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Paella Pans

From A Spanish Affair

How we tested

In Spain, paella is traditionally cooked on the grill in a carbon-steel paellera. This pan’s shallow, wide shape maximizes the surface area of the paella, allowing for rapid evaporation of the cooking liquid and optimal socarrat (golden rice crust) development. We wanted to find the best paella pan for the home cook—a pan that would be easy to use and wouldn’t cost too much for this special-occasion dish. Further, it had to hold enough to feed six to eight people but still be small enough to fit comfortably on our winning gas and charcoal grills.

We determined that the best size was between 15 and 16 inches in diameter and ordered five pans in that range, priced from $24.95 to $79.00. While we included one stainless-steel pan in our lineup, the rest were made of the traditional carbon steel (including one enameled model). Carbon-steel pans usually require some seasoning and/or maintenance to prevent rusting; before testing, we followed the manufacturers’ instructions to prepare the pans for their first use. Methods varied, but none took longer than a half-hour to complete, and maintenance between uses took as few as 3 and no more than 13 minutes. (The enameled carbon-steel pan requires no seasoning or special upkeep.)

We used each pan to cook batches of our Paella on the Grill on both charcoal and gas grills; this recipe calls for careful observation and periodic rotating and moving of the pan around the grill for even cooking. We were happy to find that the grilling didn’t damage any of the pans. Better still, they all proved capable of turning out nicely cooked paella. Some, however, required extra attention and more rotating and moving. In general, the thinner the pan, the more quickly it will heat and cool and the more directly it will reproduce any hot or cool spots in your fire. Your paella will cook faster, and you’ll need to be vigilant (and rotate the pan more frequently) to keep the heat even and ensure that the socarrat doesn’t scorch. This is especially true of thin pans with dark finishes, which absorb and radiate more heat than lighter-colored ones.

Our winner, the Matfer Bourgeat Black Steel Paella Pan ($49.98), was the thickest and heaviest pan we tested. As a result, it took the longest to heat up—but once it was hot, it stayed evenly hot across the pan and thus required less manipulation to produce paella that was consistently cooked from edge to edge. When we did need to rotate the pan, it was easy, as the handles rose above the lip of the pan; other pans had handles that extended horizontally, bumping into the sides of the grill and bringing our knuckles too close to the fire.

Yes, you’ll need to put a little extra work into preparing and maintaining this carbon-steel pan, but once you do, it’ll be practically nonstick. And that heavy-duty construction gives this pan versatility: We had great success using it to make our indoor Paella recipe (which goes from stovetop to oven), but it’d be just as good serving as a roasting pan or a griddle.

Methodology

We tested five nationally available paella pans made from carbon steel, enameled carbon steel, and stainless steel, priced from $24.95 to $79.00, on both our winning gas and charcoal grills. The pans were purchased online and appear in order of preference.

PERFORMANCE: We used each pan to make two batches of our Paella on the Grill. We gave more points to pans that retained even heat (with minimal manipulation on the grill), cooked the paella uniformly, and produced lots of evenly browned socarrat.

EASE OF USE: We preferred vertical handles that made it easy to rotate the pans without bumping into the sides of the grill and that kept our hands safely above the heat.

CARE: Pans that were easy to clean and maintain and that required no initial preparation out of the box received more points.

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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*