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I Tested 11 Charcuterie Boards to Find the Best Ones for Meats, Cheeses, and Spreads of All Sorts

We tested 11 popular charcuterie boards to find the four that were the most durable and looked the best when loaded with cheese, sliced meats, and fruit.

A charcuterie board with cheeses, sliced salami, and grapes on it.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Social media may have made charcuterie boards (and their variants like snack boards, French fry boards, and butter boards) trendy, but anyone who throws parties will tell you a proper charcuterie board is timeless. Grabbing a smidge of brie and a slice of salami while chatting with friends? Pure joy.

Although any cutting board can be turned into a charcuterie board, a dedicated one is a fun item to have, especially if you like to entertain. But even though a wide range of charcuterie boards are available, not all of them are worth their storage space. The best charcuterie boards look great, feel good when you carry them to the table, and are durable enough to hold up to repeated cheese slicing.

After testing 11 popular charcuterie boards, I found four standouts (Note: I only tested wooden models here for their versatility, but do acknowledge that marble boards are often recommended for their ability to keep cheeses cool.) 

The Winners, at a Glance

The Boardsmith Walnut charcuterie board was the largest board I tested. Despite its size, it wasn’t outrageously heavy or difficult to move. The flared bottom meant it was sturdy and didn’t shift when slicing and it had ample room for you to serve numerous cheeses and meats. Its dark finish was handsome and elegant, too, making anything you put on it party-worthy.

The Ironwood Bowery board was compact, but still fit plenty of cheese and meat on it for a small gathering or snack dinner. The dark grain finish didn't show any marks after slicing and its beveled edges made it easy to pick up and move.

The Thirteen Chefs charcuterie board is a great medium-sized board made of beautiful olivewood. It features a “live edge” that lends an elegant and organic look. The durable finish and dense wood prevented cut marks and was easy to clean.

The William Sonoma Charcuterie Board is large and has a singular handle. It’s made of beautiful olivewood and holds enough cheese and charcuterie for a party. 

The Tests

A stack of charcuterie boards on a marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin
  • Capacity Test: I loaded each board with a wide range of cheese, charcuterie, and grapes to see how much food each of them held.
  • Sturdiness Test: I picked up the loaded board, carried it around the kitchen, and moved it to my living room and back. I evaluated how easy it was to pick up, how difficult it was to carry, and how securely it held all of the food. 
  • Durability Test: I used a sharp paring knife to cut three different pieces of cheese in three places to see if cutting would damage the board. After I removed all of the cheese, I also hit the paring knife on the board harder a few times to see if a more aggressive motion would damage the board at all.
  • Cleaning Test: I cleaned each board by hand and looked for staining and other noticeable marks.

What We Learned

Durability: A Question of Materials

A person slicing cheese on a charcuterie board.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The biggest difference between a great charcuterie board and a mediocre one is its durability. After cutting and slicing cheese and my durability test, I found that some boards had marks or nicks on them. If you’re spending money on a (somewhat single-purpose) charcuterie board, it should hold up to its namesake use. 

A Smooth Finish Was Best

A charcuterie board with several scratches on its surface.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

I found that charcuterie boards that had a smooth finish held up better than rougher ones. The smooth finish also meant sticky and oozy cheeses like Brie cleaned up easier and oily charcuterie didn’t stain the board as much. Boards that showed the grain of the wood or had dark finishes also tended to hide nicks and scratches well.

Picking the Right Size Charcuterie Board

A stack of charcuterie boards on a marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Smaller charcuterie boards (eight to 12 inches in length, or roughly 100 square inches) are ideal for one or two-person households or for those who plan on hosting a dinner party and want to provide a light cheese and charcuterie board before dinner.  They’re also compact and easier to store. 

A medium-sized board (12 to 15 inches in length, or roughly 150 square inches) is likely the most versatile and ideal for households of four to six people or those who entertain frequently. Larger boards (20 to 24 inches in length or 200-plus square inches), though more difficult to store, are excellent for large parties, for folks who enjoy entertaining a lot, and for situations where the charcuterie board is the centerpiece. I think most folks would be happy with a medium size board, but pick one that suits your needs.

Looks Were Important

A person slicing cheese on a charcuterie board.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

To put it bluntly: You want a pretty charcuterie board. Meat and cheeses should stand out against the grain of the wood. The board should be a centerpiece, and be aesthetically pleasing enough to display when not in use (these things are often stored propped up against a kitchen’s backsplash). If you’re buying something for a specific purpose, it should be eye-catching.

The Criteria: What to Look for in Charcuterie Board

A charcuterie board loaded with meats and cheeses and fruit on a marble surface.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Find a charcuterie board that is made of wood and has a durable finish. Marble, glass, and ceramic charcuterie boards all look great but can damage and dull your serving knife and are more fragile. Boards that have a pronounced grain or that are made of a harder or darker wood will show fewer nicks and scratches over time. Finally, if you plan on displaying your charcuterie board, look for a beautiful one that fits your decor and that will look great propped up against your kitchen wall or sitting on your counter. 

The Best Charcuterie Boards

What we liked: The Boardsmith charcuterie board is a large slab of solid walnut with a flared bottom. Though big, the board wasn’t cumbersome to move around (it weighed less than five-and-a-half pounds). The flared bottom meant it also felt very secure when placed on the table. Clean-up was easy as well, despite the large size. The board comes conditioned with oil that repels stains and makes oozy cheese simple to wipe off. 

The dark stained wood showed minimal nicks and scratches, and cheese and charcuterie looked elegant and beautiful against it, making this serving board the ideal centerpiece. All in all, it’s a true stunner.

A person slicing a wedge of cheese on The Boardsmith charcuterie board. There are various cheese, sliced salami, and grapes on the board.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we didn’t like: The bottom of this board flares out, which makes it more stable when set on a table for serving. But it also means it‘s a bit harder to pick up, and there are no handles.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 22 x 11.5 x 1.25 inches
  • Material: Urban salvaged reclaimed solid walnut wood
  • Weight: 5 pounds, 5.5 ounces
  • Care instructions: Hand-wash and dry thoroughly; periodically apply butcher block or food-grade mineral oil
The Boardsmith charcuterie board on a marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: The Ironwood Bowery board is reasonably priced and ideal for small households, starter courses, or folks who want to use it for light meals. Cheese and charcuterie looked handsome placed on the darker stained, end-grain wood.

The butcher block-style board also hid any nicks and scratches and featured a beveled edge on the two shorter sides, making it easier to pick up. Because of the thin profile and smaller size, the board also stores easily in a cabinet.

What we didn’t like: The board’s aesthetic makes it look like you are serving cheese and charcuterie on a cutting board instead of a dedicated cheese board. This might not fit everyone’s aesthetic. The board itself is also on the smaller side, making it less versatile than medium and large boards.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 15 x 6.25 x 0.75 inches
  • Material: End-grain acacia wood
  • Weight: 1 pound, 6.5 ounces
  • Care instructions: Hand-wash and dry; oil periodically
A person placing the Ironwood charcuterie board onto a countertop.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: This medium-sized olivewood board features a live edge, making it slightly more rustic and creating an organic, elegant look. This adds to the presentation of the charcuterie, making it an eye-catching addition to any buffet or dinner table over the traditional square, rectangle, oval, or round board. The buttery-smooth finish made clean-up easy, too.

What we didn’t like: The live edge of the board meant there were natural grooves and divots on the edge. If any cheese or other sticky food spills over, it becomes more difficult to clean.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 16 x 8 x 0.75 inches
  • Material: Live-edge solid olivewood
  • Weight: 2 pounds, 10.5 ounces
  • Care instructions: Hand-wash and dry; oil periodically
A wooden charcuterie board with various wedges of cheese, sliced salami, and bunches of grapes on it.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: The Williams Sonoma board had ample room for a multitude of cheeses and charcuterie, creating a beautiful centerpiece for any dinner party or buffet. The rectangular handle is made of dense olivewood and has undulating grain lines that accentuate and elevate every occasion. Cheese and charcuterie looked elegant and the smooth finish was easy to clean.

The board itself is large, making it difficult to store. That said, it is gorgeous and sports a hole in the handle; if you can hang it up, it would make for a pretty piece of wall decor. The wood is dense and boldly grained, which meant cuts and nicks were hidden. This is the sort of heirloom charcuterie board that you can use for years.

