Meet the Cast

Our Gadget Expert Wants You to Get Your Money's Worth

Motivated by a self-described tendency toward frugality and a love of smart industrial design, she's on a mission to find affordable equipment that actually works.

Published Nov. 14, 2016.

The 2017 season of America’s Test Kitchen has arrived! To help you share in the excitement, we’ll be giving you a peek behind the television curtain with interviews with our hosts and on-screen test cooks—familiar faces and newcomers alike.

Want to know where and when America’s Test Kitchen airs in your area? Enter your zip code into our station finder.

Today we chat with a familiar face—our gadget expert, Lisa McManus. When she’s not reviewing products on the television show, Lisa is busy with her role as the executive editor of our tastings and testings team. I caught up with Lisa to chat about her role as a consumer advocate, her proclivity for foraging, and, of all things, tasting Milk Bones.

Is there a specific moment you can recall when you thought, “I want to make the food world my life”?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love to eat and try everything—I literally tried everything. I never could wait for pasta to be done. I’d always pull it out and bite it and bite it and bite it. I’d eat it when it was raw, when it was one minute cooked, two minutes cooked. You can hand me a piece of pasta at any stage and I can be like, “Three more minutes.” It’s a totally useless skill, unless you’re making spaghetti. I also remember biting my dog’s Milk Bone to know what that tasted like—it was not bad.

I grew up in a really rural area, and we played in old abandoned farmhouses and orchards, and I could always find Concord grapes, apples, sour grass—things to eat outside. And I can still do that—we’ll go on hikes and I’m like, “Oh, there’s something to eat.” Food is my thing, I guess I have radar for it.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love to eat and try everything—I literally tried everything...I also remember biting my dog’s Milk Bone to know what that tasted like—it was not bad.

Where does your passion for reviewing gadgets and gear come from?

Two things: I like stuff that really works, and I hate wasting money. I have the worst buyer’s remorse. If I even spend $10 on something that doesn’t work, I am so mad. I feel so bad, I don’t want it, I look at it, I’m burdened by it, I don’t want to give it to anyone because it’s no good. I apply that natural cheapness and desire to buy good things and not have stuff that doesn’t work lying around.

I’ve also always been interested in product design and industrial design—how things fit with people, the interface of things. Before I bought a car I joined Zipcar for a year and drove all the different cars they have. I interviewed people in parking lots about their cars, I looked at crash test dummy videos online. I went way overboard, but that’s what I do when I’m spending money. That was the first car I ever bought, and I think I researched for a year. By the time I bought that car, I knew everything about it. But even with the little ticket items I do that; I probably go too far and drive everybody crazy, but I need to know. I’m probably born to do this job.

I put myself in the place of someone who’s going to buy something and be stuck with it or have it not really do what they thought it was going to do, or spend too much, or not spend quite enough. Because there’s always that sweet spot between things that are really deluxe and perfect and things that are cheap. There’s a point where you get some of the important features of the good stuff but don’t have to spend that full amount of money. And there are products you can throw a whole lot of money at, but that are not necessarily better. And then there’s stuff where if you just spent like, 10 more dollars you’d get the one that works. I’m always trying to figure that out, for me and for our readers.

McManus discusses the merits of an offset spatula.

You’ve been on the show for a while now, but I’m wondering if it’s still a little nerve-racking being in front of all those cameras.

The first couple of years I was just scared all the time. I was like, “What am I doing?” Now it’s fun.

What’s your favorite part about being on the TV show?

I really like being able to talk about the things that we’ve done and actually show people. When you’re writing, you can’t really show people, but on TV you can demonstrate how something falls apart or why it doesn’t work or how it sprays you or doesn’t cut or whatever it is. People can really see the thing; you don’t have to tell them.

Which offset spatula is best for frosting that birthday cake? Watch the 2017 season of ATK TV to find out.

What was your favorite segment to shoot for the 2017 season of ATK TV?

One that was kind of hard, so when it was done I was glad: personal blenders. We had all these different things I was trying to talk about in a short amount of time. We tested about 12 different blenders, so it was a lot of material to cover. And trying to get at why this one worked best in a quick amount of time, and to really demonstrate that—it was fun, it was a challenge, and when I got it right it was like, “Yes!” It’s felt like I just went through this whole Olympic routine and stuck the landing.

Have you ever had any nightmare segments in front of the camera?

The first season I had to do electric wine openers, and it was the last segment of the day of the first season I was on the show. So I was super worked up for months ahead of time. For the last shot of the day, all I had to do was open a bottle of wine with this super easy device and then pour a glass. And then I can go home. And everyone else can go home. I don’t know if I was tired or nervous, but nothing would open. I think I half-opened an entire case of wine before I got it right. Now I never, never say, “It’s so easy,” because I feel like I’m just going to curse myself and I’ll be there for the rest of the day. And I’m not that crazy about electric wine openers anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with them—I’m sure they’re fine when you’re not under pressure.

Lisa McManus, gadget expert, reveals the best small blenders for your next salad dressing or smoothie.

When you’re not appearing on the show as a gadget expert, what’s your day to day role in the test kitchen?

I’m the executive tasting and testing editor. That means that I am part of the team that does all of the tasting and testing stories for the magazines, TV shows, websites, and cookbooks—all of the ingredient- and equipment-testing content for all of the different platforms comes from our team. I’ll be doing some testings, I’ll be editing stories other people wrote, I’ll be consulting on different problems people have along the way. We work really collaboratively, so we’ll put our heads together once people hit stumbling blocks and we’re trying to figure out the best way to do something or get at some point about some piece of equipment or some ingredient taste test.

Want to learn more about your favorite ATK TV cast member? Check out our cast interviews:

This is a members' feature.