ATK Reviews

We Don’t Accept Free Samples. Here’s Why. 

It’s not fun to turn down free appliances or fancy groceries, but it helps us stay objective.

Published June 28, 2023.

Whether we’re testing $5 vegetable peelers or $1,000 smart ovens, our first step is always the same: We pull out our company credit cards and charge the equipment to America’s Test Kitchen. 

We always buy the things we test. If a company offers to give us free food or gear, we decline. If a company doesn’t know about our no-free-things policy and sends us a sample, we send it back or donate it.  

It’s expensive to buy hundreds of pieces of kitchen gear and pricey foods such as cheese or olive oil, but it’s one of the core tenets of the ATK Reviews team. It’s something that will never change. 

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Here’s why we always buy the equipment we test. 

1. It helps ensure that our testing results are accurate. The manufacturer can’t sneak us a souped-up blender or an extrasharp knife. We’re purchasing the exact same things you’ll purchase at the same prices you’ll pay. 

2. It allows us to be objective and honest. If we love a spatula or sauce pan, great! We can shout it from the rooftops. If we don’t think an item is very good, we can be forthright about that too. We don’t have to fudge the results or kill the story for fear of upsetting a company or cutting off the flow of free products from manufacturers. 

Free products aren’t the only thing we refuse. We also say no to prototypes and products that are still in a conceptual phase on Kickstarter or similar websites. As much as we love getting a jump on a great new product, it’s too risky. If the products are still being fine-tuned, there’s no way to know that the version we test and write about will be the same one that’s for sale a few months later. 

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But we’re not monsters. We recognize that the people who manufacture and market kitchen gear and foods are experts in their fields—and we can learn a lot from them. We’re just careful to approach our conversations as journalists. 

We ask companies for basic information about their products and we might follow up with questions that help us understand why some work faster or taste better or are more reliable than others. 

On many occasions, we’ve visited companies to learn firsthand how products are made. Our guide to vinegar, for example, is richer and more informative because editor Sarah Sandler visited American Vinegar Works in Worcester, Massachusetts. Similarly, the trip that editor Kate Shannon took to Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont, while writing about handmade cheddar helped her bring the cheesemaking process to life. 

We eat as many samples as they’ll give us, but we pay for our travel and accommodations. 

When you read our reviews, you trust that we’re telling it to you straight. Everything we publish is based on our hands-on experience using and testing these products. We take our standards seriously, and we do everything we can to earn—and keep—your trust.

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