What we didn’t like: Because the board is made of dense olivewood, it was surprisingly heavy, making it more difficult to pick up and move around. It’s large and would be tougher to store in a cabinet.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 9 x 24 x 0.75 inches (including handle)
  • Material: Solid olivewood
  • Weight: 4 pounds, 8.5 ounces
  • Care instructions: Hand-wash and dry; oil periodically
A wooden charcuterie board with a handle on a marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The Competition

  • Dansk Wood Classic Vivianna Cheese Board with Knife: This cheese board came with a knife as well as an awkwardly placed indention in the board where the knife's handle sits. The indentation limited where you could put the cheese and charcuterie, and the board had nicks and knife marks after use.
  • Karryoung Wooden Charcuterie Board: This rectangular-handled charcuterie board was a nice size and reasonably priced, but it showed cut marks after testing. 
  • Ayiaren Charcuterie Board: This board looked great but also showed cut marks after serving and slicing cheese on it. 
  • Sur La Table Olivewood Cheese Board: This Sur La Table olivewood cheese board featured a live edge (like the Thirteen Chefs). It was beautiful and durable, but was smaller than the Thirteen Chefs board and cost more. 
  • Fox Run Acacia Round Paddle Serve Board: This beautiful round serving board was easy to lift and move around and featured an enforced metal hole on the handle, making it something you could hang and display when not in use. Unfortunately, it showed cut marks.
  • John Boos Walnut Edge Grain Serving Board with Feet: This was a beautiful, thick, and durable serving board with pronounced feet. It was easy to pick up and move around. But it’s an expensive serving board that's small and deceptively hard to store due to the thick round feet attached to it.
  • Terrain Teak Serving Board: This small board was thick and heavy for its size and priceier than comparable models.

FAQs

What goes on a charcuterie board? 

Traditionally, a charcuterie board features cheese and cured meat (charcuterie) as well as complimentary items for pairing. This can include fruit, sweet preserves, honey, and salty finger foods like olives, cornichon (small pickles), and nuts. But you can place almost anything on a charcuterie board, like spreads and flatbreads, easy-to-eat desserts like brownies and cookies, or even dips and fries.

How do you pronounce charcuterie? 

Charcuterie is a French term for prepared meat products, like sausage, salami, and other cured meats typically made from pork. It is pronounced shar-KOO-tər-ee.

What is a cheese board called?

A cheese board is another term for a charcuterie board. It is also sometimes just referred to as a cheese platter or serving board.

What is the best way to clean and care for a wooden charcuterie board?

Wooden charcuterie boards, like wooden cutting boards, should be hand washed with mild soap, and then dried with a clean cloth or paper towel afterward to prevent warping. Let the board dry fully overnight before storing it. You should occasionally oil the charcuterie boards with cutting board oil or a food-grade mineral oil, letting it soak in completely, to help maintain the finish of the board and to prevent mold or mildew from growing on it.

Why We’re the Experts

  • Irvin Lin is a cookbook author, recipe developer, food writer, photographer, and ceramicist.
  • He runs a blog called Eat the Love, where he’s developed, photographed, and written recipes since 2010.
  • He’s tested and reviewed hundreds of kitchen items including indoor herb gardens and magnetic knife strips.
  • For this review, Irvin tested 11 charcuterie boards, arranging numerous pounds of cheese and charcuterie to find the best ones.

We Used 8 Slow Cookers to Sear, Stew, and Braise—Three Stood Out

We tested eight popular slow cookers to find one that made creamy, perfectly cooked beans and succulent pulled pork. In the end, we landed on three favorites.

slow cookers on a gray surface
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin

Slow cookers: The countertop appliance you know and (maybe?) already love. As their name implies, they cook food at a lower temperature (typically 180°F to 210°F) over a long period of time, usually between six to eight hours.

Slow cookers have been around for about 70 years, coming about in the 1950s as a device to cook beans. Then, in 1972, the device was rebranded as the Crock-Pot, exploding in popularity with its signature Avocado Green and Harvest Yellow colors. They were marketed as a convenient cooking appliance: Throw in all your ingredients in the morning, go to work, and come back to a home-cooked meal. 

While we here at Serious Eats haven't traditionally loved slow cookers, they do have their fanbase and uses. They are indeed great for making dried beans and keeping food and drinks warm for parties (hot mulled cider anyone?). We also certainly wouldn't turn down a bun stuffed with slow-cooker pulled pork.

Now there’s a new generation of slow cookers sporting multiple functions, making them more versatile than the models of yesteryear. So, we set out to test eight slow cookers, to see which ones performed the best and were easy to clean up and operate.

The Winners, at a Glance

The GreenPan Elite has a metal, non-stick, ceramic-coated cooking pot. In our tests, it heated up quickly and sautéed and browned well. Dried beans cooked up just right (not too hard nor mushy) and pulled pork was fall-apart tender. The exterior also stayed cool the entire time the cooker was on, making it one of the safest ones we tested.

The slow cooker function on the Instant Pot tends to be overlooked, but it functions surprisingly well. Its slow-cooked beans were tender, and the pulled pork fell apart without being stringy. Even better, because the cooker is designed for pressure cooking, the exterior of the machine stayed cool the entire time it was on.

If you’re in the market for a more traditional slow cooker, the KitchenAid is a great option. With a heavy ceramic interior pot, it took a while to come to temperature. But once it did, it stayed very consistent, yielding creamy and properly cooked beans, as well as soft pull-apart pork. The exterior of the cooker did get warmer than our other winners, but not as hot as other more traditional models.

The Tests

an overhead shot of white beans in a slow cooker
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin
  • Beans Test: We took one pound of dried white beans and placed it in each slow cooker, along with eight cups of room-temperature water. We then cooked the beans on the high setting for eight hours to see how well they cooked, taking temperatures each hour with an instant-read thermometer to gauge consistency.
  • Pulled Pork Test (Winners-Only): We selected four winners and cooked an easy pulled pork recipe, using three pounds of pork butt per cooker. If possible, we seared the pork in the slow cooker beforehand to see how the searing/sautéing function worked. 
  • Cleaning Test: After our tests, we emptied the pots and let the inner pot sit for an hour to let residual food dry and get crusty. Then we hand-washed each pot and lid to see how easy they were to handle and clean.

What We Learned

How Slow Cookers Work

As we mentioned, slow cookers heat food at lower temperatures (between 180°F to 210°F), cooking it slowly over a longer period of time. But how do slow cookers actually work? It's pretty simple: there are small heaters in the bottom of the slow cooker that, when turned on, radiate heat upwards through the cooking vessel inside the cooker (which can be ceramic or metal). As Kenji noted in his article on slow cookers, "because you are heating through a thick ceramic insert, that energy comes very gently from the bottom, and, to a very slight degree, from the sides of the pot. There are no hot spots." Slow cookers also use lids to trap the heat (and ensure your slow cooker soup doesn't dry out).

Sauté and Sear Functions Were Useful

seared pork in slow cooker
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin

Extra functions can be superfluous—after all, how often does the average consumer actually make their own yogurt in an Instant Pot? But an option to sauté or brown is an additional function that can improve the flavor of the food (e.g. get a nice brown crust). The ability to do that directly in the slow cooker means you don’t need to dirty a skillet. Our favorite slow cookers from GreenPan and Instant Pot both offer a sauté function, as did a few others like the Cuisinart and Instant Dutch Oven. Typically, the traditional ceramic insert style slow cookers do not, since the ceramic pot can’t heat up fast enough to properly brown food. 

Some Slow Cookers Were Too Hot on the Inside

Slow cookers are designed to cook food at a low temperature. This allows you to add ingredients to a slow cooker at the beginning of the day, press a button, and have dinner waiting for you six to eight hours later. It also means that you can use the slow cooker to keep food warm during a party (like cocktail meatballs or gravy). But a number of the slow cookers we tested actually cooked at too high a temperature. This resulted in beans that were mushy and overcooked and dry pork.

Others Were Too Hot on the Outside

the display panel of the greenpan slow cooker
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin

One of the appealing aspects of a slow cooker is that you can add all the ingredients in the morning, head to work, and then come home to dinner. And even though the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends against leaving appliances running when not at home, folks do it all the time. To minimize risk, this means finding a slow cooker that's well insulated and doesn’t heat up on the outside. 

But some of the slow cookers that we tested, including the Crock-Pot, got alarmingly hot. The Crock-Pot reached a high of 193°F on the outside of the pot, while the Hamilton Beach slow cookers we tested hit the mid-170°s. Both temperatures were high enough to potentially burn someone.

Our favorite slow cookers stayed cool on the outside, with the GreenPan slow cooker’s exterior reaching 110°F at its peak. The Instant Pot also stayed cool at about 105°F. The traditional style KitchenAid, with the ceramic pot, did heat up more but was still a tolerable 130°F—higher than the other two but still low enough that it felt safe to leave on all day.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Slow Cooker

slow cooker with copy on top of it describing it as having a cool exterior, sear option, and consistent temperatures
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin / Grace Kelly

Select a slow cooker that will hold a consistent temperature and that doesn’t run too hot or cold throughout the cooking cycle. Our favorite slow cookers kept a consistent temperature of around 195 to 205° F once they reached peak temperature, never boiling the liquid in the pot. We also recommend looking for a slow cooker with the option to sear, brown, or sauté. This means you won’t have to dirty and clean a skillet to brown your protein or aromatics before adding them to the slow cooker.

