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Small Braisers

Published October 2020
More on The Best Braisers
Check out our reviews of 3.5-quart and large braisers.

How we tested

When we tested braisers, we gave top marks to the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 3.5-Quart Round Braiser. This pan browned food evenly and offered a generous cooking surface that kept food from overcrowding. We also loved the lid’s secure and sizable stainless-steel knob and the pan’s large looped handles that were helpful when picking it up and moving it into and out of the oven. 

However, this pan weighs more than 12 pounds when empty, which could be too heavy for some. Also, those who primarily cook for two could find it too big (it easily fits recipes that serve four). The good news is that the company also makes two smaller options: the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 2.25-Quart Round Braiser (about $215) and the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 1.5-Quart Round Braiser (about $200). We wondered if these two pans offered the same heat retention, durability, and versatility as their larger counterpart, so we used them to make Chicken and Rice for Two, meatballs, and Easiest-Ever Pulled Pork from Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Dinners for Two. In addition to washing each pan by hand after every test, we whacked each pan around the rim 50 times with a metal spoon and slammed the lid down onto each pan 25 times, checking the enamel coatings for chips and cracks.

Like the larger model, both the smaller braisers impressed us with their cooking abilities by turning out thoroughly browned chicken thighs and pork and evenly seared meatballs. With its 8.5-inch-wide cooking surface, the 2.25-quart model easily accommodated the two-serving recipes we made, and its 1.75-inch-high walls contained foods as we stirred, seared, and flipped. The cooking surface of the 1.5-quart braiser was about an inch smaller, which meant that we had to brown food in more batches. In addition, the walls on the smaller model were slightly shorter, which resulted in pieces of onion and splashes of broth landing on the stovetop as we stirred. 

We also wanted to know if both the smaller braisers were as easy to use as our full-size top pick. The lids of each had stainless-steel knobs, and like in our original testing, we found these knobs to be large enough to securely grasp even when using oven mitts or a dish towel. The 2.25-quart model had sizable handles that were easy to grasp and made transporting the pan into and out of the oven a cinch. However, the 1.5-quart braiser’s handles got in the way of its functionality: They were more than an inch narrower than the handles of the 2.25-quart model and therefore too tiny to easily grasp. Instead of being able to grasp the insides of the handles with an oven mitt, we had to settle for holding onto the edges of the handles, which felt less secure.

When it came to assessing cleanup and durability, though, we found that both these smaller braisers excelled: They were easy to clean and withstood being whacked with a metal spoon 50 times and having their lids slammed down 25 times without a single chip. 

So which of these braisers is the right model for you? If you often cook recipes that yield four servings, we recommend the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 3.5-Quart Round Braiser. But if you mostly cook for two, we recommend the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 2.25-Quart Round Braiser. It produced well-browned food without crowding, and its handles were roomy. It also weighs about 3 pounds less than the 3.5-quart braiser, so it was easier to lift. The browning ability of the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 1.5-Quart Round Braiser was on par with those of the two bigger pans, but its narrower handles made it less easy to use, and its smaller cooking surface and capacity limited its versatility; this pan would be best for those who are cooking for one. It can also function as a pretty (but pricey!) serving vessel for baked dips or appetizers such as artichoke dip or baked Brie.


Methodology


RATING CRITERIA: 


Cooking: We evaluated the finished food, noting if the braisers were able to brown food thoroughly, cook food evenly, and evaporate moisture adequately. 

 

Capacity: We looked at whether the pans were able to accommodate the recipes we made in them without overcrowding. 

 

Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy it was to monitor browning, pick up and move the pans, and lift their lids.

 

Cleanup: We looked at how easy the pans and lids were to clean.

 

Durability: We evaluated whether the pans were able to withstand being whacked with a metal spoon and having their lids slammed down repeatedly without chipping.


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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*