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From Spa Cuisine Gets a Makeover

How we tested

You don’t have to be a restaurant chef to appreciate a good mandoline. These tools can thin-slice, julienne, and (in some cases) waffle-cut produce far faster than a skilled cook wielding a sharp knife can, and with utter precision. That uniformity is at least as valuable as the time savings—and not just for cosmetic reasons. When cuts are uneven, so is cooking.

But for a mandoline to be truly useful in a home kitchen, not just an appliance you break out for the occasional vegetable gratin or elegantly shingled fruit tart, it must be easy to set up, clean, and store. And given that you’re working with sharp blades, it must also be as safe to use as it is efficient.

We came to these conclusions when we evaluated mandolines in 2008, passing on those that required fussy setups and maintenance or that came with blades for making every conceivable cut—a level of operation that most home cooks just won’t use.

We thought that we found everything we wanted—a compact, intuitive, reasonably priced slicer that would expedite everyday cutting tasks—in our previous winner. Compared with the pricey professional models in the lineup, this model was also relatively easy to set up. Yet over time and with repeated use, we’ve realized that the device is somewhat inconvenient. Our biggest gripe: Extra blades are stored under the body, and unless you remove them first—an annoying step—food rains down on them during slicing, making it necessary to pull them out anyway for cleaning. Plus, unfolding the blade storage tray and then reassembling this gadget can feel like acrobatics; as one tester noted, it’s like playing with a Transformers toy that changes from a car to a robot.

Those flaws have heightened our appreciation for our previous Best Buy, an utterly simple, ultracompact paddle that slices food into four thicknesses. The catch: That’s all it does. But if we could find a mandoline that offered multiple cuts and similar convenience, we’d have an even more useful tool at our disposal. From a new crop of supposedly more user-friendly slicers, we selected seven models priced under $50 to pit against our old favorites.

Novel Failures

We quickly realized that most of these contenders weren’t more convenient than our previous winner—and that several were actually fussier. Most mandolines operate similarly: You hold the food with a hand guard and push it along the surface to the blade, adjusting slice thickness by changing the distance between the platform and the blade. One model we tested takes a different approach: To keep your hand away from the cutting edge, this device has you pull a handle that moves the blade to the food, which waits in a 3 1/2-inch chamber on the platform. Of course, to fit a larger item like a russet potato in that chamber, we had to dramatically trim the spud, creating work and waste, not to mention some really stumpy French fries.

Another model's novel design also failed. This device does away with slice thickness adjustment by lining up two blades, one for thin cuts and one for deep ones, about 3 inches apart on its platform. Problem is, you want to make long strokes when you’re slicing, and that setup makes it hard to avoid bumping into the cover of the unused blade. Plus, this model’s platform is so skinny that it can barely accommodate the width of a potato, much less a tomato.

Finally, there were storage issues, particularly with one model. Its body doesn’t house its many extra parts (which carry out nontraditional mandoline functions like juicing and shredding—most of which didn’t work well), so we had to toss them in a zipper-lock bag.

Staying Safe

Most models didn’t feel all that safe. In some cases, particularly with the paddle slicers, that was because the hand guards did a poor job. Whereas two models featured broad guards that offered maximum protection and held food securely on long prongs, paddle slicers usually came with dinky guards featuring shallow spikes that mangled food more than they gripped it.

In other cases, swapping out blades felt more perilous than operating the slicer. Doing so brought our hands dangerously close to sharp edges, especially unsnapping one model's julienne blade to move it from its holding spot. Even the designed-for-safety model we tested felt unsafe when we switched blades; the force needed to remove the blade platform made the whole mandoline snap and jerk.

The only models that did feel safe were those that limited, or eliminated, the need for handling blades. Flip a switch on one model's handle, for example, and the slicer goes from thin to thick; flip another one on the tool’s side and julienne spikes pop up. Another model we tested also offers a built-in julienne blade, as well as a switch that adjusts thickness—features that would have elevated it in our rankings if its dull blade hadn’t torn apart a tomato.

Sharpest Tool in the (Vertical) Box

Built-in blades weren’t the only design that kept hands away from blades. One model has you change slice thickness by easily popping out, rotating, and sliding a smooth plastic plate into place; the blade itself never moves. Two additional plates with julienne spikes keep your fingers at a safe distance from their edges. These and other pluses helped make this tool our favorite. First, it was effortless to push food through its razor-sharp blades, and every piece of produce that we sliced or julienned emerged with stunning, diamond-cut edges. Its lone shortcoming is that it makes just four cuts—two thicknesses each of slicing and julienning—but the julienne feature makes it a more versatile upgrade to our runner-up. Our winning mandoline is also one of the few models with a long, unobstructed platform, which enabled us to produce long, graceful zucchini planks and full-length French fries. We never had to pretrim foods, so waste was minimal.

Finally, there’s its unique perk: a caddy that stands vertically, which limits the mandoline’s footprint to inches. That setup is a boon to cleanup and safety, too. After washing, simply load the parts into the caddy to air-dry, where sharp edges are covered, and hang the hand guard on its hooks like a hat. Just don’t pack it into a cupboard; you’ll be breaking it out again in no time.


We tested nine mandolines, cutting firm russet potatoes and soft ripe tomatoes with all available slice thicknesses. We julienned potatoes and carrots, sliced zucchini lengthwise, and made wavy/waffle slices when available. We observed how easy the slicers were to set up, how safe they felt, and how hard they were to clean and reassemble.

SLICES/JULIENNE/OTHER CUTS: Each available cut is listed, as applicable, with dimensions of the food noted in millimeters.

EASE OF USE: We preferred models that required less effort and felt more comfortable to set up, slice a variety of foods to specific thicknesses, change blades, clean, and reassemble.

SAFETY: Mandolines received higher scores if they had large, comfortable hand guards that securely gripped foods and kept fingers away from blades, as well as other features to keep the user safer at all stages of handling.

CLEANUP: We gave high marks to models that had few nooks and crannies or design elements that trapped food, making them easier to wash.

PERFORMANCE: We preferred models that produced crisp, uniform, intact slices and juliennes on every setting and sliced smoothly and quickly.

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The Results


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.