To Find the 3 Best Pizza Steels, We Slung Pizzas For Three Days Straight

Get crispy, crusty pizza at home with a pizza steel. We tested top sellers to find three that heated up quickly and evenly and produced perfect pizzas every time.

a pizza on a pizza steel on top of a gas oven
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

There’s a reason people line up for the world’s best pizzas. From charred Neapolitan pies to crusty New York-style slices, this universally loved food is something that can be tricky (and sometimes expensive) to perfect at home. If you find yourself in pursuit of the best possible pizza, obsessively trying various doughs and oven temperatures to get the texture just right, then you find yourself in good company. We’ve done tons of research and countless tests trying to nail our recipes and techniques. Along the way, we’ve found some tools that are essential for making pizza at home, including pizza peels and even the humble bench scraper

When it comes to actually cooking the pizza, many types of pizza ovens can nearly replicate the results of commercial establishments. But we’ve long held the belief that if you want to make awesome sauce pizza at home (without shelling out hundreds for a dedicated pizza oven), the tool you need is a pizza (a.k.a baking) steel. Pizza steels, like pizza stones, are a slab of solid material that you place in your oven to offer a temperature conduit that helps crisp the crust. But while pizza stones are made of a porous stone called cordierite, pizza steels are made of, you guessed it, steel.

While often sold for making pizza, these steels can also be used to cook a myriad of other things, like crusty artisan boules and crispy roasted vegetables. According to Joe Hurly, owner of Falls Culinary Inc., the manufacturer of the Dough-Joe pizza steel, “Steel's benefit is that it transfers heat rapidly, giving good oven spring, and it allows home ovens to cook pizza very close to what you get in a 900° wood-fired oven.”

At a glance, it may not seem like a solid slab of steel can differ much from model to model, but we wanted to be sure. So, we slung pie after pie to determine which pizza steels are worth buying and which will make the most difference in your quest for the perfect crust.

The Winners, at a Glance

This steel did the best at regulating the temperature of the oven, distributing heat fairly evenly across the surface despite oven hotspots. It hit the ideal temperature of over 500°F after just 30 minutes of preheating, producing a killer crust.

This pizza steel did almost as well as our winner during our tests, resulting in a nicely speckled crust. Like the the Original Baking Steel, it’s also made in the U.S.A.

Bigger, thicker, and heavier, this is the steel to pick for pizza pros and aficionados who want the best possible pizzas. It created an airy, crisp crust on our pizzas, rivaling what you could expect even from a dedicated pizza oven.

The Tests

Pizza on a pizza steel
A pizza steel should produce crispy, airy crust—and it should do it quickly.Serious Eats / Will Dickey

Note: We did both tests with our winning pizza stone from Unicook as a control.

  • Steel Temperature Test: We preheated our oven to 500°F and placed the steel inside. We used an infrared thermometer to take the temperature of the steel in three spots (center, bottom right, and top left) after 30 minutes and then after one hour.
  • Pizza Test: After the steels preheated, we shaped a ball of store-bought pizza dough and topped it with sauce and cheese. We launched it onto the steel with a peel and cooked each pizza for exactly 12 minutes. After it was done, we took notes of the appearance of the crust on top and bottom, then sliced it and tasted it.

What We Learned

Thicker, Carbon Steel Performed Better

hands putting a The Original Baking Steel in the oven
Carbon steel retains heat well, making it great for baking pizza after pizza.Serious Eats / Will Dickey

Throughout testing, we noticed that thicker, carbon steel offerings, like the Original Baking Steel, heated up faster than stainless steel ones; they also retained their heat well, even after they were used to bake a pizza. Other steels, like the Ooni, had more noticeable declines in temperature after baking a pizza. Think of it like frying: when you add something to the hot oil, the heat transfers to the item, leaving the oil a bit cooler after you’ve removed the food. The same is true of a pizza steel. We liked carbon steel pizza steels since they bounced back to temp quickly after cooking a pie. (This is especially helpful if you’re slinging multiple pizzas and don’t want to wait a long time between bakes.) Carbon steel does a better job at heating and re-heating because it’s more conductive than stainless steel. “Stainless steel, though it has nice properties, doesn't conduct heat as well as carbon steel,” says Hurly. Carbon steel’s conductivity is at about 45 watts per kelvin per meter, while stainless steel’s is at 15 watts per kelvin per meter.

The only downside to thicker, carbon steel baking steels is that they’re often quite heavy: The Baking Steel Pro, for example, is 11 pounds heavier than The Original Baking Steel, even though it’s only 1/8 -inch thicker. 

Finger Holes Are Nice, but Not Necessary

We appreciated the steels that had finger holes, like the Vevor Baking Steel, since they made it easy to pull steels out of the oven. That being said, the steels that performed the best didn’t always have these holes and, really, we preferred steels that performed better. Plus, virtually all pizza steel manufacturers insist that you don’t attempt to handle the steel until the oven has completely cooled to room temperature anyway, and by then the steel is easy enough to just grab by the edge.

A Note on Cleaning

Pretty much all the manufacturers stated that a pizza steel doesn’t need to be cleaned and to just burn and brush off any stuck-on debris. All of the steels we tested did end up with a few spots and stains, especially in places where mozzarella burned on, but this is to be expected, and your steel will patina over time no matter how careful you are. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Pizza Steel

a pizza on a pizza steel
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

Our favorite steels are made of carbon steel, which heats up faster and is stronger and more durable than stainless. We preferred steels that are at least 1/4-inch thick; the thicker the steel, the more even the heat tended to be. That said, thicker steels were heavier and a little more difficult to maneuver. If you go for a thinner steel, make sure to get one that’s at least 16 pounds. In our tests, any lighter than that, and results suffered.

The Top Pizza Steels

What we liked: Even though pretty much all of the steels produced far better pizza than we could ever achieve in a regular oven without one, the Original Baking Steel differentiated itself on a few of the finer points. After the pizza came off, the temperature across the steel had the least amount of temperature swings and hotspots, with the center temping at 500°F immediately after baking (indicating consistent, even temperature during baking). The steel also hit its total heat potential (an average of 517°F) after 30 minutes in the oven and stayed there, as opposed to other steels that needed a full hour to do the same.

What we didn’t like: The steel didn’t get quite as hot as some other steels after an hour in the oven. Even so, the pizza we cooked on it still had a crispy, airy crust texture and even got the Dalmatian-like spotting that’s prized on Neapolitan-style pizzas. 

Key Specs

  • Material: Carbon steel
  • Weight: 16 lbs
  • Dimensions: 14 x 16 inches 
  • Thickness: 0.25 inches
  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
the original pizza steel on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: The Dough-Joe, which is made of durable carbon steel, hit the highest temperature (560°F) during preheat of any we tested, perfect for achieving crisp crust and airy oven spring. It also stayed at a high temperature after cooking the pizza. The 15-inch model fit easily in our oven while still providing plenty of room to turn the pie. 

What we didn't like: The Dough-Joe took an hour to reach its maximum average temperature of 533°F, though we’d be happy to start cooking pizzas when it reached an average of 527°F after 30 minutes.

Key Specs

  • Material: Carbon steel
  • Weight: 16 lbs
  • Dimensions: 15 x 15 inches
  • Thickness: 0.25 inches
  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
dough joe pizza steel on marble surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: The Baking Steel Pro got just a smidge hotter during the preheating process, reaching an average of 529°F after one hour in the oven. There was huge oven spring when we baked the pizza, creating large fluffy dough bubbles like those you might see in a wood-fired coal pizza oven. The crust had that coveted leopard spotting that is prized by pizzaiolos in Italy and had a flavor and texture that could rival any made in a dedicated pizza oven. 

In terms of manufacturing and construction, the pro version doesn’t differ that much from the Original Baking Steel. Both are made of pre-seasoned carbon steel and manufactured in America. 

What we didn’t like: It’s pricier, heavier, and bulkier. Make sure to measure your oven before purchasing, since it's quite large.

Key Specs

  • Material: Carbon steel
  • Weight: 27 lbs
  • Dimensions: 16 x 16 inches 
  • Thickness: 3/8 inches
  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
original pizza steel pro
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

  • Ooni Pizza Steel 13: The center of the steel was the lowest of any we tested after the pizza came off (even compared to the Unicook pizza stone). We suspect this steel would take some time to come back up to temperature, which is annoying if you’re slinging multiple pizzas. The final pizza came out fine though.
  • VEVOR Pizza Steel: This steel was prone to hotspots even after sufficient preheating, which resulted in charred patches on the crust.
  • Steelmade Baking Steel: It needed a full hour to reach its maximum temperature potential, and couldn’t get as hot as the pizza stone control. 
  • NerdChef Baking Steel: This steel absorbed heat the slowest of any that we tested, hitting the lowest overall temperature average even after an hour of baking. We noticed wild hotspots after the pizza came off, which could result in uneven pizzas and poor-quality bakes.

FAQs

What else can you make on a pizza steel besides pizza?

All kinds of baked goods (and more!) can be made on a pizza steel. Crusty boules and other artisan breads form a wonderful, crispy texture, while roasted vegetables and frozen foods, like French fries, develop much better caramelization when baked on a steel. The temperature of the steel can get quite hot, however, so we recommend not using it to cook delicate pastries, like croissants, that would benefit from a more circular heat. 

How do you clean a pizza steel?

Most of the pizza steel manufacturers claim that the pizza steel needs no cleaning at all. Instead, a few extra minutes in the oven should be more than enough to bake off any stuck-on food. After cooking pizzas, we only had to brush off a few crumbs and grains of flour. If you find yourself with more of a mess, a quick scrub with hot water and soap, followed by a thorough drying, will suffice.

Is a pizza steel worth it?

In general,  we think a pizza steel is a worthy purchase for most home cooks, even those that don’t intend to cook pizza from scratch much. That’s because a pizza steel can function as a heat sink that will stabilize the temperature inside even the most temperamental of ovens.

How thick should a pizza steel be? 

All the steels we tested were at least 1/4-inch thick, and we think that is the minimum you should look for to achieve top results. Thicker steels offer more even heating and less hotspots; that said, they’re also usually significantly heavier and, often, more expensive.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants. She has written extensively for Serious Eats. 
  • Taylor tested seven pizza steels, using them to cook New York-style pizza from scratch. As she did this, she evaluated each steel’s performance, usability, and design.
  • She also interviewed Joe Hurly, owner of Falls Culinary Inc., the manufacturer of the Dough-Joe pizza steel.

I Flipped Over 100 Crepes to Find the Four Best Crepe Pans

For thin, crispy crepes at home, it’s helpful to have a dedicated crepe pan. We tested 12 of them to find the four best pans for every budget and situation.

A person using a spreader to spread crepe batter onto a crepe pan.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

There are certain foods I prefer to buy not make, like fried chicken and ice cream. Anecdotally, the number of existing, dedicated shops and stands suggests crepes fall into this category for many people. However, after my first attempt many moons ago, I was surprised to find how easy they are to make at home. As my adoration for thin, crispy crepes raged on, a good crepe pan became essential.

While a stainless steel or nonstick skillet will do in a pinch, a dedicated crepe pan has a wider surface and lower sides to deliver better results with less fuss. That said, there are a lot of options: classic carbon steel, nonstick pans with wooden spreaders, and electric models that are meant to be dipped into batter. As a site, we’ve never reviewed crepe pans. It was high time to crack some eggs, whisk batter, and get testing. 

The Winners, at a Glance

This crepe pan is thin, light, and conducts heat just like a crepe pan should (read: evenly). Unlike heavy cast iron, you won’t find any trouble lifting and swirling batter. Once seasoned, clean-up is easy.

Many cooks will find a nonstick crepe pan easier to use, as it virtually eliminates all issues with flipping. The Le Creuset Toughened Nonstick Pro has a huge surface and comes with a wooden spreader, making it all the easier to get the batter to as thin as possible.

Dedicated crepe stands often use these circular electric griddles. My favorite from Proctor Silex has an extra-large surface, eight settings, and heats quickly and evenly.

This machine has you dip the hot surface into the batter, eliminating the need to perfect your swirling and thinning skills. I think it’s a good option for those new to crepe making.

The Tests

A cooked crepe on an electric crepe maker.
One hundred-plus of crepes later and we found our four favorite crepe makers (including this electric model).Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
  • Basic Crepes Test: To see how crepe pans and machines could perform at producing their namesake food, I made a full recipe’s worth of our basic crepe recipe with each model. I evaluated the final crepes, how easy the crepes were to flip, the overall performance and usability, and the ease of cleaning.
  • Galettes Bretonnes (Winners Only): For those good enough to pass the first test, I made buckwheat crepes with them (typically used in galettes bretonnes). This savory batter is thicker and more viscous than wheat flour variations, so I noted how easy (or hard) it was to flip and fold this type of crepe.

How to Use a Crepe Pan

A person ladling crepe batter onto a crepe pan.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of what I learned while testing, let’s take a beat to discuss how to use a crepe pan. You start by heating the pan over medium to medium-high heat (experience will help you nail the sweet spot). If the pan requires it, add some clarified butter and then a ladle of crepe batter. 

Immediately begin tilting and swirling the pan to spread the batter. This movement should be quick and smooth to cover the bottom of the pan evenly before the batter sets. The goal is to create a thin layer that cooks uniformly.

