Bake, Air-Fry, Steam, Dehydrate, and Proof: Our 3 Favorite Smart Countertop Ovens Go Way Beyond Toast

We tested seven countertop smart ovens and found three that were convenient and easy to use. They toasted, baked, and roasted well, and had helpful and intuitive apps.

three countertop smart ovens on a marble surface with a teal green tile background
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

In my house, the question is not whether our countertop oven is used every day but rather how many times. It’s the first thing I fire up in the morning for toast and the last thing to cool down after a post-dinner batch of cookies or midnight fries. In between, I turn to it for reheating leftovers, roasting veggies, slow-cooking meats, keeping dishes warm, and even drying bunches of herbs from my patio garden. It’s faster and more efficient than cooking with the “big oven” (as I call it) and helps keep the kitchen cool in the warm summer months. 

But with more must-have appliances vying for counter space than ever, it can feel like a major commitment to devote the room to an extra—albeit mini—oven. To find which countertop ovens were worthy of the spot, I tested seven models ranging from $300 to $1300. We’ve already covered toaster ovens and air fryer toaster ovens, so I focused on models that could do everything they could, plus incorporate smart features like app compatibility and extra cooking modes (think steaming, dehydrating, and bread proofing). My three favorites pulled double, triple, and even quadruple duty to make cooking easier and faster—and they replaced several other gadgets along the way.

The Winners, at a Glance

We loved this model when we tested it on its own and for our air fryer toaster oven review, so it’s no surprise that the Breville Joule came out on top again this time. Its generous capacity could fit a large pizza, a nine-by-13 baking dish, or even a 14-pound turkey. The integrated Breville+ app included a ton of chef-tested recipes with step-by-step instructions (often with videos). It made me feel like I had a sidekick cooking along with me in the kitchen.

The GE Profile produced lovely, evenly browned dishes, whether I was toasting a single slice of bread or roasting a whole chicken. Many of the ovens I tested could incorporate their preheat cycles into the cooking times, but this oven had the best (and most consistent) results, even from a cold start.

The Tovala oven made cooking simple. It can scan food packages for heating instructions and had an intuitive app with easy recipes and custom cook options. It was the most compact model I tested, making it suitable for smaller kitchens.

The Tests

a roast chicken in a countertop oven
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger
  • Capacity Test: To determine if the ovens could be used with standard cookware, I individually placed an eighth sheet pan, quarter-sheet pan, pie pan, and 9- by 11-inch casserole dish into each oven and noted which ones fit.
  • Single Slice of Toast Test: I toasted a slice of white bread in each oven to test how quick and easy it was to operate for a simple, everyday task. I used the oven’s toast mode if there was one. If there wasn’t, I found a recipe on the oven’s app for making toast or tried to use the closest equivalent cooking mode, like broil or convection bake.
  • Toast Heatmap Test: I repeated the toast test, but this time, I used six slices of white bread set in a grid pattern to check for hot or cool spots. 
  • Frozen Pizza Test: I baked a frozen pizza in each oven to evaluate if the pizza fit inside, how evenly it browned the crust, and how intuitive it was to operate. I used the oven’s app to find a frozen pizza quick-start recipe, scanned the pizza’s barcode for cooking instructions, or used the oven’s pizza mode, as applicable. I paid close attention to how well each model cooked the bottom of the pizza and marked down ovens that left the crust pale or doughy.
  • App Recipe Test: For ovens that had apps, I found and made a recipe for salmon fillets using the app’s instructions. Where possible, I used the app to send instructions to the oven and control it during cooking.
  • Roast Chicken Test (Winners Only): I roasted a chicken in each top-performing oven, using a recipe from the app if it had one.
  • Cleaning and Usability Tests: Throughout testing, I noted how straightforward and intuitive each oven’s user interface and app was to operate. I also cleaned the ovens after each cooking test and noted any difficulties.

What We Learned

Apps Were Surprisingly Helpful

a closeup of the app for the GE profile smart oven
Apps were surprisingly useful, letting us control the cooking process and keep an eye on time and temperature.Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Applications for smart appliances have a reputation for being glitchy and unhelpful, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well many of the apps worked. It was nice when there was a collection of specialized, chef-tested recipes to explore, and the apps for the Breville Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro and Anova Precision Oven had particularly flushed-out libraries. The Tovala Smart Oven Pro’s app was also great. Although its recipes tended to be simpler, it could be used to scan or search Tovala’s list of preloadable grocery items for quick meals. The GE Profile Smart Oven’s app only had a small selection of 15 guided recipes, and it relied mostly on its AI-powered recipe generation feature, which felt cheap and unreliable. When I prompted it to create recipes for pork, almost none of the ones it gave me applied to the oven at all. Instead, it produced stovetop recipes for pan-seared chops, stir-fry, and soup complete with surreal, AI-generated cover photos. When I used its “Picture to Recipe” generator with a whole chicken, it gave me recipes for chicken nuggets (which, to be fair, was the right ingredient, but not in the spirit of what I was searching for). While good for a laugh, this was hardly a useful tool.

I appreciated when I could dial in on my ideal cooking modes, set timers, and toggle functions like the oven light or the convection fan directly from my phone. The Breville and Anova both provided that, as did the Tovala and the GE Profile. Except for the GE, their apps could even be used to set up multi-stage sequences that would automatically switch the oven’s cooking modes after the specified amount of time (for example, you could set it to convection bake a casserole for 30 minutes, then go straight into a minute of broiling to brown the top). The Anova app could even start the oven remotely, but I preferred the others that required me to press a button on the oven itself to avoid accidentally turning it on when I wasn’t home. 

Steam Was Nice, but Added Complexity

steam escaping from the Anova oven
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Three of the models in the lineup had steam-injection capabilities: the Anova, Tovala, and Fotile ChefCubii 4-in-1 Steam-Combi Oven. The Anova could be set anywhere from 0% to 100% relative humidity inside to achieve its sous vide mode, and it had a huge gallon-and-a-half reservoir on its side to support long steam sessions. The Fotile had a much smaller steam well (it only held a few cups) and could be switched between either 10% or 100% steam. The Tovala held a single cup at a time, and its steam setting wasn’t adjustable. Any steam option was a bonus, as it could help dishes cook quicker and more evenly, keep leftovers moist while reheating, and improve the rise of baked goods. But, as commerce editor Grace Kelly talked about when she reviewed the Anova Precision Oven, most of us don’t have experience with steam-injection baking, and there aren’t a lot of recipes out there since this kind of tech isn’t common in home appliances (not yet, at least). The Fotile didn’t have an app, but the recipes on the Anova and Tovala apps gave me a handy place to start while I got accustomed to the added capabilities. 

Some Models Offered More Convenience, While Others Provided Better Control

baking salmon in the tovala oven
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

While testing, I mentally put each oven on a scale from “convenient” to “controllable.” On one end of the scale was the Tovala, which could apply instructions from scanned meal kits or packaged goods without requiring me to press any button except “Start.” The Brava Smart Oven was also on this side of things; I could pull a preset recipe up directly on its display screen, and it would lead me through each of the steps. On the other end was the Anova, which allowed me to toggle its sous vide mode on and off, select the temperature, set the percent of steam (down to the integer), choose which heating elements I wanted to turn on, and pick how fast I wanted the convection fan to run as well as add time or probe thermometer thresholds for each cooking stage. 

Having so much control over the Anova’s settings was exciting at first, but the process quickly became cumbersome. The oven didn’t have presets for things like toast; instead, it relied on its app to provide a shortcut in the form of a loadable recipe. During my tests, I started with two recipes I found on the app that utilized the Anova’s steam function, since that can help keep toast fluffy and soft inside, with a crisp exterior. Both recipes had three different heating stages and took more than six minutes to complete (versus three to five minutes for other models). The first recipe produced crisped but barely browned toast, and I had to stop the second one before it was done to avoid burning it. If I wanted to keep the framework of either recipe but adjust the cooking time for the type of bread I was using, I’d need to start over from scratch (since there wasn’t an option to add time or copy the recipes) and re-enter all of the settings for each step with my adjustments. 

anova oven with hand in front holding phone displaying app
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Over time, cooking in the Anova would undoubtedly get easier as the user got acquainted with the oven’s settings and built up their library of custom recipes, but I found myself frustrated with the process it would take to get there. Ultimately, I found that countertop ovens that included general, convenient options (like a toast mode) were more adaptable and user-friendly. The Anova was better suited for bread bakers, who may be willing to trade off general usefulness in favor of ultra-specificity. 

A Bottom Heating Element Was Important

removing a piece of toast from the GE profile
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

In a traditional oven, the heating element on the bottom of the oven usually does most of the work of maintaining the general temperature inside while baking, and the top heating element is reserved for broiling. A few of the models I tested flipped this concept around and mainly relied on their top burners (along with their convection fans) for heating. Namely, the Panasonic HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-Oven, which didn’t have a bottom burner (since it was primarily a microwave). Toast had to be flipped to cook both sides, and the pizza I made was browned on top but completely uncooked and doughy underneath. The Anova had a bottom burner, but it was underpowered compared to the oven’s top and rear heating elements. It could only heat up to 356°F, versus their 482°F max. It was also hidden underneath the floor of the oven to provide indirect heat while proofing and dehydrating. Like the Panasonic, the Anova yielded toast that was pale on the bottom. Its pizza was deeply browned on top and around the sides, but the bottom stayed pale and soft even after I switched it to its bottom burner-only mode and let it cook for 15 more minutes. On the other hand, all three of my winners had capable bottom and top burners that produced much more even results.

Low Visibility Was a Disadvantage

a roast chicken inside the Ge profile oven
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

I took points away for models that made it hard to see what was going on inside. Since a countertop oven is so small, it can lose a lot of heat whenever you have to open the door to check on the food. This can slow down cooking times and make the oven less efficient as it has to reheat to compensate. The Brava Smart Oven didn’t have a window in the door since it cooks using super bright lamps; instead, it had a camera inside the oven that projected a video feed to the oven’s display (and to its app). Unfortunately, the lights inside alternated and flashed so quickly that it was hard to get the whole picture from the small (and somewhat unclear) video. (Note: Brava does have a windowed Brava Glass model, but I didn't test it). The Panasonic did have a window, but it was so dark from its mesh patterning that it was difficult to see through. Many of the modes for the Panasonic were also designed to cook food on an elevated rack, which made it even harder to see the top where most of the browning took place.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Countertop Oven

the ge smart oven with an uncooked whole chicken inside
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Countertop ovens are perhaps one of the most varied categories of kitchen appliances; each model I tested had a unique set of pros and cons. Most had features that set them apart from the rest, like the Anova’s built-out steaming capabilities, the Tovala’s convenient shortcuts, or the Panasonic’s dual purpose as a microwave. The best one for you comes down to how you like to cook, what capacity you need, and how much counter space you have. I appreciated when an oven could inject steam while baking, but it wasn’t a must-have. An effective bottom heating element, on the other hand, was essential to achieve even browning from top to bottom. My favorite countertop ovens were easy to check at a glance and had intuitive apps that let me monitor their status and set cooking modes from my phone. They balanced usability, giving me guided recipes and quick-start functions, with the ability to adjust their temperatures, convection fans, and heating sequences to fit my needs.

Our Favorite Countertop Ovens

What we liked: The Breville did a lot, and it did it well. It offered all the functionality of a standard oven, and replaced a toaster, air fryer, proofer, slow cooker, and dehydrator—all in one handy machine. It had one of the largest capacities of the lineup and could fit up to a 13-inch pizza or 14-pound turkey. Its super convection mode helped get food extra crispy and cut down on cooking times. I also appreciated that it had buttons to remind me to rotate food while it was cooking, create favorite modes, and add “a bit more” time at the end of a session (instead of starting over with a new timer).

The Breville+ app was full of useful guides (like a step-by-step for cleaning the oven) and could be used to create custom cooking sequences with access to app-exclusive modes like bottom broil. It had a wide variety of recipes from well-established sources, including the Breville Test Kitchen, NYT Cooking, and even some from Serious Eats (although I didn’t know about those until I started testing, and they weren’t a contributing factor to my ranking of the oven overall). The recipes were thoughtfully designed with helpful videos and simplified screens for individual steps. I loved the app’s Autopilot feature, which automatically shifted the oven from one stage to the next according to the recipe.

What we didn’t like: It didn’t have the most even browning in the toast heatmap test. The bread nearer to the oven's back center got deeply browned, while the slices in front and to either side stayed pale. This unevenness was less evident in the other tests, though. The oven’s racks could be positioned in eight different ways, and it was easy for me to forget to reposition them as directed by the oven’s display (which could feel cluttered with info) before I started to cook. None of the ovens I tested were necessarily easy to clean. Still, it was tough to wipe around the Breville’s delicate quartz heating elements that ran along its top and bottom (which the user manual instructs users to avoid touching) and the deep ridges where the oven racks slid in. It’s also fairly pricey.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 21.25 x 15.75 x 12.75 inches
  • Cord length: 57 inches
  • Interface: Manual, with three dials for adjusting mode, temperature, and time, and buttons for start/stop, oven light, convection fan, adding “a bit more” time, and cooking from frozen
  • Functions: Toast, bagel, bake (convection, super convection, or conventional), air fry, broil, roast, pizza, cookies, proof, reheat, slow cook, keep warm, dehydrate
  • App: The Breville+ app has exclusive cooking functions (like Bottom Broil) and a wide selection of step-by-step chef-tested recipes. It can be used to send instructions to the oven, but the user must press a button on the oven for it to begin heating (it won’t start remotely). It also has a collection of Autopilot recipes, which, once started, will automatically guide the oven through multiple stages of pre-programmed functions.
  • Temperature range: 120°F to 480°F
  • What’s included: Crumb tray, 13-inch nonstick pizza pan, two reversible wire racks, 9- by 13-inch broiling rack and roasting pan, and an air frying/dehydrating wire mesh basket
  • Care instructions: Unplug the oven and let it cool completely before cleaning. Wipe the exterior and interior with a soft cloth dampened with a mild cleaning solution. Glass cleaner or a mild detergent can be used to clean the oven door. Avoid touching the quartz heating elements when cleaning the inside of the oven.
breville joule oven with a teal tile background
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: The GE oven had impressively even cooking all around. The toast in the heatmap test was perfectly golden all the way across, and the pizza was crisped on the bottom and browned on top. It was intuitive to operate via the touchscreen interface and through its SmartHQ app. The GE Profile was the most effective model at incorporating its preheat cycle into the cooking time and required no adjustments when I jumped into baking. It was a little smaller than the Breville, but it still easily fit a quarter-sheet pan and casserole dish. It was also about $200 less than the Breville at the time of writing.

What we didn’t like: This model’s door opened by flipping up and over the oven with a click of a button (kind of like gull-wing doors on a fancy car). While it was a snazzy detail, it did make it a bit harder to clean. It also had suspended heating elements similar to the Breville, which required extra attention to avoid touching while wiping out the oven’s interior. Its touch panel was responsive but could lag a little if it got greasy or dirty. The oven’s interface had no option for selecting odd numbers of bread slices for the toast function, so there wasn’t a way to set the oven for just one piece (the app did add options for three or five slices but still had no option for a single piece). Its app was convenient for setting up cooking functions, but it had a limited selection of “real” recipes. Instead, it had AI-generated recipes that weren’t very reliable.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 17 x 18.25 x 11.25 inches
  • Cord length: 40 inches
  • Interface: Digital touchscreen panel
  • Functions: Warm, toast, broil, pizza, pastry, remote, reheat, bagel, roast, cookies, bake, air fry
  • App: The SmartHQ app can set up the cooking mode and send it remotely to the oven, although the user must press start on the oven to begin cooking. It can also use AI to generate recipes based on written or photo prompts, but the recipes aren’t created specifically for the oven (and aren’t tested).
  • Temperature range: 170°F to 500°F
  • What’s included: Crumb tray, wire rack, baking pan with a rack insert, and an air fryer basket
  • Care instructions: Unplug the oven and let it cool completely before cleaning. Clean the exterior and interior with a sponge or soft cloth dampened with soapy water. Do not use abrasive or aggressive cleaning materials or detergents. Do not attempt to clean the heating elements. The included baking pan is dishwasher-safe.
ge profile smart oven
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: The Tovala countertop oven was the MVP for effortless meals. It stood apart from the rest with its ability to automatically load cooking instructions from an item’s packaging, either from a phone or via a scanner on the oven itself. It supported over a thousand grocery store brands, plus offered a rotating menu of QR-coded meal kits for even more ease. Its app was simple to use and could remotely send cooking instructions to the oven. It had a library of straightforward recipes that included a nice mix of basic sides and proteins as well as more intricate dishes, like Creamy Braised Chicken Thighs and Vegetables or Pepper Jelly-Glazed Halibut with Roasted Lemon Asparagus.

It wasn’t just for convenience foods, though; it also had standard cooking modes (like convection bake and broil) for traditional recipes. It was the only one of my top picks to include steam functionality, which could be used as a single-stage cooking method or would run automatically during the preprogrammed toast and reheat modes to keep food moist while cooking.

What we didn’t like: It was the most compact oven I tested. That meant it took up less counter space, but its diminished capacity made it better suited for one- or two-person households and busy parents who want to cook quick kids’ meals and snacks. A quarter-sheet pan was just slightly too long to sit flat on the oven’s rack, and the crusts of the 12-inch pizza I cooked were pressed against the door and back wall of the oven. 

During testing, I saw that the Tovala tended to cook hotter toward the back of the oven, so turning things halfway through cooking was necessary to achieve even browning. Since the automated toast, reheat, and preset recipe modes cycled through preset steaming, baking, and broiling stages, I could only make adjustments (say, if I wanted the toast a little darker) by starting the whole process over again, creating a custom recipe in the app, or switching to a single-stage mode (like bake or broil). I also had to check on food more often during those automated modes—especially when they included stages of broiling for several minutes—to ensure it didn’t burn or smoke. Lastly, the steaming reservoir only held a cup of water at a time, so it would need to be refilled for long steam cooks.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 18.25 x 11.75 x 12 inches
  • Cord length: 39 inches
  • Interface: Manual, with three sections of push-buttons for cooking mode, temperature, and time, plus start and stop buttons
  • Functions: Scan (automatically loads cooking instructions from QR codes on Tovala meal kits or barcodes on over a thousand convenience grocery items), bake/air fry, broil, reheat, steam, toast
  • App: The Tovala app allows user to manage their meal kit subscriptions, scan or search compatible grocery items, access a library of preset recipes, or create custom recipes and cooking sequences. The app can communicate cooking instructions to the oven, but the user must physically press the start button on the oven for it to begin (it cannot be started remotely).
  • Temperature range: 225°F to 450°F
  • What’s included: Drip tray, oven rack, crumb tray, air fryer basket, sheet tray, and an oven mitt
  • Care instructions: Unplug the oven and let it cool completely before cleaning. After each use, clean the interior and exterior with a soft cloth dampened with mild soap and water. Do not use oven cleaner or scouring pads. The included sheet tray is dishwasher-safe. Drain the water from the steam reservoir if the oven is not used for two days or more.
tovala smart oven pro
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

The Competition

Also Good

  • Anova Precision Oven: We’ve tested this oven before and liked it for its complete feature set, which included a unique steam-based bagless “sous vide” mode. For a home appliance, it was exceptionally controllable: I could adjust which heating elements turned on, how strong the convection fan was, and tinker with the steam level down to single percentage points. The connected app helped teach me how to use the oven, but it took a lot of fiddling to achieve my desired results, whether I started with a preset recipe or not. I found the Anova to be pricey, less intuitive, and not as general-purpose as my top picks, but it may be a good option for someone who likes all the control and doesn’t mind enduring some trial and error to dial in on their perfect settings. It was the largest model of the lineup by far (with the capacity to match) and covered just over three square feet of counter space.

