Quest for the Best
It’s not uncommon, as you walk through our offices, to pass a table of 25 or so staffers silently concentrating on tasting a dozen varieties of olive oil, peanut butter, or soy sauce. If you continue to the main test kitchen, you might see a lineup of eight slow cookers, each outfitted with a thermometer that is connected to a computer so we can gauge how evenly they maintain a given temperature over time. Walk out the back door and you could find someone dropping one portable grill after another onto the pavement from a specified height to see how well the grills stand up to abuse.
It’s all in a day’s work for our tastings and testings team. And if you think the test cooks here at America’s Test Kitchen are obsessive in their quest for the best—and you’re quite right, they are—you should spend some time with this team. The lengths they go to in order to be sure that their tests are accurate, comprehensive, and conducted on a level playing field are enough to make the rest of us look relaxed.
There are strict written protocols for selecting the items to be tested, for running the tests themselves, and for evaluating them. There are detailed instructions for tasters. And if there is ever a question, our team will go back and run the tests again, just to be sure.
But even when that rigorous (and sometimes seemingly endless) process is over, their work is really just beginning. Because it’s not enough to say which product or piece of equipment came out on top—we need to know why. Sometimes it seems random to the rest of us, but these folks don’t believe in that word, so they keep digging and analyzing, consulting experts all over the world and sending samples to labs for analysis, until they find the keys to the particular puzzle. It might be the number of bevels on a serrated knife (spoiler: fewer are actually better) or the processing method used in making a particular soy sauce, but there will be a reason. Once they find it, we can appreciate even more clearly how solid a foundation our tastings and testings rest on.
This all holds true even for the smallest tools, like the slotted spoons and gourd seeding tools evaluated in this issue’s Equipment Corner. You may see only a few sentences on the page, but the testing process has been just as disciplined, extensive, and intensive as ever, because this group has never heard of cutting corners.
The result of all this obsessiveness? You can truly trust our recommendations. In a kind of celebration of that, this issue includes a guide to the best countertop appliances—though we don’t recommend tossing any of them onto the pavement.