Pick a slow cooker that is large enough for the amount of food you need to make, too. Most slow cookers nowadays are oval-shaped and have both a minimum and maximum food line that you need to reach to properly cook your meal. You should also keep in mind how you plan on using your slow cooker. If you plan on entertaining and want your slow cooker to keep foods warm, make sure it has this mode. Finally, the outside of the slow cooker shouldn't get too hot.

The Best Slow Cookers

What we liked: The GreenPan Elite had various functions, including slow cooking, steaming, and browning/sautéing. In addition, the digital screen in the front shows you the time remaining and the cooking function you selected. Though there are limited buttons on the front, the slow cook option cycles through to offer low, high, reheating, simmer/buffet, and warm functions, making this slow cooker more versatile than other cookers we tested.

Once the cooking temperature came to its peak, in about two hours, it stayed a consistent 195°F to 205°F through the remaining six hours of cooking, never dropping too low or starting to boil at the edges like other cookers did. Dried beans cooked up creamy without being overdone or mushy. It was easy to brown the meat because of the spacious interior, and the pork was fall-apart tender.

The metal insert was lightweight and easy to lift out, and the silicone-covered handles let us easily handle the pot without oven mitts. The outside of the unit stayed cool, too.

What we didn’t like: The GreenPan Elite was one of the larger slow cookers we tested, and it was also one of the most expensive, too. And though it offers multiple options, including reheating and simmer/buffet, those options are hidden under the slow cook button, making the control panel slightly less intuitive.

Price at time of publish: $199.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 14.2 pounds
  • Production dimensions: 19 x 13.75 x 11 inches
  • Cord length: 32 inches
  • Cooking capacity: 6 quarts
  • Materials: Ceramic nonstick coated anodized aluminum metal pot, silicone side handles, tempered glass lid, metal base with glass display panel
  • Settings: Slow cook high, slow cook low, reheat, simmer/buffet, warm, brown/sauté, steam
  • Cleaning/care instructions: Metal insert pot and lid are dishwasher and hand wash safe; base unit should be wiped with a damp cloth or sponge
greenpan slow cooker on a gray surface with gray background
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin

What we liked: Sometimes the best slow cooker is the one that you already own. We’ve long recommended the Instant Pot Pro as one of the best countertop multi-cookers and the slow cooker function works fairly well. Temperatures peaked at 205°F and stayed there after three hours, cooking the dried beans to a perfectly creamy and buttery consistency. And the exterior is well insulated from the internal pot, keeping the outside a cool 100°F.

The Instant Pot also has a searing option, and browning the meat for the pulled pork was easy, though it did require searing in batches since the internal pot was smaller than other slow cookers'. But because the inner pot is actually stovetop-friendly, you can theoretically sear the meat and ingredients on the stove, which is faster and more efficient, without dirtying a secondary skillet or pot. The resulting pulled pork came out very tender without overcooking or becoming dry, making the Instant Pot Pro a solid slow cooker option for those folks who already own it.

What we didn’t like: Because of the smaller diameter, we had to sear and brown meat in batches which can be a little time-consuming. And due to the nature of the lid on an Instant Pot, which has a tight seal that allows for pressure cooking, there is little to no evaporation that occurs, unlike in a more typical slow cooker. However, you can always set the Instant Pot to saute to reduce liquids, if needed.

Price at time of publish: $129.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 13.4 pounds
  • Production dimensions: 13.5 x 12.5 x 12.5 inches
  • Cord Length: 32 inches
  • Cooking capacity: 6 quarts
  • Materials: Stainless steel tri-ply bonded bottom inner pot, silicone handle and rings, metal and plastic outer unit with glass display.
  • Settings: Pressure cooking, rice/grain, steam, sauté, slow cook, sous vide, yogurt, bake, keep warm
  • Cleaning/care instructions: Metal insert pot and lid are dishwasher and hand wash safe; base unit should be wiped with a damp cloth or sponge
instant pot on a gray background
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin

What we liked: If you’re looking for a simple, more traditional slow cooker, the KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker is a great option, sporting a thick and heavy ceramic pot. Its streamlined design makes it super simple to use, with only four options: low, medium, and high-temperature levels, as well as a warm setting. 

Dried beans cooked up nicely, neither too firm nor too mushy, and the pulled pork was tender and easy to pull apart. The exterior also stayed at a relatively cool 130°F, which is lower than other slow cookers with a ceramic insert pot. 

What we didn’t like: Because the internal pot is a ceramic insert, there is no searing or browning feature. This means you have to sear or brown your meat on a skillet ahead of adding it to the slow cooker. This is an extra step that also requires you to clean one more pot, making the slow cooker less convenient.

Price at time of publish: $119.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 15.4 pounds
  • Production dimensions: 17.5 x 10.5 x 11 inches
  • Cord length: 30 inches
  • Cooking capacity: 6 quarts
  • Materials: Stainless steel with plastic handles, ceramic inner pot, glass digital display
  • Settings: Slow cook low, medium, high, and keep warm
  • Cleaning/care instructions: Ceramic insert pot and lid are dishwasher and hand wash safe; base unit should be wiped with a damp cloth or sponge.
kitchenaid slow cooker on gray background
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin

The Competition

  • Hamilton Beach Portable 6 Quart Set & Forget Digital Programmable Slow Cooker: This slow cooker seemed like a great option with an internal probe that allowed you to check the temperature of the food without lifting the lid. But the unit ran hot, with the edges of the pot actually bubbling and simmering, leading to overcooked and mushy beans. 
  • Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 6 Quart Slow Cooker: This slow cooker was nearly identical to the other Hamilton Beach slow cooker other than a slight color difference, and performed the same way, overcooking the beans.
  • Cuisinart Multicooker MSC-600, Stainless Steel: This slow cook performed well with the beans, yielding soft and creamy results. But the pulled pork took longer to sear than with the Instant Pot and Green Pan slow cooker, and the resulting pulled pork wasn’t as tender.
  • Instant Dutch Oven Slow Cooker: This slow cooker was an actual cast iron Dutch oven with a heating unit. It’s a great idea but proved to be unwieldy to move around and store. It also took a very long time to heat up, nearly four hours, and the outside of the cooker got up to 160°F, which was quite hot.
  • Crock-Pot 6 Quart Cook & Carry Programmable Slow Cooker: Crock-Pot is synonymous with slow cookers, so we had high hopes for this slow cooker. But it ran too hot, making overcooked, mushy beans. More alarming, the outside of the slow cooker was 190°F, which was dangerously warm for a countertop appliance.

FAQs 

What's the difference between a slow cooker and a pressure cooker?

A slow cooker is a countertop appliance that cooks food at a low temperature over a long period of time. Typically a slow cooker cooks between 190° to 210°F over six to eight hours, which is long enough for the food to be completely cooked through. 

A pressure cooker is an appliance that seals tightly. Once sealed and heated, the liquid in the pressure cook can get to higher temperatures, as high as 250°F, which means the food is cooked faster. Instant Pot, a popular multi-cooker, has a pressure cooker function as well as a slow cooker function, allowing you to cook food fast or slow depending on the mode you choose. For more information about pressure cookers, check out our article on how a pressure cooker works.

What’s the difference between a slow cooker and a Crock-pot?

People often use the term crock-pot to mean a slow cooker. But Crock-Pot is the actual name brand of a popular slow cooker and has become synonymous with the countertop appliance, in the same way Xerox has come to mean photocopier. 

What is a slow cooker good for?

Slow cookers are convenient for cooking stews, soups, and beans over a long period of time. You can add the ingredients to the slow cooker at the beginning of the day and eight hours later, have a cooked meal. It also does well cooking bread pudding, strata, and stuffing. However, because slow cookers function at lower temperatures, it does not heat the ingredients high enough to get much of a Maillard effect, meaning a lot of food cooked in a slow cooker will taste less complex and have less flavor than if they were cooked via a more traditional method.

What cannot be cooked in a slow cooker?

Though slow cookers are convenient for some dishes, it is recommended you do not cook frozen ingredients in one without thawing them first. Quick-cook ingredients like pasta, rice, grains, fish, seafood, and thin cuts of meat are also not recommended, as they will overcook in a slow cooker. Dairy is also not recommended, as prolonged heating will curdle and separate it.

Can you keep food warm in a slow cooker?

Most slow cookers have a warm function, making them ideal for buffets or for keeping a meal warm until you're ready to eat. All the slow cookers we tested had a warm function, which automatically turned on once the cooking cycle ended.

Why We're the Experts

  • Irvin Lin is a food blogger and freelance writer who has written many reviews for Serious Eats, including stand mixers, half-sheet pans, and bowl scrapers
  • He is an IACP-award-winning photographer, an IACP-nominated blogger, and a blue-ribbon baker. 
  • For this review, we tested eight slow cookers by using all of them to cook dried white beans. We then used the winners to sear and stew pulled pork. Throughout testing, we noted how easy the slow cookers were to use and clean, and if they produced tender (but not mushy) results.