Not Recommended

  • Brava Smart Oven: This model used bright, flashing lights to cook food and could be set to heat three individual zones separately but simultaneously. It was a cool technology, but the price of the Brava exceeded the cost of many full-sized electric oven ranges. It had a small capacity and fussy requirements, like making sure ingredients were all about the same height and weren’t too sparse or crowded in their zones. The Brava accessories slid directly into notches in the oven’s walls (and the oven didn’t include racks), so it wasn’t easy to use non-Brava cookware.
  • Panasonic HomeCHEF 4-in-1 Multi-Oven: The Panasonic was a microwave with a broiler and convection fan. It rotated the food on its turntable while cooking, which helped toast the top of bread and pizza evenly, but it left the undersides completely uncooked since it lacked a bottom heating element. Also, the air fry mode only had one setting; it wasn’t clear what temperature it was set to, and it couldn’t be changed to suit specific recipes.
  • Fotile ChefCubii 4-in-1 Steam-Combi Oven: This app-less model had really even browning, but its cooking modes were confusing and hard to differentiate. It required preheating, ran its convection fan, and emitted some steam whether I chose “Broil” or “True Convection.” Its temperature could only be set at predetermined steps in Fahrenheit (based on increments of 5°C), so if I wanted to bake at 350°F or 400°F, I had to put it at 356°F or 401°F (a minor complaint, but annoying nonetheless). Lastly, it took over 15 minutes to preheat to 401°F, three minutes longer than my standard range oven.

FAQs

How do you clean a countertop oven?

Cleaning a countertop oven is the same as cleaning a toaster oven; luckily, we have a guide for that. Most countertop oven manufacturers suggest letting the oven cool completely and unplugging it before wiping down the interior and exterior of the oven with a soft cloth or sponge dampened with warm water and mild soap. Doing this regularly (after every use, if you can) will help clear off crumbs, splatters, and greasy films before they bake on and stain. If your oven does accumulate some hard-to-remove gunk (it happens to the best of us), gently scrubbing with some baking soda, Bar Keeper’s Friend, or a Magic Eraser can help; just make sure to spot-test new cleaners before using them all over.  Most ovens also have a crumb tray, which can be removed and cleaned separately.

What can you cook in a countertop oven?

A great countertop oven can do basically everything a standard oven can do on a smaller scale. Our favorite ovens can bake, roast, and broil, and can be used as an air fryer, toaster, dehydrator, and dough proofer. Some—like our convenience pick, the Tovala Smart Oven Pro—can even inject steam to keep foods moist as they cook.

Can a countertop oven replace a regular oven?

Sure! If you have a nontraditional kitchen or just need another cooking zone, a countertop oven can do most of the same things as a regular oven. Just be mindful of the capacity you need. Some countertop ovens can fit standard casserole dishes and quarter-sheet pans, but not all. None of the models we tested could fit something as large as a half-sheet pan.

Is a countertop oven worth it?

It comes down to your budget and how you usually like to cook, but we loved our three favorite countertop ovens for their ability to bake, toast, air fry, broil, reheat, and more, all in one machine. They’re more efficient than heating a full-sized range oven, and they’re faster, too.

What are the “smart” features of a countertop oven?

A countertop oven's smart features can include steam injection, an integrated temperature probe, and the ability to scan grocery items for quick cooking instructions. The most common attribute of a smart oven, though, is an integrated phone app. These apps are often filled with helpful resources, like step-by-step recipes, notifications that alert you when the oven is preheated or done cooking, and remote control for multi-stage processes.

What’s the difference between a toaster oven, an air fryer toaster oven, and a countertop oven?

Countertop ovens are precisely what they sound like—small ovens that can sit on your countertop. Toaster ovens are a type of countertop oven primarily geared for making toast (hence the name). Air fryer toaster ovens incorporate a strong convection fan to emulate an air fryer. General-purpose countertop ovens can include toast and air fryer functionality and other capabilities like app-controlled cooking, dehydrating, broiling, proofing, or steam injection.

Is there a countertop oven big enough to cook a turkey?

Many countertop ovens have plenty of room for a turkey breast; a few could even fit the whole bird inside. For example, the Breville Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro states that it can cook a turkey up to 14 pounds. However, we’d recommend measuring the inside of your specific oven and checking its user manual for weight and capacity limits before committing to cooking the star of Thanksgiving.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Ashlee Redger is a freelance food writer who has been reviewing equipment for Serious Eats since 2022. She has interned at America’s Test Kitchen, created consumer products and restaurant menus, and developed hundreds of recipes for home cooks.
  • Ashlee has written many reviews for Serious Eats, including boning knives and portable induction cooktops.
  • To find our favorite countertop ovens, she used seven models to do everyday tasks, including toasting bread, preparing a frozen pizza, and roasting a whole chicken.
  • We’ve previously evaluated toaster ovens and air fryer toaster ovens. For this lineup, we focused on ovens that go beyond toasting and air frying by incorporating smart features like steam injection and app-driven controls.

What Even Are Damascus Steel Knives (and Are They Better)?

How Damascus steel knives are made, why they’re different, and—most importantly—if you need one.

a closeup of the shun chef's knife on a wooden surface with cut up butternut squash
Serious Eats / Dera Burreson

Few things can make someone feel quite as prepared or confident in the kitchen as a knife that is as beautiful as it is functional. For me, Damascus knives are the perfect representation of this: their distinct appearance is surely a sign of something special. But the more Damascus knives I’ve used, the more questions I’ve had: What actually sets them apart? Do the contrasting patterns really contribute anything to the knives, and how do they get there in the first place? Most importantly, are they worth the extra cost? 

When I first dove into this topic, I expected a quick glance across the internet would supply me with all the information I needed. I’d read up on the technique, maybe watch a few clips, and bada bing, bada boom, I’d have my answers. But after speaking with an expert, tons of reading, and watching more videos than I care to admit, I found a trove of history and craftsmanship that has added up to a surprising conclusion of what makes Damascus special.

A Brief History of Damascus Steel

Spoiler: Almost none of our modern knives labeled as Damascus are true Damascus-style blades. To understand why, we must first dip our toes into a little metallurgical history. I am neither a historian nor a metallurgist—but for my fellow knife nerds, I’ve put together what I’ve learned into a (very) abridged background.

Originally, Damascus referred to swords made from a high-carbon steel alloy called wootz, which was first created in South India around two thousand years ago. It came from a game-changing technique of combining wrought iron and high-carbon materials (like charcoal, cast iron, or bits of wood and leaves) inside a closed crucible vessel, resulting in steel with just the right amount of carbon to make it strong yet flexible.

Wootz was, in short, a Very Big Deal. Unlike weapons forged from other steels of the time, which easily chipped, shattered, or bent, blades made with high-carbon crucible steel were resilient and could retain a sharp edge (traits we still value in our carbon steel kitchen knives today). The presence of trace elements like vanadium and the formation of carbon compounds called carbides in wootz steel also created a distinct, banded pattern that looked like swirling water across the surface of the metal. This styling made wootz (and anything made from it) instantly recognizable.

Although wootz was produced mainly in Central and South Asia, the prized Damascus blades forged from it were traded throughout the region and into the Middle East and Europe beginning in the Middle Ages. It’s not known exactly why they came to be known as “Damascus,” but it could have been derived from the Arabic word for water (based on their patterns) or named after a renowned swordmaker. Most sources point at least in part to Damascus, Syria, as the hub where many of these blades were forged and/or traded via the Silk Road.

In learning about this history, I came across many sources calling true Damascus a secret lost to time, but this seemed to be a hasty and misleading conclusion. No single factor contributed solely to the decline of wootz and Damascus production. Advancements in metalworking, the depletion of crucial ore materials, and Genghis Khan’s conquests causing changes in trade availability (as well as a significant loss of practical knowledge) all could have played a part. When Europeans started replicating crucible steel for themselves a couple of hundred years later, there were enough technological shifts—like better furnaces and more functional steel alloys—that the style was already less relevant (or necessary).

How Are Damascus Knives Made Today?

a pile of unfinished knives on a concrete surface
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

These days, Damascus refers more to the aesthetic of a knife rather than the quality or type of metal it’s made from. “When people think of Damascus, they think of pattern-welded steel,” says Craig Field, co-owner of Carbon Knife Co. in Denver. Pattern welding involves stacking layers of separate alloys on top of each other, then heating and hammering them together in a process called forge welding. This method is much more labor-intensive than forging knives from single-steel bars or stamping blades from metal sheets (as many global producers do today).

“Most people will manipulate [the layers] and fold them in different directions to create different patterns,” Field explains. By doing so, knifemakers can produce a rippling water appearance similar to the original Damascus blades, hence the shared name. Modern Damascus goes far beyond just replicating the look of wootz, though. The style has expanded to include a vast array of designs that can vary from finely feathered layers to bold raindrop motifs and beyond. “It’s limited by your technique, the steels you’re using, and your skills, but there are an infinite amount of patterns,” says Field. 

Damascus knives can be made from stainless steel, high-carbon steel, or a combination. Like any high-quality knife (Damascus or otherwise), producers will often choose exact steel alloys (which can include additions like vanadium, molybdenum, or nickel) to create specific designs and further hone the overall hardness, durability, and flexibility of the knife.

What Makes Damascus Steel Knives Special, and Are They Worth It?

A damascus nakiri knife on a wooden cutting board with slices of sweet potato surrounding it
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

The question of what makes Damascus knives special is a complicated one because, well, Damascus isn’t just one thing. Even if we put the historical name swap aside and focus only on contemporary pattern-welded Damascus, each knife will have a unique appearance and performance depending on the types of layers it has and even the technique with which they were folded. Some bladesmiths spend days hand-forging their chosen alloys together for each knife, while other producers start from premade billets. Some blades can be fully laminated throughout while others have a harder, single-alloy core with stratified cladding on top. “Damascus doesn’t contribute to anything but looks in [the latter]…but it definitely looks a lot cooler,” Field says.

Ultimately, looking great is perhaps the greatest defining feature of Damascus knives. The truth is that pattern-forged knives are only as strong or durable as the alloys they’re made from, and layering separate materials together doesn’t guarantee a better quality knife than one made from a single type of high-quality steel. But, since they must be forged individually and can’t be produced en masse like stamped-blade knives, choosing a handcrafted Damascus blade means you'll have a knife that looks as fantastic as it performs. As Field put it, “It’s about wanting something unique and that someone spent time on. It’s about the beauty and artistry in it and the craving for something handmade.”

How to Pick a Great Damascus Knife

If you want a great knife that is also affordable, there are plenty of options out there. But, if you want a great knife with the alluring Damascus look, expect to pay more than you would for a similar stainless or carbon steel blade. 

When shopping for a Damascus, look for knives from reputable companies and artisans that specifically list the kinds of metals used to make each model. Avoid cheap, mass-produced knives that tout themselves as Damascus, as they may be subpar steels or single-metal imitations that are superficially etched. Another telltale sign of phony etching is a pattern that looks too perfect or regular, rather than the unique, natural variations from pattern welding.

A person using a damascus steel nakiri knife to thinly slice green bell pepper on a wooden cutting board
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

During our years of rigorous testing, the Serious Eats team has found a couple of outstanding Damascus knives of various types, including our high-end nakiri pick from Tojiro and a keen-edged petty knife from Shun.

“I don’t think you can mention American Damascus blade smithing without mentioning Bob Kramer’s name,” Field told me. The legendary knife maker’s Zwilling collaboration includes options from a Damascus paring knife to a 10-inch chef’s knife. Field also recommends craft producers including Takamura for high-performance stainless steel Damascus, Halcyon Forge for artisan American-made blades, and Nigara Hamono for original house-forged patterns using the company’s multi-generational knowledge of Japanese sword making. No matter what style you’re looking for, you can find a Damascus steel kitchen knife that looks—and cuts—beautifully.

FAQs

What is Damascus steel?

Damascus steel originally referred to swords made from wootz, a high-carbon steel created about two thousand years ago. The blades were regarded for their strength, flexibility, and ability to retain a keen edge, as well as the distinct water-like pattern of the metal. The original forging practice died out over time, but we still use Damascus to describe knives made via pattern welding. By folding or twisting layers of varying steels together during the forging process, knifemakers can create blades with stunning designs reminiscent of the original Damascus style (as well as other motifs).

Are Damascus steel knives good?

These days, Damascus refers mainly to the forge-welding technique used to create a knife’s distinct appearance rather than its capabilities or quality. While the banded pattern of a Damascus knife can make it a gorgeous option, the actual performance will depend on the specific alloys that are combined to form the blade. For example, Damascus knives made with multiple layers of high-carbon steel will be more rigid and can hold a sharp edge for longer, while models made primarily with stainless steel may dull faster but be less likely to rust.

How do you care for Damascus steel kitchen knives?

Hand-washing is a must for all knives, Damascus or otherwise. Make sure you use a mild dish soap, a non-abrasive sponge, and warm water to get any debris off the knife, then dry it immediately with a soft cloth. Knowing what kind of steel layers your Damascus knife contains can also be helpful. If it has layers of high-carbon steel, polishing the blade regularly with a few drops of mineral oil can help protect it against rusting.

Why We're the Experts

  • Ashlee Redger is a contributor who has been writing for Serious Eats for almost two years.
  • She has spent most of her career in test kitchens, including America's Test Kitchen. She also managed the test kitchen at a Colorado-based spice company.
  • Ashlee has reviewed many knives for Serious Eats, including nakiri knives and boning knives.
  • For this review, she dug into the history and composition of Damascus steel and also spoke to Craig Field, co-owner of Carbon Knife Co. in Denver, Colorado.

We Took Hundreds of Readings to Find the Best Infrared Thermometers

We tested 10 notable infrared thermometers to find which ones were the most dependable and easy to use.

Several infrared thermometers on a grey countertop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

We’re big fans of thermometers. They turn cooking from speculation into science—as long as you have the right one for the job. We love wireless versions for grilling and wouldn’t dream of roasting without a probe thermometer. We always have an instant-read pen in arm’s reach for quick temp checks. But our thermometer arsenal doesn’t stop there. When we want to sear, griddle, or make pizzas with precision, we turn to an infrared thermometer. 

Infrared thermometers measure the temperature of surfaces. Unlike other types of thermometers, though, infrareds can be hard to easily validate in terms of accuracy, especially at home. With an instant-read thermometer, for example, you should be able to cut into a steak and see pink inside if the thermometer measures its internal temperature as 130°F. But unless you’re an Ooni expert, most home cooks won’t be able to tell if an 800°F surface temperature reading from their infrared thermometer is accurate, or a hundred degrees off. So how do you know which thermometer you can trust? That’s where we come in.

To find our infrared thermometers, we tested 10 notable models priced from $13 to $169. Along the way, we learned about the specific vocabulary that accompanies infrared usage. (Like, what is emissivity, anyway?) We also discovered the limitations of using this style of thermometer in a real-world environment, plus some tips for success. After over 300 readings, we found three infrared thermometers that were easy to use and dependable.

The Winners, at a Glance

As the name describes, this model projected a bullseye-shaped laser that offered a more accurate view of the entire target area than the single red dot of its competitors. Its screen was easy to read at a glance, and it had fully adjustable emissivity for taking the temperature of a wide range of materials. It could also be paired with wired probes (available separately) and display both readings simultaneously.

The Industrial IR Gun was a pared-down, mid-priced version of the Hi-Temp thermometer. It still had many of the same features (including high and low-temperature alarms, modes for displaying maximum, minimum, and average readings, and adjustable emissivity), but had a single laser instead of a bullseye-shaped one.

We were shocked (albeit pleasantly so) by the accuracy of this model, especially considering it was under $15. In our controlled accuracy test, its readings averaged less than 1°F away from the calibrator’s temperature. It was also the only model that allowed the user to fine-tune the measurements by 5°C (9°F) in either direction for calibration, although we didn’t have to with its out-of-the-box precision. 

The Tests

A person callibrating an infrared thermometer
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger
  • Accuracy Test: We used a portable infrared calibrator to verify each thermometer’s readings in a controlled environment. We set the blackbody target to 122°F, 250°F, 375°F, 500°F, and 700°F (allowing the temperature to stabilize for 30 minutes after every change) and took an average of five readings from each model at every step. Throughout the test, we also evaluated how easy it was to aim the thermometers accurately, examined if the displays were clear and readable, and noted how visible the lasers were.
  • Usability Test: To emulate real-world usage, we took the temperature of a pizza stone in a 500°F oven. We took an average of five readings for each thermometer (in case of glaring inaccuracies). Still, we primarily used this test to assess the thermometers’ ease of use, including how comfortable they felt in our hand and how quick it was to pinpoint the lasers inside a hot oven.

What We Learned

Distance-to-Spot Ratios Were Important to Know

a person taking the temperature of a pizza stone in the oven with an infrared thermometer
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

As a rule, an infrared thermometer doesn’t just measure the small dot that their laser illuminates. In fact, the laser itself is only an approximate guide for the invisible measurement area, which actually changes in size depending on how close the thermometer is to its target. This correlation is known as the distance-to-spot ratio (sometimes called optical resolution) and varied in the models we tested. The most common ratio we saw was 12:1, which meant the target area would be about an inch in diameter when the thermometer was held 12 inches away. 

A person holding an infrared thermometer that has a distance to spot ratio chart on its side
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Thermometers with larger distance-to-spot ratios could be held further back from their targets while still measuring a minute area. Our favorite ThermoWorks Hi-Temp Industrial IR With Circle Laser had a 30:1 ratio, so it could measure the same size spot as a 12:1 thermometer from over double the distance. This helped keep the thermometer cooler in the usability test (if the lens absorbed too much heat from the sweltering oven, it could have led to skewed readings). The Klein Tools IR1 Infrared Thermometer, on the other hand, had a 10:1 ratio. When held about three feet away from the hot pizza stone, it scanned a diameter of more than three-and-a-half inches. This wasn’t a deal breaker, but we were more cautious about pointing the laser in the center of the stone rather than getting close to the edges, which could have accidentally factored in the temperature of the oven floor.

Single-Dot Lasers Didn’t Show the Whole Measurement Target

A person pointing an infrared thermometer at an enameled cast iron skillet.
The ThermoWorks's bullseye was much easier to see than a single dot.Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Thermometers that had a single laser point (like the budget Wintact Infrared Thermometer) meant we only had a rough estimate of what area we were measuring, assuming the dot was at the center of that span (which didn’t seem to always be the case). That’s why we loved the outlined target that the ThermoWorks Hi-Temp IR offered with its circular laser beam since it did most of this visualization work for us.

A person pointing an infrared thermometer at an enameled cast iron skillet with a dark-colored interior
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

We also liked the Klein Tools Dual Laser Infrared Thermometer. Instead of a bullseye-shaped light, it projected two red dots to represent the outer edges of the measurement spot diameter. 

Emissivity Could Skew Measurements

A person holding an infrared thermometer
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

All objects above −459.7°F (absolute zero) emit thermal energy—AKA infrared radiation—which is what infrared thermometers pick up. Emissivity is the efficiency at which thermal energy is radiated and is generally expressed on a scale from zero to one. Shiny surfaces tend to have lower emissivity because they reflect a higher quantity of energy than they emit, while dull and carbon-containing materials radiate more of their own heat.

