamboo, or that had rubbery plastic overlays on their handles; smooth plastic models were a little too slick to hold on to, especially when they got splashed with drink ingredients.

We found that we liked muddlers with heads that were at least 1.5 inches in diameter. Models with smaller heads couldn't cover as much territory as quickly, taking slightly more time to get all the juice out of the limes. And we preferred models with a little weight to them; 5 to 6 ounces was ideal, allowing gravity to do some of the work for us without becoming tiresome to use. Lighter models required us to use a bit more force; the one heavier model, weighing nearly a pound, fatigued our arms and felt cumbersome and a little dangerous when used in the old-fashioned glass.

Textured Heads Make Slightly More Fragrant Drinks

The style of the head itself made a small difference in the flavor of a finished drink. Some professional bartenders claim that muddlers with textured heads—heads covered with a nubbly grid or bumps—make bitter or muddy-tasting drinks because they dig too deeply into citrus pith and tear up herbs, promoting undesirable chemical reactions. We did not find this to be the case: While the textured muddlers shredded the herbs and abraded the citrus peel more than smooth muddlers did, the drinks made with these more aggressively muddled ingredients were still perfectly acceptable. Some tasters even preferred drinks made by textured muddlers, since their grinding action may have helped extract more oils and flavor compounds from the ingredients, resulting in somewhat more fragrant, complex drinks than those made by the smooth muddlers. Still, you can't go wrong with either style of head; both types made good drinks.

Don't Get a Lacquered Muddler

Finally, we considered the durability of the muddlers. We left all the models in a mixture of gin, water, and lime juice overnight, as if we'd forgotten them after mixing a cocktail; we then washed the models by hand or in the dishwasher 10 times, according to manufacturers' instructions. After the overnight cocktail bath, we found that the lacquer coating on two of the wooden models had eroded slightly, seemingly dissolving into the liquid. While at least one of the manufacturers claims that this lacquer is food-safe, we'd prefer to limit our drink ingredients to the ones in our recipes. Muddlers made from metal, plastic, or unvarnished wood avoided this problem. Unvarnished wood can warp or crack if it's not dried properly, and one wood model stained lightly after its cocktail bath, but overall, we prefer this material to plastic for its grippier texture.

The Best Muddler: Fletcher's Mill Maple Muddler

Our winning muddler is Fletcher's Mill Maple Muddler. At 11 inches long, it was the biggest muddler we tested, standing tall in every vessel. It had a moderate weight, and its slightly indented, unvarnished wood body was especially easy to grip. Testers particularly liked that it was double-ended, with one large smooth head and one slightly smaller one, allowing them to make different drinks with either end or to muddle in both small and large vessels.

Methodology

We tested seven muddlers, priced from about $5 to about $18, using them to muddle lime wedges, mint, and sugar cubes and to make mojitos. We also left the muddlers in a mixture of gin, water, and lime juice overnight and then washed them 10 times by hand or in the dishwasher (according to manufacturers' instructions). We evaluated the models on their performance, ease of use, and durability. All models were bought online and appear in order of preference.

RATING CRITERIA

Performance: We rated how well and how quickly the models muddled different ingredients.

Ease of Use: We evaluated how comfortable the models were to grip, muddle, and maneuver.

Durability: We evaluated how well the muddlers stood up to staining and moisture.


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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*