We Steamed a Whole Bunch of Broccoli and Dumplings to Find the Best Bamboo Steamers

We tested 10 popular bamboo steamers to find out which were the easiest to use and the most durable. Ultimately, we landed on three favorites.

a variety of bamboo steamers in front of each other
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Growing up, steamer baskets were something my mom brought out only when she made steamed bao or bakcang (a Taiwanese version of zongzi). She owned large, restaurant-sized ones that were always stored in our basement. When she brought them out, it was a production that lasted multiple days, allowing her to make huge batches of food so she could fill our deep freezer.

My mom was adamant that the steamers were made of bamboo and not metal. She said bamboo added a special scent and flavor and that the porous nature of the bamboo allowed steam to be absorbed, which led to better results. To this day, when I smell the particular scent of a bamboo steamer in use, I get sent back to being 12 again, anxiously awaiting my first taste of my mom’s homemade steamed pork buns. 

Now, the first Chinese steamers can be traced back 5000 years and were actually pottery with holes that allowed steam through. Today, bamboo steamers are a versatile kitchen tool that allows you to steam (or smoke) all sorts of food, like delicate fish, vegetables, and dumplings. To find the best ones, we decided to test 10 models.

Editor’s Note: The Hcooker set we tested had three tiers when we tested it, but now only seems to be available with two. However, we still think it’s a great set that deserves the top spot for its metal bands, which prevented warping.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Hcooker set we tested came with three tiers of steamers, instead of the typical two, making it more versatile and allowing you to cook more food at once. While there only seems to be a two-tier option available now, we still think it’s a great choice. The steamers have a metal band around the bottom and top of the steamer walls, which reinforces the edges, preventing warping and scorching.

The Helen’s Asian Kitchen steamers are made completely of bamboo, which could wear out faster than steamers banded with metal. However, in our testing, the fit of the lid and tiers stayed true with minimal warping of the sides and floor of the steamer. The standard size made using 10-inch paper inserts easy, and the entire set was budget-friendly.

The Prime Home Direct Bamboo Steamer set came with two basket tiers and a lid, as well as paper liners, chopsticks, and a ceramic sauce dish. It performed well in all the tests and was reasonably priced.

The Tests

a fork poking a piece of broccoli in a steamer basket
Serious Eats/Irvin Lin
  • Steam Broccoli Test: We set each steamer into a wok, filling a basket with six ounces of broccoli set on a perforated parchment paper round. We steamed the hardy vegetable for seven minutes to see how easy the bamboo steamer was to use. We cleaned the bamboo steamer afterward and inspected it to see if there was any warping or damage.
  • Steam Frozen Soup Dumplings Test: We set each steamer in a wok and steamed two basket tiers filled with eight frozen soup dumplings each to see how well the steamer did cooking them. We picked soup dumplings to make sure each tier of the steamer properly cooked the frozen dumpling and turned the gelatin into liquid without overcooking the dumpling wrapper. We then cleaned and inspected the bamboo steamer to see if there was any warping or damage after use.
  • Steam Salmon Fillet Test (Winners-Only): We steamed 10-ounce salmon fillets on a single tier lined with perforated parchment paper to see how fish cooked in our five favorite bamboo steamers. We then cleaned the bamboo steamers and inspected them to see if there was any warping or damage after use, as well as if there was any lingering fish scent.

What We Learned

How a Bamboo Steamer Works

bamboo steamer basket with lid off showcasing soup dumplings inside
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Bamboo steamers are nesting and stacking baskets made of bamboo, with slats that allow steam to rise through, cooking the food. The bamboo steamer is stacked on top of a wok or pot with simmering water, which produces the steam. Woks are traditionally used because the sloped sides allow you to easily stack any size steamer in them with minimal amounts of water needed. You can also use a large pot or purchase a bamboo steamer ring that helps fit the bamboo steamer over different-sized cookware.

All of the Bamboo Steamers Steamed Well

In all of our tests, every bamboo steamer cooked nearly the same: Broccoli came out tender but not mushy, soup dumplings were steamed nicely with a perfectly cooked wrapper and hot soup liquid center, and the salmon fillets were flaky without being overcooked or undercooked. No matter what bamboo steamer you buy, it most likely will cook your food well as long as you use it correctly. 

Bamboo Is Porous and Prone to Warping

a closeup of warping along the interior edge of a bamboo steamer basket
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

So what makes a bamboo steamer better or worse if the food always comes out the same? Turns out the reason why bamboo steamers are great—their porousness—is also their downfall. Food writer and blogger Lisa Lin agrees with my mom when it comes to bamboo steamers. “The biggest advantage of using bamboo baskets is the porous nature of the basket and the lid. With bamboo steamers, steam can escape from the sides or the top through the bamboo lid. As a result, condensation usually doesn't usually build up as much under the lids of bamboo steamers.” 

But the porous nature of the bamboo also means it will absorb water, bending and warping. “The disadvantage of bamboo steamer baskets is that they can come apart if they are poorly constructed. My mom helped me repair one by wrapping metal wire around the sides,” Lin says. In our testing, a number of the bamboo steamers started out with flat bottoms and round insets, making stacking them together easy. But after testing, a number of them had warped, buckled, or distorted. This led to the floor of the bamboo steamer becoming uneven and the fit of the lids or the tiers being too difficult to stack or come apart. The Hcooker bamboo steamer set has an enforced metal ring on the bottom and top of the steamer, keeping the steamer from warping and allowing it to stack with ease. Both Helen’s Asian Kitchen and Prime Direct Home also did not warp much, stacking and nesting easily after our tests.

Bamboo Can Scorch or Burn

Despite common misconceptions, bamboo is a grass, not a wood. And though there are more than 1000 species of bamboo, in general, bamboo's flash point (i.e., the temperature at which bamboo burns) is around 465°F to 509°F. This is lower than wood’s flash point, which is generally between 485°F and 570°F. In essence, when placed directly on a stove or heat source, bamboo can burn easily. 

To mitigate that, a lot of instructions for using a bamboo steamer tell you to submerge the steamer partially in water to prevent it from scorching. I used this technique for the broccoli and the salmon fillet, but I decided to follow the frozen soup dumping package instructions that said to not submerge the steamer in water, but instead have the water level under the steamer's bottom, not touching it. Though some folks recommend soaking the steamer in water for 30 minutes to prevent scorching or burning, I also skipped this step so I could see how durable and burn-resistant the bamboo steamers were. I did, however, lower the temperature to medium-low heat, so the water was rapidly simmering but not at a full rolling boil. 

In the end, all of the steamer baskets passed this test without any evidence of scorching. That said, long-term use of directly placing the bamboo on a hot metal wok or over boiling water can eventually lead to scorching or burning. Both the Zest of Moringa set and HCooker set have a metal ring around the top and bottom of the steamer which helps prevent scorching, making them potentially better options in the long run.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Bamboo Steamer

a bamboo basket steamer with a piece of salmon inside. around the steamer are the words: durable, thick weave, and stacks easily
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin / Grace Kelly

The best bamboo steamers are made of durable bamboo with a thick weave on the top basket; even better if they are lined with metal, which can help prevent warping. Look for a two- or three-tier steamer with a lid, so you can steam more food at once. Make sure the bottom of the basket is flat so the food lies evenly inside. Finally, look for a steamer that stacks and nests easily; some steamers had very tight-fitting lids and baskets, which made them difficult to pull apart and put back together.

The Best Bamboo Steamers

What we liked: Cathy Erway, James Beard Award-winning food writer and author of The Food of Taiwan recommends getting a bamboo steamer that has many tiers. “They’re so useful and versatile—for steaming anything that can fit inside. Best to get ones that have vertical layers so you can steam a lot at once.” The HCooker steamer that we tested comes with three tiers, making it an exceptionally useful set. Broccoli steamed beautifully, with fork-tender (but not mushy) results, the soup dumplings cooked properly on both tiers and the salmon fillet was perfectly cooked. We also liked that this steamer was solidly built, with hardy 1/4-inch thick bamboo and metal rings that enforce the steamer and prevent warping. After repeated use, the rings helped the tiers to nest properly without sticking or needing to wiggle the tiers and lid apart.

What we didn’t like: The Hcooker set we tested was 9.4 inches in diameter, which was an odd size. (though it's also available in 8.4- and 10.6-inch sizes). This doesn’t affect its use at all, but it does make it a bit more challenging to find proper fitting, pre-cut parchment paper, which typically comes in 8-, 9-, or 10-inch diameter sizes. But, in the end, trimming parchment paper to fit the steamer or buying a 9-inch round paper that doesn’t quite reach the edges is really only a tiny annoyance for a bamboo steamer of this quality. After testing, we saw that the three-tier option is no longer available—however, we still think this is a great pick. 

Price at time of publish: $26.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 9 3/8 x 9 1/2 inches (stacked) 
  • Interior Depth of Basket: 1 7/8 inches
  • Material: Bamboo with stainless steel bands
  • Weight: 3 lbs, 7/8 ounces
  • Number of Baskets: 2 baskets, 1 lid
  • Cleaning and care: Hand-wash only with mild, fragrance-free detergent. Let dry thoroughly before storing.
hcooker bamboo steamer basket on marble surface with tile background
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: Food steamed nicely in this set and, after use, the tiers and lid nested properly without sticking or needing to wiggle them. And though there was slight warpage on the floor of the steamers, it was minimal and did not affect its use. It only comes with two tiers, but if you don’t use the bamboo steamer often or have a small family, two tiers are plenty. At such a low price point, it’s an exceptional deal and a great addition to your kitchen.