A majority of the infrared models we tested had emissivity settings that could be fully adjusted from 0.1 to 1. Those that didn’t, including the Etekcity Infrared Thermometer and the Cuisinart Infrared Surface Thermometer, had a fixed value of 0.95 (which lines up with most organic substances, food, and water). We spoke to Kyle Halvorson, the Consumer Marketing Manager at ThermoWorks, to find out the importance of having variable emissivity. He explained that having a thermometer set to the wrong value could sometimes result in readings off by a hundred degrees or more. As an example, he told a story of measuring a stainless steel grill lid on a warm spring day and seeing it temp at -56°F when other parts of the grill were temping in the mid-80s. To get more accurate readings, he would have had to set the thermometer to stainless steel’s emissivity rating around 0.59.

“It’s not all that extreme,” Halvorson says. He clarified that, often, temperatures would vary by 10 or 15 degrees rather than a hundred or more, which would still be within a workable range when, say, measuring a cast iron skillet for searing temperatures or working with a pizza oven. It could also be difficult to find exact emissivity values of various materials to start with (we couldn’t find one for the cordierite pizza stone we used in the usability test, for example). Plus, emissivity can vary even among cookware of the same material, depending on wear and carbon buildup. Even so, we ultimately found it helpful when models (like the ThermoWorks Industrial IR Gun) had adjustable emissivities to correct dramatic inaccuracies. 

Infrared’s Accuracy Was Relative

A person pointing a ThermoWorks infrared thermometer at an infrared thermometer calibrator
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

During our accuracy test, we measured the temperature of a precise calibrator target with a known emissivity of 0.95. We shot straight on and from a close distance. It told us how exact the thermometers were under near-perfect conditions, which weren’t really possible to accomplish in the real world. All infrared thermometers (including every one of the models we tested) are fallible to ambient temperature changes, particles in the air, lasers that are skewed from the center of the measurement area, and the aforementioned measurement distances and emissivity discrepancies. In some cases, a surface probe could be used to verify an infrared reading, but those are often costly and tend to have relatively low-temperature thresholds. For those reasons, we found it best to consider infrared thermometers’ readings as relative rather than exact during everyday use. Thermometers that had modes for maximum, minimum, and average temperatures across each trigger session also helped us better understand the general measurements across a surface. Although they come with a built-in level of variability, we still think infrared thermometers can offer vital insights for being a more informed cook. 

A Few Tips for Infrared Thermometer Success

a group of infared thermometers on a grey kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Although it’s difficult to guarantee correctness with infrared thermometers, we did learn a few tricks that can yield better reliability. First of all, remember that infrared thermometers can only read surface temperatures, not internal temperatures. They can’t be used to know if a steak or piece of chicken is done on the inside, only what its external heat is. They also can’t “see” through glass, water, or air that’s filled with smoke, steam, or dust (even if the lasers shine through). When possible, aim the thermometer perpendicularly to its target. If it is pointed at an angle, the measurement area becomes elongated and oblong (picture shining a flashlight straight down versus from the side).

Lists of emissivity values can be found around the internet, but if you can’t determine an exact value for your specific cookware (or can’t adjust the emissivity with your thermometer), you can put a thin layer of oil (which has an emissivity around 0.95) on top and aim the thermometer at that. Masking tape can also be used at ambient temperatures. Infrared thermometers aren’t great for temping inside grills because they will measure beyond the thin metal grates and also read the flame or coals beneath, so let a cast iron skillet preheat for 10 minutes or so on top and measure its surface instead. When temping liquid (like oil for frying or sugar for making candy), stir it beforehand to even out the temperature before measuring.

The Criteria: What to Look for in an Infrared Thermometer

a person holding an infrared thermometer
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Our favorite infrared thermometers were accurate under controlled conditions and had easy-to-read displays. Models that had larger distance-to-spot ratios could measure more precise points from further away, and those that displayed circular lasers or double points offered a better representation of the actual zone being measured than single-dot lasers. Adjustable emissivity and modes that displayed maximum, minimum, and average readings were a big plus. An upper measurement threshold of 750°F or so would be okay for most indoor cooking, but we liked thermometers that could measure up to 900°F or more, especially for use alongside outdoor pizza ovens (which, depending on the style of pizza, we often recommend preheating to at least 800°F).

The Best Infrared Thermometers

What we liked: ThermoWorks is a titan of all things temperature, and its products have been winning us over for years. This model stood out from the rest in part because of its bullseye laser shape that helped us gauge the measurement area much more easily than we could with a single laser point (although, depending on distance, it can still be a slightly skewed representation). Of all the infrared thermometers we tested, it also had the highest temperature threshold (up to 1400°F!) and largest distance-to-spot ratio (30:1 versus the more common 12:1). In the accuracy test, it consistently averaged less than 1°F away from the goal temperature, making it one of the most accurate models of the lineup. For serious thermometer aficionados, this model had the capability to display readings from type K thermocouples, which included options for measuring internal, air, and surface contact temperatures (although these were available separately, and we did not evaluate their performance). 

What we didn’t like: This thermometer is a true professional tool. As such, it was the most feature-heavy of the models we tested as well as the most expensive. It may be overkill for most home uses, and, given its price, we think a majority of cooks would be just as happy with our other, budget-friendlier favorites. For those who want the best of the best, though, this ThermosWorks model is it.

Price at time of publish: $169.

Key Specs

  • Average difference from accuracy test goals: 0.9°F
  • Measurement range: -76 to 1400°F (-60 to 760°C)
  • Accuracy: ±4°F plus 0.09°F per degree below 32°F (±2°C plus 0.05°C per degree below 0°C); ±4°F (±2°C) or 2% (whichever is greater) for measurements 32°F and above. From 59 to 95°F (15 to 35°C), the accuracy increases to ±1.8°F (±1°C).
  • Resolution: When measuring below 1000°F, the temperature displays to the tenth of the degree (0.1°F/0.1°C). When measuring over 1000°F, it displays in whole degrees (1°F/1°C).
  • Adjustable emissivity: 0.1 to 1 in 0.01 increments (0.95 by default)
  • Distance-to-spot ratio (optical resolution): 30:1
  • Response time: 1 second
  • Handle length: 4.5 inches
  • Care instructions: Store the thermometer at room temperature. If needed, clean the sensor lens with a soft cloth or cotton swab with water or rubbing alcohol (allow to dry completely before using).
  • Primary features: Circular laser targeting; Celsius or Fahrenheit toggle; optional backlight and laser; modes to display the maximum, minimum, difference between maximum and minimum, and average readings from each session as well as a trigger-less continuous measure option; high and low-temperature alarms; low battery indicator; can be paired with ThermoWork type K probes to take surface contact, internal, or air temperatures (accessories must be purchased separately)
an infrared thermometer on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: This model had both impressive dependability and simple-to-operate accessibility. It was quick to scroll through the thermometer’s complete set of modes and we particularly liked being able to view the combined average of the temperatures from each session alongside the current reading. It also offered full control over the emissivity settings and could measure temperatures just over 1000°F.

What we didn’t like: It only had a single laser, which made it harder to know exactly how large its measurement zone was, but we were still able to get spot-on readings in both the accuracy and usability tests with a few extra seconds of scanning the surfaces.

Price at time of publish: $77.

Key Specs

  • Average difference from accuracy test goals: 1.1°F
  • Temperature measurement range: -76 to 1022°F (-60 to 550°C)
  • Accuracy: ±4°F plus 0.09°F per degree below 32°F (±2°C plus 0.05°C per degree below 0°C); ±4°F (±2°C) or 2% (whichever is greater) for measurements 32°F and above. From 55 to 95°F (15 to 35°C), the accuracy increases to ±2.7°F (±1.5°C).
  • Resolution: When measuring between -9.9°F and 199.9°F, the temperature displays to the tenth of the degree (0.1°F/0.1°C). Outside of that range, it displays in whole degrees (1°F/1°C).
  • Adjustable emissivity: 0.1 to 1 in 0.01 increments (0.95 by default)
  • Distance-to-spot ratio (optical resolution): 12:1
  • Response time: 1 second
  • Handle Length: 4 inches
  • Care instructions: Store the thermometer at room temperature. If needed, clean the sensor lens with a soft cloth or cotton swab with water or rubbing alcohol (allow to dry completely before using).
  • Primary features: Single laser targeting; Celsius or Fahrenheit toggle; optional backlight and laser; modes to display the maximum, minimum, difference between maximum and minimum, and average readings from each session as well as a trigger-less continuous measure option; high and low-temperature alarms; low battery indicator
a person pointing an infrared thermometer at a calibration box
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: The Wintact Infrared Thermometer averaged a mere 0.6°F difference from the calibrator’s temperature in the accuracy test. It also just happened to be the most affordable model of the lineup. This was the only model to offer a “self-calibration” mode, where the user could adjust the temperature by ±5°C (9°F) based on its accuracy at 0°C (32°F). This would allow the user to point the thermometer at an ice bath and then adjust the temperature accordingly should they notice the readings becoming skewed over time, although we didn’t need to use it.

What we didn’t like: Like the ThermoWorks Industrial IR Gun, this model only has a single laser pointer. It also beeped after each trigger session, which got annoying when we were temping multiple spots in quick succession. It does not have fully adjustable emissivity—rather, it only had an option to toggle between 0.8 and 0.95. The maximum and minimum modes must be scrolled through while your finger is still on the trigger; otherwise, it won’t display accurate readings from the previous session (and they do not display simultaneously with the current reading). We also found during the accuracy test that the laser was skewed slightly higher than where the thermometer was actually measuring, but we think this would be less noticeable in real-world applications.

Price at time of publish: $13.

Key Specs

  • Average difference from accuracy test goals: 0.6°F
  • Temperature measurement range: -58 to 986°F (-50 to 530°C)
  • Accuracy: ±5°F (±3°C) for measurements 32°F or less; ±2.7°F (±1.5°C) or 1.5% (whichever is greater) for measurements 32°F and above
  • Resolution: Temperatures display to a tenth of a degree (0.1°F/0.1°C).
  • Adjustable emissivity: 0.8 option (0.95 by default)
  • Distance-to-spot ratio (optical resolution): 12:1
  • Response time: Less than 0.5 second
  • Handle length: 3.5 inches
  • Care instructions: Blow off loose particles on the sensor using clean compressed air. Gently brush any remaining debris away with a cotton swab dampened with water. The exterior can be cleaned with a damp sponge or cloth and mild soap.
  • Primary features: Single laser targeting; Celsius or Fahrenheit toggle; optional backlight and laser; modes to display the maximum and minimum temperature readings; a calibration mode to adjust temperature readings by 5°C (in 0.1°C or 0.2°F increments); low battery indicator
a black and red infrared thermometer in a person's hand
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

The Competition

  • Klein Tools Dual Laser Infrared Thermometer: We loved that this model had two laser dots to denote the span of the measurement area, but its user interface was slow and hard to navigate at times. It also had a maximum of 744°F, which was on the low side (especially for pizza ovens). 
  • ThermoPro Digital Infrared Thermometer: This affordable thermometer had adjustable emissivity and could read up to 1022°F, but it had one annoying flaw. While its live readings were quite precise, the infrared would continue to measure temperatures after we let up on the trigger, which caused skewed readings (sometimes off by hundreds of degrees) unless we kept it frozen in place for several seconds after each session. We found this most inconvenient when we were measuring from an open oven and when we didn’t have a clear view of the display to see live readings.
  • Etekcity Infrared Thermometer: Although it was budget-friendly, the Etekcity thermometer averaged about 10°F off the target temperature in our accuracy test and maxed out at 716°F.
  • Sovarcate Infrared Thermometer: The Sovarcate wasn’t as precise as other models in our controlled accuracy test and had a dark display with light text that was hard to read unless viewed straight-on. Like the Wintact, it also beeped after every reading.
  • Kizen Infrared Thermometer Gun: The Kizen was a copycat design of the Sovarcate but with different coloration (and louder beeps). 
  • Klein Tools IR1 Infrared Thermometer: This model had the smallest measurement range (-4 to 752°F) and the lowest distance-to-spot ratio (10:1) of the lineup. It also required the user to unscrew the battery compartment in order toggle between temperature units and did not allow any other display modes.
  • Cuisinart Infrared Surface Thermometer: During both tests, we noticed this model’s readings varied by dozens of degrees depending on the distance and angle it was measuring from, which made it hard to trust.

FAQs

How do you use an infrared thermometer?

To use an infrared thermometer, point it at whatever you would like to measure and press the trigger to activate it. The thermometer will project a laser to indicate to the user where it is reading, although the actual measurement zone is usually larger and can be slightly skewed from where the laser is displayed. It is a good practice to move the thermometer around the item you are analyzing to get an idea of the general temperature range across the whole plane instead of taking the temperature of a single point. Infrared thermometers only measure the first surface in front of it, and can’t “see” through glass or water (even if the laser shines past it).

Are infrared thermometers accurate?

Under perfect conditions, infrared thermometers can be quite precise and measure within a degree or less of the actual temperature. During real-world usage, though, they can be affected by several factors—including distance, angle, emissivity, and if there is smoke, steam, or dust in the air. Infrared thermometers can still provide valuable context for cooking, even if their measurements should be treated as relative rather than exact.

How does an infrared thermometer work?

All objects that are above absolute zero (−459.7°F) generate infrared radiation. The higher something is in temperature, the more energy (AKA infrared light) it emits. We can’t see this radiation, but we can feel it in the form of heat. An infrared thermometer can detect and focus the infrared light using a lens and then convert it into electrical energy via a thermopile. The resulting voltage is translated into a temperature reading that is displayed in Fahrenheit or Celsius. The coolest part? Most infrared thermometers can do all of this in under a second.

How do you calibrate an infrared thermometer?

The only way to be sure of your infrared thermometer’s accuracy is to test it against a known reference thermometer using a calibrator, but they can be inaccessibly pricey (and frankly, unnecessary) for most cooks. We suggest testing your thermometer against an ice bath, which will reliably measure at 32°F if made with plenty of ice. Most infrared thermometers can’t actually be adjusted up or down for calibration at home, but you can make a note of any inconsistencies for future reference.

Why We’re the Experts

  • For this review, we evaluated 10 popular infrared thermometers and ranked them based on accuracy and real-world usage. 
  • We also spoke to an expert from ThermoWorks to understand emissivity, technical specifications (like optical resolution), and proper temping techniques.
  • Ashlee Redger is a freelance food writer who has been reviewing equipment for Serious Eats since 2022. She has interned at America’s Test Kitchen, innovated consumer products and restaurant menus for national brands, and developed hundreds of recipes for home cooks.

We Made Dozens of Crispy, Melty Sandwiches to Find the Four Best Panini Presses

We tested nine of the highest-rated panini presses to find four that made crispy, melty sandwiches (and much more).

a person placing a sandwich onto a panini press and a small sheet tray holding another sandwich sitting besides the panini press
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

If you were around in the late ‘90s and early aughts, you probably remember the original Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machines. They were all the rage for cooking sandwiches, burger patties, chicken breasts, and anything else you could shut between two hot plates. Heck, even Michael Scott had one (although we’d recommend other ways to cook your morning bacon that don’t risk clamping your foot in a George Foreman). 

In the past three decades, these machines (which we’ll call panini presses, but are also commonly referred to as indoor or contact grills) have seen a lot of technical improvement. Many of them now have adjustable temperatures, removable and reversible plates, and better floating-hinge covers that cook food more evenly. They can be a convenient option for weekday meals, a solution for those who don’t have easy kitchen access (like college students), or a good alternative for people looking to cut down on their usage of gas stoves. 

For most of us, though, kitchen space is tight, and countertop appliances take up especially valuable real estate. During this review, we favored panini presses that went beyond unitasking and that we could picture ourselves using regularly, if not daily. We spent a week testing nine of the highest-rated panini presses—priced from $25 to $200—to find which ones not only made the best sandwiches but were also super adaptable and easy to clean. After making dozens of sandwiches, we found four clear winners.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Griddler Elite incorporated all of the best features of a high-end panini press, including a built-in timer, separate temperature controls for the top and bottom, and detachable, reversible plates. The grill sides of the surfaces created the most distinct marks of the lineup thanks to their deep grooves that channeled away moisture and drippings. The Elite’s cover could be adjusted to hover above the base to make open-faced melts easy, or it could fold down flat to convert the panini press into a griddle.

Breville has a reputation for high-tech, chef-driven appliances (we’re big fans of its toaster oven andfood processor). The Sear & Press Grill shared a lot of the same capabilities as the Cuisinart Griddler Elite, plus it could be paired with compatible waffle plates (although they have to be purchased separately). It would be a good option for someone who’s looking to cut down on the total number of appliances in their kitchen, while still getting reliably excellent results. 

The Griddler FIVE had a clear user interface (complete with an LCD screen), a built-in timer, and a wide range of temperature settings. Like the two higher-end picks, it could expand flat and was a breeze to clean thanks to its detachable plates. It was smaller than the Griddler Elite and the Breville Sear & Press, making it easier to store.

At just under $100, the standard Griddler was the most budget-friendly panini press that still featured the same extras that set all of our favorites apart: easy-to-clean, reversible plates, adjustable temperature settings, and a top cover that could rotate 180 degrees to convert the press into a countertop griddle or grill. We also liked its analog temperature dials, which were dead simple to operate.

The Tests

two panini presses on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger
  • Cuban Sandwich Test: We made two Cubano sandwiches with each model to see how it fared with a tall sandwich made with heavy fillings and soft bread. We observed whether the grill’s lid pressed down evenly on the top of the sandwich or closed at an angle. We also evaluated if the cheese inside was melted by the time the bread was golden and crisp on both sides.
  • Caramelized Onion & Mushroom Panini Test (Winners-Only): We used the models that performed the best in the Cuban sandwich test to make vegan caramelized onion and mushroom panini. Since the sandwiches had no cheese to hold them together, we watched to see if the lids were heavy enough to push the fillings out of the crusty bread, and how distinct the grill marks were at the end. 
  • Cleaning and Usability Tests: Throughout testing, we took notes on how intuitive each panini press was to use and if it was easy to clean the parts by hand (using the plastic scraper tool if it came with one).

What We Learned

The Panini Presses Could (and Should) Do More than Sandwiches

two cubano pressed sandwiches on a panini press with its lid upright
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Like the original grilling machines, all of the presses we tested advertised their ability to cook burgers, vegetables, or even steak, and do it faster since it heated both sides at once. We wouldn’t exactly rush to get a hard sear our next ribeye on an indoor grill, since their plates were covered in nonstick coating (which, as we know from nonstick skillets, can degrade at high temperatures). But we would turn to one for weeknight chicken cutlets, quesadillas, and veggies like asparagus, to name a few.

Most of the models, from the $200 Breville Sear & Press to the $30 Elite Gourmet Panini Press, could open their lids up 180 degrees so they could be used flat as indoor grills. This feature was made even better when the press had adjustable temperature settings and reversible plates with grill and griddle options. The Cuisinart Griddler Elite, for example, could effectively double as an electric griddle, since it had broad cooking surfaces and exact heat settings. Both the Griddler Elite and the Breville Sear & Press had dual temperature modes. This meant that the top plate could be used, for example, on medium-high heat for searing breakfast sausage or frying eggs while the bottom is set lower for pancakes. Both models also had the option to set the lid to hover over the base, converting them into mock broilers for open-faced melts and flatbread pizzas. Some panini presses, including the Breville Sear & Press as well as Cuisinart’s Griddler and Griddler FIVE, had compatible waffle plates which would make them even more powerful multitaskers (though these were available separately, and we did not test their performance).

