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Potholders

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2003

How we tested

In professional kitchens, a trusty, albeit flimsy, side towel folded over a few times offers protection from things hot. Home cooks, however, whose hands are not as hardened as the vocational cook's, prefer to protect their paws with potholders. And, lucky for them, there is a panoply of potholders from which to choose, from simple terry-cloth swatches to high-tech silicone to plush leather squares. We selected five different potholders and used them when handling the handles on a tea kettle, stockpot, and heavy skillet (which had been in a 450-degree oven for 15 minutes), when removing a soufflé from the oven, and when manipulating hot pie plates and cake pans in the oven.

All potholders were adequately heat-resistant. The attributes of a winning potholder were softness, thinness, and suppleness, all of which allow a potholder to conform to the shape of the hand, making it comfortable to use and easy to grasp a hot object, whatever its shape.

The two best were a very basic potholder, and a pocket mitt. Both potholders were made of terry cloth and had a comfortable, broken-in feel from the get-go, but we slightly preferred the plain potholder over the Pocket Mitt because of its compact size (about 8 1/2 inches square before washing, about 8 inches square after three washes) and its thinner, more svelte feel. But the pocket mitt was good as well, just a bit bulkier.

We were skeptical of the potholders that can’t be machine washed (the label says to wipe clean with a damp sponge or cloth). Knowing how grungy potholders can become with use, we wondered about the life expectancy of these potholders.

Two potholders fell into the "not recommended" category. The first was far too rigid, even after three washes. A potholder has to conform easily to the movements and shape of the hand to make grasping the small rims on pie plates and cake pans or securing a good grasp on the narrow girth of a skillet handle easy. The look of our silicone potholders elicited wows, but they failed to impress when pressed into service. Though bendable, these potholders possessed a springy nature that made them awkward to use. On most surfaces, silicone potholders afford the user a firm, no-slip grip. But even a small drop of fat on the potholders or the item being grasped can render them slick and slippery, as one test cook discovered when using one to grasp a skillet whose handle had been lightly splattered with grease.

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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*
Best Buy
Recommended

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*