What we didn’t like: The bottom floor of Helen’s Asian Kitchen Bamboo Steamer buckled slightly, creating an uneven surface. But the warping was minor compared to some of the other bamboo steamers we tested.

Price at time of publish: $23.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 6 1/2 x 10 inches (stacked)
  • Interior Depth of Basket: 1 3/4 inches
  • Material: Bamboo
  • Weight: 2 lbs, 5 1/2 ounces
  • Number of Baskets: 2 baskets, 1 lid
  • Cleaning and care: Handwash only with mild, fragrance-free detergent. Let dry thoroughly before storing.
helens asian kitchen bamboo steamer on marble surface with white tile backdrop
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: The Prime Home Direct Bamboo Steamer Set performed well in all our tests, with minimal warping. It's a solidly built set with two tiers that fit easily together, even after multiple uses. It came with two basket tiers and a lid, as well as 50 paper liners, two sets of chopsticks, and a ceramic sauce dish for soy sauce or other dipping sauces. The set is competitively priced with other sets that don’t come with all the extras. If you are new to bamboo steamer cooking, it’s a great introduction set.

 What we didn’t like: The lid did arrive slightly dented, however, this was easily fixed by gently pushing it back into place. The steamer baskets are also shallower than other baskets we tested. However, this didn’t affect any of our tests and most likely wouldn’t make a difference with most food. But any food that is tall or bulky, like large vegetables or oversized bao, might not comfortably fit into the basket.

 Price at time of publish: $28.

 Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 5 5/8 x 10 inches (stacked)
  • Depth of Basket: 1 1/2 inches
  • Material: Bamboo
  • Weight: 1 lbs, 13 5/8 ounces
  • Number of Baskets: 2 baskets, 1 lid
  • Cleaning and care: Handwash only with mild, fragrance-free detergent. Let dry thoroughly before storing.
bamboo steamer basket in wok
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The Competition

  • Zest of Moringa Bamboo Steamer Basket: This set had great promise, with metal rings around the edges to prevent scorching and warping. It also came with a stainless steel ring and reusable silicone liners for the interior of the steamer. Unfortunately, the interior bamboo buckled and warped on one tier after our testing, making it difficult to nest and stack the steamer.
  • Joyce Chen 2-Tier Bamboo Steamer Baskets: This steamer basket had off-center holes in the floors, and the two tiers and the lid were initially difficult to nest together and pull apart. After testing, the floor of the steamer warped and became uneven and the tiers were even more difficult to separate and put together.
  • Norpro Bamboo Steamer: This bamboo steamer performed fine, but the weave on top of the lid seemed to be made of poor quality, and the uneven bamboo started to fray and split.
  • Town 34210 Bamboo Steamer: This steamer arrived damaged, with the lid completely unusable, so we could not test it. 
  • IKEA KLOCKREN steamer: The IKEA steamer was a different style of bamboo steamer with a floor tied together with bamboo string and the inset on the bottom of the steamer instead of the top. Though it performed fine, the uneven floor had a large empty spot on the edge that made it feel like it might not be suitable for delicate cooking, like flaky fish. The steamers also warped after use, making it difficult to stack and nest.
  • Sur La Table Bamboo Steamers: The Sur La Table’s bamboo steamer was solidly constructed but the bamboo used for the handle at the top of the lid started to fray on the interior after testing, and the interior bamboo ring of one of the tiers started to buckle and warp slightly.
  • Williams Sonoma Bamboo Steamer: This was the only set that we tested that had one tier instead of two or three. It performed fine, but the lid was warped.

FAQs

What are the advantages of a bamboo steamer?

Bamboo steamers are made of porous bamboo, which allows steam to absorb and escape instead of condensing and dripping back down on your food. This porous nature means delicate dumplings and steamed pork buns are cooked properly, aren’t soggy, and don’t develop tough skin. Bamboo steamers can also be stacked and nested, which allows you to cook more food or multiple types of food at once.

What should you do to a bamboo steamer before using it?

Some websites recommend soaking brand-new bamboo steamers in water for 30 minutes before using them to prevent scorching or burning. But as long as you place the steamer with its bottom edge in the water, this shouldn't be necessary—just make sure the bottom tier floor isn’t touching the water though. You want to steam the food, not boil it. If you steam without the water touching the bottom edge of the steamer, either soak the steamer initially, or make sure to reduce the heat so the water is at a simmer instead of a hard rolling boil, so the heat of the pan doesn’t burn or scorch the bamboo.

How long does a bamboo steamer last?

Bamboo steamers do not last forever. However, the lifespan of a bamboo steamer depends on how frequently you use them and how you take care of them. Make sure to handwash your bamboo steamer, and let it dry completely before storing it. A typical bamboo steamer should last anywhere from six months to a year if frequently used, but significantly longer if it is not used often and is stored properly. If there is any sign of mold or mildew, it’s time to replace the steamer.

How do you cook in a bamboo steamer?

Bamboo steamers are used with somewhat deep pots or woks, which allow you to rest the steamer in water. A wok is traditional and allows for various sizes of bamboo steamers. If you have a pot, you need to make sure you have one that is the right size for your bamboo steamer to fit on top. Or you can purchase a bamboo steamer ring that will allow you to place the steamer on any large pot. Food is typically placed on parchment paper rounds, cabbage leaves, dried and soaked bamboo or banana leaves, or in a plate or bowl set inside the steamer to prevent sticking For more information about cooking with a bamboo steamer check out our article: Wok Skills 101: Steaming.

How do you wash a bamboo steamer?

You should never run your bamboo steamer through a dishwasher. Instead, always handwash your bamboo steamer with a mild scent-free detergent, as the bamboo can absorb smells, including the scent of a dish detergent. Once clean, make sure to thoroughly air dry the steamer. Though the steamer may look dry after a day, it can still retain moisture and will mold or mildew if stored damp. It’s best to let the steamer dry for at least two or three days before storing. As an added precaution, I always store my bamboo steamer with desiccant packs, just in case.

Do I need a wok to use a bamboo steamer?

Though it is traditional to use a wok for a bamboo steamer, you can use any pot that the bamboo steamer will fit on (or into). If you do not have an appropriately sized pot for your steamer, you can also buy a bamboo steamer ring, that allows you to place it on various pots and then place the bamboo steamer on the ring.  

Why We’re the Experts

  • Irvin Lin is a food blogger and freelance writer who has written many reviews for Serious Eats, including stand mixers, half-sheet pans, and bowl scrapers
  • He is the author of the cookbook Marbled, Swirled, and Layered, which was chosen as one of the best baking cookbooks of 2016 by The New York Times. 
  • He is an IACP-award-winning photographer, an IACP-nominated blogger, and a blue-ribbon baker. 
  • For this review, we tested 10 bamboo steamer baskets by using them to cook broccoli, soup dumplings, and salmon. We also interviewed Cathy Erway, the James Beard Award-winning food writer and author of The Food of Taiwan, and food writer and blogger Lisa Lin.

Wolf Stand Mixer Review: Pricier Than a KitchenAid, but Is It Worth It?

We tested the Wolf stand mixer—using it to whip cream and make pound cake, pizza dough, and chocolate chip cookies.

a wolf stand mixer on a kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

I’m an enthusiastic baker who has a rather large stand mixer collection, which is highly unusual considering I live in a postage stamp-sized apartment where countertop real estate is tight. But while some folks shop for shoes or clothes, I’m constantly on the lookout for new kitchen equipment (much to my husband's chagrin).

While I do love my KitchenAids, I was mighty impressed with this Wolf Gourmet model when I reviewed stand mixers for this very site. However, it’s even *more* expensive than a KitchenAid (a harder sell to be sure!). So, to prove why it could be a good option for some bakers, I put it through even more tests, using it over the span of a few months. 

The Tests

butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin
  • Whipped Cream Test: I whipped one cup of heavy cream to see how easily the Wolf Gourmet stand mixer could handle a small amount of ingredients.  
  • Pound Cake Test: I made a loaf-shaped pound cake to test how well the mixer whipped and creamed air into the butter.
  • Pizza Dough Test: I made Neapolitan pizza dough to see how well the mixer kneaded stiff and sticky dough with its dough hook. I watched to see how much the dough “climbed” up the hook, how often I had to stop to adjust the dough in the bowl, and how the dough felt and looked after the 10-minute kneading time. 
  • Double and Triple Pizza Dough Test: I repeated the pizza dough test, doubling and then tripling the recipe, to see how easily the Wolf handled larger batches of stiff and sticky dough or if the motor struggled or heated up.
  • Half-Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies Test: I made a half batch of chocolate chip cookie dough to see how adequate the paddle attachment would cream a smaller amount of butter and sugar. The chocolate chip cookie dough was a also great test for the model’s “pulse” feature, which allows you to add in dry ingredients like flour and solid ingredients like chocolate chips in short mixing bursts.
  • Usability and Cleanup Tests: Throughout testing, I evaluated how easy the Wolf was to operate and how simple it was to add and remove its attachments and bowl. After every test, I cleaned the attachment and bowl by hand.