Presets Weren’t Particularly Helpful

A panini press pressing two sandwiches on medium heat
We preferred adjustable temperature options (like the press shown here has), but were fine without any presets.Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Almost half of the panini presses we tested had no temperature settings beyond “on” and “off.” While this just meant slightly longer cook times for the Elite Gourmet, George Foreman, and Breville Panini Duo, the Chefman Panini Press & Grill got too hot and burned the bread before the sandwich was cooked through in the Cubano test. While one could adapt to this by making thinner sandwiches that heat through faster, we preferred grills that could adjust to our needs rather than the other way around.

On the other side, the panini presses that had adjustable heat levels often incorporated extra preset buttons for specific uses, like searing at the highest temperature. We often found these shortcuts nonspecific, like in the case of the Cuisinart Smoke-Less Griddler. In addition to manual controls, it had beef, poultry, fish, and pork presets that could be applied to the top plate, bottom plate, or both. It wasn’t clear what temperature the machine was heating to; plus, having to scroll through all of the functions in order to set it to anything made the user interface feel irksome and time-consuming. The Breville Sear & Press had a panini preset that got the plates searingly hot (to the point of lightly smoking), which we ultimately found less helpful than just setting the temperature ourselves. 

Detachable Plates Made Cleaning Easy

a person removing the bottom plate of a panini press
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

No surprise here! Cooking surfaces that could be popped out were more convenient to clean than those that couldn’t. All of the ones we tested that could be detached were dishwasher-safe, too. The fixed-plate models had to be wiped out with a damp cloth or sponge in an attempt to get all the burnt-on bits and grease out without getting water in the electrical components. It was bothersome when making relatively self-contained sandwiches, but would be a downright hassle after anything messier (like burgers). The George Foreman model we tested was especially hard to clean. Not only did it have fixed plates, but its drip tray was situated at the front of the cooking plate rather than the back. This left any drips that were on the lid a clear path down into the hinges as soon as the cover was lifted (which happened even with a light brushing of butter before we started cooking). The machine never felt fully clean and continuously showed smudges all over its black plastic exterior. 

Grill grate height also mattered in how easy the plates were to clean. The Griddler Elite had the deepest grooves on its grilling surface of any panini press (about eight millimeters deep), which produced the most prevalent marks on the final paninis. They were a tad harder to clean, though, since food could fall and burn in between them. A few minutes of soaking or a swipe with the plastic scraping tool that came with the grill helped us take care of any stubborn bits. All of the other models had grates that were between 1.7 and 3.5 millimeters deep, which could be easily wiped out with a sponge.

Most of the Budget Panini Presses Weren’t Up to Par

a small panini press pressing a cubano sandwich
Smaller, cheaper panini presses could barely accommodate a single sandwich.Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

We tested three models in the $30 range: The Elite Gourmet, Chefman, and George Foreman panini presses. Unfortunately, they all suffered from the same flaws, with fixed plates and no temperature control. Because of their smaller sizes, they also struggled to fit the Cubano sandwiches under their floating hinge lids and required the sandwiches to be flipped around halfway through in order to be cooked (somewhat) evenly. You could do less with them than say, a good nonstick skillet or grill pan, and they were harder to clean to boot.

a small panini press with a sandwich on its grates and its lid open
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

For those reasons, we recommend just getting a grill press (also called a cooking weight)  instead of one of the more basic electric grills if you want to make paninis on a budget, which can be used with any skillet. Even an aluminum foil-wrapped brick to press sandwiches into whatever pan you already own works.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Panini Press

a panini press pressing two sandwiches
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

A great panini press should have adjustable heat settings, a floating-hinge lid that can lower evenly onto the food, and detachable plates that are convenient to clean. We also loved covers that could open flat so the press could be converted into an indoor grill (bonus points if the cooking plates were reversible so it could also be used as a griddle). Instead of preset buttons, we valued panini presses that had more multitasking opportunities, like a top that be set a few inches above the base for open-faced melts and compatible waffle plates. 

The Best Panini Presses

What we liked: The Griddler Elite consistently performed the best throughout our tests because of its clear user interface and comprehensive set of features. The built-in timer was surprisingly convenient, and we liked that the lid locked closed so it to be stored on its side between uses. The responsive floating hinge allowed for even pressure (even on the towering Cubano sandwiches), while the prominent grill grates produced distinctly marked sandwiches. 

All of our favorite panini presses could open flat to become a full griddle or indoor grill, but the Griddler Elite also had independent temperature controls for the top and bottom so you could make two different dishes at once. The cooking surfaces were large enough to make three or four large sandwiches at a time, so it’s a good pick for families or meal-prepping.

a panini press with its lid closed and pressing two sandwiches
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we didn’t like: This pricey model was the biggest and heaviest machine in the lineup. It took up about a square foot and a half of countertop space and weighed over 17 pounds, making it a hassle to put away in a cabinet. We also noticed that, even though the deep grooves of the grill surfaces made for better-looking sandwiches, they tended to be slightly harder to clean.

Price at time of publish: $154.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 14 x 15.5 x 8.25 inches
  • Weight: 17.4 pounds
  • Cord length: 36.5 inches
  • Grill grate depth: 8.1 millimeters
  • Materials: Stainless steel, aluminum, and plastic
  • Temperature Range: 200-450°F
  • Wattage: 1800 watts
  • Care instructions: The detachable plates, plastic scraper tool, and drip tray are dishwasher-safe (top rack only). The external housing can be wiped with a dry or damp soft cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners and metal utensils, as they can scratch the outside or damage the nonstick coating.
a panini press with its lid closed on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: This model had the most complete set of features to make it an everyday go-to. Of course, it made great paninis: The floating hinge cooked the sandwiches evenly, the straightforward settings were quick to adjust, and the detachable ceramic plates were the easiest to clean. The lid could be suspended a few inches over the base to make open-faced sandwiches (or even pizza, in a pinch). It had reversible grill/griddle surfaces that could open flat and independent temperature controls for the two cooking areas. On top of all of its other bonuses, it can also be equipped with waffle iron plates (sold separately) to take its multitasking to the next level.

a panini press pressing two vegetarian sandwiches
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we didn’t like: This was the most expensive model we tested. Like the Griddler Elite, it was large enough to make a few servings at a time—which also meant it took up a good bit of counter space and was cumbersome to store. We found the presets ambiguous, and the panini mode made the cooking surfaces too hot to heat our sandwich through without burning the exterior first (it was simple to switch it back to manual controls, though, which worked as expected). 

Price at time of publish: $200.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 12.25 x 13 x 5.25 inches
  • Weight: 8.2 pounds
  • Cord length: 34.75 inches
  • Grill grate depth: 2.6 millimeters
  • Materials: Stainless steel, plastic, and PTFE- and PFOA-free ceramic non-stick plates
  • Temperature Range: 210-450°F
  • Wattage: 1800 watts
  • Care instructions: The detachable plates and drip tray are dishwasher-safe (top rack only). The external housing can be wiped with a dry or damp soft cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners and metal utensils, as they can scratch the outside or damage the nonstick coating.
a Breville panini press with its lid closed
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: Cuisinart’s Griddler FIVE was a powerful cooking tool in a pared-down package. It still had the most useful features like plates that could be reversed or removed for cleaning, adjustable temperatures, and the ability to open flat. It also had a built-in timer and a clear digital screen. It’s on the smaller side (better for two servings versus the Griddler Elite’s three or four), so it can be more conveniently stored when it's not needed. Like the Breville Sear & Press, Cuisinart offers waffle plates that can convert this press into a waffle maker.

two panini on a panini press with its lid open
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we didn’t like: It’s not quite as adaptable as the pricier winners, since there was only a single temperature control for both sides. The user interface was a little less straightforward than our other top picks and required more time and button pushes to adjust the heat and timer. The heat settings themselves were also fairly puzzling. The panini press required the user to choose between grill and griddle modes, but we couldn’t find meaningful differentiation between the two temperature functions or how they heated the cooking surfaces (both worked well to heat both plates, regardless of whether they were on their grill or griddle sides).

Price at time of publish: $113.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 13 x 13.5 x 8 inches
  • Weight: 9.6 pounds
  • Grill grate depth: 2 millimeters
  • Cord length: 36 inches
  • Materials: Stainless steel, aluminum, and plastic
  • Temperature Range: 175-450°F
  • Wattage: 1500 watts
  • Care instructions: The detachable plates, plastic scraper tool, and drip tray are dishwasher-safe (top rack only). The external housing can be wiped with a dry or damp soft cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners and metal utensils, as they can scratch the outside or damage the nonstick coating.
a person opening the lid of a panini press
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: Many of the design aspects that we loved about the Griddler Elite and Griddler FIVE were present in the foundational Cuisinart Griddler. It had removable and reversible grill/griddle plates, a lid that could open up 180 degrees, and an effective floating hinge that allowed for more uniform cooking. The analog temperature dials were beyond simple to use and had options for setting the heat by temperature or on a low to high scale. It's the smallest of our winning panini presses and the easiest to store if you aren’t looking for a full-time countertop resident. As an added bonus, it can be equipped with the same waffle plates as the Griddler FIVE to maximize its capabilities. Given the size of its cooking surface (it is about the same size as the Griddler FIVE’s), the Griddler is good for couples and smaller households.

a panini press with its lid closed pressing a cubano
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we didn’t like: The Cuisinart Griddler does make some compromises in exchange for being a lighter, more affordable machine (although we think they are fairly minor ones, at that). It does not have separate temperature settings for the top and bottom plates, a built-in timer, or the ability to lock the lid for sideways storage. We also noticed that the floating hinge necessitated sandwiches (particularly thicker ones, like the Cubanos) be pushed toward the back of the base plate in order to have the most even pressure from the lid. This happened to some degree for all of the panini presses we tested, but it was more noticeable as the cooking surfaces got smaller.

Price at time of publish: $97.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 13 x 7.75 inches
  • Weight: 9 pounds
  • Grill grate depth: 1.8 millimeters
  • Cord length: 36 inches
  • Materials: Stainless steel, aluminum, and plastic
  • Temperature Range: 200-425°F
  • Wattage: 1500 watts
  • Care instructions: The detachable plates, plastic scraper tool, and drip tray are dishwasher-safe (top rack only). The external housing can be wiped with a dry or damp soft cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners and metal utensils, as they can scratch the outside or damage the nonstick coating.
two sandwiches on the grates of a panini press
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

The Competition

  • Cuisinart Contact Griddler with Smoke-Less Mode: We found the user interface of the Smoke-Less Griddler awkward and time-consuming to navigate. It had four, somewhat vague protein-specific presets to mitigate smoke as well as a front kickstand to encourage grease drainage. While the latter could be helpful for bacon or burgers, we preferred to adjust temperatures manually (smoke was relatively easy to manage just by avoiding overly high temperatures).
  • Breville Panini Duo: This streamlined offering from Breville performed almost as well as our winners in making evenly toasted, melty Cuban sandwiches, but it had irremovable plates and no adjustable temperature settings. For a model in the same price range as the Cuisinart Griddler, we expected more convenience and adaptability.
  • Chefman Panini Press Grill: The Chefman grill's single heat setting was too hot and burned the Cuban sandwich’s bread in the time it took for the cheese inside to melt. It also had an ineffective floating hinge, so the back half of the sandwiches was deeply toasted while the front looked relatively untouched.
  • Elite Gourmet Panini Press & Grill: This model had fixed plates that were hard to clean and no adjustable temperature settings. The base plate was just big enough to hold one Cubano, but the lid could not float over the thick sandwich and instead closed on it at an angle (pushing it apart in the process).
  • George Foreman 2-Serving Classic Plate Indoor Grill and Panini Press: Despite the brand’s synonymity with indoor grills, this model lacked core design features that were standard in other presses. It had the drip tray set in the front of the machine, so any grease or oil on the top cooking plate ran straight down into the back hinges upon opening. Its lid also felt wobbly and loose, and could not exert enough pressure on the top of the sandwich to cook it evenly. Although it touts being able to cook two servings at a time, it was only big enough to hold one sandwich (at an angle).

FAQs

What is a panini press?

A panini press—also known as a sandwich press, indoor grill, or contact grill—is a countertop electric appliance that has heated plates on the top and bottom so it can cook food on both sides at once. The plates can be smooth (like a griddle), ridged (to create grill marks), or reversible with both options. It has a clamshell design, often with a floating hinge that allows the top plate to come down parallel with the base to create even pressure on the food inside. A panini press can also refer to a cooking weight, which is a flat, heavy piece of metal (usually cast iron or stainless steel) with a handle that can be placed on top of sandwiches, meat, or vegetables in a pan to encourage a uniform sear.

Can a panini press be used for more than panini?

Yes, panini presses are popularly used to cook burgers, boneless cuts of meat, bacon, kebabs, and vegetables. Some even have smooth plates and can expand flat for griddling food like eggs or pancakes. 

Can a panini press be used as a grill?

Sort of. Similar to using a grill pan on a stove, a panini press won’t be able to reproduce the smoky flavor and charred texture you would get from an outdoor grill, but it can yield food with seared grill marks and a crisped exterior. 

How do you clean a panini press?

Some panini presses have convenient detachable plates that can be removed and washed by hand (or sometimes, in the dishwasher). Others have fixed plates that must be wiped out with a damp cloth and mild dish soap. Many contact grills also include a plastic scraper tool that can be used to gently remove food debris from the cooled plates. If it comes with one, the grill’s grease drip tray should be washed by hand or in the dishwasher after each use to avoid buildup. The exterior can be wiped with a dry or damp cloth or soft sponge (do not immerse the machine in water). Never use metal utensils, abrasive detergents, or scouring pads on the panini press as it can damage the nonstick plates and scratch the outer body.

How do you make a panini without a press?

Paninis are easy to make at home, even without a bespoke appliance. You can cook the sandwich in any normal pan and use a cooking weight to press it down. If you don’t have a cooking weight, any other flat-bottomed, food-safe item will work: The bottom of a cast iron pan, a plate or pot lid (put a can on top for extra weight), or even a brick wrapped in aluminum foil (à la chicken under a brick). The total weight you need will depend on the type of sandwich you’re making: sturdier sandwiches like Cubanos can withstand three or four pounds on top; a simple grilled cheese would be better off with a pound or less. For the quickest and simplest solution, just use a sturdy spatula and apply pressure to the sandwich yourself.

Why shouldn’t you use nonstick spray on panini press plates?

Many panini presses with nonstick plates (as well as any nonstick cookware, for that matter) will warn against using cooking sprays because they often contain an emulsifying agent called lecithin. The lecithin can stick to the cookware and burn as it heats up, creating a sticky residue that is nearly impossible to scrub off without damaging the nonstick coating underneath (if you realize it is there at all). Over time, the film left on the plates can cause food to stick more, nullifying the nonstick effects. 

Why We’re the Experts

  • Ashlee Redger is a freelance food writer who has been reviewing equipment for Serious Eats since 2022.
  • Her background is in culinary arts, nutrition, and recipe development. She has interned with America’s Test Kitchen, innovated menu items for a national restaurant brand, and developed dozens of recipes for home cooks.
  • For this review, we tested nine of the most well-known panini presses. We made over two dozen sandwiches to evaluate which models could cook evenly, were easy to clean, and had user-friendly controls.

Your Kitchen Needs a Dutch Oven—Here’s Why

A Dutch oven is an essential (and gorgeous) addition to every kitchen. It’s the do-it-all cookware that can simmer, sear, braise, and bake.

a red staud Dutch oven with jambalaya in it
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

I’ve cooked and thought about food professionally for almost a decade. Throughout that time, I’ve accumulated cookware in just about every major category of size and material: stainless steel pots, nonstick skillets, a carbon steel wok, and way too many cast iron pans (trust me, it’s possible). Even so, when dinner time rolls around, I’m usually reaching for my Dutch oven to make it.

Dutch ovens are multi-taskers by nature. Their broad base offers plenty of space for browning, and they’re deep enough to hold a family’s worth of soup. The original Dutch ovens (also known as cocottes) were made with plain cast iron, but most these days are coated with enamel. This means they can still distribute heat evenly, but don’t require seasoning and are relatively nonstick from the get-go. They can go from stove to oven, plus they’re suitable for cooking on induction. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better one-pot wonder. 

What Are Dutch Ovens Good For?

Searing, Simmering, and Braising

searing chicken thighs in a dutch oven
Serious Eats / Will Dickey

The Dutch oven is the master of the stovetop. Since it’s basically a wider, heavier version of a stockpot, it’s a good pick to simmer broth or cook up big batches of beans. The cast iron core can get hot enough to quickly sear chunks of meat and brown veggies. Unlike nonstick cookware, the enamel allows flavorful fond to build up on the bottom of the pot, which then deglazes beautifully. For a slow-cooked braise or tomato sauce, you can start the process on the stove and then move it directly into the oven for a few hours, all with one pot.

Frying

frying onion rings in a dutch oven
Serious Eats/Ashlee Redger

When paired with a probe thermometer, a Dutch oven can also deep fry thanks to its high sides. Its cast-iron walls are better at retaining heat than stainless steel, which helps keep temperatures more stable. It also redistributes that heat efficiently, so the oil can rebound quickly after temperatures drop when food is added. Unless you’re frying on the regular, we even recommend a Dutch oven over buying unitasker electric deep-fryers

Baking Better Bread

a loaf of bread baking in a Dutch oven
Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Ever wonder how to make crusty, artisan-style bread at home? Purpose-built cast iron bread ovens can be intimidating for beginners, not to mention expensive, heavy, and hard to store. Enter the Dutch oven. When covered with its heavy lid, the cocotte creates a super-insulated environment that captures moisture as it evaporates from the bread dough, mimicking the steam injection ovens of professional bakeries. This encourages better browning as well as a chewier, more flavorful crust. While you won’t be able to make long, Parisian-style baguettes, you can still make a darn good boule

Adding Color to Your Kitchen

Overhead view of Ganach Lupia in a dutch ovenANACHLUPIA
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Okay, so we’ve established that Dutch ovens are workhorses in the kitchen. What makes them even better is that they’re downright gorgeous. The flat-lidded design of Staub’s lineup has an old-world feel to it that conjures daydreams of a rustic pot of coq au vin in the French countryside. Le Creuset’s simplicity, on the other hand, reads a little more modern, especially when combined with the dozens (yes, dozens!) of color options. The classic shades include fiery orange Flame, cobalt Marseille, or my personal favorite, a sunshiney hue called Nectar. There’s also a constant stream of new and seasonal colors, like the pale purple Shallot or handsome Matte Navy finishes. You can choose a color that’ll pop in your kitchen or a neutral that will let the food shine. If you can’t decide, don’t worry: we’ve already ranked all the Le Creuset colors for you.

So, Which Dutch Oven Should I Buy? 

Shopping for your first Dutch oven can feel overwhelming as they come in a wide array of shapes and capacities, including Staub’s delightful tomato-shaped mini cocotte (which can hold about a pint) and Le Creuset’s 15-quart oval behemoth. We preferred Dutch ovens with round bases during our testing (rather than oblong or novelty-shaped ones) because they fit better on standard burners and heat more evenly. When deciding on size, Le Creuset recommends choosing a pot big enough for one quart per person in the household plus one or two extra quarts (a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven is a good place to start for a family of four). With that, you’ll have a pot that’s ready for anything.