Alternatively, if using a larger crepe pan, an electric crepe machine, or aiming for impeccably round crepes, a batter spreader is helpful. Pour the batter into the center, then use the spreader—often a T-shaped wooden tool—to swirl the batter outward in a quick, circular motion, starting from the center and working to the edges. 

After the batter is spread, cook the crepe for about 45 to 60 seconds, or until the edges begin to brown and lift from the pan. Use a spatula to check if the underside is golden and, if so, flip it carefully. Cook the second side for about 30 seconds until lightly golden. Once done, slide the crepe out of the pan and onto a plate. Adjust the heat as needed throughout the process, as the pan can become hotter the longer it's used.

What We Learned

Should You Buy an Electric Crepe Machine? 

A person using a spreader to spread buckwheat crepe batter onto an electric crepe maker.
If you're new to crepes, a crepe machine may be the way to go.Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

There’s a reason crepe shops cook crepes with electric machines. Like electric griddles, these machines are simple to use, offer even heating crepe after crepe, and never give you trouble with sticking. 

So, what’s the downside? Well, the machines can leave a few things to be desired. For one, there’s no picking up and swirling the batter to thin it. The machine stays put on the table so you’ll have to practice spreading and will need to buy a spreader/spatula if it doesn’t come with one. You also won’t be able to submerge the machine in water and will have to clean the surface by hand. Storage is another factor to consider, especially if you have limited space.

Another drawback is that true, traditional French crepes have buttery, crispy edges that I wasn’t able to replicate with any of the nonstick machines (or pans for that matter). 

Carbon Steel Was a Winner

A browned crepe on a carbon steel crepe pan.
Carbon steel made the most beautifully browned crepres.Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Surprisingly (or not, since carbon steel is awesome), I preferred the carbon steel crepe pans over the nonstick steel or cast iron options. The cast iron pans were too heavy to lift and tilt, resulting in unevenly spread batter. While easy to pick up, the nonstick pans couldn’t deliver the same texture and flavor as mentioned above. Carbon steel pans strike the best balance between heat conductivity, ease of use, and performance. They provide a durable, naturally nonstick surface when properly seasoned, are lighter than cast iron for easier handling, and offer superior heat control (a must for crepes).

Many carbon steel pans must be seasoned, a fairly simple process that typically only needs to be done before first use. For the De Buyer crepe pan I tested, this involved rubbing some oil on the pan and heating it to smoking before letting it cool. Some carbon steel pans come pre-seasoned, so make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions.

What Size Crepe Pan Do You Need?

A buckwheat crepe with a fried egg in the middle on a crepe pan.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

When deciding on the perfect crepe pan, size plays a role in the ease and quality of your crepe-making. A pan with a larger surface area offers more room for batter spreading, which is crucial for creating thin, even crepes. The ideal diameter for a traditional stovetop crepe pan is between 9 1/2 to 10 inches. At this size, the pan is large enough to allow for spreading, yet small enough to manage easily over the burner and flip the crepes gracefully.

For those interested in electric crepe makers, opting for a model that measures at least 11 inches in diameter is ideal. Some of the best ones, like our top pick, extended up to 13 inches. These larger sizes allow you to use the spreader to smooth batter as far as you need to get it ultra-thin.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Crepe Pan

A carbon steel crepe pan on a marble surface.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

If you’re in the market for a crepe pan, you’ll first have to choose between nonstick or traditional. I preferred the overall texture and quality of the crepes produced on carbon steel and cast iron pans, though these do have a learning curve compared to nonstick. Between carbon steel and cast iron, carbon steel was much easier to lift, tilt, and swirl with—essential for making evenly spread crepes. 

Whichever pan you choose, pick one that’s lightweight enough to pick up and tilt. For me, that was no more than three pounds. As far as size, larger surface areas left more room for spreading, with the sweet spot hitting right around 9 1/2 to 10 inches. 

If the electric crepe machines seem more your speed, opt for one at least 11 inches across (and up to 13 like our winner, if you can). The best ones come with tools for spreading and flipping and have easy-to-read and intuitive controls that let you adjust heat precisely. Longer cords are always a plus, too.

Our Favorite Crepe Pans

What we liked: We’ve been fans of carbon steel pans for a long time. Thin and lightweight, this type of pan heats up quickly and conducts heat well. Those same properties make it a great material for a crepe pan. This pan has a wide surface area with low, gently sloped sides. This design gives you the option to tilt and swirl the batter to thin it or use a spreader (both a wooden spreader and flipper are included with the pan). When it came time to cook crepes, the batter easily spread across the surface of the pan, resulting in a thin crepe with lacy edges.

A crepe cooking on a carbon steel crepe pan.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we didn’t like: This pan requires a round of seasoning before you begin, but we have a handy guide for that. Once this part was done, the crepe batter never stuck. Carbon steel is not dishwasher-safe and must be dried thoroughly after cleaning to prevent rusting. 

If the price is a bit high for your budget, the pan is also available at a lower price point without the wooden tools.

Key Specs

  • Material: Carbon steel
  • Weight: 2 pounds
  • Handle length: 8 inches
  • Induction compatible?: Yes
  • Dishwasher-safe?: No
A buckwheat crepe with an egg in the center on a carbon steel crepe pan.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: Le Creuset makes some great products and their crepe pan is no exception. I loved the super-wide surface area and the small lip for corralling batter. The nonstick coating gave me no trouble when it came to flipping crepes. The coating is triple-reinforced and distributed heat more evenly than the other nonstick models I tested. It also comes with a wooden batter spreader.

What we didn't like: This pan is pricey. While we don’t typically recommend splurging on nonstick, a crepe pan’s going to be used far less frequently than a standard nonstick skillet.

Key Specs

  • Material: Nonstick coated metal
  • Weight: 3 lbs, 8 ounces
  • Handle length: 8 inches
  • Induction compatible?: Yes
  • Dishwasher-safe?: Yes (though we don’t recommend cleaning nonstick in the dishwasher)
A spatula being used to flip a crepe.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: Most of the electric crepe machines operated the same, though there were a few ways that this one stood out. The surface area is extra-wide, which helps thin the batter as much as possible. You could even use this machine to make dosa or large tortillas. The heat settings are clearly marked and simple to operate, with plenty of room for half settings between numbers so you can dial in the perfect temperature.

The finished crepes were evenly cooked and flipped without sticking or resisting and the machine comes with a few tools, like a batter scoop, spreader, and flipper. The body of the machine stays cool during cooking, so you can move it after use without much issue. I also appreciated the built-in place to store the cord.

The control panel of the Proctor Silex electric crepe machine.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we didn't like: Keep in mind that this type of crepe maker can’t be lifted and turned, so you’ll have to perfect using the tool to spread the batter. However, I was able to get the hang of it quickly. This type of machine is bulkier to store than a slim metal pan. 

While a nonstick surface like this does not require the use of oil or butter, the downside to that is that the final crepes will not have the signature buttery edges that true French crepes offer (the manufacturer says not to use butter, as this gunk up the surface over time).

Key Specs

  • Material: Stainless steel; plastic
  • Weight: 3 lbs, 14 ounces
  • Handle length: N/A
  • Induction compatible?: N/A
  • Dishwasher-safe?: The tools are
A cooked crepe on the Proctor Silex electric crepe machine.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: Instead of the ladle-and-spread method, you add all your batter into the provided bowl and dip the hot surface of this crepe maker into it. Only a thin layer sticks to the machine, eliminating the business of trying to spread the batter as thin as possible. When the crepe is cooked a few moments later, the edge starts to peel back and the crepe can be easily flipped and removed. While the overall quality didn’t compare to most of the other pans and makers we tested, this could be a great option for beginners or those intimidated by the crepe cooking process. 

An electric crepe maker's surface being dipped into batter.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we didn't like: The crepes were not the prettiest or the most evenly cooked. Crepe purists and perfectionists might not be satisfied with the results from this machine, though I would say this pick is not for them anyway. 

Key Specs

  • Material: Nonstick-coated metal and plastic
  • Weight: 1 pound, 10 ounces
  • Handle length: 8 inches
  • Induction compatible?: N/A
  • Dishwasher-safe?: No
An electric crepe maker beside a bowl of batter.
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

FAQs

Can you make crepes in a cast iron pan? 

You can make crepes in a cast iron pan. Keep in mind that you may struggle to swirl and flip the crepe in a cast iron skillet due to its weight and high sides.

Is cast iron or carbon steel better for crepes?

We found that carbon steel is better for crepes. While cast iron is great at distributing and maintaining heat, it's heavier than carbon steel. We preferred lightweight pans we could pick up and tilt to swirl the batter.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants. She has written extensively for Serious Eats. 
  • Taylor tested 12 crepe pans, making a full batch of standard crepes in each and a batch of crepes bretonnes in the winners. During this, she evaluated each pan’s performance, usability, and design.

To Find the 3 Best Food Mills, We Went Through 30 Pounds of Potatoes and Tomatoes

We tested nine food mills to find three that were easy to set up, use, and clean—and that made silky potato puree and smooth tomato sauce every time.

a food mill with boiled potatoes in a steamer basket on a white tile surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

It’s hard to imagine the days before we had the convenience of electronic kitchen appliances. Mixers, food processors, and blenders all replaced tedious work done by hand. (Imagine making massive quantities of whipped cream manually! My wrist hurts just thinking about it.) But the food mill is one manual contraption that has stood the test of time.

This simple handheld device is used to make smooth purees and works by gently pressing ingredients through a sieve, resulting in something silky, but still textured. We’ve never formally reviewed them, so we tested nine mills, pureeing 20 pounds of potatoes and making batch after batch of fresh tomato sauce to find the best ones.

The Winners, at a Glance

This mill bested all others during our testing; it was easy to use, affordable, and produced great results. It pureed potatoes in a fraction of the time of other mills and the handle provided good leverage.

What this mill lacked in bells and whistles, it made up for in simplicity and ease, all while churning out good results. The sieve is fixed to the mill’s bowl, so you don’t have to fuss with tricky parts and rigid springs.

If you’re willing to spend more cash, this fancy mill has a few features that make it really easy to use. We liked the raised holes on the sieve which were more efficient at separating the tomato's flesh from the skin, pulp, and seeds. The silicone-coated handle was also one of the most comfortable to hold and use.

The Tests

using a spatula to mix together freshly milled potatoes in a pot with the food mill on the left
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
  • Creamy Mashed Potatoes Test: We made a batch of pommes puree, the French cousin of mashed potatoes, in each mill. We timed how long it took and noted ease of use, then tasted the final product to see if it was lumpy or if the processing created a gummy texture.
  • Tomato Passata Test (Winners-Only): We used our favorite mills to make batches of tomato passata. This cooked tomato puree is a staple of Italian cooking and is free from skins and seeds. We evaluated how well the mill processed the mixture, separating the flesh from the rest, and how quickly it did so.

What We Learned

Fluted Sides Helped Funnel Ingredients

a side view of the williams sonoma food mill, showing how the sides are fluted
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Some of the mills we tested had straight sides, while others were fluted, like the OXO. Not only do fluted sides allow you to start with more food from the beginning (eliminating needing to stop and refill), but the slope also encourages food to move toward the perforated base. Straight-sided mills require you to use a spatula to encourage things downward.

Evenly Spaced, Raised Holes Made for Quicker Work

the underside of a food mill with tomatoes being strained through it into a pot
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Hole size directly impacts the texture of the final product, with smaller holes producing finer purees and larger ones allowing for a coarser texture. Additionally, the spacing between holes plays a crucial role in the efficiency of the milling process; closer spacing leads to a more uniform puree, while wider spacing can process larger quantities of food faster. Regardless of the size or shape of the holes, we found that food mills with raised holes, like on the Williams Sonoma, processed food much faster, likely because the raised design helps to prevent clogging and ensures a smoother, more consistent flow through the sieve.

The Best Food Mills Were Easy to Assemble

a food mill with boiled whole potatoes inside it
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

If you’ve never used a food mill, you might not be aware of some of the finer points of setup. If you have, then you know that a model that’s easy to put together is crucial. For mills with changeable sieve plates, you first have to fit the sieve into the mill, which can be quite a task. Then, you have to take the crank lever and fit the post into the hole in the center of the sieve plate. Up the crank arm lies a spring topped by a crossbar. The crossbar has to be pushed down against the spring, swiveled slightly, and fit under two hooks that hold the crossbar in place. Some food mills, like the OXO, have a lock mechanism to ensure correct placement. Overcoming a stiff spring can make set up a challenge, but too little and the blade won’t push food into the mill well. 

Handles and Stability Were Important, Too

a side view of the oxo food mil showing the feet on the bottom
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

In addition to easy assembly, other things make a huge difference when it comes to the usability of a food mill, like its handles. Not only should they be comfortable to grab, but they should offer some leverage. Stay away from wire handles, which give little in the way of comfort. 

Stability is another factor. Our winner, from OXO, has flat feet that rest on top of a bowl or pot and give you a greater range of options during use. Some mills use hooks to hang on the side of a pot, but, in general, this can be limiting. For example, if your food mill has hooks, an 8-inch bowl, and a 5-inch handle, you’re going to need to find a pot that’s pretty much exactly nine inches across to use with it.