The Good

The Mixer Easily Tackled Larger Batches of Dough 

a stand mixer kneading a large batch of pizza dough
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The Wolf Gourmet stand mixer is a massive machine, with a 7-quart bowl. But just because a mixer has a large bowl, doesn’t mean it will easily work with big amounts of dough. I ran into this problem when testing the Instant stand mixer, which had a huge, 7.4-quart bowl. The Instant attachments were thin, cheap, and didn’t fit properly to the side of the bowl (there were large gaps), which led to under-kneading.

But the Wolf didn’t struggle at all with large batches of dough, mixing up a double batch of the Neapolitan pizza dough with ease. The dough kneaded up beautifully, without any of it creeping up onto the dough hook. Since doubling the dough proved to not be an issue, I decided to push the mixer a bit more and tripled the recipe, kneading just over six pounds of pizza dough. But the Wolf delivered, easily incorporating and kneading all the ingredients without struggling, stalling, overheating, or walking across the countertop. If you have a large family, like to make lots of pizza for friends, or run a side gig making bread for your local farmer’s market, this mixer might be your new best friend. 

It Could Also Handle Smaller Amounts

a closeup of cookie dough being mixed with a paddle attachment in the bowl of a stand mixer
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

If the Wolf could work with triple amounts of pizza dough, could it also handle smaller amounts of ingredients, properly mixing them? We whipped up a single cup of whipping cream to see if the whisk would adequately reach the bottom of the bowl. In short: It did, creating airy whipped cream easily.

Creaming butter and sugar together with the paddle attachment for a pound cake was also a breeze. The tight fit of the paddle attachment against the side of the bowl meant there was minimal need to scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate unmixed butter. The powerful motor easily incorporated and creamed the smaller amount of ingredients together to create the ideal pound cake, one that walked the line between solid and substantial but not heavy or dense.

The Mixer Was Intuitive to Operate and Had Nice Usability Features

The Wolf Gourmet comes with the brand’s signature red control knob on the side (though you can also swap out the knob for an included gray or black one). Easy to use, turning the mixer on just requires a simple twist of the knob, which increases the mixer’s speed incrementally. 

And though the knob does have numbers on it, to let you know how fast you are turning the mixer on, there are no automatic preset speeds for the mixer. This means the knob is infinitely variable, allowing you to adjust the speed to whatever you need for the recipe. This small touch is great for avid and professional bakers who like total control over how fast their mixer is when making their dough or batter. 

Even nicer is the “pulse” feature, which allows you to pulse on and off the mixer by turning the knob in the opposite direction of the numbers indicated. Much like pulsing a food processor or blender, the mixer's pulse feature allows you to slowly incorporate dry ingredients or add-ins. I made a half batch of chocolate chip cookie dough and then added the flour to the creamed butter and sugar. Instead of the flour flying up from the mixing bowl when the mixer turned on, the pulse feature allowed for the gentle incorporation of dry ingredients without dust or spillage.

Finally, the fitted bowl in the base locks into the mixer with a simple twist of the bowl. Unlike the KitchenAid Professional mixer, which requires you to lock the bowl into the mixer, and then use a side lever to raise the bowl up to the mixing attachment, the Wolf Gourmet only requires you to twist the bowl into the diagonal slots, which lifts the bowl up. Unlike other stand mixers where the bowl occasionally got stuck on the base or was difficult to attach or remove, the Wolf bowl smoothly inserted and moved up and down.

The Bad

Size and Cost Could Certainly Be An Issue 

A stainless steel stand mixer on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The biggest downside to the Wolf stand mixer is the size. It’s a huge machine, taking up a large amount of space. If you’re the sort of person with a small amount of countertop space, or if you are a more casual baker who likes to store their stand mixer and pull it out when you bake, this is probably not the mixer for you. The machine weighs nearly 26 pounds and is 17.5 inches tall and nearly 17 inches long. 

The Wolf Gourmet also costs a lot more than the KitchenAid 600 series does. In fact, nearly twice as much. Ouch.

The Verdict

The Wolf Gourmet is a great stand mixer for enthusiastic and professional bakers. It works exceptionally well for both large batches of dough and smaller amounts of batter. It’s intuitive and easy to use, with some nice features like the infinitely variable speed knob and the ability to pulse the mixer. If you have the countertop space and can afford the steep price, it’s a worthy addition to your kitchen.

Key Specs 

  • Weight: 25.8 pounds
  • Dimensions: 17.5 x 16.75 x 10.5 inches
  • Stated bowl capacity: 7 quarts
  • Wattage: 500 watts
  • Cord length: 38 inches 
  • Attachments: Paddle, dough hook, whisk, plus splash/pouring guard shield
  • Care instructions: Bowl is handwash-only; attachments and shield are dishwasher-safe (top rack)
  • Materials: Brushed stainless steel, die-cast construction
  • Price at time of publish: $995

FAQs

What is the Wolf Gourmet stand mixer made of?

The Wolf Gourmet stand mixer is made of brushed stainless steel, die-cast construction with a plastic base and knob. The knob is made of red plastic but can be swapped for a black or brushed stainless steel plastic knob which is also included.

Is the Wolf Gourmet Stand Mixer worth buying?

The Wolf Gourmet is an expensive machine, but it's worth buying if you bake a lot or are a professional baker. It easily mixes triple batches of pizza dough as well as small amounts of whipped cream and cookie dough, making it a versatile machine. It does cost a lot, though.

We Spent Months Testing Indoor Herb Gardens to Find Out Which Ones Worked Best

We tested eight popular indoor herb gardens to find out which was the easiest to use and grew herbs the best.

three indoor herb gardens growing herbs
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Confession: I do not have a green thumb. Years ago, back when I had a day job, a co-worker shamed me when they found out I didn’t have any plants in my home. So the following weekend, my husband and I went to the local plant shop and told the clerk, “We’d like a plant we can’t kill.” Spoiler alert: it lasted about a month before it died. 

But indoor herb gardens are supposed to be foolproof, and if anyone can put that claim to the test, it's me. Now, I love fresh herbs. However, I rarely use up the entire clamshell or bundle of store-bought herbs before they go bad. Indoor herb gardens offer a solution, allowing you to harvest the herbs you need (and only the amount you need!)—year-round.

To find the best indoor herb gardens, I tested eight of them. I sought out models that grew efficiently but were also customizable and easy to clean and maintain.

The Winners, at a Glance

The AeroGarden Harvest Elite can grow six different plants at once. Setup was easy and involved literally just popping a pod into the machine and adding water and plant food. The digital screen in front makes it mostly foolproof, telling you how long ago you started your garden as well as when to add more water or plant food. And, unlike other cheaper AeroGarden models, it also gives you a variety of options for different types of plants and a “vacation mode” that uses less water and light when you're away for extended periods of time.

If you are a budding gardener, but don’t have the outdoor space, or just want to grow specific plants that don’t come pre-packaged in pods, the iDOO Hydroponic System is the indoor garden for you. It was one of the more complicated models we tested, but also the most satisfying, since you can use any seeds. It’s also a great way to germinate and sprout seeds, allowing you to kick-start plants and then move them to a garden or pot.

If you live in a small apartment or by yourself and don’t need an abundance of fresh herbs, the Click & Grow Indoor Herb Garden is the best option. It was easy to use and maintain and had a slim profile, with only three pods.

The Tests

a measuring cup pouring water into an indoor herb garden
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin
  • Herb Test: We set up each indoor herb garden, following the manufacturer's instructions, and took note of the difficulty of installing, maintaining, and harvesting herbs. We recorded how long it took for the herbs to grow, as well as how easy it was to add water and/or plant food. We also cleaned each unit after an entire grow cycle was completed.
  • Usability Tests: We evaluated displays, buttons, and how easy it was to know when to water the herbs. We tested any apps that came with units and we researched what sort of additional pods or plants were available for each model.

What We Learned

All of the Herb Gardens Were Easy to Use

The indoor herb gardens we tested were all surprisingly easy to use; they’re the garden equivalent to a Keurig or Nespresso machine, where all you need to do is pop a pod or cartridge into the machine, add water, and plug it in. (Others allow you to add seeds of your choosing.) Some do require a little more work, like adding plant food every two weeks. And, occasionally you need to clean the tank and prune the plants. But the amount of work required is minimal, with some units even alerting you via a flashing button, screen, or mobile app notification when water or plant food is needed.