Staub and Le Creuset are undoubtedly the most well-known manufacturers of Dutch ovens. These two brands have earned their reputations through strict quality standards and their steadfast lifetime warranties. Although they have their differences (mostly in their design—for example, Staub’s cookware has black interiors whereas Le Creuset’s is light), we highly recommend them both for their durability and superior enamel coatings. These heritage brands can be pretty pricey, though. Our winning 5.5-quart Staub and Le Creuset models cost around $300 to $420 each, depending on color. While we think that the investment is worth it for a pot that will last you a lifetime, we found the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 5-quart Dutch oven ($100) to be a good budget-friendly option.

FAQs

How do you clean a Dutch oven? 

To keep your Dutch oven in tip-top shape, we recommend handwashing it with mild detergent and a non-abrasive sponge after each use. For stubborn stains, you can soak the pot in hot water and/or gently scrub the spot with baking soda, vinegar, or Bar Keepers Friend. We don’t recommend putting your Dutch oven in the dishwasher as it can dull and weaken the enamel, shortening the life of the cookware.

Can a Dutch oven go in the oven? 

Yes! Dutch ovens are oven-safe and can be used for baking, braising, or slow cooking. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations before putting the lid in the oven, though, as the knob may not be suitable for use at high temperatures.

Do you need to season a Dutch oven? 

For uncoated cast iron Dutch ovens, you can follow our instructions for seasoning cast iron cookware. Enamel-coated Dutch ovens (like those from Le Creuset and Staub) do not require seasoning—as long as the coating is in good condition, they’ll stay fairly nonstick.

We Tested 8 Small Saucepans and Found Three We Love for Sauces, Browned Butter, and More

We tested eight small saucepans from notable brands to find the top three for everyday cooking.

a number of small saucepans on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

In my two-person household, our little saucepan is the undisputed hero of our meal routine. It stays in constant rotation for boiling eggs, cooking rice and quinoa, and warming sauces. It’s my go-to for instant ramen and, since it has a two-quart capacity, it’s quick to boil water for a few servings of pasta, too (I’m a firm believer that you don’t need a huge vat to cook noodles).

I acknowledge that my inherited pot is nothing special—but it doesn’t have to be. While working on this review, I found that even the most basic saucepans can be Jacks-of-all-trades, although a few thoughtful features can turn them into masterful kitchen tools. To find the best ones, I looked at eight 1- to 2-quart saucepans, priced from $25 to $129. Since we don’t usually recommend nonstick cookware, all were made from versatile and durable stainless steel. The winning small saucepans were easy to maneuver and quick to clean; plus they heated evenly and poured smoothly without dribbling down their sides.

The Winners, at a Glance

The thoughtful design of the Made In saucepan made it a steadfast kitchen companion. It had tall sides that minimized boilovers and it's fully clad with five layers of aluminum and steel so heat could evenly distribute around the pot. The hollow handle stayed cool during cooking and had an indentation running up the center, which provided secure leverage while maneuvering the pot. Its rolled rim also made pouring a cinch.

This model was the most saucier-like of the bunch. Its smooth, sloped corners were easy to access with both a whisk and sponge. Like the Made In saucepan, it was fully clad (with three layers instead of five) and had a rolled rim for pouring.

We liked the 3-quart D3 model in our full-size saucepans review, and this half-sized version proved itself just as functional. It possessed all the winning qualities: a contoured handle for grip, a drip-free rim for smooth pouring, and three layers of cladding for even heat.

The Tests

three saucepans on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger
  • Boiling Water Test (Part 1): I put two cups of room-temperature water in each pan and brought it to a boil (uncovered) over medium-high heat. I tracked how long it took to boil, if the handle stayed cool and was comfortable to hold, and how easy it was to pour the water out afterward.
  • Boiling Water Test (Part 2): I repeated the boiling test with each saucepan, covering it with a lid (if it came with one). Again, I timed how long it took to boil and noted if the lid became hot or allowed excess steam to escape.
  • Brown Butter Test: To test how each saucepan performed over gentle heat, I browned four tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat and monitored how evenly it cooked. I also noted if the pans were comfortable to move and pour.
  • Hot Cocoa Test: I used each pan to simmer a cup of milk, then whisked in powdered hot cocoa mix. I observed whether my whisk could reach into the corners to prevent milk from scalding there, then poured the cocoa into a small mug to test how accurately the pans poured. I marked them down if they dribbled or dripped while pouring.
  • Cleaning and Usability Tests: After each test, I hand-washed and dried the saucepans to evaluate how straightforward they were to clean and if anything got stuck in their rivets, rims, or lids. I also assessed each pot for how comfortable it was to hold and maneuver, and if the handle became hot to touch.

What We Learned

Cladding Styles Varied

A person whisking browned butter in a small saucepan on the stovetop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

All of the saucepans I tested were at least partially clad, meaning they were made with layers of metals that had been stacked and bonded together. Stainless steel is great for cookware because it’s resistant to rust, it retains heat well, and it’s nonreactive (so you can cook acidic ingredients like tomatoes without damaging the pot or leaching metallic flavors). Aluminum, on the other hand, transfers heat quickly but can be much less durable. Clad pans are made with three to five layers with an aluminum (or, occasionally, copper) core sandwiched between stainless steel. This yields a versatile pan that heats quickly as well as evenly.

Considering the saucepans had relatively small surface areas and capacities, tri-ply and five-ply saucepans seemed to perform about the same in terms of heating uniformity and responsiveness during testing. The All-Clad D3 Stainless Everyday Saucepan (which had three layers of cladding) heated about as evenly as Made In Stainless Clad Saucepan (which had five). All of the saucepans took around five to six minutes to boil uncovered, regardless of layers or cladding style. 

three saucepans on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What did make some difference was the style of cladding. Fully-clad pots and pans are layered on the bottom as well as the sides for more even heat distribution, while capsule-bottom cookware has a clad base attached (leaving the side walls unclad). You can tell capsule-bottom pots from fully-clad ones because there is a visible seam running along the base where the disk is attached. Since their sides lacked extra layers to moderate the heat, butter browned faster around the edges of capsule-bottom models and needed to be stirred more often. While pouring from the Cook N Home Stainless Steel Saucepan, liquid would also spit and sputter as it came into contact with the hot upper edge of the pot. While not a deal-breaker, it made for messier pours compared to the fully-clad models.

Rim Design Was Important for Clean Pouring

a person pouring browned butter out of a small saucepan and into a small glass bowl
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Being able to pour directly from the pot without having it drip or dribble was a surprisingly big factor in how convenient each saucepan was to use. The KitchenAid 1 Quart Saucepan and the AVACRAFT Stainless Steel 1.5 Quart Saucepan both had spouts to facilitate easy pouring, while the Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple-Ply 1.5-Quart Saucepan and the three winning saucepans all had rolled rims that allowed liquid to flow out smoothly.

A small saucepan beside a mug of hot cocoa with some hot cocoa spilled on the counter
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

The Tramontina 1.5 Qt Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel, on the other hand, had a flat edge that allowed hot cocoa to dribble down its side, mostly missing the mug and spilling onto the countertop.

Sloped Sides Made Stirring (and Cleaning) Easy

a person whisking milk in a small saucepan
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

We love a saucier at Serious Eats. They aren’t all that different from a saucepan, except they’re often a tad more shallow and have sloped edges to make stirring easier. The Duxtop 1.6 Quart Whole-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Saucepan had saucier-like rounded corners that made whisking hot cocoa effortless and it was easy to wipe clean after. Comparatively, the Cook N Home and Tramontina models both had more traditional straight sides and steep corners which I had to angle the whisk to reach.

Concave Handles Offered Better Leverage

a person holding on a small saucepan's handle
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

While curved pot handles felt comfortable in my hand at first, I quickly grew to appreciate the concave handles of the Made In, All-Clad, and Cuisinart models. The indentation that ran down the middle of their handles provided a resting spot for my thumb as well as a leverage point, especially when the pot was full. Rounder handles (like that of the Cook N Home and AVACRAFT pans) could get slippery when they were wet or oily, or if they were picked up with a soft kitchen towel. The KitchenAid’s handle was flat, but it had a silicone coating that kept it grippy and cool.

Simple Lids Were Better

A person straining water out of a small saucepan into a sink
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

While most of the saucepan’s handles could still be handled comfortably without a mitt after short cooking sessions, all of the lid handles got relatively hot by the time it took water to come up to a boil. The AVACRAFT saucepan was the only exception, as it had a silicone-coated lid handle. Unfortunately, the lid was not tight-fitting and it allowed steam to escape from the spouts when the water came up to a boil. Its lid also included strainer holes, which proved largely unusable. To let any water flow out, the lid had to be lifted up and back—which then allowed the pan’s contents to flow out underneath the rim of the lid, skipping the strainer holes altogether.

Both the AVACRAFT and the Cook N Home lids were made of glass, which allowed me to see the contents inside (until they steamed up and obscured the view). They also tended to be harder to clean. During its first wash, the Cook N Home saucepan got water stuck under the rivets and rim, where the glass attached to the metal. Lids that were fully made out of metal, like the one that came with the Made In saucepan, had fewer places for liquid and food to get stuck and were thus easier to clean. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Small Saucepan

a small saucepan on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

A great small saucepan should heat uniformly, pour smoothly, and be easy to clean. It should be fully clad with three or five layers for even heating. Rounded handles can get slippery, so a concave ridge offers leverage and maneuverability. The saucepan should have a rolled or tapered edge for even pouring, plus a simple metal lid that won’t hold onto food or moisture. Narrow corners can be hard to get to while stirring, so the saucepan should have rounded corners that can be easily accessed with the tines of a whisk.

What we liked: This handsome model not only looked high-quality but felt it, too. Its five-ply cladding heated evenly, and its tall sides helped prevent boil-overs. The handle stayed cool enough to touch, plus there was an indentation down the center where I could grip it with my thumb. This made the pan feel secure in my hand while moving as well as pouring, which it did cleanly and accurately thanks to its rolled rim. Even though all of the models I tested were made with stainless steel, the polished interior of the Made In saucepan seemed almost nonstick. It had fewer milk solids stuck to the bottom after the browned butter test and less scalded milk after the hot cocoa test. What little did stick from cooking sponged off easily during handwashing.

What we didn’t like: This saucepan was the priciest of the lineup. It also had moderately steep corners, which required me to angle the tines of my whisk to stir into them. 

Price at time of publish: $129.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 2 quarts
  • Weight: 2 pounds, 6 ounces with lid; 1 pound, 13 ounces without lid
  • Type of cladding: Fully-clad
  • Layers of cladding: Five (stainless steel exterior layers, aluminum inner layers, and aluminum alloy core)
  • Lip-to-lip diameter: 7 inches
  • Base diameter: 5.75 inches
  • Depth: 3.75 inches
  • Handle length: 6.75 inches
  • Induction compatible: Yes
  • Oven-safe: Up to 800°F
  • Warranty: Made In’s warranty for stainless clad cookware covers any defects from manufacturing, but not changes in appearance or damage resulting from cleaning in the dishwasher, metal utensils, or normal wear and tear
  • Cleaning and care: Dishwasher-safe, but hand-washing is recommended; avoid using metal tools to prevent scratching
a person pouring browned butter from a saucepan into a small bowl
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: This model had super curved corners that made it feel more like a saucier than a saucepan (which we love). It was easy to stir around it while cooking and to clean it up afterward. Like the Made In model, the Duxtop had a rolled rim that minimized dribbles and its handle stayed cool enough to handle after boiling water and browning butter.

What we didn’t like: The rounded handle felt almost bulbous and could get slippery if it got wet or oily.

Price at time of publish: $36.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 1.6 quarts
  • Weight: 2 pounds, 4 ounces with lid; 1 pound, 11 ounces without lid
  • Type of cladding: Fully-clad
  • Layers of cladding: 3 (stainless steel exterior, aluminum core)
  • Lip-to-lip diameter: 6.75 inches
  • Base diameter: 5 inches
  • Depth: 3 inches
  • Handle length: 6.75 inches
  • Induction compatible: Yes
  • Oven-safe: Up to 500°F
  • Warranty: Duxtop’s limited lifetime warranty offers repair or replacement for products with defects related to material or workmanship; it does not cover minor imperfections, surface markings, or changes due to normal wear and tear
  • Cleaning and care: Dishwasher-safe, but handwashing is recommended; avoid using abrasive scrubbers (like steel wool) and caustic cleaners (like bleach or oven cleaner); Bar Keepers Friend is recommended for stubborn stains
a person removing the lid of a small saucepan that's boiling water
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: All-Clad is a titan in the cookware market, and its stainless products are known to last a lifetime. This sturdy pot had tri-ply cladding that heated uniformly every time. Like the Made In, the All-Clad saucepan had a concave handle that made it easy to maneuver and pour.

What we didn’t like: The All-Clad’s handle was a little narrower and less comfortable to hold than the Made In saucepan, plus it got hotter faster. Although it had a “drip-free rim” that worked well most of the time, liquid tended to dribble down the side if poured from slowly. 

Price at time of publish: $100.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 1.5 quarts
  • Weight: 2 pounds, 6 ounces with lid; 1 pound 13 ounces without lid
  • Type of cladding: Fully-clad
  • Layers of cladding: 3 (stainless steel exterior, aluminum core)
  • Lip-to-lip diameter: 6.88 inches
  • Base diameter: 5.5 inches
  • Depth: 3.5 inches
  • Handle length: 6.75 inches
  • Induction compatible: Yes
  • Oven-safe: Up to 600°F
  • Warranty: Per its limited lifetime warranty, All-Clad will repair or replace cookware with defects in material, construction, or workmanship for the lifetime of the product under normal use; it does not cover damage from improper use, normal wear and tear, scratches, or surface marks and discoloration
  • Cleaning and care: Hand-washing is recommended; baking soda or non-abrasive cleaners (like Bar Keepers Friend) can be used for other tough marks; avoid harsh detergents or cleaners as well as abrasive scouring pads.
a small saucepan with browned butter in it sitting on the stovetop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

The Competition

  • Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple-Ply 1.5-Quart Saucepan with Cover: This model performed nearly as well as the winning models, and shared many of their best characteristics: it had an indented handle that was easy to grasp, a tapered edge that poured cleanly, and full cladding that heated evenly. Unfortunately, it also shared some of the same drawbacks as its 3-quart counterpart, which we tested in our best saucepan review. Namely, it had steep sides that were hard to stir into and a flat lid that held onto condensation rather than a curved one that would roll it back into the pan. Its thin handle also wasn’t the most comfortable to hold and got warm in the boiling tests. Still, we’d recommend this as an affordable backup if the Duxtop was unavailable. 
  • AVACRAFT Stainless Steel 1.5 Quart Saucepan with Glass Lid: This model’s lid didn't fit tightly against the spouts on either side of the pot, which meant steam escaped even when the pot was covered. The lid also included strainer holes (to drain pasta, for example), but it had to be pulled back to allow water to flow out, which made a gap underneath the rim of the lid and rendered the strainers moot. The handle also got hot during cooking.
  • KitchenAid 1 Quart Saucepan with Pour Spouts: The KitchenAid saucepan performed acceptably, but it was the only model tested that did not come with a lid. Although it undoubtedly could melt a stick of butter and reheat soup, its short sides and small capacity make it ill-suited for many everyday tasks, like making rice.
  • Cook N Home 2-Quart Stainless Steel Saucepan with Lid: While it was affordable, the Cook N Home had an uncomfortably bulbous handle that got hot while cooking. It also had an inner rim that took extra time to clean when food and liquid got caught. Since the pot only had capsule-bottom cladding, the sides got unevenly hot and caused water to spit and sputter when pouring.
  • Tramontina 1.5 Qt Tri-Ply Clad Stainless Steel Covered Sauce Pan: The Tramontina was a handsome and uncomplicated saucepan, but it was missing a few key features: its straight rim caused liquid to dribble down the side while pouring and it had steep corners that were difficult to reach with a whisk.

FAQs

What size is a small saucepan?

Small saucepans usually have 1- to 2-quart capacities, while most standard saucepans can hold between three and four quarts. Smaller saucepans are great for cooking for one or two people, warming sauces, boiling eggs, and preparing rice or oatmeal.

Should a small saucepan have a lid?

A lid can help boil water fast, cook grains, and minimize evaporation when cooking soups or sauces. A universal lid is a good option for saucepans that come without one.

What is a very small saucepan called?

Mini saucepans are often called milk or butter warmers and have a capacity of a quart or less. In addition to heating butter and milk, they are good for melting chocolate, reheating coffee or tea, and making spiced oils like tadka.

The Best Matcha Powders You Can Buy Online

We rounded up our favorite high-quality matcha powders for every budget and preparation (drinking, baking, special occasions).

an illustration of matcha powder in tins and bags, with cups of brewed matcha, matcha baked goods, and a matcha latte.
Serious Eats / Julie Bang

Matcha originated in China between the seventh and 10th centuries and spread to Japan via Buddhist monks, where it became an integral part of Japanese tea ceremonies (and still is today). It shouldn’t be confused with green tea, though. Because while the two varieties share some similarities (they both come from the same species of plant, for example), matcha tea leaves are grown under shade and milled to a fine powder that is whisked directly into the beverage rather than steeped.

Michelle Cheng, the founder of Ceremony café and tea house in Providence, Rhode Island, says that her favorite thing about matcha “is the focus it’s able to provide me, without the consequences of a caffeine crash you would typically experience from drinking coffee.” She isn’t the only one. Matcha’s ability to instill both calmness and focus, paired with its sweet, grassy flavor, has allowed it to remain a global favorite for nearly a thousand years.

How Is Matcha Made?

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Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Almost all high-quality matcha is produced in Japan—particularly in and around Uji, which is south of Kyoto. It’s made with leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant, which is the same one that produces all tea leaves. What sets matcha apart is how it's produced. Tea plants are shaded in the final weeks of growing, which causes the plants to produce more chlorophyll and L-theanine (an amino acid that lends a prized umami flavor to the tea). The thoroughness and length of the shading can have a big impact on quality: plants that are shaded for longer will have a more intense green color and mild, sweet flavor. 

When it’s time to harvest, the farmers pick only the newest leaves at the top as they have the least bitterness (more on this later). The leaves are steamed to stop the oxidation process and preserve their color (as opposed to black tea, which is allowed to fully oxidize) and dried. The veins and stems are removed—creating a type of tea called tencha—then the leaves are finely ground using a stone mill. After all of that, we have matcha in its final form. 

How Is Matcha Prepared for Serving?

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Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

There are two traditional ceremonial matcha preparations: usucha and koicha. Usucha is known as thin matcha. It is prepared by stirring sifted matcha in a wide bowl (called a chawan) with a bamboo whisk (a chasen) to create a frothy tea that can be sipped directly from the chawan. Koicha is the more formal version that uses half of the water and doubles the amount of matcha powder. Matchaeologist compares koicha’s consistency with melted chocolate or honey. The ratios can vary based on preference, but a good starting place is two grams of matcha to two fluid ounces of water for usucha and four grams of matcha to four fluid ounces for koicha. Both methods use hot (but not boiling) water, although lukewarm or cold water can be used to bring out other flavors from the powder.