Some of the mills we tested had hooks that were made of metal and others had ones coated with silicone or plastic. If we were going to go with hooks, we preferred the silicone-coated ones, which were better at gripping and slid around less. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Food Mill

a food mill with potatoes in it set over a pot; the following copy overlays the image: A Seriously Good Food Mill: Comfortable grip; stable, small, closely-spaced holes
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray / Grace Kelly

Consider the size and capacity of the food mill. You'll want one that's big enough to handle the amount of food you plan to process but not so large that it's difficult to store. Next, look at the materials: durable stainless steel is a great choice because it's easy to clean and won't rust. Some food mills come with interchangeable discs for different textures, from fine to coarse, which is handy for various recipes. That said, you want a mill that can quickly and easily puree; we liked mills with small raised holes, which produced the smoothest results. A comfortable handle and a stable base are a must, or else milling potatoes will feel like you're wrangling a greased watermelon, with the mill slipping and sliding around. Ease of cleaning is also important; models that are dishwasher-safe or easy to disassemble will save you time and effort.

The Top Food Mills

What we liked: This has been a Serious Eats staff favorite for a while, and during our testing, we found out why. Unlike all the other food mills we tested, the OXO has silicone-covered feet that splay out flat and level, which makes it versatile in terms of what bowls or pots you can set it over. You can even set it on a flat surface and use it that way, while many of the others can’t rest flat on their bottom. The collapsible feet make it easy to store, as well.

The OXO created silky potato puree without gumminess and a smooth tomato passata that was neither too chunky nor too watery. It comes with your choice of three sieve discs so you can select the right one for the ingredient you want to process.

What we didn’t like: It did take a smidge longer to process the potatoes in this mill. However, when it came to things like the tomato passata, the texture of the final product was far superior (read: luscious and smooth). 

Key Specs

  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Stated capacity: 2.3 quarts
  • Discs included: 3
  • Weight: 2 lbs, 5 ounces
  • Handle length: 5 inches
  • Opening diameter: 8 inches
  • Care instructions: Dishwasher-safe
the oxo food mill on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: It’s hard not to like a food mill that comes at such a great price, but it has more going for it than saving you a few bucks. Unlike many others, this mill has a fixed sieve, meaning it only has one option for the size and shape of the holes at the bottom. Luckily, that one size is all you need for the majority of recipes. Another bonus of the fixed sieve is that you don’t have to fuss and fiddle with a stiff spring or wonky crossbar. 

Like the Williams Sonoma, the Mirro also has a small metal stick that turns around the bottom of the sieve to scrape off processed food and prevent clogs, which was a handy feature that helped food pass through faster.

What we didn't like: The other side of the coin with a fixed sieve is that you have no options when it comes to adjusting the amount of puree or seeds you want to pass through; what comes standard is just what you get. The straight sides meant we had to help push the food down periodically as well.

Key Specs

  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Stated capacity: 2 or 3.5 quarts
  • Discs included: 1, fixed
  • Weight: 1 lb, 5 ounces
  • Handle length: 6 inches
  • Opening diameter: 7 1/4 inches
  • Care instructions: Hand-wash
an overhead view of the mirro food mill on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: The silicone-coated handles were very comfortable to hold (even though they were shorter than others), which offered more leverage when working the mill. Plus, the knob that spins the crank is oval instead of round, which was easier to get a firm grip on. The mill pureed food quickly and easily, and it was a breeze to set up.

It comes with a special clip that attaches to the base and rotates with the blade to scoop off processed food into your bowl of pot, preventing clogs and making things run smoothly. Some of the other higher-end food mills performed similarly well, but this was the most affordable of that group.

What we didn't like: This mill is definitely on the pricier side. 

Key Specs

  • Material: Stainless steel, silicone-coated handles
  • Stated capacity: NA
  • Discs included: 3
  • Weight: 2 lbs, 10 ounces
  • Handle length: 4 1/2 inches
  • Opening diameter: 8 1/4 inches
  • Care instructions: Dishwasher-safe
Williams sonoma food mill with two extra plates on the side
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

FAQs

What’s a food mill good for?

A food mill is a great tool for any recipe or cooking project where you need to puree and strain simultaneously. With a food mill, you can effortlessly make silky-smooth tomato sauce free of seeds and skins, perfect for pasta dishes or pizza. It's also fantastic for creating lump-free mashed potatoes, velvety applesauce, and smooth purees, such as pumpkin or squash. A food mill can also assist in making homemade jams, jellies, and fruit preserves by removing unwanted seeds and fibers, ensuring a smooth consistency. Its ability to separate solids from liquids without incorporating air makes it better suited than blenders or food processors for certain tasks.

What’s the best way to clean a food mill?

Cleaning your food mill right away will make the process easier. Most food mills are dishwasher-safe, but check the manufacturer's instructions first. If washing by hand, disassemble the mill and wash each part with warm, soapy water. Use a brush to remove any food particles stuck in the sieve holes. Dry the parts thoroughly before reassembling them to prevent rust, especially if the mill is made of metal.

How is a food mill different from a ricer?

A food mill and a ricer both have metal sieves with holes—but they differ in how they process foods. A ricer uses a metal tamper to crush food through the holes in one swift motion, while a food mill has a handle and spinning metal piece that slowly pushes food through the sieve. Food mills are often used for purees and silky smooth mashed potatoes, while ricers are mainly used for crushing starchy foods, yielding a fluffier texture.  

How do you use a food mill for tomatoes? 

People often use food mills to make passata, a tomato puree that’s thin and fresh. In our recipe for passata, we have you quickly cook chopped fresh tomatoes to get rid of some water, then place them in the food mill and start turning. The food mill pushes the tomatoes through the metal sieve, capturing seeds and tomato skin. 

Why We’re the Experts

  • Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants.
  • She has written extensively for Serious Eats, including pieces on paella pans, carving boards, and more.
  • She tested 10 stainless steel food mills by using them to puree 20 pounds of potatoes and make batches of passata. Throughout testing, she evaluated each model's performance, usability, and design.

I Cooked Loads of Rice (and Talked to Experts) to Find the Best Paella Pans

I cooked batches upon batches of paella over a gas burner and charcoal grill to see which paella pan made flavorful, tender rice and crispy socarrat.

chicken, pork, and shrimp paella in the Garcima paella pan
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Paella is a vibrant and flavorful rice dish hailing from the sun-drenched coasts of Spain (namely, Valencia); it's sometimes dotted with shellfish and fish, or nods to the Spanish tierra with links of chorizo and pork. Traditionally, it's made in a massive paella pan and cooked over a blazing wood fire.

Our resident paella aficionado and culinary director Daniel Gritzer gave us his two cents on how the pan makes an impact: “The whole concept of paella, the ideal texture of rice, the ratio of crispy bottom to tender al dente grains, the need to build flavor quickly with a high-heat searing step...all of this is connected to the form and build of the pan and to the very specific cooking technique to achieve the desired results.”

In other words, the pan has to be responsive to a variety of heat changes, be it screaming hot searing, or low and even simmering. So, to find a great paella pan, I tested six popular ones made from stainless steel, carbon steel, copper, and enameled steel. I used them on a gas stove and over a charcoal grill (since most of us aren't necessarily cooking over woodfire). The winners cooked up tender rice with a perfect socarrat every time.

The Winners, at a Glance

This sturdy pan performed better than any pan in our tests, cooking over both gas and charcoal. It was also easy to clean and its wide handles made it comfortable to lift.

An enameled paella pan like the Machika brings some notable advantages, like not having to season the pan or worry about rust. It also cooked up tender, flavorful paella.

Even though you can only use this pan over gas or electric heat, the fantastic performance and jaw-droppingly beautiful construction are enough to be worth the splurge.

The Tests

cooking paella in a paella pan on a grill
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
  • Stovetop Paella Test: I made this recipe for stovetop paella to gauge the pans' cooking performance and to see how easy they were to lift and move. After cooking, I washed and dried the pans, noting any difficulties or blemishes.
  • Grilled Paella Test (Winner’s-Only): I used the winners to cook a grilled paella over a charcoal grill. I examined the results, how the pan made up for any inconsistencies in heating, and if there were any blemishes or damage.

How to Make Paella

Creating a classic paella is an art form that combines tradition with culinary skill, and it involves several essential steps. Chef Teresa Montaño of Otoño in Los Angeles said, “To cook a great paella you must understand the layering of flavors and execution of the rice cookery.”

First, start with a good paella pan—one that's wide and shallow—to ensure even cooking and the development of the coveted socarrat, the crispy rice crust at the bottom. Begin by sautéing onions, garlic, and other vegetables in olive oil to make a sofrito, laying the foundation for the dish's rich flavors. This gets cooked down until almost a paste, then removed from the pan while you sear the proteins. Once browned, the proteins get pushed to the side and spices like saffron and paprika are added to the middle to brown, along with the sofrito. Next, add a fragrant broth that matches the proteins (like clam stock for a seafood paella), then scatter in the rice—typically a short-grain variety like Bomba or Calasparra. The dish is then embellished with any remaining proteins, like mussels, rabbit, or shrimp.

It's crucial to distribute the ingredients evenly and not to stir the rice after adding it to the broth. The paella is cooked over a steady heat until the rice is al dente and the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to cook until the rice starts to crackle and pop, which indicates the formation of the socarrat. “The way I teach my cooks to cook paella is to engage all of their senses. As the broth cooks down and concentrates into the rice, you can hear the rice start to crackle in the pan.  Because there is a fine line between burning and achieving the crispy rice, you must use your nose to smell for burn as you are crisping the rice," Montaño says. Finally, garnish with ingredients like peas, roasted red peppers, and lemon wedges, and let rest for a few minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

What We Learned

Which Material Was Best?

chicken and tomato cooking in a paella pan on a charcoal grill
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Traditional paella pans are made of thin stainless steel, which is very responsive, and allows you to control the process over a hot woodfire. But for the home cook who might not be able to (or want to) cook over an open flame, I found carbon steel or enamel-coated steel pans were the most versatile; they performed well both on the stovetop and grill. The stainless steel models I tested performed best over charcoal.

Choosing a material also depends on how you feel about maintenance and care; while carbon steel conducts heat well and allows for even cooking, it requires regular seasoning to prevent rust. Stainless steel or enameled steel pans are easier to maintain and are rust-resistant, though they may not distribute heat as evenly. But, in the end, all of these materials created a great pan of paella in my tests, so it really depends on whether you want to cook inside or outside (or both), and how much effort you want to exert in terms of maintenance.

Thinner Pans Were More Responsive

a closeup of chicken and pork paella with some of the rice upturned to show the socarrat
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

While thicker gauge metal pans often yield better results in terms of even browning and good heat conduction (especially with saute pans), for paella, a thinner pan is traditional. This is likely because paella was traditionally made over large fires, and cooks needed the pan to both heat up fast to boil and then cool down for the final simmer. As Daniel noted, "The thinness of the steel...reduces the thermal mass of the pan, making it especially responsive to temperature changes." When you're cooking paella at home over a stovetop or grill, this same thinner construction helps to give you more control over the final product (paired with some temperature tweaking, of course).

Surface Area Was Key

cooking paella over a grill
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

When the rice is added to the pan, it should be no more than a finger’s width deep, so a wide diameter is crucial, or you’ll end up with unevenly cooked paella. All of the pans in my final round of testing were between 12 and 14 inches in diameter at the opening, and the pans that created the best paella, like the Garcima, were at least 11 inches across on the bottom. Some of the winners had a 1-inch variation between the diameter at the top and bottom, which made a difference in funneling the heat to the right spots and preventing burning. Even though pans with a smaller surface area fit better over smaller gas burners, I found that a paella pan tends to push heat toward the center, where the rice cooks faster. Wider pans allowed the heat of the broth to circulate better and produced a better final product—even on burners that were much, much smaller than the overall diameter of the pan.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Paella Pan

a photo of the garcima paella pan with the following text on top: A seriously good paella pan; sloped sides; shallow and wide; responsive; wide handles
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray / Grace Kelly

Cast iron and enameled steel were the most versatile, while stainless steel was great for outdoor cooking, so choose a pan with that in mind. A thinner pan is traditional and helps you adjust to the extreme temperature swings needed to cook a proper paella.

When it comes to size, the pan should be large enough to allow the rice to spread thinly over the surface, which is essential for creating the perfect socarrat (the crispy layer of rice at the bottom). I preferred pans with at least an 11-inch wide diameter at the base or those that had no more than a 1-inch difference between the base diameter and the opening diameter. The depth of the pan is also crucial: A good paella pan is typically shallow, which aids in the even cooking of the rice and socarrat development.

The pan should have a flat bottom to ensure even heat distribution, especially if you're using a regular stovetop. Look for pans with slightly sloping sides, which help distribute the broth and cook the rice uniformly. The handles are another consideration—they should be sturdy and heatproof, making it easier to handle the pan, especially when it's full. Pans with wide, looped handles were easier to grab, and those that were coated stayed cooler.

The Best Paella Pans

What we liked: This well-made pan is crafted in Valencia, the birthplace of paella. It has a restaurant-grade construction and is made of carbon steel. The Garcima paella pan has a slightly thicker ply steel that distributes heat evenly, while still being responsive. The coated handles stayed cool during cooking (unless subjected to direct flame), and the bottom of the pan didn’t warp or bend. It produced a perfect socarrat during the stovetop paella recipe and, though the socarrat burned a little over the charcoal grill, I was able to scrape it off and clean it easily and without any soaking.