How Do Indoor Herb Gardens Work?

a closeup look at aerogarden herb pods
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Indoor herb gardens claim to be foolproof, and they mostly are. But you can't just set up the machine and forget about it. You do need to maintain them, albeit pretty nominally. Most indoor herb gardens work by providing pods with seeds already planted in them.

To use them, place the pods into the machine, cover them with the humidity domes, and then add water to the base. Plug the garden in and it'll automatically start the growing cycle, with light and water circulation. Some gardens require plant food added to the water at regular intervals (two weeks), while others have the plant food built into the pods themselves. Most machines also have you clean them once a month, otherwise, algae or mold can grow, damaging the plants.

Once the sprouting starts, it’s pretty fun to watch the plants grow. But pruning is important, as faster-growing plants will hog the light. Once you get the hang of things, it’s like you’re actually gardening, albeit in a totally low-key manner without the weeding, bugs, and sweat. The result is fresh herbs or small vegetables (like cherry tomatoes) grown inside with minimal work.

Finding the Right-Sized Garden for Your Home (and One With the Right Features)

three indoor herb gardens
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Depending on your household, getting a big indoor herb garden might not be the best choice. Larger units like the AeroGarden Bounty Elite and Click & Grow Smart Garden 9 offer numerous pods to grow lots of plants, including small vegetables. The AeroGarden Bounty Elite is the size of a regular toaster oven, taking up even more vertical space when the light is extended fully. The Click & Grow Smart Garden 9 is about twice as large as the Bounty Elite, at two feet wide—the width of the inside of a standard oven. But not everyone needs or wants bountiful amounts of various herbs...nor might they have the space for these behemoth models. For those with compact kitchens, opt for smaller units like the Click & Grow. Its slim, 5-inch profile is thinner than a loaf of grocery store sandwich bread.

As far as features, if you travel a lot, pick a garden like the AeroGarden Harvest Elite, which offers a vacation mode that stalls plant growth by limiting water and light exposure. And if you want to plant and grow your own selection of herbs or vegetables, opt for the iDOO so you can grow from your own seeds. (You can also purchase the “Grow Anything” kit for your Aerogarden for this purpose.)

Light Height Was Important

a white indoor herb garden
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

All of the indoor herb gardens had adjustable light arms. This allows you to lower the lights closer to the seeds, which helps them germinate faster. Then, as the plants grow, you can move the lights higher to accommodate them. But some lights start off fairly tall, like on the Veritable, and taller lights meant less intensity and slower growth. The Veritable garden took an extra week to germinate, and the plants took nearly twice as long to grow as tall as other indoor gardens.  If you’re impatient, choose an herb garden that has adjustable lights that are set low at first, like the AeroGarden Harvest, Harvest Elite, or Bounty Elite. These had some of the faster-growing plants, like dill and basil, sprouting in less than a week. Otherwise, a little patience will result in growth, regardless of the height of the lights. 

No Indoor Herb Garden Was 100%

a hand removing a pod from an indoor herb garden
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

When we mentioned that the gardens were mostly foolproof, we meant that they were pretty easy to use. But we did experience minor fail rates, mostly due to user error, with a few pods across all the brands. For example, a few plants sprouted but then withered and died because adjacent plants hogged the light.

There could be environmental factors, like placing the unit too close to an open window or a hot environment like the stove or oven. Some brands, like Aerogarden and Click & Grow, have a guarantee that their pre-seeded pods will grow. If they don’t, you can contact their product support, send a picture of the pod that hasn’t sprouted, and they will send you a replacement. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in an Indoor Herb Garden

an indoor herb garden on a grey countertop
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The best indoor herb gardens sprout and grow quickly and are relatively easy to use. It's also nice if they tell you when to prune and where to place herbs for best success (i.e., fast-growing herbs shouldn't be right next to each other or they'll block the light). Depending on what you're looking for, consider the herb garden's features, like whether you want to plant any seeds or desire a vacation mode. The herb gardens should also be easy to clean.

The Best Indoor Herb Gardens

What we liked: We tested four Aerogardens and found the Harvest Elite was somewhere in the middle of the pack: medium in size with space for six plants, which is ideal for most folks, giving you a variety of herbs without creating a veritable jungle.

Like the other AeroGarden models, the Elite's setup was easy (involving just dropping the provided pods into the opening and adding water and plant food). Unlike some of the cheaper models, though, there is a digital screen. Once you plug it in you have to set the clock and choose the mode you want. The digital screen tells you when you need to add water or plant food, as well as how long it has been since you started the garden. Once a month, you need to clean out the bottom water well to make sure no algae or other undesirable growth is happening in there. However, this is easy, as the top of the unit comes off, allowing you to empty and wipe out the inside.

The digital screen also allows you to access modes for various lighting cycles. Growing different plants like flowers, vegetables, salads, and herbs requires varying amounts of light. You can also set a custom mode, which allows you to turn the lights on and off whenever you want. We found one of the more useful modes to be the vacation mode, which uses less water and only turns the light on for shorter periods of time, so the plants don’t grow as fast when you're gone.

What we didn’t like: While we found the setup to be easy, there was very little documentation or instructions that came with the garden. Thankfully there are plenty of YouTube videos and blogs that show you how to use the Harvest Elite and its various settings. It's also the most expensive of our winners.

Price at time of publish: $159.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 10.5 x 6.125 x 11 inches
  • Comes with: Pod garden unit with LED grow lights, 6 pod seed kit, grow domes, plant food, power adapter
  • Number of pods: 6
  • Warranty: 1-year limited
  • Good to know: Guaranteed to germinate; will replace pods if they do not
an aerogarden herb garden with herbs in it
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: The iDOO Hydroponics Growing System is different from other gardens in that the pods do not have any seeds in them. Instead, you have to separately purchase seeds and “plant” them in the pods, allowing you to grow whatever you want. Planting involves adding the seeds to the hole in the middle of the sponge and might require a tiny spoon or tweezers as herb seeds can be pretty small (think the size of a poppy seed). 

The unit has adjustable, LED lights and a fan (to aid in pollination, if needed). Cleaning the machine was fairly easy as well, with a drain hole in the back of the unit that allows you to empty the water easily.

In short: the iDOO is a great option for those who want to be a little more involved or like to pick the plants they want to purchase (as opposed to buying the pre-seeded pods other brands offer).

What we didn’t like: The iDOO was the hardest indoor herb garden to set up. It's also fairly wide.

Price at time of publish: $70.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 13.5 x 10.25 x 10 inches
  • Comes with: Pod garden with LED grow lights, plastic pods and grow sponges, grow domes, 2 bottles of plant food, power adapter
  • Number of pods: 12
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Good to know: No guarantee about germinating or sprouting
an indoor herb garden with herbs and greens in it
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: The Click & Grow Indoor Herb Garden is a slim and modern-looking machine that takes up very little countertop real estate. It has spots for three pods and an adjustable light that comes with two extra “arms” that extend the light higher up as the plants grow. It was the easiest unit to use, requiring just the addition of the pods and water and plugging it in. There’s no need to add plant food (it’s in the pod soil) nor does it have any buttons at all. The minute you plug it in, the Click & Grow is set to turn on for 18 hours and then turn off for six hours, cycling this way until you unplug it.

Cleanup is practically unnecessary as well. Roots stay within the pod and do not grow into the water. Instead, the pods have a paper stem wick that sucks up water via the capillary effect, keeping the bottom water well clean and self-watering the seeds and soil. The space where you add water has a floating bobble that lowers as the water is sucked up into the pods and plants, so you know to add water when the bobble is depressed. Otherwise, you just wait until the plants start to grow and then harvest as needed.

What we didn’t like: Because the arms are set heights (and not variable like other machines) at two inches, seven inches, and 12 inches, and there are only three spots for the lights over each pod, the plants do grow a little slower than other machines (the further away the light, the less growth).

Price at time of publish: $75.

Key Specs

  • Dimensions: 12 x 4.75 x 9 inches
  • Comes with: Pod garden with LED grow lights, 3 pod seed kit, grow domes, power adapter, 2 additional arm extensions for lights (adding 5 inches per leg)
  • Number of pods: 3
  • Warranty: 2-year
  • Good to know: Guaranteed to germinate; will replace pods if they do not
the click and grow herb garden with herbs in it
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The Competition

  • Veritable Smart Artic White Indoor Vegetable Garden: The Veritable Smart Indoor Vegetable garden was similar to the Click & Grow with a modern design and a bobble that lowers as the water is sucked up. But the light is initially set relatively high from the plants and that means the plants germinate and grow very slowly. Worse was some of the seeds never germinated, even after 45 days.
  • AeroGarden Harvest: AeroGarden Harvest is a slightly cheaper model of the Harvest Elite without a digital display. It’s a good indoor garden, but the digital display on the Harvest Elite allows for more customized light modes and a vacation mode; it also conveniently tells you how long you have been growing your plants and when to feed or water them, making it a superior indoor garden.
  • AeroGarden Bounty Elite: The Bounty Elite is a much larger indoor garden, capable of growing nine different plants, with a large color digital display with all the capabilities of the Harvest Elite; it also features an app that reminds you when to add water or plant food, as well as gives you tips on your garden. It’s a great garden for those folks who have space and want to grow many plants, but the price is significantly higher than the Harvest Elite.
  • AeroGarden Sprout: This small three-plant Aerogarden works fine but felt and looked a bit cheap, with the entire unit made of thick plastic.
  • Click & Grow Smart Garden 9: This nine-unit garden was the largest indoor garden tested. It performed well but the machine felt really, really large, taking up a lot of space.