Obviously, these are not the only ways to prepare matcha. Many matcha drinkers prefer to add ice, dilute it for a matcha americano, or use milk (dairy or plant-based) to make a matcha latte. Mixing it with soda water will also create a refreshing afternoon tonic. The chasen and chawan aren’t must-haves either. With practice, a bamboo whisk can be an excellent companion for making matcha with a creamy foam head, but a milk frother can achieve similar results fast and effortlessly. Our go-to method is straight-up shaking it with water to dissolve the clumps and produce a super-aerated froth.

Matcha is also widely used in cooking and baking, especially for snacks and desserts. It can be substituted for espresso and cocoa in tiramisu or added to pastries, cookies, and cakes. Ice cream is another common application. The tea powder is often used directly in the ice cream base itself to churn out vibrant green scoops, but Cheng recommends making a thick koicha-style paste to pour over the top of vanilla ice cream for an affogato-style treat.

Ceremonial vs. Culinary Grade: What’s the Difference?

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Matcha is often labeled under two categories: ceremonial grade and culinary grade. “Ceremonial grade means the tea is qualified to be served in a tea ceremony service,” says Cheng, who was born and raised in China. It tends to be made from the earliest leaves harvested in springtime. They are the sweetest and most delicate, as they are the first to grow after the tea plant spent the previous winter storing nutrients. These matcha varieties are also the most vivid green and have a smooth flavor with the least amount of bitterness. Ceremonial matcha is ground very fine to make it better for drinking in traditional preparations. 

Culinary grade matcha is usually duller in color than ceremonial, as it comes from more mature leaves that weren’t shaded well during growing or were harvested later in the season. It is also more bitter and astringent than ceremonial grade matcha, with fewer nuances. It might be easy to write off culinary-grade matcha, but it does have its value. The more robust flavor is better for cooking, baking, or smoothies. Plus, it’s usually half (or a quarter) the price per gram compared to ceremonial and is available in larger quantities.

Don’t get too hung up on grading while shopping for matcha, though. There are no actual regulations around what makes the powder this grade or that, so it is up to the producer to decide what they think is worthy of the increased price point (spoiler alert: some take advantage of this fact). Also, most higher-quality Japanese matcha shops use the grading only for Western reference or eschew it all together—like Ippodo Tea, which recommends matcha powders based on their flavor character, uses, and price.

The Criteria: What to Look for When Buying Matcha Online

Since grading isn’t always a good indicator, buying matcha online can be overwhelming. As we mentioned, first-harvest tea leaves are preferable for traditional drinking preparations, while later harvests are set aside for cooking. Cheng advises online shoppers to seek matcha that is produced in Japan, particularly from Uji or Yame. She also suggests looking for powders that are pure green, without muddy hues. “Some cultivars are naturally lighter in color but are still very high quality, especially if it’s a single cultivar matcha that’s unblended,” she says. “Yellowish to brown [coloration] is a sign of oxidation, which results in poor-tasting matcha.” 

Similar to wine, there are also single-cultivar matcha powders made from specific tea plant variations (deliberately cultivated for their growing or flavor characteristics) as well as single-origin styles that showcase the terroir of one region or estate. True matcha powder will only have one ingredient, so watch out for matcha latte mixes or sweetened powders. During our research, we found most everyday ceremonial/drinking-grade matcha powders cost around $0.80 to $1.25 per gram (single-cultivar and premium blends can be upwards of $2 per gram), while culinary-grade matcha tended to fall between $0.20 and $0.50 per gram.

While we are primarily highlighting online matcha brands below, Cheng also highly recommends NYC-based teahouse Setsugekka. It offers some matcha powders via its online store (she particularly likes the Ishikawa Organic Matcha and Yamenohana varieties). Ceremony, Cheng’s teashop, will also be opening an online store in the summer of 2023 where she hopes to share her favorite premium, ethically sourced matcha powders.

The Best Matcha Powders to Buy Online

The Best Matcha Blends: Ippodo Tea

Ippodo is widely praised by matcha lovers across the web, which makes sense for a shop that has been in the Japanese tea business for more than three hundred years. Its flagship store is in Kyoto, but it ships high-quality tea across the world. Shoppers can filter the matcha powders (which are sourced from the regions surrounding Kyoto and blended by the Ippodo team) by flavor character, uses, and type. Ippodo provides an abundance of information, including preparation methods, tasting notes, and suggested uses for each of the products. One thing you won’t find: grades. According to Ippodo, all of its blends are high-quality enough to drink on their own—even the Hatsu and Wakaki powders, which are suggested for baking. For beginners, Ippodo suggests the Horai blend, which is a “light-hearted” and smooth matcha for drinking traditionally or in lattes, while Ummon is a robust umami tea designed to be savored. For those just getting into the matcha world as well as seasoned matcha lovers, Ippodo Tea has an excellent range for every budget and taste preference. 

Good to Know

  • What Is Available: More than a dozen high-quality (i.e. ceremonial grade) matcha blends that can be used for koicha, usucha, lattes, and cooking, plus to-go packets, uji-shimizu (sweetened matcha), starter kits, and other tea-making tools.
  • Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.25 per gram for matcha recommended primarily for baking; $0.60 per gram and up for drinking matcha. Bulk sizes (with lower costs per gram) are available for some blends.
  • Recommended Picks: Hatsu for an all-purpose drinking, lattes, and baking blend ($10 for 40 grams), Horai for newcomers ($19 for 20 grams), and Ummon for a rich sipper ($30 for 20 grams).

The Best, Most Versatile Matcha: Golde

This simple, elegant ceremonial-grade matcha powder is a fantastic all-rounder: it plays well in hot or iced preparations. Grown in the Uji Province of Japan, it is everything we like in a good matcha: delicately earthy and grassy, buttery, and with a hint of sweetness. 

Good to Know

  • What Is Available: Ceremonial matcha in either a tin or a pouch, as well as start kits. 
  • Matcha Price Range: $28 for a 40 gram tin, or $42 for a 100 gram pouch. 
  • Recommended Picks: You can’t go wrong with Golde’s ceremonial tea, which is a great option for daily matcha drinks, either iced or hot.

The Best Single-Origin Matcha: Matchaful

Matchaful was founded by Hannah Habes with the goal of importing sustainable, high-grade matcha directly from Japan. As part of its Farm-to-Whisk program, Matchaful works with a fourth-generation farm that shades its pesticide-free tea plants using solar panels (the energy from which benefits nearby towns). While its lineup includes ceremonial and culinary blends, the single-origin collection is where this brand shines. The Hikari Single Origin Matcha powder offers a “creamy palette with tasting notes of walnut, lemon, and butter” and is sourced entirely from the solar-shaded estate in Shizuoka, Japan. For those wanting to experience a single cultivar, Kiwami Single Cultivar Matcha also comes from the Farm-to-Whisk estate and is made from the Okumidori tea variety. It’s known for its mellow floral sweetness. The limited reserve Asanoka Single Origin Matcha is another single-estate and single-cultivar pick (this time Asanoka leaves from the Kagoshima prefecture) with notes of nori and chestnut. 

Good to Know

The Best Affordable Matcha: Rishi Tea & Botanicals

Rishi Tea was established in 1997 and sources organic matcha directly from tea farmers. Similarly to Ippodo Tea, Rishi has a wide range of price points and flavor profiles. Of course, they sell pricier matcha powders (like the creamy Tsuji San's Matcha Asahi, which goes for $55 for 30 grams), but Rishi has plenty of affordable options as well. The single-origin Ceremonial Matcha ($18 for 30 grams) offers a particularly welcoming entry point for beginners. It’s a blend of Saemidori, Okumidori, and Tsuyuhikari cultivars from Mount Kirishima in Japan. It has low astringency, which makes it good for traditional preparations as well as lattes. Rishi’s Everyday Matcha ($12 for 30 grams) comes at an even more affordable price. It has more bitterness and a robust flavor because it is a blend of first- and second-harvest leaves, but would be a good all-purpose pick for daily lattes, smoothies, and baking.

Good to Know

  • What Is Available: About a dozen high- and mid-grade matcha powders for traditional and latte preparations, plus teaware
  • Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.35 per gram for 30-gram tins. Bulk sizes are available for Barista and Teahouse blends.
  • Recommended Picks: Everyday Matcha Tin for lattes and smoothies ($12 for 30 grams), Ceremonial Matcha for drinking daily ($18 for 30 grams), and Matcha Sticks for on-the-go ($16 for 16 single-serving sticks). 

The Best Matcha for Lattes: MatchaBar

Brothers Max and Graham Fortgang opened their MatchaBar location in Brooklyn in 2014. Although the physical location is now closed, MatchaBar has leaned into distributing its custom ceremonial and culinary matcha blends online. The sibling duo works with family farms in Kagoshima, Japan, and uses first-harvest tea leaves, even for their Culinary Matcha Powder. MatchaBar’s Ceremonial Grade Matcha Powder blend is the star of the show, though. While it’s good enough to be prepared in traditional usucha fashion, its earthy flavor lends itself especially well to hot and iced matcha lattes.

Good to Know

The Best Matcha for Baking and Cooking: Jade Leaf Matcha 

Jade Leaf’s mission is to sell organic matcha (sourced from a network of family farms in Japan) for a fair price. It offers ceremonial teahouse and artisanal tea master’s reserve blends for drinking, but its Organic Culinary Matcha is a top pick for cooking. This matcha is sourced from the Uji and Kagoshima regions and comes from second-harvest leaves. It’s super affordable, too: it starts at $0.33 per gram for a 30-gram container.

Good to Know

  • What Is Available: Pure matcha powders including late-harvest “ingredient” matcha, second-harvest culinary-grade, and ceremonial-grade powder, as well as single-serve sticks, latte mixes, tea bags, and tea-making utensils.
  • Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.67 per gram for ceremonial-grade matcha and $0.33 per gram for culinary matcha. Both are available in bulk sizes for an even better deal.
  • Recommended Picks: The second-harvest Organic Culinary Matcha ($10 for 30 grams) balances flavor with affordability for cooking and baking. We would not recommend using any ingredient-grade matcha powders (Jade Leaf or otherwise), as they tend to have a bitter flavor and dull, brownish color.

The Best Splurge-Worthy Matcha:  Kettl

Kettl was founded by Zach Mangan (along with his wife, Minami) after he spent time traveling solo in Japan and experiencing fresh tea that was produced and sold hyper-locally. The brand focuses on its direct partnerships with growers and producers in rural areas of Japan. Since its start, Kettl has helped Michelin-starred chefs like Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz create thoughtful tea selections in their restaurants. In 2022, Zach Mangan published Stories of Japanese Tea: The Regions, the Growers, and the Craft as a deep dive into Japanese tea cultivation. Kettl is one of Cheng’s overall favorite matcha sources; she specifically calls out its house-milled varieties (which are ground on an imported stone mill at Kettl’s Brooklyn shop) as a splurge-worthy buy. At the time of writing, Kettl is grinding from the 2022 growing season, which includes the top-notch 2022 House Milled Grand Prize Garden Asahi Matcha ($95 for 10 grams). This matcha comes from a number one prize-winning crop of tencha tea leaves and has notes of rich umami cocoa. Kettl also has a Mill Club Subscription where koicha-worthy teas from top producers are freshly milled and sent to your door for $60 a month.

Good to Know

  • What Is Available: A rotating selection of expertly-sourced matcha powders for traditional preparations. Kettl also sells matcha-infused chocolate bars and teaware including bowls and whisks.
  • Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.99 per gram for 20-gram tins.
  • Recommended Pick: With the Mill Club Subscription, you get a milled-to-order batch of premium matcha powder for $60 a month. 

The Best Coldbrew Matcha: Breakaway Matcha

According to its website, Breakaway Matcha creates tea with the “five tell-tale signs of great matcha: maximum umami, electric color, intoxicating aroma, dreamy frothability (achieved through traditional granite grinding mills), and a long, stunning finish.” It’s worth perusing the selection of “hyperpremium” powders and gift-able flight boxes (like the $36 Intro Flight, which includes four grams each of four popular blends). What sets Breakaway apart, though, is its matcha powders that are uniquely well-suited for brewing in icy cold water. The cold brew matcha comes in three categories: Original, Organic, and Reserve. The original is capable of a sweet foamy crema, while the organic is described as “edgy, clean, and snappy.” The Uji-sourced reserve powder has “aromas of baby vegetables, pea tendrils, and new grasses,” making it both refined and refreshing.

Good to Know

The Best Flavored Matcha: Chamberlain Coffee

If you’re more of a casual matcha imbiber, flavored matcha might be up your alley. And you don’t need to make homemade fancy syrups (though if you want to, all the power to you!) to try some fun flavor combinations: enter Chamberlain Coffee, which sells a flavored matcha variety pack comprising of original (e.g. unflavored), vanilla, and mango. We have to say, an iced mango matcha latte sounds very refreshing and summery. 

Good to Know

  • What Is Available: Since this is a coffee purveyor primarily, there are limited matcha offerings: plain, mango, vanilla, or a pack of all three.
  • Matcha Price Range: The set of three flavored matchas will run you $55 for two 30-gram and one 40-gram tins. 
  • Recommended Picks: For the adventurous, try the variety pack (it would also make a great gift).

Expert Pick: Setsugekka

Michelle Cheng of Ceremony Tea in Providence, Rhode Island, recommends Setsugekka matcha. The company just reopened its online store and also has an IRL location in East Village, NYC if you want to experience a tea ceremony or tea lesson in person.

Good to Know

  • What Is Available: A variety of matcha from different regions of Japan, each showcasing the terroir of its origin. Cheng recommends the Ishikawa Organic Matcha and Yamenohana varieties. They also sell bamboo whisks for making matcha, as well as gift cards.
  • Matcha Price Range: $18 to $165, depending on the match and quantity.
  • Recommended Picks: Ishikawa Organic Matcha is a great all-rounder for drinking, as well as the Yamenohana which showcases the bitter and umami qualities of matcha.

FAQs

What is matcha?

Matcha is a finely ground powder made from green tea leaves. It originated in China during the Tang Dynasty (which spanned from the seventh century to the 10th century) and spread to Japan in 1191. The highest quality matcha is made from young tea leaves that have been grown under shade, resulting in a powder that is vibrant green and delicately sweet.

How is matcha different from green tea leaves?

Matcha is made from the same type of plant as green tea (Camellia sinensis), but matcha is shaded during the final weeks of growing. This increases the chlorophyll production in the tea leaves, which produces a more intense green color and flavor. After harvesting, both matcha and green tea are steamed (to halt the oxidation process) and dried. Matcha is then ground into a fine powder, which is prepared by fully mixing it into the water (rather than steeping, like green tea).

Does matcha have more caffeine than coffee?

Matcha has approximately 19 to 45 milligrams of caffeine per gram. An average serving contains one to two grams of matcha powder, so that’s between 40 and 90 milligrams depending on the quality of the matcha and how it is prepared. That’s more than most teas but less than coffee. An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 95 milligrams of caffeine on average, while a double shot of espresso has about 120 milligrams.

Is matcha healthy?

There isn’t definitive research on whether drinking matcha has specific and consistent health benefits. As long as you are not sensitive to caffeine or frequently loading it up with sugar, matcha can be a safe and nutritious drink to add to your day. It is high in antioxidants, which can (moderately) help prevent cell damage in the body. Matcha also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that has been argued to meter the effects of caffeine, reduce stress, and improve focus and cognitive function (although, again, the research is not totally conclusive).

We Tested Portable Induction Cooktops to Find the Best Ones for Everyday Cooking

We tested seven portable induction burners to find ones that could sear and simmer with ease.

The Best Portable Induction Burners
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Gas stoves have long been the kings of the kitchen. The “tik-tik-tik” before a gas burner flares to life is instantly recognizable. These stoves have a reputation for being powerful, controlled, and, well, downright chef-y. They’ve been the top choice for more than a century, spurred on by industry-fueled slogans like, “Now we’re cooking with gas!” Recently, though, research about how gas stoves can affect our health and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions has led many (including me!) to question this loyalty.

Before doing this review, I had cooked with induction a handful of times. I knew that higher-end induction burners could be ultra-precise and cook at a wide range of temperatures, but I wasn’t sure how more affordable household countertop models (which are great for small spaces and anywhere you might want an extra cooking zone) could perform. To find out, I tested seven portable induction burners priced between $70 and $230. Six of them were single-burners, and one had a double-burner cooktop. All of the models topped out at 1800 watts of power, although I found that each one varied in actual efficiency. The winning induction cooktops were intuitive to cook with, had easy-to-use interfaces, and could heat quickly and accurately.

After using these cooktops to boil, fry, sear, and simmer, I found that induction is not only safer and more sustainable, but it can go head-to-head with gas (and electric) burners in terms of performance—and win hands-down.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Duxtop 9100MC had the best scores in both performance and ease of use throughout each test. It was the fastest to boil water, maintained long simmers well, and was intuitive to adjust while cooking. 

This burner was a close runner-up to the Duxtop 9100MC and excelled in many of the same areas during testing. It was great at keeping the cooking heat steady throughout every task and had 12 different temperature levels that could be set in Fahrenheit or Celsius. 

This sleek induction burner may not come with as many features as some other models that were tested, but its efficiency and straightforward user interface made it a capable companion for most cooking tasks.

How Does Induction Work?

Induction heating is caused by passing an electric current through a (usually copper) wire coil, which creates an electromagnetic field. On an induction stove, the coil is mounted beneath a glass surface, which becomes the cooktop. When an induction-compatible pan is set on the cooktop, the electromagnetic energy in the coil induces a current in the pan. This causes vibration on the atomic level within the metal of the pan, which creates friction. The friction generates heat directly in the cookware, which then cooks whatever food is inside. The burner is not actually generating any heat, just an electromagnetic field. All the heat is created within the pan itself, which must be ferromagnetic for this process to happen (in other words, induction-compatible cookware must contain iron and be able to attract a magnet). All cast iron (including enameled cast iron, like most Dutch ovens), carbon steel, and magnetic stainless steel pans are great partners for induction burners. For nonmagnetic stainless steel and other cookware, an induction interface disk can bridge the gap by providing a magnetic surface that sits on top of the burner and heats up similarly to a traditional electric burner. It allows you to continue using your favorite pots and pans, even if they aren’t magnetic. You can read more about induction, including its pros and cons, here

A Bit About Portable Induction Cooktops

Portable induction cooktops do all of the aforementioned in a small package. They’re good for people who want to try out induction cooking before committing to a whole stovetop, renters and college students, or those who just want the flexibility of an extra cooking area. The “portable” bit comes in handy, too, as you can set up a cook station outside to prevent smoking up your kitchen during a hot sear or the lingering odors that accompany deep-frying at home. Brady Seals—an expert in household energy who works at RMI, a nonprofit organization that is focused on global sustainability—says that she frequently uses her portable induction burner (along with a grill pan) on her balcony as an apartment-friendly, fossil-fuel-free alternative to grilling. Win, win, win.