What we didn't like: It won’t work on an induction stove and needs a good layer of seasoning before use. 

Key Specs

  • Materials: Carbon steel
  • Diameter at opening: 13.5 inches
  • Diameter at base: 11 inches
  • Max temperature: 482°F
  • Weight: 3 pounds, 12 ounces
  • Dishwasher-safe: No
chicken, pork, and shrimp paella in the Garcima paella pan
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: After both tests, the enamel coating was still really simple to clean and didn’t require intense scrubbing. It doesn’t discolor after use, even when exposed to charcoal smoke, and it doesn’t need to be seasoned. Its sides are almost straight up and down, which made for a lot of heat circulation during cooking and resulted in an excellent paella. It’s affordably priced and comes in a variety of sizes.

What we didn't like: Enamel can be prone to chipping over time (though the pan I used was fine) and once it does, it’s pretty much ruined. This finish is also not as attractive as some of the other materials for presentation purposes.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Enamel-coated steel
  • Diameter at opening: 12 inches
  • Diameter at base: 11 inches
  • Max Temperature: 400°F
  • Weight: 2 pounds, 3 ounces
  • Dishwasher-safe: No
paella cooked in the machika paella pan
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: With fancy flourished brass handles, the Mauviel paella pan doesn’t exactly look like a traditional paella pan, but that doesn’t stop it from producing some amazing results. It has a stainless steel core and a copper exterior, and really showed off during the searing stage of the recipe, producing golden brown chicken thighs. While I wasn't sure what to expect during the final stage (trying to achieve that perfect, crispy socarrat) the resulting golden layer of rice was nothing short of phenomenal. It may go without saying, but the gleaming copper and brass are positively gorgeous, and this pan will be the only centerpiece your dining table needs.

What we didn't like: The price of this pan compared to other paella pans is astronomical, but anyone who knows about copper pans (and specifically ones made by Mauviel) knows that that price tag often comes with superior construction and materials. Copper pans require special care when cleaning to keep that copper bottom shining, and they should never go in the dishwasher. This kind of pan isn’t suitable for use on an induction stovetop or on the grill (or very high temperatures at all) so keep that in mind.

Key Specs

  • Materials: Stainless steel interior, polished copper exterior
  • Diameter at opening: 13 3/4 inches
  • Diameter at base: 10 3/4 inches
  • Max temperature: 400°F
  • Weight: 4 pounds, 14 ounces
  • Dishwasher-safe: No
paella cooking in the mauviel pan
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

  • Smithey Round Roaster: As its name suggests, this is really more of a roaster than a paella pan. The base of the pan was too narrow to accommodate a paella recipe for four, and the handles were a bit small.
  • de Buyer MINERAL B Carbon Steel Paella Pan, 12.5-Inch: This is a quality pan that would no doubt last years. However, its design is just not well suited to the task of cooking paella, specifically due to a narrow base and high sides that caused the rice to form a thick layer.
  • El Cid Paella Pan: This is a great budget option and was only narrowly beaten by the Garcima.

FAQs

What can you make in a paella pan? 

Beyond classic paella, there are a ton of ways to use your paella pan. First, it’s a great vessel for sauteing veggies or searing meat. The wide open surface area of the pan allows heat to escape so it doesn’t mess with browning. You could also roast a chicken or simmer a stew-like shakshuka. Basically, anything you would cook in a braiser, as long as the recipe doesn’t need a lid.

What is the best paella pan for stovetop use?

The best paella pan for cooking on a stovetop is the Garcima, which was easy to use and clean and made a great paella. A more budget-friendly option would be the El Cid Paella Pan, which did well on the stovetop and is half the price.

What is the best paella pan for grilling? 

The Garcima pan also performed well during our grilled paella test, making up for hotspots in the charcoal and distributing heat where needed. 

What size paella pan is best?

For four people, you’ll need at least a 13-inch paella pan. Any smaller and you might have trouble fitting in all the proteins and still leaving enough room for the rice and broth.

If you’re using a paella pan on a grill, what kind of grill should you use?

You can cook paella on a gas or charcoal grill, though today paella is often made on a large gas burner that is wide enough to apply heat to the entire bottom of the pan. 

How do you season a paella pan?

 If the paella pan you have requires seasoning, the first step is to give it a wash with hot, soapy water; oftentimes, the manufacturer will leave a thin protective coating on the pan to prevent rust, and you'll want to get rid of it before cooking. Some manufacturers also recommend simmering water (with a dash of vinegar) in the pan for around 10 minutes before emptying, washing, and drying. Finally, give the interior of the pan a wipe with some canola or vegetable oil.

How do you clean a paella pan?

All of the paella pans I tested were not dishwasher-safe. Instead, it's best to hand wash them with warm, soapy water, then dry them thoroughly. If the pan is carbon steel, giving it a thin wipe with a neutral oil will help the seasoning build.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants. She has written extensively for Serious Eats. 
  • She tested six paella pans by making two recipes on both a stovetop and a charcoal grill to examine how they performed.
  • We interviewed our resident paella specialist Daniel Gritzer, as well as chef Teresa Montaño of Otoño in Los Angeles.

We Spent 12 Days Testing Six Tagines to Find the Best Ones

After braising chicken legs and lamb in six different tagines, we found out which four were the best for simmering and stewing.

overhead shot of four tagines on a tile surface
Serious Eats/Taylor Murray

A tagine is a traditional North African cooking vessel, as well as the name of the braised dish that's cooked in it. This versatile pot has a conical lid that lets condensation drip back down to the bottom of the pot, keeping braised dishes moist as they slowly cook. While it can be set-and-forget cooking, a tagine does require some care. “Traditionally, tagine pots were placed over an open fire or a bed of charcoal at very low heat. Due to their clay composition, it's essential to keep the heat low to prevent the pot from cracking,” says Nargisse Benkabbou, a Moroccan food expert, cookbook author, and executive chef at L'Mida Marrakech. 

To find the best tagines, we spent 12 days testing six of them. We evaluated tagines made from a variety of materials (fired clay, glazed ceramic, and cast iron) and priced from $30 to $306. We cooked two braised meat dishes in each one, one on the stovetop and one in the oven, to see which performed the best and were the easiest to use.

The Winners, at a Glance

Though a bit on the smaller side (it supposedly holds enough food to serve two), this gorgeous tagine has traditional Berber designs and is hand-cast and glazed in Morocco. The clay imparts an earthy flavor to the food cooked in it, and the steam vent hole releases just the right amount of moisture—keeping food moist but not soggy.

This large tagine is great for cooking bigger meals and is coated in a durable and easy-to-clean ceramic finish. It’s also dishwasher-safe and available in a few pretty hues.

This cast iron tagine is very similar to the Uno Casa below, except it has a steam vent in the lid. While not strictly necessary, this feature can deepen the flavor and enrich the texture of the final braised product. Cast iron is durable and easy to cook with, too.

This tagine offered the best of both worlds with a durable and temperature-diffusing cast iron base and glazed ceramic lid. Braised lamb and chicken came out succulent and perfectly cooked, and we liked that the lid was easy to remove.

The Tests

overhead shot of tagine with lamb and apricot stew
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
  • Chicken and Dried Fig Tagine Test: We cooked a chicken and fig dish in the tagine to see how well the pot could cook a basic recipe designed for a tagine. 
  • Lamb Shank Tagine Test (Winners-Only): The tagines that did well in the previous test went back into the oven for a second round. In this test, we cooked a lamb shank tagine and evaluated the final flavor and texture of the dish. We noted the quality of the sear on the lamb and checked for any cracks in the tagine. We also noted how easy (or not) it was to handle the tagine going from the stovetop to the oven. 
  • Cleanup Tests: After cooking each dish, we cleaned the tagine by hand. We took notes on how easy this was to do and if any soaking or scrubbing was needed.

What We Learned

Steam Vents Concentrated Flavor

closeup image of steam hole vent on colorful tagine
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Some of the tagines we tested had holes for venting steam, and some didn’t. Those that didn’t leave behind more liquid in the final braise. According to Benkabbou, “The vent is designed to let some steam escape, preventing the tagine from becoming too watery. I personally prefer more robust and intense flavors, which means less watery consistency, so I believe the vent is essential. If desired, the vent can be temporarily covered with foil to keep in more moisture.” Ultimately, making the choice between a tagine with or without a steam vent hole may come down to a matter of personal preference. 

Terracotta Imparted Its Own Taste

During our testing, we found there were some distinct disadvantages to cooking with terracotta (i.e. clay) if viewed from a strictly objective standpoint. Terracotta is prone to cracking and has to be treated with special care (for example, gradually raising the heat instead of starting on high) to avoid breaking during cooking. This type of tagine has to be seasoned before use, too, which usually consists of soaking them in water (for around 24 hours), rubbing them with oil, and baking them at a low temperature. This wouldn’t be so hard if not for the challenge of finding a good way to soak the tagines (unless you don’t mind sacrificing your kitchen sink or bathtub for an entire day, you’ll have to find a vessel or container large enough to complete this process). 

Despite these challenges, terracotta tagines are preferred by many cooks. “My perspective on tagine cookware is very personal,” says Benkabbou. “Glazed clay offers a more traditional and more authentic cooking experience. Some say that it releases a distinct, earthy flavor to dishes during the cooking process.” Terracotta can be a great choice, and if you want to go with this kind of tagine, it's best to read up on how to care for and maintain the material.

Clay Offered Great Heat Distribution, While Cast Iron Offered Durability

closeup up fig and chicken tagine in black tagine
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Clay or ceramic are the most traditional tagine materials and offer great heat distribution. They are often hand-painted or glazed and may require seasoning before use. Note that they are generally not dishwasher-safe and can crack if exposed to high heat too quickly. When you're cooking with a clay or terracotta tagine on a direct heat source, like a glass or induction stovetop, this risk increases. If this is the case, you might want to invest in a diffuser, which channels heat to the tagine without being in direct contact.

Cast iron is more durable and versatile. This type of tagine is usually more expensive but is good for those who want a multi-purpose pot since it can be used on a stovetop without a diffuser, and some can go straight from the freezer to the oven.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Tagine

a tagine on a white tile surface with the words: snug-fitting lid; easy to maneuver; steam vent; and clay gives an earthy flavor on top of the photo
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray / Grace Kelly

When buying a tagine, first consider the material; as noted above, clay and ceramic are traditional and offer good heat distribution, while cast iron is more durable and versatile. Choose the material that you feel the most comfortable using and maintaining. You’ll also want to ensure that the tagine is compatible with your type of stovetop (gas, electric, induction) or if you’ll need to invest in a diffuser.

Next, consider the size. A smaller tagine (around eight to 10 inches in diameter) is often good for personal use or cooking for two, while larger tagines (12 inches or more) are more suited for family meals or entertaining guests. Some tagines are decorative and only meant for serving, so double-check this to avoid being heartily disappointed!

As we mentioned, the jury’s out when it comes to steam vent holes. For a more robust and traditional flavor, go for a tagine with a steam hole. For a tagine with a bit more moisture, choose one without.

Lastly, a tagine’s lid should be conical, as this helps circulate moisture within the dish and the lid should fit snugly to ensure that the moisture circulates effectively. Some tagines come with handles for easier lifting.

The Best Tagines

What we liked: There was no doubt that this tagine did impart some flavor to the final dishes. The clay also seemed to do a better job at moderating the steam build-up inside of the pot. Even with a steam vent, we didn’t notice an over-reduction of the sauce in the lamb shank tagine recipe. Handling the pot was easy thanks to a lip around the edge, which allowed us to get a good grip on it. It’s also lightweight and the design is gorgeous enough to be a centerpiece on your table.

What we didn’t like: The seasoning process is a bit tricky. You have to find a vessel or area large enough to completely cover the entire tagine for 24 hours. So, unless you don’t mind giving up your sink or bathtub for an entire day, you’ll have to find a special container to complete this task (like a bucket). Luckily, it really only needs to be done once. We also found that this tagine was just shy of being big enough for two servings. When we completed the chicken test, we could only fit two legs inside it, and in the lamb test, only one shank could comfortably sit inside. Also, the lid did crack a bit during the seasoning process but that’s fairly normal for this material, and it didn’t affect the cooking. 

Price at time of publish: $60.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 5 lbs, 12.5 oz
  • Dimensions: 10 inches wide, 7 inches tall
  • Cleaning: Hand wash only
  • Needs seasoning: Yes
  • Vent hole: Yes
verve culture tagine on white tile surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: The glazed ceramic construction is much more durable than traditional clay and, it's also easier to clean than uncoated cast iron. It can withstand much higher temperatures and temperature fluctuations (it’s oven-safe up to 500° F). The smooth surface was much easier to clean and dishwasher-safe, which was a huge plus. This particular size (the 3.7 quart) is large enough to feed a family without overcrowding the pot. 

What we didn’t like: The larger size coupled with the smooth edge and no lip made it a bit tougher to grasp when placing it in and out of the oven. The price is definitely on the higher side as well. While this tagine does need to be seasoned, the process involves just simmering milk in the base which is nowhere near as much work as it is to season a terracotta tagine.

