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Disposable Utensil Sets

Published September 2020

How we tested

I’m standing at an outdoor gathering, holding a paper plate in one hand and a disposable fork in the other. I poke at the salad on my plate, and my fork comes back empty. I direct my fork back into the salad with more force, but still nothing sticks. Most of us have experienced this scenario. Disposable utensils can be an asset when hosting guests, when having a picnic, and when things at home are especially busy, but dull or flimsy disposable utensils aren’t particularly convenient.

Given those garden-party disappointments, my colleagues and I wondered if any utensil sets (consisting of forks, knives, and spoons) are worth purchasing. First, we identified the top-selling, nationally available utensil brands based on sales data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, and purchased each brand’s best-selling set. All the utensils in these sets were made from plastic, but when doing our research, we learned of a few single-use utensil sets made from plant-based materials and marketed as being eco-friendly. We were curious to see how they would compare with plastic versions, so we included three: one made from bamboo and two made from crystallized polylactic acid (CPLA), a commercially compostable material derived from corn, sugarcane, potatoes, tapioca, or soy protein. (See “Are Compostable Utensils Really Better for the Environment?” for more information about how to compost plant-based utensils.)

The seven utensil sets in our lineup were priced from about $0.05 to about $0.30 per utensil. Two sets came with an equal number of forks, spoons, and knives, while the other five sets contained more forks or more forks and spoons than knives because knives are the least used utensil. We used utensils from each set to eat Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs, Bibb and Arugula Salad with Pear and Goat Cheese, Italian Pasta Salad, and ice cream. We served the foods on both ceramic and disposable plates, and we ate the foods while sitting down and while standing. Throughout, we considered how well the forks and spoons picked up food, how well the knives cut foods, how sturdy each utensil was, and how comfortable each utensil was to use.

Knives and Forks Must Be Sharp

When we used the knives and forks from each set to cut and then eat the roasted chicken thighs, we noticed that most of the knives had small, sharp serrations that allowed them to easily navigate around bones and cut through meat. The bamboo knife’s blade, however, was thick and had square serrations that were dull and ineffective, so cutting with it required more effort. We essentially sawed off shaggy bites of chicken instead of easily and cleanly slicing through the meat. Most of the forks performed well here. We rarely needed to poke a piece of chicken twice to get it on our forks. Again, the bamboo model was the exception: Its tines tapered to dull, squared edges rather than sharp points, so they pressed down on the meat instead of spearing it. 

The differences in the most important tool in each set—the fork—became clearer when we ate delicate lettuce and slippery, olive oil–coated pasta salad. The squared edges of the bamboo fork’s tines again pushed on food rather than spearing it, but some of the other forks also struggled to pierce the lettuce. When we examined those tines closer, we noticed that they were wide or squared-off at the ends. The tines of our favorite forks had visibly sharper, narrower points. The best thing about using the sharp forks and knives in our lineup was that we didn’t have to think when using them; they just worked the way they should.

All Disposable Utensils Should Be Sturdy

In our first set of tests, we noticed that some of the utensils bent as we pushed down on them, while others were more rigid in our hands. Using the spoons to eat dense, firm ice cream really separated the flimsy sets from the sturdy sets. One especially flimsy plastic spoon bent backward when we attempted to wedge it into solid scoops of ice cream. As a work-around, we had to choke up on the handles for leverage, hoping that these efforts wouldn’t result in the scoops flying out of our dishes. Three of the other plastic spoons along with the bamboo spoon were sturdier, allowing us to easily carve bite-size portions from scoops of ice cream. The remaining two models in our lineup, which were both made from CPLA, were so sturdy that we almost forgot we were using disposable spoons. They gave us maximum control and allowed us to eat bite after bite of ice cream with ease. 

Discovering that some of the utensils sets were flimsier than others made us wonder if they would be more likely to melt or warp. To find out, we heated soup to 200 degrees, submerged a spoon from each set in the soup, and let the soup and spoons sit for 30 minutes. Happily, none of these spoons melted or warped. 

Good Design Leads to Good Performance

Lastly, we considered how pleasant the sets were to use. The knives in our lineup were all similarly comfortable to hold. As for the forks, we noticed slight differences in the lengths of their tines, which ranged from 3 to 4.5 centimeters, but we didn’t have a preference for shorter or longer models. However, we did have clear preferences when it came to the spoons’ bowls. We didn’t like spoons with bowls that were too shallow. The bowls of some were almost flat and held only ½ to 1 teaspoon of liquid. On the flip side, it was slightly awkward to eat from spoons with deep bowls, which held from 1½ to 2 teaspoons of liquid, because we had to work harder to fully empty their contents in one bite. We liked spoons with moderately deep bowls that held about 1½ teaspoons of liquid.

When comparing all the utensils in all the sets, we preferred those with smooth surfaces, both on their handles and on their heads. The textures of the bamboo forks and spoons were slightly dry and woody, which was off-putting when compared with the smooth textures of the plastic and CPLA utensils. Most of the utensils had comfortable handles, but there was one exception, a CPLA set whose skinny handles had hard, narrow ridges that were slightly uncomfortable when we held them in our hands. We preferred utensils with wide, smooth handles.

Our Two Winning Utensil Sets: Ecovita and Diamond

After all our cutting, poking, and scooping, we found a winning disposable utensil set: Ecovita 100% Compostable Forks Spoons Knives Cutlery Combo 380 Set ($0.14 per utensil). The fork had pointy tines that easily speared delicate lettuce and slippery pasta. Although the fork’s tines are shorter than some of the other sets’ tines, we had no problem piercing a good amount of food with it. This set’s spoon was ideally shaped; it was neither too flat nor too deep, and it held 1½ teaspoons of liquid. The knife’s blade was thin, and its serrations were sharp, which meant that the blade sliced smoothly and easily through chicken. This set’s flat, sturdy handles and smooth CPLA material made the utensils a pleasure to eat from. 

We also named The Diamond Entertaining 96 Combo ($0.18 per utensil) our Best Set Under 100 Pieces. As much as we love our winner, some may balk at the number of utensils in the set (380) and its price tag (more than $50.00). The Diamond utensils were slightly less sturdy than the Ecovita utensils, and the forks were a bit less sharp, too, but they still easily accomplished every task we put them through. The next time you have a gathering or want to minimize cleanup, we recommend picking up either of these disposable utensil sets. We promise you’ll be able to focus on the fun you’re having and not the food you’re chasing around your plate.


Methodology


RATING CRITERIA:

Performance: We evaluated how well the knives could cut chicken thighs and how well the forks could spear chicken, delicate lettuces, and slippery pasta.


Sturdiness: We evaluated every utensil’s sturdiness as we used them to eat a variety of foods. We also checked to see if the spoons warped or melted in hot soup.


Comfort: We evaluated how it felt to eat from each fork and spoon, taking into account their material, size, and shape. We also evaluated the comfort of each utensil's handle.

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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*