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Steamer Baskets

From A Moroccan Feast
Update: February 2014
Our winning steamer basket, the Progressive Easy Reach Steamer Basket, model 2090L, has not held up well over time with regular kitchen use, with legs and "leaves" coming off. We are withdrawing our recommendation of this product and promoting in its place the Joyce Chen 3-piece Bamboo Steamer and the OXO Good Grips Pop-Up Steamer as our top-ranked recommended models in each style.

How we tested

What could be simpler than a steamer basket, whose sole purpose is to sit in a pot over simmering water? In the past, we never thought this straightforward gadget warranted testing. But lately, we’ve noticed updated models boasting innovative new features and at least one new material (silicone). We rounded up eight baskets of various shapes and materials, including stainless steel, bamboo, and silicone, and headed into the kitchen to see which brand could handle the heat. To cover the range of functions a steamer can fulfill, we performed three tests, preparing broccoli, flounder fillets, and dumplings in each.

We ended up with a Goldilocks list of criteria for the best basket: tall enough to clear the simmering water, but not too bulky; strong enough to support food, yet flexible enough to collapse for easy storage. Most importantly: We preferred baskets that were safe to remove and handle near boiling water.

The silicone models proved a bust. The sides were too flimsy to contain the food, which tumbled into the water when we lifted them from the pot. Due to design flaws such as short, skimpy handles (Chef’n) and floppy, difficult-to-fasten straps (Trudeau), we found our fingers far too close to hot pans and steaming water. We tried using tongs, but this was tricky, and removing food piece by piece was cumbersome. There’s a fine line between done and overdone; to avoid mushy vegetables we wanted steamers that allowed for quick removal of food from the heat source. A metal, two-tiered model seemed like a great concept, but spiky legs on the top tier tore into dumplings on the bottom tier, unless we positioned them carefully. Classic stacking bamboo baskets provided plenty of cooking space, but weren’t all made to the same quality standards: one model warped after a few uses.

In the end, we preferred a classic collapsible stainless steel model with a new twist: an adjustable center rod that allows for easier removal from the pot. But if you’ve got room in your cabinet, the better of the two covered stacked bamboo models we tested offers lots of square footage—a boon if you do a lot of steaming. We also liked the saucepan-shaped Cuisinart Universal Steamer, which has a sturdy build with bonuses: a tightly fitting lid and high sides, which means it can double as a colander for quick sink-to-stovetop convenience.

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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*

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*