Price at time of publish: $146.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 8 lbs 3.2 oz
  • Dimensions: 13 inches wide, 9.5 inches tall
  • Cleaning: Dishwasher safe
  • Needs seasoning: Yes
  • Vent hole: No
emile henry black tagine on white tile surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: This tagine has a vent hole, which some say contributes to a more flavorful final dish. Given that more steam will exit the pot, make sure to take extra care that your dish does not overreduce. The cast iron base was durable and won't crack while subjected to the same temperatures as a clay or terracotta tagine. Plus, it’s induction-compatible so it will work on whatever type of stove you have.

What we didn’t like: The surface of the cast iron was rough, which caught sticky food residue; we had to soak and scrub to get it clean. The steam vent hole may reduce the liquid in your recipe more than you’d like.

Price at time of publish: $60.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 10 pounds 4.7 ounces
  • Dimensions: 12 inches wide, 8 inches tall
  • Cleaning: Hand wash only
  • Needs seasoning? No
  • Vent hole? Yes
Kook red tagine on white tile surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: As with the Kook Tagine, the Uno Casa has a hardy, uncoated cast iron base with a ceramic lid. The lid does not have a vent hole so the steam can build up inside the pot. This contributed to a faster overall cook time on our chicken and lamb since it sort of functioned like a pressure cooker. The lid was easy to grab and lift off. As a bonus, this tagine comes with a double-ended pot holder. This one is also induction compatible and will work on gas or electric as well.

What we didn’t like: The pebbled surface of the cast iron was a bit trickier to scrub than the smooth surface of the enameled ceramic or glazed clay pots we tested. This may get better with time as the cast iron builds up a seasoning. Without a steam vent hole, some liquid bubbled up around the edges of the lid during cooking.

Price at time of publish: $60

Key Specs

  • Weight: 9 pounds, 9.5 ounces
  • Dimensions: 12 inches wide, 8 inches tall
  • Cleaning: Hand wash only
  • Needs seasoning: No
  • Vent hole: No
chicken legs and thighs with figs in Uno Casa tagine
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

FAQs

What can you make in a tagine?

In a tagine, you can prepare many dishes, from succulent chicken stews to melt-in-your-mouth lamb tagines sweetened with apricots and enriched with almonds. While there are many traditional dishes that can be cooked in a tagine, this vessel can be used to make anything you would cook in a Dutch oven, from rice dishes to pork spare ribs.

What is the best tagine?

Determining the "best" tagine depends on your specific needs, preferences, and how you intend to use it. Different tagines have unique features that might make them more suitable for certain users. Our favorite traditional tagine was the Verve Culture Moroccan Cooking Tagine. The best glazed clay is the Emile Henry Made In France Tagine and the best cast iron tagines are the Kook Moroccan Tagine and Uno Casa Tagine.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants. 
  • She has written numerous reviews for Serious Eats, including on enameled cast iron skillets, carving knives, and vacuum sealers.
  • We tested six tagines by making two different tagine recipes to examine how they cooked various low-and-slow meat dishes.
  • We spoke to Nargisse Benkabbou, a Moroccan food expert, cookbook author, and executive chef at L'Mida Marrakech, to get background information on tagine cooking prior to testing.

We Tested 8 Indoor Grills and Found Four That Delivered Big on Grill Marks and Flavor

After grilling onions and loads of meat on eight indoor grills, we found four worth their weight in grill marks.

grilled onions on the zojirushi grill
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

An indoor grill, a.k.a. a smokeless grill, gives folks the option to sear up a steak or get grill marks on zucchini without having to step outside (and without any risk of carbon monoxide poisoning). Some use special features to prevent smoke from fogging up your kitchen (like a lid or drip tray), while others rely on the fact that the machine uses electricity as opposed to propane or charcoal. But while they are marketed as smokeless, you likely will get at least a teeny bit of smoke—akin to heating up a cast iron grill pan over high heat, or maybe even less. The amount of smoke also depends on the type of food being grilled, especially if it has high-fat content or if sugary marinades are used.

In terms of imparting a char like an outdoor grill, indoor grills can produce grill marks and a certain degree of char, especially on meats. However, the smoky flavor imparted by charcoal or wood is generally absent in indoor versions. And while some people love their cast iron grill pans for getting grill marks, they don't offer the same enclosed cooking environment or consistent heat distribution as electric indoor grills.

So, if you are looking for some of the flavor that comes from a traditional grill but maybe don’t have the space for one, it's worth giving our favorite indoor smokeless grills a go.

The Winners, at a Glance

This grill was compact but mighty, simple to use, and produced very little—if any—smoke. Because it didn't have raised edges, you could place long skewers on top without worrying about the ends fitting.

The settings were straightforward, and the grill maintained its temperature during cooking. It boasted a removable lid, which added versatility, and all parts are dishwasher-safe (though we recommend hand-washing) with a durable nonstick coating that requires minimal effort when cleaning.

Loaded with fancy tech features (with a price tag to match), the Breville is a great option for those who want more control over temperature or would find a built-in timer useful. This model offers a large cooking area yet still can be stored compactly. Plus, this grill has a smooth griddle side for making pancakes or eggs and can also be used to make paninis.

If you want a grill that's easy to set up and durable and has the look and height of an outdoor grill, this is it. The large cooking surface means you can cook a whole lot at once.

The Tests

four indoor grills on a white backdrop
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
  • Grilled Onion Test: We sliced yellow onions 1/2-inch thick and brushed them with oil before placing them on the grill at medium heat. We did this test to determine how well the grills could create grill marks and if there were any hot or cold spots.
  • Grilled Chicken Test: We heated the grills to medium-high heat, brushed the grates with oil, and cooked two butterflied chicken breasts for five minutes per side until the chicken was cooked through. We observed how the grill cooked the chicken and assessed the quality of the grill marks.
  • Grilled Steak Test (Winners-Only): For those that did well in the first two tests, we heated the grill again to medium-high and grilled a New York strip steak for four minutes on one side, then two to three on the other side or until done. We observed how the grill operated at a higher temperature and checked the steak for char. We completed this test without oil to see if any of the strips stuck while cooking.
  • Cleaning Test: We hand-washed washable parts, and ran machine-safe pieces through the dishwasher.

What We Learned

More Drip Holes Led to Less Smoke

zojirushi grill grate next to hamilton beach grill grate
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Many of the grills had lids that prevented some smoke from escaping whilst grilling, but once opened, well, the smoke was released. What did lead to smoke reduction was a larger amount of holes in the grill grate. Each of the grills we tested had a different design when it came to grease collection. Some, like the Breville, had a tilted grill plate that allowed the grease to drip away from the hot plate to prevent burning and smoking, but the hole was a bit small. Other grills, like the winning Zojirushi Indoor Electric Grill and Hamilton Beach Electric Indoor Searing Grill, had lots of holes located between the grills' ridges so oil and fat were whisked away the moment they started to pool. Because a lot of smoke comes from burning fat, the faster it’s removed from the heating element, the less smoke there is.

Fully-Coated Nonstick Grills Cleaned Up Easier

cleaning a nonstick grill grate in the sink
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

All of the indoor grills we tested were sealed with a slick nonstick coating for extra-easy cleanup. However, not all of them were coated on both sides of the grill grate. The tiebreaker between the Zojirushi Indoor Electric Grill and Hamilton Beach Electric Indoor Searing Grill was this exact spec. The Zojirushi is coated on the bottom as well as the top, so as fat drips down and congeals, it still won’t stick when you go to clean it (though only the drip tray is dishwasher-safe). Conversely, Hamilton Beach was harder to scrub since the bottom was uncoated. 

Grills with Extra Tech Were Nice, but Not Necessary

While some of the grills had fancy extra features like a tray filled with water intended to capture smoke and grease or special temperature sensors, ultimately our favorite grills were the ones that were simple and intuitive to operate. A few users may find being able to adjust the temperature in five-degree increments useful, but that’s likely not the case for everyone. Just like with a gas grill, you probably only want it to be either low, medium, or high heat. This is especially true when it comes to grilling meat, where high heat leads to grill marks and char. The only extra feature that we found particularly useful was an audible alert that the machine was preheated.

The Criteria: What to Look for in an Indoor Grill

grill on white backdrop with the words: removable drip trays, nonstick grate, and simple controls on top
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray / Grace Kelly

When selecting an indoor grill, there are several factors to consider based on your needs and preferences. First, consider the size and look at your counter space and storage area, since these grills can be large. Removable grill grates make cleaning a breeze, and grates should ideally be both nonstick-coated and dishwasher-safe (we recommend hand-washing nonstick to preserve the coating, but the dishwasher is admittedly nice for super-messy jobs). Removable drip trays are essential so that fats don’t linger on the surface of the grill, creating smoke. Small features, like an LCD screen, built-in timer, or audible heat readiness indicator, were nice to have, but not strictly necessary.

What we liked: This small but mighty grill delivered surprisingly great results in our testing. Maybe we were expecting some of the more high-tech grills to outperform this simple design, but ultimately, simplicity won out. We liked the simple controls that didn’t require any fiddling or scouring of the manual to operate. The grill itself sits on a lightweight, open base with a drip tray beneath. The entire design allows for maximum airflow, so smoke can’t get trapped anywhere long enough to be noticeable. The grill also has drip holes all over the cooking surface so fat doesn’t have a chance to linger and burn. We found that this had the greatest effect on the overall amount of smoke the grill let off, more than any other feature that claimed to decrease smoke.

We also liked that the grill has no sides, so if you want to cook skewers or a piece of meat with a large bone (hello, tomahawk ribeye), you don’t have to worry about squishing it in. Cleanup was simple, and we didn’t find any tricky spots where food or gunk got stuck.

What we didn’t like: The grill plate is not dishwasher-safe, which would have been nice (though the drip tray is).

Price at time of publish: $104.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 7.7 lbs
  • Dimensions: 18 x 12.25 x 3.25 inches
  • Temperature range: 176-410°F
  • Cleaning: The plastic base and drip tray are dishwasher safe; hand-washing is recommended for the grill plate
zojirushi grill on white surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: The rotary temperature dial was extremely easy to use. Twist it in one direction, and the temperature goes up, and the other way brings it back down. While this doesn’t offer the same precision as some other models, it might not be necessary for most cooks who just want to grill food without worrying about a temperature difference of 25 degrees or so. During our testing, it was hot when it needed to be and stayed that way. Can’t ask for much more than that.

One of the best features was the removable lid. When the lid was closed, it trapped smoke and steam as well as grease splatter. When it’s removed, the sides are open so that you can add skewers to the grill without worrying if they will fit. We also loved that all the parts are dishwasher-safe, which saves you from having to scrub in the sink. The nonstick coating didn’t ding or blemish in any way and only ever needed a light scrub with a soft bristle brush, at most.

What we didn’t like: The lid can be a bit clunky to operate, and the underside of the grill is not coated in the same nonstick finish as the top, so there were some spots that trapped food and oil. This wasn’t an issue when we cleaned it in the dishwasher, but could be a little vexing when hand washing.

Price at time of publish: $80.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 8 lbs
  • Dimensions: 16.75 x 12.25 x 6.75 inches
  • Temperature range: 200-450°F
  • Cleaning: Grill plate and drip tray are removable and dishwasher-safe
Hamilton Beach grill on white surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: This grill is on the upper end of what we would consider a reasonable price for any indoor appliance, but it comes with a lot of great features. Unlike any of the others in our testing, this grill can be operated as an open or contact (read: panini press) grill. We love appliances that can pull double duty, and this Breville was equally excellent at grilling kebabs as it was making a panini. The grill grates are raised enough to produce nice, brown grill marks with an excellent flavor. There are a few “smart” features (hence the name), too, like the ability to tilt the plate to whisk away oil and fats, and special sensors that can detect a sudden drop in temperature (like when you place a cold steak on) and adjust rapidly to bring it back to where you want.

Even though it is on the larger side, the grill can be stored horizontally to save space. The grates are removable and dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning.

What we didn’t like: It’s fairly heavy to pull in and out of the cabinet on a regular basis. If you want to grill on both parts of the grill (top and bottom), you have to order a separate grill plate from the manufacturer, since one comes as a griddle. The temperature dial is a bit more complicated than some of the other models and might not be ideal for someone who would prefer a dead-simple experience. Oh, and it's pretty expensive for an indoor grill.

Price at time of publish: $320.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 19 lbs
  • Dimensions: 14 x 14 x 5.75 inches
  • Temperature range: 200°-450°F
  • Cleaning: Grill plate and drip tray are dishwasher-safe
breville grill opened up on a white surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: This grill really got close to replicating a true outdoor grilling experience. The domed lid is reminiscent of certain classic charcoal grills, and the cooking surface area is the widest of any we tested. This grill can be operated on the counter or on the included stand. We could see this being a great option for those who want to grill on a patio or deck but can’t use propane or charcoal for one reason or another. The drip tray is the deepest of any we tested and can hold almost a quart of liquid, which means you can cook for a crowd without worrying about spillage. The temperature dial is as simple as they come, though anyone looking for a more accurate temperature gauge may not like the vague number system.