The Tests

Scrambled Eggs Test
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger
  • Flour Test: To test the heat distribution of each burner, I sprinkled a tablespoon of flour evenly over the surface of a large stainless steel skillet and set it to medium heat (using power settings, when possible). Without stirring or moving the pan, I observed where the flour browned to find the hottest area of the burner and timed how long it took to toast.
  • Boiling Water Test: I timed how long it took each burner to bring a gallon of room temperature water to a boil in a 4.5-quart Dutch oven. I used the burner’s Boil preset if it had one; if there wasn’t one, I used the highest power level. A special note here: I am at a high altitude in Denver, so my water boiled around 202°F. I used a probe thermometer to ensure accuracy.
  • Simmering Test: After boiling the water, I reduced it to a simmer to test each burner’s heat stability. Where possible, I tried to find the appropriate temperature setting to keep the water between 185 and 195°F (a simmer at my altitude) and marked how much the water fluctuated over an hour duration.
  • Scrambled Egg Test: I cooked a batch of soft-scrambled eggs in a medium nonstick skillet on each burner and judged how intuitively I was able to set it to medium-low heat (using power settings where possible). I also examined the responsiveness of the controls and the performance of the burner.
  • Seared Chicken Breast Test (Winners-Only): I used each of the top-performing burners to sear two chicken cutlets over medium-high power to test how intuitive it was to cook with, adjusting when needed. I noted how evenly each burner browned the cutlets and if it left the edges undercooked.
  • Onion Rings Test (Winners-Only): I deep-fried onion rings using the top-performing induction burners. I timed how long it took the oil to come up to 375°F and how well the burner recovered the temperature after adding the battered onions. I marked down burners that had trouble maintaining consistent heat or struggled to bring the oil up to the correct temperature to start.
  • Cleaning and Usability Tests: Throughout all of the tests, I paid attention to how simple each burner was to use, how intuitive the heating levels were, and if it was easy to clean. I also noted if a burner felt durable or acquired marks and scratches during use.

What We Learned

Pan Size Was Important for Even Heating

Hamilton Beach Portable Single Induction Cooktop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Induction burners were only great at heating the pan where it was in contact with the surface directly above its coil. If the pan was too small, the burner could not conduct an adequate current and wouldn’t heat up; if the pan was too large, it wouldn’t cook evenly around the edges. Most of the models I tested recommended pans with diameters between 4.5 and 10 inches (although the IKEA TILLREDA Portable Induction Cooktop suggested no pans larger than 7.9 inches). 

For the flour test, I used a 12-inch stainless steel skillet that had a nine-inch base. While all of the induction burners could heat this pan (even the IKEA burner), I consistently saw 4- to 5-inch hot spots show up in the flour at the center of the pan. Without stirring the flour to redistribute the heat, the flour around the edges remained white and untoasted, regardless of the burner make. Even the winning cooktops had trouble heating the skillet during the seared chicken breast test, and left the chicken that was nearest to the rim pale. Comparatively, my mid-sized, 8-inch nonstick skillet (which had a five-and-a-half-inch base) had uniform, controlled temperatures during the scrambled egg test. For the most even heat, it’s best to match the pan diameter with the size of the cooking zone of the burner.

One more thing about even heating: empty pans should not be used on induction. Because the cookware can heat up almost instantaneously with induction heat, it can cause them to warp or become damaged from the sudden temperature changes. Having food inside helps to regulate and distribute the heat in the pan. While they come standard with safety shut-offs for overheating, induction burners also have a hard time detecting when a pan is too hot when there is nothing inside. An empty cast iron left on the Mueller RapidTherm Portable Induction Cooktop quickly rocketed upwards of 750°F within a minute and a half (according to an infrared thermometer) before its safety feature turned it off. Don’t try that at home—every burner warns against heating empty pans for this reason. A few seconds of preheating is all a pan needs when used on induction. 

Although Wattage Was the Same, Efficiency Varied

As I mentioned before, all of the portable induction cooktops had a maximum of 1800 watts of power. Some were more efficient than others, though, which manifested as being slow to warm up or unable to cook at higher temperatures. The Caso Pro Menu Single Induction Burner, for example, was sluggish to cook with. It only had faint browning in its center after several minutes on medium heat during the flour test, and took 24 minutes to boil water (compared to the Duxtop 9100MC, which took 16). It was difficult for me to determine what actually caused certain burners to be less efficient than others, though, and the winning Duxtop was also fallible. During the onion ring test, the Duxtop 9100MC quickly heated the two quarts of peanut oil up to the required 375°F, but could not raise it any higher. Its counterpart, the Duxtop 9600LS, failed to ever reach 375°F, topping out at 350°F after nearly two hours of preheating. The IKEA and Hamilton Beach Portable Single Induction Cooktop both showed their potential in that test, though, and could easily surpass the 375°F oil temp if on full heat. For the less efficient burners, modifications like using a smaller pot or cooking in reduced batch sizes could have helped maintain their power.

Temperature and Power Levels Had Distinct Purposes

Duxtop Portable Induction Cooktop 9100MC
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

A majority of the portable burners I tested included power and temperature options for managing heat levels. A power setting corresponded to wattage being continually conducted into the pot (like turning the knob on a gas or electric stovetop), while a temperature setting represented a steady level of heat at the base of the cooktop surface (the burner will fluctuate wattage and on/off cycles to maintain this). 

Temperature settings are not indicative of what’s going on inside the cookware, though. A burner on a 212°F temperature setting is probably not going to maintain a steady boil because not every bit of heat energy is absorbed into the water (no matter how much more efficient induction is). During tests, I often found temperature settings unintuitive at first. The temperature setting needed changes depending on the food being cooked and the thermal conductivity of the cookware. It also changes from burner to burner. During the simmering test, the Mueller cooktop efficiently maintained a steady low simmer (around 185°F) at its temperature setting of 212°F. The Caso, on the other hand, had to be set over a hundred degrees higher at 340°F, even though I used the same amount of room temperature water and the same Dutch oven. With all of the burners that had temperature options, I tried to find the Goldilocks zone for hands-off simmering. It took extra time as I adjusted and waited for the water temperature to settle before making additional adjustments. Even though it required some trial and error, it was achievable in each of them. Over time, this would be easier and allow for more stable temperature maintenance, especially during long cooks.

Power settings were much more universally intuitive for most cooking tasks. If the power levels ranged from one to nine, for example, I could map out the numbers on a low-medium-high scale and start the scrambled egg test on a medium-low three. Every burner’s power settings were comparable in heat level using this method—except the Mueller, which only allowed temperature adjustments (and admittedly, I browned the eggs because I set the temperature too high on the first batch). 

Presets Often Hindered Ease of Use

Several of the burners I tested came with additional features like preset cooking shortcuts and timers to automatically shut off the heat. The Mueller used its presets as the starting place, forcing me to select from Hot Pot, Boil, Slow Cook, or Keep Warm before I could adjust the temperature setting up or down for what I needed. The presets also had automatic timers associated with them (Hot Pot and Boil were the same temperature setting with different timer lengths), which felt unnecessarily clunky. 

The Duxtop 9600LS—not to be confused with the winning Duxtop 9100MC—also had Keep Warm and Boil buttons. I used the latter during the boiling water test. The preset turned the burner up to its highest power setting and set a 10-minute timer. That would have been plenty for a small pot of water, but the timer ran out and turned off the burner while the gallon I was boiling was at 156°F, eight and a half minutes before it actually came to a boil (a big flaw if you were using the water to boil pasta, for example). The process for changing the Duxtop 9600LS’s timer took at least 10 to 20 seconds and several extra button presses. Combined with all the taps needed to adjust settings while cooking, the additional time and button presses started to add up. After that, I found myself manually setting the heat level without the presets and keeping a separate timer for check-ins, skipping the automatic shut-off if I didn’t need it (which I rarely did).

The Hamilton Beach had a unique preset that no other model had: a Booster button. When pressed, it would turn the heat up to maximum power for 30 seconds, before returning to the previous setting. Since induction is so responsive to heat adjustments, this short surge of power didn’t have an obvious use for me and seemed more like a shortcut for burning whatever is in the pan. The touch sensor button was also easily activated by accident, which happened multiple times throughout testing.

Overall, I found the more buttons and features that crowded an induction burner’s user interface, the harder it was to operate. At their best, extra features can be occasionally useful—like a timer for long simmers. At their worst, presets meddle with the cooking process by suddenly turning off the heat or blasting a pan with high temperatures. The minimalist IKEA induction cooktop was the simplest and most efficient burner of the lineup, with Lock being the only function other than power adjustments (locking the burner would freeze the power setting in place while cooking, or keep the burner from being turned on accidentally between uses). Not only was it effortless to learn how to use, but it was fast and intuitive to make adjustments while cooking, too.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Portable Induction Cooktop

An induction burner on a marble countertop with a dutch oven on top of the burner. and a thermometer and probe next to it.
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger / Grace Kelly

The most impactful characteristic of a portable induction cooktop was intuitiveness. Having predictable heat settings played into this, and power settings tended to be more beginner-friendly than temperature settings (although temperature settings can be a boon if you take the time to dial them in). A simple user interface also helped intuitiveness by making quick adjustments easier, especially while cooking. Preset buttons can be as much of a hindrance as a help. They allow shortcuts to certain settings, like high power for boiling, but often include drawbacks, like a timer that turns off the heat before cooking is done. For that reason, I preferred models without them as they were faster to operate and felt closer to traditional cooktops.

What we liked: This model had a straightforward user interface and intuitive power settings. It brought a gallon of water to a boil in 16 minutes (the fastest of the lineup) and had less than 5°F of fluctuation throughout an hour-long simmer. The control panel also had physical buttons rather than a touch sensor, so I was able to wipe up oil splatters while I cooked without fear of changing any settings. 

What we didn’t like: While it had enough power to accomplish all of the tasks, it was at its max during the onion ring test. In order to keep the oil at 375°F for frying, I had to keep the burner on its highest power setting the whole time (it wasn’t efficient enough to get the oil any hotter than that). It didn’t have a problem heating up the large skillet for searing chicken, though, and modifications like using a smaller pot or less oil could help boost efficiency when needed. It lacked boil and keep warm shortcuts, so quick temperature changes required more button pushes. While I liked the physical buttons over a touch screen, the icons printed on them could wear out over time.

Price at time of publish: $78.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 6 pounds
  • Dimensions: 14 x 11.3 x 2.8 inches
  • Burner diameter: 8 inches
  • Recommended pan diameter: At least 5 inches
  • Cord length: 55 inches
  • Surface weight limit: 25 pounds
  • Power level range: 15 settings from 200-1800 watts, in 100- or 200-watt increments. The power levels are labeled in half steps from 1 through 5.5, and whole numbers from 6 through 10.
  • Temperature level range: 15 settings from 140°F to 460°F, in 20- or 30-degree increments
  • Lock function?: No 
  • Timer: 0 to 170 minutes, in one-minute increments. The burner will automatically stop cooking after two hours if the timer is not set and no buttons are pressed during that time.
  • Cleaning and care: Once the burner has cooled, wipe its surface with a moist cloth. Mild liquid detergent can be used to clean grease and other stains. Do not use abrasive cleaners or materials on the cooktop, as they can damage it. Wipe dry after cleaning. If you’re not cooking with it regularly, cover the burner between uses to protect it from dust.
a photo of the duxtop induction burner on marble

What we liked: This burner was a close runner-up to our overall winner. Although it took a little longer to boil water, it was the fastest and most efficient at heating oil for frying. It had great temperature stability during long cooking tasks and was intuitive to use.

What we didn’t like: The controls could be a little touchy, and I accidentally hit its Boost buton—a puzzling feature that turned the power up to max heat for 30 seconds—more than once during testing.

Price at time of publish: $70.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 6.4 pounds
  • Dimensions: 14.25 x 11 x 2.5 inches
  • Burner diameter: 8.5 inches
  • Recommended pan diameter: 4 to 10 inches
  • Cord length: 45 inches
  • Surface weight limit: Not specified
  • Power level range: 10 settings, up to 1800 watts (actual wattage per power level not specified)
  • Temperature level range: 15 settings from 175°F to 450°F in 25-degree increments (can be adjusted to use Celsius)
  • Lock function?: No
  • Timer: 1 to 150 minutes, in one-minute increments (does not specify an automatic shut-off if the timer is not set)
  • Cleaning and care: Wipe the cooled cooktop surface with a soft, damp cloth. Mild detergent may also be used if further cleaning is needed. Do not use abrasive cleaners or sponges.
the hamilton beach induction burner on a marble countertop with a pan on top

What we liked: Although it was slightly smaller than the other models, the IKEA portable induction burner was a powerful machine. It had no issues getting pans super hot for searing and frying, but also easily cooked delicate soft-scrambled eggs at lower temperatures. The responsive touch controls were dead simple, too. There were only four buttons: Power, Lock, and Plus and Minus buttons for adjusting the heat. It is a good pick for small spaces (it has a hook for hanging it) and is great for those who want to minimize the induction learning curve.

What we didn’t like: IKEA recommends using pans between 4.7 and 7.9 inches in diameter on this burner—which could be limiting, especially if cooking for a family. It still heated my 12-inch skillet (which had a base diameter of nine inches), but didn’t evenly brown the chicken that was around the edges of the pan. It also isn’t as adept at hands-off temperature maintenance, as it only comes with power settings. It achieved a steady hour-long simmer without difficulty but kept overshooting the oil temperature during the onion ring test.

Price at time of publish: $70.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 6.2 pounds
  • Dimensions: 12.8 x 10.6 x 2.5 inches
  • Burner diameter: 7 inches
  • Recommended pan diameter: 4.7 to 7.9 inches
  • Cord length: 55 inches
  • Surface weight limit: Not specified
  • Power level range: 9 settings from 200-1800 watts. The levels are numbered 1 through 9.
  • Temperature level range: This burner does not have temperature level options.
  • Lock function?: Yes
  • Timer: This model does not include a timer, but will automatically turn off if the power setting is not modified after two hours.
  • Cleaning and care: Use a damp cloth and mild detergent to clean the cooking surface after it has cooled. Wipe dry after cleaning. Avoid using abrasive detergents or materials, as they can scratch the surface.
Ikea induction cook top on a marble countertop

The Competition

  • Cuisinart Double Induction Cooktop: Cuisinart’s single induction burner was discontinued, so I looked at its double burner option instead. It took the longest to boil water (a full 10 minutes longer than the Duxtop 9100MC), but it had a nice interface and even heating. An important note, though: this model had the same wattage capabilities as the single burners. If you’re using both sides at once, the power could be limited as it's divided between the two.
  • Duxtop Portable Induction Cooktop 9600LS: The Duxtop 9600LS is highly rated online. It comes with features like a 10-hour timer, a touch sensor interface, and Boil/Keep Warm shortcuts. It has more heat settings than any other model (20 temperature and power levels each). It was more expensive than the overall winning Duxtop but wasn’t as fast or powerful as the 9100MC model during tests. It took a lot of button taps to operate, and it couldn’t heat the oil up to the temperature required in the onion ring test. After over an hour and a half of heating on the highest setting, the oil topped out at 350°F (the recipe called for 375°F), plus it had a hard time rebounding when the onion rings were added and the oil temp dropped.
  • Mueller RapidTherm Portable Induction Cooktop: This model was quick to boil and excellent at maintaining a simmer, but its interface forced the user to select one of the four presets (Boil, Hot Pot, Slow Cook, or Keep Warm) first before adjusting the heat as needed. The product boasts both power and temperature settings but only displayed (and allowed adjustments to) the temperature settings. There were big gaps between the settings (for example, there was no option between 140°F and 212°F), which made it difficult to achieve appropriate heat levels, especially at lower temperatures.
  • Caso Pro Menu Single Induction Burner: Caso’s induction burner had a streamlined look and handsome matte touch sensor panel, but it was sluggish to heat up and fluctuated a lot in temperatures during the simmering test (after a lot of trial and error to find the right level). The exhaust fans also made my countertops quite hot while on higher settings.

FAQs

How does induction work?

Induction burners work by creating an electromagnetic field between the copper coil in the burner and the base of the cookware on top. This causes imperceptible vibration in the electrons of the pan’s base, which creates heat directly within the pan (the burner does not generate heat by itself). This means that the cookware itself is doing the cooking, and is therefore much more energy-efficient than traditional gas or electric burners.

What kind of cookware can you use with induction burners?

Cookware must be ferromagnetic to be compatible with induction. In other words, the pot or pan must have strong magnetic attraction and contain iron. Cast iron (including enameled), carbon steel, and magnetic stainless steel pans are all induction-compatible. An easy test for determining induction compatibility is to hold a magnet to the base of the cookware. If the magnet is attracted securely to the bottom of the pot or pan, then it will work on induction.

What is a portable induction burner good for?

Portable induction burners are great for people who want to try out induction before committing to a stovetop, renters, college students, and anyone who wants to have the flexibility of an extra burner. They can be used to set up cooking stations outside of a kitchen since they are just as powerful as a stovetop burner, in a compact package.

How do you clean a portable induction burner?

You can clean your induction burner by wiping it with a damp, soft cloth. A little mild detergent can be added to the cloth for grease or other stains, and a dry towel will buff out any streaks after cleaning. Never use abrasive detergents or materials on your burner, as you may damage its surface.

How Do Induction Cooktops Work, Anyways?

Everything you need to know about induction cooking—including our tested portable induction cooktop recommendations.

cooking scrambled eggs in a pan on an induction burner
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

With rising awareness about the risks of gas stoves, lots of home cooks are curious about induction. This method of cooking is not only touted as better for health and the environment, but many also claim it’s more efficient. But how does this seemingly magical way of cooking work? We learned a ton about induction cooking during our testing of portable induction burners. Here, we’ll be sharing what induction is, how it works, and its pros and cons.

What is Induction?

Induction burners aren’t like gas or electric; they don’t actually heat up. Instead, they cause your pan to heat itself up. Weird, right? When you turn an induction burner on, an electric current runs through a metal coil beneath the glass surface, creating an electromagnetic field. This creates atomic-level vibrations in your pan, which causes friction and heats the pan from the inside out (some low-level physics lessons going on here). But not just any pan will do—it has to be magnetic, which means it needs some iron in it. Cast iron (obviously), magnetic stainless steel, and carbon steel skillets are all prime candidates, but we advise checking the manufacturer's specs if you’re buying a new pan and want to throw it on an induction cooktop (or you can check out our article on all of our favorite, induction-friendly cookware).

The Pros

Induction Cooking Is Efficient

Induction cooking is really, really efficient. Traditional electric hobs and gas flames lose energy (a.k.a. heat) as it dissipates onto the cooktop surface and the air around the element. It takes a while to heat up a pot or pan this way, and more energy to keep it hot. The US Department of Energy cites that induction cooking is 5 to 10% more efficient than conventional electric stovetops and three times (!) more efficient than gas. Since the cookware itself is doing the cooking during induction (and it heats up almost instantaneously), there are a lot fewer opportunities for heat to escape before it gets to the food. 

It’s Better for Our Health and the Environment

Brady Seals, an expert in household energy who works at RMI, a nonprofit organization focused on global sustainability, has spent most of her career working specifically on sustainably-powered cookstoves. She said that about 38% of US households cook with natural gas, while 60% use it to heat their homes. Gas-powered appliances can be big contributors to air pollution, as they vent methane (a potent greenhouse gas) and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Gas stoves in particular are known to leak methane, even when they’re turned off. “It isn’t a lot,” Seals says. “About 1% of the gas that’s delivered to the stove is leaking as unburned methane.” She cites a group of Stanford researchers, who estimate that if we added up all the leaked methane from gas stoves in the United States, it would show the same impact on our climate as about half a million cars on the road. 

Gas-powered furnaces and water heaters are considered to be the biggest household polluters, and there are regulations requiring them to be vented outdoors. Gas stoves have no such universal requirements. In many areas, gas range hoods can circulate gasses like nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide back into the home, where they can build up over time and cause respiratory irritation. According to peer-reviewed research (co-authored by Seals), about 13% of childhood asthma can be attributable to gas stoves, which is on par with secondhand cigarette smoke.

