equipment
How the ATK Reviews Team is Testing Equipment at Home
We’ve had to make some changes, but we still have the same goal in mind: finding the best kitchen equipment.
07-06-2020
Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

The ATK Reviews team is comprised of eight people (myself included) who test ingredients and kitchen equipment to find out what the best blender, coffee maker, whisk, or cooler is. Our goal is this: not just to find the product that’s the best for your money, but one that will make cooking better and easier.

Our team has a dedicated “lab” at the America’s Test Kitchen office in Boston, MA, where we do the majority of our testing and spend weeks and months at a time with equipment to see what makes it tick. It’s a large space, with plentiful tables, countertops, and storage for us to spread out whatever we’re looking at. It has a wall of outlets with every other one on their own circuit, for testing appliances all at once, and dual residential dishwashers for seeing how products hold up after 10, 20, 30 runs in the dishwasher. We’re used to working pretty collaboratively, too, asking a coworker if they can try their hand at turning on an air fryer or seeing which wooden spoon feels more comfortable to stir with.

This is all to say that, back in mid-March, when we got the word we’d have to work from home for the foreseeable future, we knew there would have to be some big adjustments to how we tested products. While the office is now open to a handful of employees at a time, the ATK Reviews team is still working remotely. And while it might be a while before we return to our spacious lab, we've stayed committed to conducting the rigorous, unbiased reviews we're known for. Here are some of the changes we’ve made to do it from home.

1. We're focusing on the products we can test, not what we can’t.

Our home kitchens just aren’t as big as the test kitchen (one look at my apartment kitchen and you’ll see that’s an understatement!), so we just don’t have the space to test something like a plethora of toaster ovens or coolers. Lisa McManus, our executive editor, amazingly managed to haul home all seven food processors she was testing the day we shut down, but most of the equipment we were planning to test had to stay in the office.

Lisa's haul of food processors
The carrot-processing test

Executive editor Lisa McManus' haul of food processors that she managed to transport from the office to her home so she could continue testing (right).

But instead of focusing on what we can’t test, we’re focusing on what we can test—which, once we adjusted our plans, is a lot! Now, we’re looking at smaller appliances and kitchen equipment: things that can be easily tested and stored in our homes. So far, we’ve published reviews on recycling and small step trash cans; the AmazonBasics braiser, mixing bowls, blender, and storage containers; 8-inch round cake pans; and small and medium portion scoops. We’ve also been hard at work testing and writing stories for upcoming issues of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country and finding ways to expand on existing content, like putting together equipment roundups that might be helpful to people right now. (If you're looking to upgrade or replace a piece of kitchen equipment, check out our lists of longtime winners and our favorite budget-friendly equipment recommendations.)

2. We're rethinking what’s important.

We know times have changed for many Americans. Many have lost jobs, some are working from home, and others are faced with caring for sick loved ones or homeschooling children. Lots of people are cooking at home for the first time, or cooking more than ever. We've been there: among our ranks is a first-time mom parenting a newborn, a daughter looking out for a high-risk parent, and a spouse of a furloughed worker navigating a single income for the first time. We've shifted our focus to reviews for kitchen basics and inexpensive staples that make cooking easier, faster, and even fun.

And we're still committed to finding products that are durable and will last. Just like we always do, we're dropping, knocking, and whacking, and cleaning the products we test over and over again to see how they wear over time—we're just doing it at home right now. Since we've been working from home, we've published updated reviews of large plastic cutting boards and colanders, and we're working on reviews of oven mitts, inexpensive blenders, and more.

Miye dropping travel mugs from home

Associate editor Miye Bromberg conducting an at-home test of travel mugs' durability.

3. We're keeping up with user testing.

A big part of rating equipment is user testing: to see how something works for people of varying heights, hand sizes, kitchen experience, and even hand orientation. Luckily, for me, I’ve been sheltering in place with my parents, my sister and her boyfriend, and my 6-foot-8, left-handed husband, so I have some great at-home user testers!

Others on the ATK Reviews team have been sending products to co-workers to test over a period of a couple of weeks and collecting feedback via email. A nice bonus? These user testers get to keep and use the products until we can get back into the office.

4. We're becoming our own photographers.

At ATK we have photographers that are able to capture candid shots of us testing, and we also do formal photoshoots to capture beauty shots for the magazines. Right now, neither of these is an option. Instead, we’ve been trying our best to take our own candids at home with input from our art director.

Kate Shannon photographing colanders
An overhead shot of soup in disposable bowls

Deputy editor Kate Shannon photographs her lineup of colanders from her kitchen table (left), and one of associate editor Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm's overhead photos of soup in a variety of disposable bowls (right).

As for more formal shots, you may notice that the photography in our recent stories looks a bit different: that’s because some of it has been shot from our photographers’ in-home studios (which in some cases, are also their living rooms)!

5. We're continuing to foster team spirit.

A big part about our Reviews team is the great community we have among each other. And we’ve found ways to continue to have fun “together” while working remotely. We talk with each other daily on Slack, share what we’re most excited about cooking each weekend, and are there to help each other out, in whatever ways we can. We’ve dropped off equipment for each other to test and sent each other all-point-bulletins when we’ve found hard-to-come-by flour or yeast. We’ve also done a few “Happy Mails,” where we send each other small gifts that, well, make us happy. It may seem like this doesn’t relate to testing, but it reinforces that we’re all in this together.