What we didn’t like: It’s extremely bulky for indoor storage. The same large surface area that’s great for cooking a lot at once is also tricky to navigate in an average-sized sink during cleaning. It’s also hard to imagine the size of the kitchen that would have enough cabinet space to store this appliance, so you would likely have to find a special place to keep it (like on a covered patio). This machine drew a lot of power compared to the other ones we tested, so you’ll need to manage how many other appliances are plugged into the same breaker line.

Price at time of publish: $100.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 16 lbs
  • Dimensions: 21.5 x 17.5 inches; on its own the grill surface stands about 6 inches high; with the pedestal, it stands about 2.5 feet high
  • Temperature range: Numbered settings, 1 to 5
  • Cleaning: Grill plate and drip tray are removable and dishwasher-safe
George foreman grill on white backdrop
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

FAQs

How do you clean an indoor grill?

Depending on the grill and what item was cooked on it, cleaning an indoor grill can be a very simple affair. During our testing, we found that a simple wipe with a wet cloth or paper towel was enough to clean the grates. Tough, stuck-on bits needed a bit of a scrub with soapy water. Most indoor grills have a removable grill grate that allows for easy transport to the kitchen sink, and some have grill grates that are dishwasher-safe.

Are indoor grills actually smokeless?

“Smokeless” is a relative term when it comes to indoor grills. While indoor grills are designed to produce significantly less smoke than traditional outdoor grills, it’s not accurate to say they are completely smokeless. However, many modern models do an impressive job of minimizing smoke, making them suitable for indoor cooking without setting off smoke alarms.

Do indoor grills create grill marks? 

Yes, many indoor grills can create grill marks on your food, similar to those you’d see get from outdoor grilling. The appearance of grill marks largely depends on the design of the grill’s cooking surface, the temperature, and how long the food stays in contact with the grill. Other than the visual look of the grill marks, charcoal grills may impart more char along with a smoky flavor. An indoor grill cannot replicate this exact effect.

Can you heat an indoor grill over high heat?

While no indoor grill can exactly replicate the results you can expect from a charcoal or propane grill, many of the grills we tested had high-temperature settings, which produced fantastic results for those who like their food to have a bit of that charred flavor.

Are indoor grills healthier?

Indoor grills can offer some health benefits when compared to other cooking methods, particularly traditional outdoor grilling. However, the term “healthier” can be subjective and depends on what specific health concerns you have. Many indoor grills are designed with slanted grates or drip trays that allow excess fat to run off the meat as it cooks. Many are coated in a nonstick coating, which doesn’t require as much fat to cook as, say, a stainless steel skillet.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants. 
  • She has tested numerous items for Serious Eats, including vacuum sealers, cookware sets, carving knives, and lunch boxes.
  • We tested eight indoor grills by grilling onions, chicken, and steak, to examine if they were really smoke-free, and if they got a nice char on the food.

We Tested 12 Lunch Boxes to Find the Best Ones for On-the-Go Meals

After packing 12 different lunch boxes, we found which ones could hold up to daily meals on the go and wear-and-tear.

a group of several lunch boxes
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

Sure, having lunch at home has its perks. You don’t have to get dressed up, there’s no awkward decision-making about where to sit, and you can control the thermostat. But there are so many reasons to take your meal on the go—be it work, school, a day at the beach, or a road trip. While we’ve reviewed bento-style lunch boxes and food thermoses in the past, it’s high time for us to do a proper lunch box review.

Gone are the days of flimsy plastic containers and lackluster designs. Today's lunch boxes have evolved into a diverse array of culinary companions, offering durability, insulation, organization, and style. With thousands of options on the market, selecting the perfect lunchbox can be a daunting task. Fear not, as we delved deep to curate a comprehensive list of the finest lunch boxes available. After testing 12 boxes and bags, we were able to find three lunch boxes we highly recommend.

The Winners, at a Glance

The lunch bag from Hydro Flask aced our tests and won’t break the bank as far as price goes. It kept ice cold for hours and packed a lot of food and cans for its compact size.

This stylish lunch box is durable, practical, and, best of all, under $20. It also comes with a handy food storage container and perfectly fits six cans.

For those willing to shell out a bit more for the best tech on the market, the Yeti Daytrip can’t be beat in terms of capacity and cold retention. The heavy-duty waterproof exterior is tough as nails and the inside liner is completely stain resistant.

The Tests

an overhead look at a packed lunch box
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
  • Can Capacity Pre-Test: We filled each bag or box with as many cans as would reasonably fit to determine its maximum capacity.
  • Capacity and “Use” Test: We packed a lunch consisting of a simple sandwich, apple, bag of chips, and can of soda in each bag to determine how much would fit. We then lifted and carried the bag around to simulate what it would be like using the lunch box in a real-world setting.
  • Cold Retention Test: We filled each model with a sealed plastic bag containing four cups of ice. We assessed temperature changes (using an instant-read thermometer) over the course of an 8-hour day and at the end strained out any water and weighed the remaining ice to determine how much melted.
  • Stain and Smell Test: We smeared two tablespoons of spaghetti sauce inside each lunch box and let it sit for four hours. After washing per manufacturer instructions, we looked for stains and gave each a sniff to see if any odors lingered.
  • Closing Mechanism Durability Test: We opened and closed each model 10 times to determine how difficult it was and if any zippers got easily stuck or caught.

What We Learned

Empty Space Was Dead Space

two lunch boxes beside on another and two bags of ice in front of them
A lunch box with poor insulation (left) versus one with great insulation (right).Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

While a roomy lunch box might seam appealing for capacity reasons, models with too much interior space ended up doing worse in our tests. In terms of cold retention, excess air contributed to more heat loss, as all of that air had to be cooled down, too. And when it came to actual food, apples and cans moved around in these capacious models, leading to smashing and bruising.

Bags that were adjustable offered the best of both worlds, like the Yeti Daytrip. It lets you choose how tightly closed you want the bag to be so you can load it up with 10 cans or close it up tight and snug on a small sandwich.

Latches Were Better Than Zippers

A hand zipping a lunch box closed
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

It took nine to 43 seconds to open and close each lunchbox 10 times. While a few extra seconds opening a lunch box may not exactly be a huge deal, no one wants to waste precious break time fiddling with an uncooperative closure. Our testing revealed that latch and hook closures, like the Stanley Classic Lunch Box and Yeti Daytrip, were consistently quick and easy to open and close. Also worth noting: lunch boxes that had to round corners offered more opportunities for the zipper to catch.

Of the zippered models, the Hydro Flask Lunch Bag was one of the fastest to open and close. At just 16 seconds, it averaged at less than two seconds per zip. The zipper glided along its track smoothly and without effort. This is likely due to a variety of factors, like a protected canvas seam that separates the zipper from the bag lining, preventing it from snagging. The bag itself is also sturdy enough to offer support when zipping, unlike flimsier bags that collapsed when we tried to get leverage.

The Right Material Deterred Stains and Smells

Three lunch boxes on a white surface
Even a couple of our favorite models (the Hydro Flask and Igloo) slightly stained or retained a little odor, but not enough to be deal breakers.Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

While most of the lunch boxes we tested were made of some kind of nylon or polyester, the way this material is made has a direct effect on its ability to hold onto stains and smells. No surprise that stainless steel and hard plastic had no issue, but we saw a big difference between the liners of some bags versus others. 

Of course, white tended to show stains, but that wasn’t the only factor. Almost all the bags were lined with some kind of polyester or nylon, but the exact construction of this material is proprietary and the companies we reached out to were hesitant to dole out exactly what their liners were made of. What we did notice is that smoother fabric liners were less prone to hold onto stains, perhaps due to an extra coating of something that repels moisture and oil (the most common culprits of staining). Price didn’t necessarily equate to quality, in this case, as one of the cheapest bags outperformed others at higher price points.

Special Features Divided The Pack

a lunch box with a food container in front of it
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

At the end of the day, things like size, shape, cost, and durability may come down to a decision based on personal preference and habits. Many of the bags we tested offered certain accessories and special functions to set them apart from the rest, such as an accompanying food storage container, loops for attaching the bag to a backpack, or a collapsible design. Depending on how and where you plan to take your bag, a shoulder strap may come in especially handy. Super-techy functions like the magnetic closures on the Yeti lunch boxes were a nice touch, as were extra pockets and pouches to keep things nice and organized (though they’ll generally cost ya). 

The Criteria: What to Look for In a Lunch Box

a lunch box on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

While lunch boxes come with all kinds of various bells and whistles, there are a few things to look out for when choosing one. First, make sure that your box can hold at least six cans. Any less and we found you won’t have enough space to carry a full meal.

When it comes to material, we overall preferred those with soft-yet-sturdy sides. Thin, flimsy fabric collapses when you try to open and close the latch or zipper and does a much worse job at cold insulation. Hard-sided boxes didn’t do well enough in our testing to warrant any special attention, but could be a good option for those looking for extra durability or who have an extremely challenging commute (like kayaking over a waterfall or driving the Rubicon trail). 

We liked lunch boxes that were lightweight, as in under a pound or close to it. We also enjoyed boxes that offered a choice of handles for carrying, such as a hand strap on top or a shoulder strap (or both!). 

Maybe it goes without saying, but make sure your lunch box is made with food-safe materials on the inside. Some brands offered this as a “feature,” though it should really be the bare minimum in a product designed to hold, you know, food. Look for item descriptions that say so and are BPA-free. 

What we liked: We were impressed by the amount of cans we could fit in this seemingly tiny bag (nine!). Even full to the brim, the fabric didn’t sag and the handle was still comfortable to grab and carry. Overall, the size is just right for packing a sizable lunch. 

This bag strikes the right balance between rugged and stylish, making it a great option for hiking or taking to the office. It comes in a few different colors and the fabric is both abrasion and water resistant. There are two extra compartments, one on the exterior side and one on the interior of the lid, which comes in handy for organizing utensils and other small items. The sides are rigid enough for the bag to stand upright without having to be held open with one hand, which makes packing it a cinch.

What we didn’t like: The liner did stain slightly from spaghetti sauce during our test. No smell remained, but some residue just wouldn’t budge no matter how hard we scrubbed. The bag is maybe a bit too large to stow inside of a backpack or tote bag, but it could be clipped onto the outside thanks to the handle.

Price at time of publish: $34.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 8 pounds, 3 ounces
  • Dimensions: 11 3/4 x 6 1/4 x 9 1/2 inches
  • Materials: Polyester
  • Can capacity: 9
a pink lunch bag on a white surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: An added plastic food container is a nice extra none of the other lunch boxes offered. It’s handy to have one already perfectly sized to the box instead of having to measure and scout around for something sized just right, and it still leaves room for more food or an ice pack. The color scheme is cute and the box is designed to snugly fit six cans, which makes it a good choice for toting to the beach or park.

We also liked the adjustable shoulder strap, which frees your hands up to carry other things. There are also two Velcro straps on the inside of the lid that wrap around to hold the lid open to make packing easy. There’s also a pocket on the front that’s big enough to hold napkins or utensils. Even though it’s a quarter of the price, this lunch box was beaten only by the Yeti in the cold retention test. That’s an impressive feat!

What we didn’t like: The zipper was on the slower side compared to other boxes we tested, especially in the corners, but did not snag or jam at all. We could detect the faintest hint of smell after the spaghetti sauce test, but only because we were looking for it.

Price at time of publish: $15.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 9 ounces
  • Dimensions: 9 3/4 x 6 3/4 x 6 inches
  • Materials: Polyester
  • Can capacity: 6
a green lunch box on a white surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

What we liked: Yes, this bag is pricey, but it delivered on quality when it came to keeping ice cold. After eight hours, we only saw 40% overall ice meltage, compared to others that were at 50-60% (and even 90% in one case). The latch closure is simple to use and adjustable so you can keep things nice and snug. You won’t arrive to your lunch break to find that a can has rolled around and smashed your banana, for example. 

What we didn’t like: The price is a bit prohibitive, for most. At $80, it’s a significant investment for such a simple item. There are no pockets or compartments for organizing and you need to hold the bag open with one hand to pack, which is a tad annoying. Still, that’s a worthy trade-off for superior cold retention which is ultimately one of the most important aspects of any lunch box.

Price at time of publish: $80.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 1 pound, 1 ounce
  • Dimensions: 8 3/4 x 6 x 8 1/4 inches (at the smallest size)
  • Materials: Proprietary DryHide Shell
  • Can capacity: 10
a pink and red Yeti lunch box on a white surface
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

The Competition

  • Hydro Flask Large 5 L Insulated Lunch Box: Despite the insulation, this lunch box did not do well at preventing ice from melting. It could only hold five cans and the interior left room for a can to roll around and smash delicate things.
  • Carhartt Deluxe Dual Compartment Insulated Lunch Cooler Bag: This lunch box holds a ton of cans or food, but the zipper can be a bit tricky to work. We did appreciate the multiple compartments that come built in, which can be used to sequester away heavy or fragile items.
  • YETI Daytrip Lunch Box: If we HAD to pick a hard-sided lunch box, we’d choose this one. It did fairly well at cold retention and the tough exterior is as durable as they come.
  • Stanley Classic Lunch Box, Hammer Tone Green, 5.5-Quart: This lunch box did extremely poorly during our ice test. While the stainless steel is durable, this one just couldn’t compare to others that offer insulation.
  • LL Bean Expandable Lunch Box: This bag lacks the space to pack a simple lunch without crushing your bag of chips, and the liner stained heavily.
  • LL Bean Flip Top Lunch Box The lining took too much damage during the stain test for us to recommend it, and the zipper was very slow to operate.
  • Igloo Modern Lunch: This Igloo saw far more temperature loss and melted ice than the other one from this brand that we tested, though the hard shell is sturdy and the zipper was easy to use.
  • Coleman Chiller Series Insulated Portable Soft Cooler: The zipper snagged on the liner almost every time we opened and closed it. While the hard plastic insert is an interesting feature, it makes the lunch box bulky.
  • REI Co-op Pack-Away 6 Soft Cooler: This one is worth an honorable mention for its genius collapsible design. While it didn’t dazzle us during any of the tests, this lunchbox could make a great option for stowing under the seat of your car for last-minute grocery store trips.