Induction cooking is free of the combustion pollutants from gas stoves, making it a safer, and more environmentally-friendly option. Traditional electric cooktops are also a great option, although slightly less efficient than induction. For renters and people who can’t or aren’t ready to make the switch, a portable induction cooktop is a good option to reduce the time a gas stove is running, therefore reducing the overall amount of gas released into the environment (and our homes).

Induction Is Responsive

cooking onion rings in a dutch oven on an induction burner
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Induction is a direct heating method, and the temperature of a pan directly corresponds to how much energy is being directed into it at any given time. Changing that energy by adjusting power or temperature levels creates an immediate response. A traditional electric stovetop can stay blisteringly hot for several minutes as heat dissipates from its burner components, whereas lowering the setting on an induction cooktop instantaneously cuts heat and produces a visible effect within a few seconds. It also heats pans up really quickly. As soon as power is turned on, the entire bottom of a pot will start producing heat immediately, instead of slowly absorbing it from a gas flame or electric zone. During testing, induction burners were able to get pans smoking hot in less than a minute, compared to four to five minutes on a gas range.

It’s Also Very Safe

Induction burners come standard with a variety of features designed to prevent mishaps. Some induction models also have locking functions to prevent accidentally turning the machine on or changing settings, which can be helpful for homes with young children. Of course, no induction burners will heat anything unless there is an induction-compliant pan on top. The burner itself does become warm after use, but only from having a hot pan on top of it. During our tests, we found that all of the burners were cool enough to touch and handle within minutes of turning them off, even when they were on high heat. Since heat isn’t being radiated into the air as much as with gas or electric cooktops, pot handles also stayed cooler for longer (which could help prevent those burns that we’ve all gotten when taking something off of a scorching burner). Of course, don’t throw caution out the window. Both the cooktop and pot handles will still get hot during use, so have an oven mitt handy. 

All induction burners are programmed to automatically shut off when the heat level gets too high, but it can be hard for a burner to accurately measure the temperature if the pan on top has nothing inside. During our tests, an empty cast iron left on the Mueller Rapid Therm Portable Induction Cooktop quickly rocketed upwards of 750°F within a minute and a half (according to an infrared thermometer) before its safety feature turned it off. Don’t try that at home—every induction burner warns against heating empty pans for this reason. Since induction is so fast and responsive, you only need to preheat a pan for a few seconds before adding food.

Induction Stovetops Are a Cinch to Clean

Like smooth-top electric ranges, induction burners have a flat glass cook surface that’s a breeze to wipe down after use. They can be cleaned with a damp soft cloth, and a drop of mild detergent can be added for grease and occasionally stuck-on bits. A dry towel will buff out any remaining streaks. 

The Cons

There Is a Learning Curve

For most of us, the hardest part of switching to induction after using gas or electric is getting used to a new system. Many induction burners include options for temperature settings as well as power settings, which can be confusing for traditional cooktop converts. Here’s the gist of it: power is (usually) a numbered setting that correlates to the low-medium-high scale of a traditional stove knob. Most burners will output a constant wattage based on the power setting. 

Temperature settings, on the other hand, will try to maintain a certain level of heat at the base of the cooktop’s surface (not the temperature of the pan or its contents). For example, an induction burner set to 212 degrees would fluctuate the wattage and pulse on/off cycles to try to keep its cooktop surface at a steady 212°F. Whatever is happening inside the pan at that point is dependent on the cookware that’s used, the amount and type of food being cooked, and the specific burner’s efficiency at maintaining that heat. 

You Need Induction-Compatible Cookware

closeup of an induction burner with a stainless steel skillet on top of it
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

As mentioned before, pots and pans must have a magnetic base to work with induction. An easy way to test if pans will be induction compatible is to hold a magnet to the bottom (any run-of-the-mill refrigerator magnet will do). If it sticks strongly to the base, then that pan is a good candidate for induction. Traditional and enameled cast iron and carbon steel will work, as well as some stainless steel (look for magnetic or fully-clad stainless steel). Using non-compatible cookware on induction won’t hurt anything—it just won’t heat up. Luckily, we’ve gathered a collection of our favorite induction-compatible cookware for you already.

The cookware must also have a flat bottom so it can make full contact with the burner. Induction is only really good at creating heat where the pot is in direct contact with the cooking surface above the copper coil. Cookware has to have a diameter that is big enough for the burner to detect and transmit enough energy to it, but small enough that the burner can still heat it evenly. 

Induction Burners Are Surprisingly Noisy

While the electromagnetic exchange process is technically silent, these machines definitely are not. All induction burners have fans inside to keep their inner components cool. The fan usually starts running as soon as the burner is turned on and for several moments after cooking stops. All of the models I tested for this review had roughly the same noise level depending on their heat settings, similar to that of a microwave or low kitchen exhaust fan. 

The fan isn’t the only sound, though. When pans are heated using induction, they can emit sounds including—but not limited to—popping, buzzing, humming, and high-pitched whining. It happens more with pans that are lightweight or not totally flat on the bottom, as well as multi-clad cookware, which has sandwiched layers of metal that vibrate against each other during cooking.

FAQs

What’s the best way to clean an induction burner?

The best way to clean an induction burner is to wipe it down with a damp, soft cloth. You can use a little bit of detergent or mild cleaning spray if you’d like, just make sure to wipe it off and dry it thoroughly. We don’t recommend using any abrasive cleaners, since you might damage the surface. 

What’s the best portable induction burner?

In our testing, we really liked the Duxtop Portable Induction Cooktop 9100MC; it displayed controlled heating abilities and was easy to clean. We also liked the Hamilton Beach Portable Single Induction Cooktop and IKEA TILLREDA Portable Induction Cooktop. If you’re looking to cook solely on an induction burner and want to invest in a truly great (albeit, $$$) one, the Breville Control Freak is the one we use in the Serious Eats’ kitchens. 

We Tested 10 Boning Knives—Two Flexed on the Competition

We tested 10 boning knives to see which ones could debone, trim, and slice the best. We also evaluated how comfortable they were to use.

boning knives on a marble countertop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

There are few kitchen tasks that bring me greater joy than breaking down a chicken. Not only is it cheaper than buying poultry by the piece, but it also encourages me to use every bit. When I’m done with the meat, I still have the resource-rich trimmings with which I can make stock and render the fat. (Have you ever drizzled chicken schmaltz over popcorn? Because you should.)

Sure, you can conquer a chicken with a chef’s knife—but a boning knife is specifically designed for the job. The long blade can cleanly slice the breast off of the ribs in a few strokes, and the sharp tip can be inserted into the joints to separate the legs and wings. Of course, a boning knife is not only for chicken. It can also be used to remove the skin from fish fillets, debone and trim silverskin off of pork roasts, and cut your own steaks. Tough-skinned produce like melons and squash? A boning knife can slice the thick rinds off with no problem.

Because they can be used for many tasks, boning knife blades come on a scale from rigid to downright bendy. Stiffer blades can stand up to larger cuts of meat and cut through thick joints, whereas flexible knives are better suited for detail work. For most cooks (who aren’t dealing with whole beef or pork primals at home), boning knives are more versatile for cutting around smaller bones and sliding between joints, like the aforementioned chicken legs, or cutting a rack of lamb into chops. 

For this review, I focused on boning knives with flexible blades that were between 5 and 6.5 inches long. Their costs ranged from $14 to $170. I preferred blades that were more pliant and judged them on their ability to contour around bones to access the maximum amount of meat. While the shape and balance of a knife’s handle can be a matter of personal preference, I prioritized grip when my hands became wet or greasy from what I was cutting. The competition was tight, and almost every model had something that set it apart from the rest. The winning knives ultimately stood out because they balanced all three of my top factors: a razor-sharp edge, an agile blade, and a comfortable grip.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Victorinox knife was an all-around pleasure to use. Its blade was flexible enough to conquer each task with ease, plus it was super sharp. The handle was textured, which allowed for superior grip, even when my hands had water or grease on them.

This model kept a keen edge throughout testing and was the most flexible of the lineup. It made larger tasks—like carving whole chickens or deboning a pork shoulder—simple and fast.

The Tests

using a boning knife to remove the bone from a pork shoulder
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger
  • Blade Sharpness Tests: I used a professional blade edge tester to measure the sharpness of each knife right out of the box. I tested all of the edges again at the end to see if any dulled after use. I measured the force (in grams) necessary for the knife to sever a calibrated plastic wire. The lower the score, the sharper the knife.
  • Debone Chicken Thigh Test: I deboned a chicken thigh with each knife to determine its maneuverability and nimbleness. After this assessment, only the highest-performing knives moved onto the subsequent tests.
  • Trim Pork Tenderloin Test (Winners-Only): To measure control, I trimmed a pork tenderloin with each knife and judged how well it could cleanly remove thin layers of fat and silverskin. 
  • Bone-In Pork Shoulder Test (Winners-Only): I deboned and butterflied a pork shoulder with each knife to test its ability to dexterously navigate and flex around a large, multi-sided bone. I also trimmed off excess fat and silverskin around the remaining meat.
  • Rotisserie Chicken Test (Winners-Only): I carved store-bought rotisserie chickens with the top performers. With each model, I observed how deft it was at slipping through cartilage to separate joints. I also assessed if the blade’s flexibility allowed it to curve around the breast bones to yield as much usable meat as possible. Lastly, I noted if the knife’s handle became slippery after it was coated in grease from the chicken.
  • Cleaning and Usability Tests: I hand-washed and dried the knives after each test to evaluate how easy they were to clean and if any displayed rusting or staining. While a few of the models tested were technically dishwasher safe, hand-washing was strongly recommended for all of them—and it’s what we recommend here at Serious Eats. I also judged each knife on how comfortable and natural it felt in my hand during use.

What We Learned

Greater Flexibility Was Better for Getting Around Bones

Global 6.25” Boning Knife Test
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

During testing, I preferred blades that were supple and that easily flexed while slicing. The ZWILLING Pro 5.5-inch Flexible Boning Knife and Victorinox Fibrox Pro 6-Inch Boning Knife were both great examples of this—they perfectly conformed to the breast and rib bones in the rotisserie chicken test to slice off every bit of white meat. 

The Global 6.25” Boning Knife was the most flexible of the bunch. Its long blade was able to contour around the big, twisted bone of the pork shoulder without difficulty. On the other hand, the Wüsthof Classic 5” Boning Knife made the task difficult. Its short length and light flexibility were great for deboning chicken thighs and trimming pork loin, but it didn’t have the reach or the litheness to slice around the pork scapula without carving out extra meat.

Straight Blades Were Easier to Use

Boning Knife Blade Curve Comparison Test
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Two of the models I tested had curved spines that arched upwards toward the tip: the Shun Cutlery Premier 6” Boning & Fillet Knife and the Messermeister Pro Series 6-inch Flexible Curved Boning Knife. This is a common silhouette for both boning and filleting knives as it creates a longer bottom edge without making the knife feel lengthy and unbalanced. It can make some special tasks easier—for example, removing the skin from a long piece of fish—as it allows the knife to cut further along the meat in a single, smooth stroke. I preferred the versatility of straighter knives, though, which had level spines from tip to bolster. The straight blades were more predictable and easier to maneuver around small chicken bones. Their tips were also better at removing pockets of fat and made it easy to insert the blades into hard-to-reach joints. 

Handle Design Was Important for Comfort and Safety

holding the victorinox boning knife
We liked the rounded, grippy handle on the Victorinox boning knife.Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

As with all knives, what makes a handle feel comfortable varies depending on who is holding it. In contrast with a chef’s knife where you basically maintain a single grip from start to finish, I looked for boning knife handles that made it easy to alternate my hold depending on which direction I was cutting. This helped when I was pressing the blade against a bone, trimming off a horizontal layer of silverskin, or directing the tip down into a joint.

I loved the rounded handle of the Kasumi Flexible Boning Knife and could easily shift my hold on it when it was dry. Once my hand got wet, though, it became difficult to get a safe grasp on the smooth, cylindrical handle. Comparatively, the Dexter Russell Sani-Safe 6” Flexible Boning Knife had a rough textured handle that made it feel secure, but its oversized bolster and indented handle made it awkward to move around. 

The Victorinox offered the best middle ground. Its thermoplastic rubber handle was grippy enough to feel secure (even when it was coated in chicken fat) while its rounded shape was comfortable to reposition in my hand. The stainless steel handle of the Global did get a little slippery during the rotisserie chicken test, but the dimples in the handle helped provide enough grip so it did not become dangerously slick.

Sharper Was Better

Boning Knife Sharpness Test Rating
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

Unsurprisingly, boning knives that were sharper performed better. The two sharpest knives were the Wüsthof and the Victorinox, which both scored around 100 on the out-of-the-box sharpness test (remember, lower scores are better here). Both of the knives easily slipped through cartilage and beneath thin silverskin, and they weren’t the only ones. More than half of the models maintained a sharpness score below 150, even after cutting against bones in later tests. Duller knives like the Dexter Russell and the BergHOFF Soft Grip 6” Narrow Flexible Boning Knife had a hard time slicing through slippery chicken skin and under thin layers of fat, so they were quickly knocked out in the early rounds of testing.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Boning Knife

A seriously good boning knife has a straight spine, rounded handle, and supple, sharp blade.
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger / Grace Kelly

A good boning knife should have a blade that is supple enough to curve around bones and cleanly slice off meat. Its spine should be straight rather than curved for better accuracy and ease of use. The sharper the knife’s edge, the better it is at separating joints and trimming off fat or silverskin. Rounded handles make the knife more comfortable to hold and shift positions, while a grippy texture provides extra safety from slips.

What we liked: Like many of its competitors, this knife was super sharp. It effortlessly sliced through joints and shaved off silverskin and fat without cutting away excess meat. It had enough flexibility to contour around bones, both big and small. But what truly set it above the rest was its handle, which was textured and provided grip even when it was wet or coated with chicken fat.

What we didn’t like: Although the rubberized handle texture provided a secure grip, I found the broad handle to be a tad bulky.

Price at time of publish: $22.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 2.85 ounces (81 grams)
  • Handle material: Thermoplastic rubber
  • Blade material: High carbon stainless steel
  • Blade length: 6 inches
  • Blade height at broadest part: 0.75 inches
  • Spine thickness at widest point: 1.25 millimeters
  • Handle length: 5 inches
  • Handle width at widest point: 1.25 inches
  • Out-of-the-box sharpness average: 102 (utility razor blade-sharp)
  • After-testing sharpness average: 125
Victorinox boning knife on marble countertop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

What we liked: This knife’s sharp edge took no coaxing to slice into thick pork shoulder and trim off thin pieces of silverskin. The Global also had the most flexible blade of the lineup, which hugged chicken and pork bones as it glided around them.

What we didn’t like: This knife is made from a single piece of stainless steel. While the unbolstered handle is dimpled to provide some grip, the metal still got a little slippery when my hand was wet. The bendy blade was also quite long. This makes it ideal for turkey, pork, or filleting whole fish, but less suited for small tasks like deboning single chicken thighs. Compared to the Victorinox, it’s also quite pricey. 

Price at time of publish: $110.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 4.4 ounces (125 grams)
  • Handle & blade material: CROMOVA 18 stainless steel (a blend of chromium, molybdenum, and vanadium that is exclusive to GLOBAL)
  • Blade length: 6.25 inches
  • Blade height at broadest part: 0.75 inches
  • Spine thickness at widest point: 2 millimeters
  • Handle length: 5 inches
  • Handle width at widest point: 1.13 inches
  • Out-of-the-box sharpness average: 115 (utility razor blade-sharp)
  • After-testing sharpness average: 115
global boning knife on marble countertop
Serious Eats / Ashlee Redger

The Competition

  • ZWILLING Pro 5.5-inch Flexible Boning Knife: This model made it to the final round and performed nearly as well as the winners in every test. Its shorter blade made it easy to maneuver and had similar flexibility to the Victorinox. It was more expensive than both winners, though, and not quite as sharp. Its handle also became a little slippery during the rotisserie chicken test.
  • Kasumi Flexible Boning Knife: The Kasumi had a honed edge and effortlessly flexed its way around the bone in the pork shoulder test. Its major downside was its smooth, cylindrical handle, which became impossible to get a secure grasp on when it was wet.
  • BergHOFF Soft Grip 6” Narrow Flexible Boning Knife: The BergHOFF had the dullest edge of the lineup before and after testing, which made it less smooth when cutting through skin and cartilage.
  • Wüsthof Classic 5” Boning Knife: Although its edge got the best score in the sharpness tests (just a hair sharper than our overall winner), the shorter blade was not dextrous enough to maneuver around the bone in the pork shoulder without removing extra pieces of meat.
  • Shun Cutlery Premier 6” Boning & Fillet Knife: The Shun knife was keen and stunning in appearance, but the curved blade was unyieldingly rigid and difficult to use for precise cuts.
  • Messermeister Pro Series 6-inch Flexible Curved Boning Knife: Although it was less stiff than the Shun model, I still found the curved tip of the Messermeister awkward to aim and maneuver during the chicken thigh test.
  • Mercer Culinary Renaissance Flexible Boning Knife: This model’s performance did not stand out from its competitors. It was decently flexible but had some trouble cutting through slippery chicken thigh skin.
  • Dexter Russell Sani-Safe 6” Flexible Boning Knife: The handle on this knife was built for safety: it had a thick bolster guard separating one’s hand from the blade and was textured to provide grip. Unfortunately, it also felt clunky and hindered dexterity.

FAQs

What is a boning knife used for?

Boning knives are used for deboning, trimming, and slicing all kinds of animal (or fish) proteins. Their narrow blades can range from rigid (for cutting through thick cartilage) to flexible (for bending between bones and the surrounding meat). The knives can be straight or curved upwards at the spine. One of the defining features of a boning knife is its small, sharp tip, which is designed to be inserted down into joints to sever the connective tissues within.

What is the best size for a boning knife?

Boning knives tend to be between five to seven inches long. The best size depends on user preference and task: longer knives can have a greater range of flexibility and are best for deboning beef, pork, game meats, and breaking down whole poultry or fish. Shorter knives are often less flexible and are adept at deboning chicken legs, filleting small fish, or even peeling hardy fruits like pineapple.

What is the best way to clean a boning knife?

Hand-washing is recommended for all knives. Use mild dish soap, a non-scratch sponge, and warm water. Once the knife is clean, dry it immediately to prevent rusting. Store all knives in a protected place, like on a magnetic knife strip or in a cork-lined dock, to prevent damage to your blades (and fingers).

How do you sharpen a boning knife?

Contact with hard surfaces like bones can dull a knife’s edge quickly, so it’s important to keep your boning knife sharp to keep it working efficiently. You can use a whetstone to sharpen your blade at home. Whetting any knife at home can take practice; the process varies depending on the shape and material of the individual knife, as well as personal preference for bevel and edge finish. If you don’t have the time or equipment to sharpen at home, a professional sharpener can expertly file the blade for you. Either way, we recommend a honing rod for maintaining the edge between sharpenings.

What is the difference between a boning knife and a filleting knife?

Boning and filleting knives look very similar and are often used interchangeably. Both have long, thin blades—the edges of which can be either curved or straight. Boning knives are generally slightly thicker and sturdier so they stand up to hard bones and denser cuts of meat. They can be flexible, stiff, or somewhere in between. Filleting knives are usually longer than boning knives (as well as more flexible) and are primarily used for removing the skin and bones from delicate pieces of fish.