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Instant Marinator

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2003

How we tested

We liked the idea of having to think just a few minutes ahead if we wanted to marinate something for dinner, so we ordered the Vacu Vin Instant Marinator. What did we get for our $24.99? The Instant Marinator is a 9 by 5 by 3-inch hard plastic container with a pump that fits into a rubber gasket on the lid. Like other products made by Dutch manufacturer Vacu Vin, the most common being used to preserve the freshness of opened bottles of wine, the Instant Marinator relies on the pump to suck air out of the container to form a vacuum. We found that 10 to 20 pumps usually accomplished a tight seal. The theory behind this application of the pump is that it also sucks air out of the food; the marinade then supposedly rushes in to fill the gaps, permeating the food with flavor. According to Simon Kirby, vice president of Vacu Vin, the food should be fully marinated in 5 to 10 minutes.

We put this device to the test with boneless chicken breasts and steak tips, using a soy sauce marinade for both. We marinated 1 pound of chicken for six hours in the refrigerator and another pound in the Instant Marinator for 10 minutes; we then marinated 1 pound of steak in the refrigerator for 1 hour and another pound in the Instant Marinator for 10 minutes. The results? In each case, tasters preferred the meat that had been marinated in the refrigerator, describing it as both more juicy and more flavorful.

If the Instant Marinator couldn't compete with the results of a lengthy marinating, we wondered if it would do better in "real time"--that is, would chicken or steak pick up more flavor by spending 10 minutes in the Instant Marinator than by spending 10 minutes in a bowl? Some tasters thought that maybe they could detect a bit more flavor penetration in the food that had been sitting in the Instant Marinator, but the results were not so impressive that we'd recommend buying it for this purpose. Time, it turns out, continues to have value.

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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*