FAQs

What is the difference between a lunch box and a lunch bag?

There aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to the difference between a lunch box and a lunch bag, but we tended to see lunch boxes as having hard (or at least firm) sides, whereas bags tended to have softer sides and may even resemble a brown paper lunch bag, at least when it came to the Yeti Daytrip Lunch Bag.

Are lunch boxes usually insulated? 

Many lunch boxes on the market today are insulated, but not all. Technically, a lunch box is any kind of container that can house a packaged meal. Some lunch boxes are not insulated but made using steel or hard plastic, both of which are completely resistant to any kind of stain and may even be dishwasher-safe. 

What foods can you put in a lunch box? 

We wouldn’t recommend putting frozen foods into a lunch box (unless you pack it with plenty of ice). Other than that, it is totally up to you what you put in yours. Most lunch boxes can easily house a sandwich, a can of something fizzy, and a few snacks. Large lunch boxes were able to hold as many as 10 cans, while others were more compact. There are plenty of great, make-ahead meals that hold up well to traveling in a lunch box.

Are lunch boxes microwaveable? 

None of the lunch boxes we tested were microwavable. In general, this product is designed to house, ferry, and insulate food—not act as a storage container. If you need to microwave your lunch, consider investing in some plastic, microwave-safe containers that fit into your lunch box.

What are the different sizes of lunch boxes?

There are dozens and dozens of different sizes of lunch boxes on the market, from one to two liters and all the way up to eight. Any more than that and you start to verge into cooler territory.

What is the best material for a lunch box?

During our testing, polyester and nylon fabric performed the best in terms of both cold retention and durability. An extra bonus is that these materials are lightweight and often rigid enough to withstand punctures or stains (depending on the construction).

We Tested 18 Cookware Sets–Here Are 3 We Think Are Actually Worth Buying

We tested 18 (mostly) stainless steel cookware sets to discover which were worth the splurge.

many pieces of stainless steel cookware on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

In general, we have stayed away from recommending cookware sets. Why, you ask? Because most often, consumers get shoehorned into paying hundreds of dollars for a collection of cookware with varying levels of utility. If you only use a couple of pieces on a weekly basis, why pay for a bunch of other items you’ll break out once a year? Plus, our product reviews have shown us time and time again that while one company may produce the best stainless steel skillet, for example, a different company will make the best saucier.

With that being said, cookware sets have an appeal—especially if you're just starting to build your kitchen or looking to replace a bunch of worn-out, old gear. So, we set out to determine if any stainless steel cookware sets were truly worth buying. After testing 18 sets, we found three we recommend.

The Winners, at a Glance

Looking for a set you'll never have to replace? The D3 from All-Clad is the best in terms of usability and performance. It includes two fry pans (8- and 10-inch), two saucepans with lids (2- and 3-quart), one sauté pan with a lid, and one stockpot with a lid.

This set is smaller but only comes with the essentials, including a nonstick pan we liked and our favorite stainless steel skillet

For those that want a nice stainless steel set that's less pricey, this is the one to get. It even includes two of our recommendations for stainless steel skillets and saucepans.

The Tests

A person whisking in a small saucepan
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
  • Fried Egg Test: We fried two eggs in minimal oil in a nonstick pan (if the set had one) to test the skillet's nonstick ability.
  • Brown Butter Test: We made browned butter in a saucepan from each set, evaluating how responsive the pans were and how evenly they cooked.
  • Pork Chop Test: We seared boneless pork chops to test searing ability and ease of use.
  • Boiled Pasta Test: To determine capacity, how quickly the stock pot reached a boil, and how well each maintained heat, we filled each set's stock pot with 72°F water and recorded how long it took to reach 212°F. We then added salt, timing how long it took the water to return to 212°F. After cooking the pasta, we evaluated how easy it was to handle and pour from the stockpot into a colander.

At this point, we could narrow the best-performing sets down from 18 to 13. The next round of tests delved further into performance.

  • Mirepoix Test: To observe sweating, browning, heat conduction, and responsiveness, we cooked a combination of onions, carrots, and celery in the stockpot (first on a low heat to soften, then a medium heat to caramelize). We finished this test by deglazing with broth to see how the fond released.
  • Rice Test: We cooked rice in each saucepan, evaluating its final quality.
  • Bechamel Test: To further determine heating evenness and ease of stirring (with special regard to corners), we made bechamel in each saute pan—if the set had one.

We still had some weeding out to do, so we brought the four best sets (All-Clad, Made In, Tramontina, and Le Creuset) home and used them each for a week at a time to test them in a real-world setting.

What We Learned

Certain Pieces Are Essential

a hand pouring oil into a stainless steel skillet
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of price, materials, and construction, let’s first discuss the essential pieces that should come in a cookware set.

The first is a skillet or fry pan. A good 10-inch fry pan is one of the most essential pieces of equipment in any kitchen. We’ve already gone on at length about this item in our review of stainless steel skillets, if you want to know more.

The second is a large stockpot. While this will probably only see sporadic use in your kitchen (unless you’re a big soup fan), there is nothing else that can replace this piece. Boiling boxes of pasta, steaming a whole cauliflower, making chicken soup, sous vide–it all requires a large stockpot. You want this to be able to hold at least six quarts of liquid to be useful (though we recommend something even larger).

a person placing a stockpot onto a burner
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The third is a small saucepan, which is good for everything from heating up a jar of pasta sauce to making a fluffy batch of stovetop rice. We liked saucepans with flared lips that made it easy to pour from and that exhibited nice, even heating. All of the 2-quart saucepans that made it to the final rounds of testing had 6- or 7-inch diameters, which allowed us to stir easily in them.

Many of the sets (excluding the Made In) also included a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, which we found helpful and is a versatile sized pot we generally recommend having around.

Beyond those four pieces, most of the sets we tested had different items. This is truly going to be the decision maker when it comes to choosing a cookware set, as you want to make sure the pieces are useful for your cooking habits.

a person using tongs to flip food in a saute pan
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

A few of the sets came with a 3- or 3-1/2-quart braiser or saute pan. The former had two smaller side handles and the latter one long handle and one helper handle. We find both of these pans nice to have around for shallow frying, sautéing, and braising.

Some of the sets—like the Tramontina and the All-Clad—included an 8-inch fry pan, which we particularly like for eggs. The Le Creuset set came with a colander insert for the stock pot instead of a small fry pan and, ultimately, we prefer a separate colander.

Look For Tri-Ply Stainless

a number of stainless steel skillets against a grey surface
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

While all of the sets we tested were made with stainless steel, not all stainless steel is the same. Some stainless steel pans are made with a disk on the bottom that conducts heat, while others are fully clad. We recommend the latter, as this type has all the durability and longevity of stainless steel combined with a reactive and even core. Most of the sets that made our final cut were made of tri-ply stainless steel, which means they had a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two sheets of solid stainless steel. The Made In set takes it even further and boasts a five-ply construction. While this sounds fancy (five must be better than three, right?), we didn’t find that this translated to a vastly superior cooking experience. Don’t get us wrong, the pans still yielded great results, but not that much better than tri-ply. If you find a set made with five-ply that suits your needs and is worth the price, go for it. But if you have your eye on a great tri-ply set, rest assured you won’t be sacrificing quality.

Bundling Can Save You A Bundle

a person using a spatula to flip a piece of salmon in a stainless steel skillet
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

One of the main reasons anyone should even consider a cookware set over just assembling your own a la carte is the discount. Take the All-Clad D3, for example. When we separately added every item from the set to our cart on the manufacturer’s website, the total came to $859.94, compared with $600 for the set. That’s some significant savings.

Stepping aside from any brand loyalty, if you bought our favorite stainless steel skillet (Made In), saucepan (All Clad), nonstick pan (Tramontina), and stock pot (Cuisinart) from each respective company, the total would set you back $431.77. That’s less than the Made In set we’re recommending that comes with the same four pieces, but more than the Tramontina. At the end of the day, a quality stainless steel cookware set can offer a substantial discount if you’re ready to invest in an array of cookware from the same brand.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Stainless Steel Cookware Set

a person tossing mushrooms in a stainless steel skillet
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

As we discussed above, a good stainless steel cookware set should contain a 10-inch skillet, stockpot, and saucepan. After that, the other pieces come down to personal preference and cooking habits.

Once you’ve established what you need in the set, you should look for a set made with tri-ply stainless steel construction. This means that the pan contains an aluminum core coated in layers of stainless steel on the outside, which makes for even heating and solid heat retention. Across the board, the handles should be also comfortable to grasp. Price is a factor, too, and we found that the average price for a cookware set hovers around $600. Any less, and you’re getting a bargain. Any more, and the set ought to have some reason for the added cost.

What we liked: If you’re going to ditch all your old, mismatched, dinged-up pans, you may as well invest in a set you’ll never have to replace. All-Clad’s D3 set is a gleaming collection of top-notch stainless steel coupled with comfortable, ergonomic, and well-balanced construction.

The stainless steel skillet was beaten by Made In in our skillet review only in terms of price (side-by-side, this pan is only $10 more than Made In’s), and one of our testers is still using a 15-year-old skillet at home that looks almost identical to the brand-new one we tested. All-Clad’s 3-quart saucepan was also one of our winners in our saucepan review

a closeup look at browned butter in a saucepan
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: Of course, the price can be a turn-off. The manufacturer lists the base price at $1405, which would put it far beyond the realm of what we would consider worth buying. However, this set is usually priced at a far more affordable $600.

Price at time of publish: $600.

Key Specs

  • Number of pieces: 10
  • What’s included: 8- and 10-inch fry pans, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart sauté pan with lid, 3-quart saucepan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
  • Materials: Tri-ply stainless steel with aluminum core
  • Dishwasher-safe: Yes
  • Induction compatible: Yes
a person pouring sliced mushrooms in a stainless steel skillet
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: For those who are just starting out and want to invest in something that will last (or those unsure of jumping right into ordering a huge set), the 6-piece set from Made In comes with the essential pieces for a decent price. The stainless steel skillet took the top spot in our review for its beautiful searing and comfortable grip. All of the pots have flared rims to prevent spillage while pouring, and our testers found that the pans were lightweight and easy to maneuver. 

When we tested the sets in a real-world setting to see how often each piece got used in a week, we found we really liked the 10-inch nonstick skillet—a helpful addition other sets lacked.

What we didn’t like: We didn’t find that the 5-ply cladding performed much better than other brands’ tri-ply, though you end up paying for it anyway. For just $100 more, you could have the All-Clad set that comes with two more pots. During the boiled pasta test, the Made In stockpot took the longest to heat up, at just over 45 minutes, likely due to the 5-ply cladding. That’s a long time to wait.

Price at time of publish: $499.

Key Specs

  • Number of pieces: 6
  • What’s included: 10-inch nonstick fry pan, 10-inch stainless steel fry pan, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lid
  • Materials: 5-ply construction; PFOA-free nonstick coating
  • Dishwasher-safe: Stainless steel? Yes. Nonstick? No.
  • Induction compatible: Yes
a person tossing food in a stainless steel skillet
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: Bottom line, the most attractive thing about this set is the price. None of the pieces in the set performed better than our other winners, but they were able to hold their own. The skillet did fairly well in a head-to-head test against All-Clad’s. It seared a pork chop perfectly golden brown, and our testers described all the pieces as “incredibly easy to clean.” During a review of saucepans, the 3-quart saucepan was one of our winners—performing as well as pots that cost way more.

a person holding onto the handles of a stainless steel pan
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: Some of this set's pans felt unbalanced. One of our testers described it as “awkward and clunky.” There was a significant amount of spillage when pouring out of the saucepans.

Although the manufacturer states the cookware is safe up to 500°F, they explicitly order you to use the pan over low to medium heat only, or risk voiding the warranty. This would explain some of the staining we saw during testing, but a good-quality stainless steel skillet should be durable enough to withstand high heat for searing purposes.

Price at time of publish: $340.

Key Specs

  • Number of pieces: 10
  • What’s included: 8-inch fry pan, 10-inch fry pan, 3-quart braiser, 1.5-quart saucepan, 3-quart saucepan, 6-quart stockpot
  • Materials: Tri-ply clad 18/10 stainless steel with aluminum core
  • Dishwasher-safe: Yes
  • Induction compatible: Yes
a person pouring water into a stainless steel skillet
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Competition

FAQs

What’s the best cookware set?

We found that the best cookware set to be the All-Clad D3 10-Piece Cookware Set. For a more affordable option with a slight compromise on design, go with the Tramontina Gourmet Stainless Steel Induction-Ready Tri-Ply Clad 10-Piece Set.

Is a cookware set worth it? 

If you are building your kitchen from nothing or looking to do a major overhaul, a good set can be worth it. Often, the pieces stack together and have interchangeable lids. And sets usually come with a discount over ordering each piece individually.

Should I buy a nonstick cookware set? 

When we tested nonstick pans, we found that the best options were cheaper, as nonstick coatings invariably wear out over time. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is designed to last decades. If you want to invest in a set, go with stainless steel and supplement it with some cheaper nonstick pans.

Handheld vs. Countertop Vacuum Sealers

After testing both, we break down the pros and cons of both type of vacuum sealer. Here’s how to find out which type of vacuum sealer is right for you.

an array of handheld and countertop vacuum sealers on gray countertop
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The vacuum sealer is a rather ingenious device that sucks the air out of a plastic bag before sealing it shut, preserving food and keeping moisture out. Do you tire of squeezing air out of zipper-lock bags for sous vide? Do you find that you're constantly throwing away freezer-burned food and stale snacks? A vacuum sealer may be right for you!

The vacuum sealers on the market today generally fall into two categories: handheld and countertop (we'll introduce a third, rarer option shortly). The former requires special bags with zip-top enclosures that work well for short-term storage, but could fail under certain conditions (like months in the freezer or long hours in a warm sous vide water bath). Countertop sealers are larger and seal the bag shut by melting the two sides together, a feature that makes the seal last longer. There is also *technically* a third style of vacuum sealer, the chamber sealer, that is most often used in commercial applications (though we did review one marketed towards home cooks—the Anova Precision Chamber Vacuum Sealer—and liked it). But which type of vacuum sealer is right for you? Here, we focused on countertop and handheld vacuum sealers, diving into their differences so you can choose which is best for your needs.

Countertop Vacuum Sealers

Countertop vacuum sealers are sometimes referred to as channel sealers or edge sealers and feature a bar that heats up and melts the two sides of the plastic bag shut after removing the air. This type of sealer can be used with pre-cut bags or rolls that can be cut and sealed to a custom size. It's great for freezing, sous vide cooking, and even just keeping pantry items fresher for longer.

The Pros

SEALVAC Cordless Vacuum Sealer Machine
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Countertop models allow you to set and forget when it comes to sealing. Many models have the technology to detect precisely when the suction should end with regard to the type of food, eliminating the guesswork. In our testing, our favorites were reasonably priced, had simple controls, and reliably produced strong seals that held up to all kinds of tests. Some, like the Nesco Deluxe Food VS-12 sealer, were strong enough to remove all the air from irregular foods like a bone-in pork chop without breaking the plastic, but also delicate and “smart” enough not to crush Chex cereal. Many of the better models, like the Anova Pro, come with built-in storage for bags and a handy cutter. This model also lets you seal wet items, like chicken in a marinade, without sucking liquid up through the seal during the vacuum process.

The other nice thing about many countertop sealers is that you don’t need brand-specific bags, which are often more expensive. Instead, you can buy bags from third-party vendors for less than $1 a foot.

The Cons

The biggest cons with countertop vacuum sealers are that they are large and expensive. If you only vacuum seal sporadically, a big sealer might not be worth the cash and storage space. Aside from that, one minor quibble is that the bags for countertop vacuum sealers aren't really meant to be reused, while the bags that come with handheld sealer are designed (in theory) to be used repeatedly.

Handheld Vacuum Sealers

Unlike their bulkier countertop cousins, handheld vacuum sealers are small, lightweight devices meant to fit in one hand. Some run on batteries (either disposable or rechargeable), and others employ a manual pump to remove air. Both kinds use special bags fitted with a one-way valve that attaches to the sealer. The bags are sealed with a zipper at the top that allows for easy opening and closing.

The Pros

someone using a handheld vacuum sealer to seal a bag of chex
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The bags for a handheld vacuum sealer can be reused as long as the plastic isn’t punctured, and some have attachments to fit onto food storage containers and mason jars, which is something most countertop sealers can’t do. Handheld sealers also tend to be much smaller, lighter, and cheaper. These attributes make this type of sealer a good choice for those with less storage space or who might only vacuum seal sporadically.

The Cons 

Handheld sealers require you to monitor the suction process, and you have to decide when to stop the device (unlike countertop sealers, which allow you to press a button and walk away). They use disposable or rechargeable batteries, and some can be operated manually (pump it!), but these tend to stink (sorry). In our test of vacuum sealers, we evaluated four handheld options, and two were surprisingly okay: the FoodSaver Handheld Cordless Vacuum Sealer and the Anova Precision Port Handheld Vacuum Sealer. Both were pretty easy to use, did a decent job suctioning and sealing, and were small and easy to stash away. The other two tested had some issues, with seals that failed to stay tight during various tests (if you want to seal anything in a marinade with them, good luck!). Overall, their power and seal quality just weren't as good as a countertop sealer. Also, handheld sealers require you to buy the bags from the manufacturer, as only those will have a valve compatible with the sealer. Plus, countertop sealers often have built-in bag cutting, which is a nice perk.

Handheld vs. Countertop Vacuum Sealers: Which Should I Buy?

Both handheld and countertop vacuum sealers have the same goal (vacuum suctioning and sealing), but choosing which is best for your needs comes down to how often you intend to use it, among other things. Let’s take a look at some of the key differences:

A small drawback of countertop sealers is that, as you open and close the bag, you have to cut the edges where it was sealed, and if you want to re-seal it, well, your bag just got smaller. While this isn't a dealbreaker for us (you could just use a new bag), countertop sealers do tend to be more expensive and rather large compared to more petite handheld offerings.

On the flip side, countertop sealers can produce an extremely durable seal that won’t fail. In our testing, we placed sealed bags into a water bath (at 200°F) for 36 hours, and the best ones didn’t budge or leak. This comes in handy if you plan to subject one package of food to a range of environments, such as marinating a cut of beef before freezing it, then using sous vide to cook it later. If your seal fails during cooking, all that work will end up as wasted (and waterlogged) food.

The Takeaway

SEALVAC Cordless Vacuum Sealer Machine
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

In general, we recommend countertop vacuum sealers (our favorites were from Nesco and Anova) because they offer a much wider range of functions and often seal better than their handheld counterparts. Plus, the higher cost of the bags for handheld sealers can add up quickly.

FAQs

What is a vacuum sealer good for?

A vacuum sealer is good for extending the shelf-life of food, which can reduce waste. Beyond edible items, vacuum sealers can also help preserve important items and keep them safe from moisture and air.

Do I need a vacuum sealer?

Almost anyone can use a vacuum sealer for one project or another, but if you want to make the most of bulk shopping or are interested in trying sous vide cooking, you definitely need one. Even if you just need to freeze meat or vegetables occasionally, a vacuum sealer is great at preventing freezer burn.

Are countertop vacuum sealers worth it? 

Countertop vacuum sealers are better for batch sealing projects and can be operated hands-free. This type of sealer generally has a more powerful motor and comes with a sealing bar, which is less prone to leakage than a zip-top bag. The value of a countertop vacuum sealer will vary from person to person, depending on lifestyle.

Are handheld vacuum sealers worth it?

Handheld vacuum sealers may be worth it for those that are interested in meal prep or small-scale preservation, but won’t use it often enough to justify the cost (and countertop space) of a countertop model. 

Can you vacuum seal without a machine?

You can remove most of the air from a Ziploc bag with a simple technique, which can serve in a pinch. Remember that this method is “nearly air-free,” and you may find some differences between these results and using a proper vacuum sealer.

Honing Versus Sharpening a Knife: What’s the Difference?

Honing straightens the blade’s edge, while sharpening a knife removes metal. Here’s when you should do both (and what tools we recommend).

a knife being sharpened with a ceramic honing steel
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

One of the most important tools in a cook’s arsenal is a good, sharp knife, and while some knife manufacturers would have you believe that the more money you spend on a knife, the sharper it will be, most knives come factory-sharpened (i.e. near-razor sharp). There are many other factors that contribute to how long a knife's blade stays sharp, including how you store it, the material of your cutting board (hint: stay away from glass), as well as the material and style of the knife (Japanese-style knives are often made of harder steel, which can dull faster than softer German-style knives, which bend and warp). And a big part of extending the shelf-life of your knives' edges is knowing when to hone or sharpen them. Sharpening and honing are both techniques used to maintain the edge of a knife, but they serve different purposes.

What Is Honing?

Honing is used to maintain, straighten and align a knife's sharp edge, which can bend and warp with frequent use. It's pretty easy to do: just run the blade edge at a 15-to-20-degree angle down a honing steel (also known as a rod) an equal amount of times per side. Honing doesn't remove any metal from the blade; instead, it realigns the existing edge, resulting in a sharper-feeling, more precise blade. It also extends the length of time needed between actual sharpening.

How often you should hone your knives really depends on the amount of use they get. Chefs will often hone their knives daily, but they also do significantly more knife work than the average home cook. Once you get a sense of how sharp your knife normally is, you can get a feel for when it might be time to hone. Typically, a few swipes on the steel before every major cooking project is a good idea.

a hand holding a honing rod and running a chef's knife down it
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

What Is Sharpening?

Sharpening is used to restore a dull or damaged knife edge. This is typically done by removing metal from the blade by running it over a whetstone or through a manual or electric sharpener (though we very sparingly recommend the latter two). Since this process actually removes metal, we don't recommend doing it too frequently (twice a year is good for most home cooks), or it might eventually make your chef’s knife look like a filet knife.

How to Sharpen a Knife

Knife being sharpened on whetstone
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

There are a few different ways to sharpen a knife, including pull-through manual or electric sharpeners, spinning grindstones, and whetstones. Pull-through sharpeners and grindstones are often avoided by professionals since a good amount of metal is removed, whittling away at your knife faster. According to Korin’s resident sharpener Vincent Kazuhito Lau, “The worst method of sharpening is to use a pull-through grinder/sharpener. These tend to grind more metal than necessary and will wear down the knife.” Instead, he recommends using a whetstone (as do we). "This allows you to create an ideal edge for the specific knife you are sharpening," he says.

Sharpening a knife with a whetstone is a special process that takes a bit of practice to get right. Whetstones are blocks of ceramic with different grits on the exterior (kind of like sandpaper). Running the edge of the blade over the pre-soaked whetstone shaves off microscopic bits of metal, which sharpens the bevel to a razor-thin edge.

Some specialty knife retailers (such as Korin) have professional sharpeners, like Kazuhito Lau, who use whetstones to manually sharpen the blade. It can be pricey, but it can be worth it if you’re intimidated to do it yourself. 

The style of the knife can also dictate how you might want to go about sharpening it. A representative at Cangshan Cutlery, in Texas, broke it down for us:

“Each manufacturer uses different steel to make knives, and this creates metals that are harder or softer than each other. Harder steel (typically Japanese) has better edge retention but can be more brittle. These types of steel do not require as much honing, but may need to be sharpened more often. Softer metals (such as German steel) do require more honing/maintenance, but can be sharpened less frequently,” they said in an email. 

So, if you find yourself in the market for a new knife, it could be helpful to consider these different styles' sharpening needs, especially if you're a whetstone newbie.

The Takeaway

knives on a magnetic knife rack
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

All this information can be a little overwhelming. To keep it simple: sharpen your knives twice a year (or pay a professional to sharpen them on a whetstone), and hone in between to maintain the blade's edge. Keeping the edge sharp also has a lot to do with storage and use, since any time the blade touches metal (or any surface really) the edge can dull, so we don’t recommend storing your knives in a drawer or a knife block. Instead, invest in a knife guard or magnetic knife strip (which also allows for easy access, not to mention it looks kinda cool to have your knives on display). Lau also recommends being picky about your cutting board, since certain materials (cough *glass* cough) can dull your knives faster

FAQs

What is the difference between honing and sharpening a knife?

In short, sharpening is used to restore a dull or damaged edge by removing metal, while honing is used to maintain and straighten the edge (which can bend over time). It's good practice to hone a knife often to maintain the edge and only sharpen it when it becomes dull.

What is the best honing rod?

There are a variety of materials used to make honing rods, so we have picks for each. For stainless steel, we like this model from Winware. We also like this ceramic model from Messermeister, and this diamond model from Messermeister. You can read more on which material is right for you here.

All you need to hone a knife is a good honing steel. The ideal honing steel is about 12 inches long with a decent-sized cross guard for protecting your hand. 

Sharpening your knife can be done a few different ways, but we recommend using a whetstone. Follow our handy guide here for a step-by-step explanation.

What is the best way to sharpen a knife?

We think the best way to sharpen a knife is with a whetstone. These blocks, which you soak in water prior to use, can be made of a variety of materials (ceramic, diamond), but the premise is the same: they are used to shave small bits of metal from your blade, which results in a sharp edge. Kenji has written about how to choose a whetstone and recommends buying one with a medium grit for major sharpening jobs, as well as one with a fine grit for fine-tuning.

How do I hone a knife? 

The simple way to hone a knife is to grasp the knife in your dominant hand and the honing steel in the other. Grip the handle of your steel and plant the tip onto a cutting board. Run the length of the knife at a 15-20 degree angle down the honing steel an equal number of times on each side for a total of about eight strokes.