FAQs

How much light does an indoor herb garden need? 

All of the indoor herb gardens tested have built-in lights so there is no need for additional lighting. Some indoor herb gardens have specific-colored lights, which are designed to help with plant growth.

How do you start an indoor herb garden? 

Each indoor herb garden is different, but most of them have minimal setup. Typically, they require you to assemble the machine, add the pods into the slots, add water, and plug it in. Some require adding plant food. However, that's really it.

Where can you buy indoor herb garden pods?

You can buy indoor herb garden pods online or at a local hardware store.

Why Bamboo Cutting Boards Are Terrible for Your Knives

Here’s why we seriously advise against bamboo cutting boards—and what to buy instead (with tested recommendations).

three wooden cutting boards on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Despite appearances, bamboo is actually grass, not wood, and it sprouts up surprisingly fast; some bamboo varieties grow up to 36 inches in just 24 hours. This makes it a sustainable, cheap material for any number of products, including building materials, furniture, paper, clothing, and cutting boards. 

Bamboo cutting boards, in particular, have become increasingly popular. They’re cheap, with one of the most popular 18 x 12 cutting boards on Amazon selling for only $16 (compared to the $215 of our favorite The Boardsmith model). They are naturally anti-microbial (though less so than natural wood), somewhat water resistant, and relatively low maintenance. They don't require you to season and maintain them as often as wood. Because of all this, bamboo cutting boards sound pretty appealing. However, they're terrible for your knives.

Why Are Bamboo Cutting Boards So Bad? 

three bamboo cutting boards on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

One of the best features of bamboo is also the reason why it’s bad for blades: bamboo is durable, hard, and strong. Most bamboo has a tensile strength of about 28,000 pounds per square inch. That’s the amount of pressure or stress that can be placed on the bamboo before it cracks or breaks. To put into perspective, steel has a tensile strength of 23,000 pounds per square inch. 

Not only is bamboo strong, it’s also hard. Bamboo hardness is attributed to the high percentage of silica. Silica goes by a couple of different names, including silicon dioxide and quartz, and is the main component of ceramic and glass. (Bamboo leaf ash has actually been used as an ingredient component for ceramic glazes.) This means chopping on a bamboo cutting board is akin to doing so on a slab of porcelain or glass, something we recommend strongly against. And when you take a knife, made of steel, and hit it against a material that's as hard and strong as bamboo, the softer material is the one that is going to give and become dull and damaged.

After repeated strokes of a chef's knife on each cutting board, we tried to slice parchment paper with the knife to see how the blade's sharpness has changed.
See this? A sad knife that has a hard time slicing through paper. You don't want that!Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

For these reasons, a lot of knife and food professionals are pretty adamant against bamboo cutting boards. Bernal Cutlery in San Francisco feels so strongly about bamboo cutting boards that they offer a discount to folks who “turn in” their old bamboo cutting boards for new wood ones. Josh Donald, co-owner of Bernal Cutlery, says, “We can usually tell when someone is using a bamboo board with their knives as the edge is usually mashed in a bit or has small chips depending on the hardness of the knife's steel.”

Jared Schmidt, co-founder Schmidt Bros. agreed with that sentiment. "Bamboo cutting boards are great for their natural density, which helps to seal and protect the board against water damage and bacteria build-up.  However, they are pretty brutal on your knife edge due to the hardness of the bamboo.  While you can get away with light chopping on bamboo boards, we recommend end-grain cutting boards because they offer a high level of softness to reduce unnecessary knife dulling."  

What Cutting Board Material Should You Buy Instead?

Earl Gonzalez, master woodworker at EVG Design recommends “maple and walnut wood.'" (In fact, our favorite wooden cutting board, from The BoardSmith, is made from maple.) Donald, of Bernal Cutlery, agrees and also recommends Japanese Hinoki wood, a Cypress relative, if you use Japanese knives. “Hardwoods, like Maple and Walnut, will allow the knife to slide over them more than softwoods,” Donald says. “The hinoki cutting boards grab the knife edge a little more, as it’s a dense softwood, but it offers the best protection for the edges of very hard Japanese knives.”

FAQs

What’s the best cutting board? 

When we tested wooden cutting boards we ended up agreeing with Gonzalez and Donald, picking maple as our favorite material. We liked the Boardsmith Maple end grain cutting board, Brooklyn Butcher Block end-grain Maple cutting board, and the Brooklyn Butcher Block edge-grain Maple cutting board to all be great cutting boards. We also liked the Ironwood Gourmet Acacia wood cutting board as well, as a more budget friendly option. 

Why are sharp knives important?

Experienced cooks know that a dull knife can be dangerous, as it is more prone to slipping and sliding. Keeping your knife sharp means honing it regularly and sharpening it when you feel it gets too dull.

Which knives are more durable? 

Knives are rated on a Rockwell scale of hardness. Japanese-style knives tend to be thinner and harder, maintaining their edges longer. But they are also more fragile and can shatter or chip easily. Harder metal is more difficult to sharpen, too. Conversely, Western- or German-style knives are made of softer, thicker metal. This means they dull quicker, but are more durable.

The Fellow Atmos Is the Only Coffee Canister We Actually Recommend

After testing, we didn’t find coffee canisters were worth it. That is, except the vacuum-sealed one from Fellow.

Fellow Atmos Coffee Canister
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

It’s no secret amongst friends and colleagues that my husband and I are coffee enthusiasts. I’m talking about the sort of person that owns multiple burr grinders, various pour-over and French press devices, a couple of gooseneck kettles, and a number of our favorite travel mugs.

But when the pandemic hit a few years ago and all our local coffee shops and roasters closed their brick-and-mortar stores, we started buying coffee beans in bulk online from them. And though all our local coffee shops have since re-opened, we still occasionally purchase a 5-pound bulk bag because it’s just significantly cheaper and more convenient. 

Buying in such large quantities meant we had to figure out how to store the beans in a way that kept them fresh. Thankfully we already owned a couple of Fellow Atmos coffee canisters—and we quickly bought more of them. 

Fellow Atmos Coffee Canister
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Roasted coffee beans start to degrade in quality the minute air hits them through a process called oxidation. Coffee beans (and also the liquid coffee that is brewed from the beans) contain hundreds of flavor and aroma molecules. Those molecules react with the oxygen in the air and bond with it, losing their flavor and aroma the longer they are exposed to air. It’s the same process that causes cast iron skillets to rust if you haven’t properly seasoned them, or a sliced apple to turn brown if left out.

But if you minimize the air that touches the beans, they'll last longer. Retail coffee bags do this by using plastic one-way valves that are often embedded into the back of the bag. The valve allows gas to exit the bag, but no air to enter it. Freshly roasted beans continue to expel carbon dioxide for up to four to five days after their initial roasting, so the one-way valve is important, otherwise, the bag would expand and potentially explode. Actually, keeping coffee in a sealed bag is one of the best ways to preserve the freshness of beans (as we found in our testing here).

Fellow Atmos Coffee Canister
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

But once you open the bag, the coffee is exposed to air and starts to degrade. Most coffee storage containers try to preserve freshness by creating an airtight seal or displacing the air. But any air already in the storage container with the beans can still degrade and oxidize them, as we found out when we tested three popular coffee canisters. The Fellow Atmos is different, though: it has a vacuum seal.

The trick is in the lid itself. Pour the coffee beans into the container, place the lid on top, then twist the lid. Continue to twist the lid, pumping the air out of the container, until a little button drops down and shows green. This indicates the air has been pumped out. Much like the vacuum sealing cork stoppers for wine bottles, the lack of air in the container means the beans will stay fresher for longer (as we explained here, "it kept coffee the freshest and the best-tasting of the bunch of canisters we tested.") I've found the seal holds up well for two to three deals if left alone. To open the container, just press the center button, and air will be let in, allowing you to lift off the lid with minimal effort.

Fellow Atmos Coffee Canister
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The Fellow Atmos containers come in matte black, matte white, and clear. The matte black and white are sleek and modern in appearance, a handsome addition to our countertop along with all of our other coffee gear. They also have the added bonus of keeping light out (light can degrade coffee beans, too). But there is something to be said about the convenience of clear glass, as you always know exactly how many coffee beans you have at a glance. And as long as you keep the glass containers behind a pantry door, light shouldn’t be an issue.

FAQs

Should you store coffee in its bag?

In our testing, we found resealable bags with one-way valves do a fine job at storing coffee. In fact, we don't think most coffee canisters are worthwhile (read: they won't keep coffee fresher than the bag its comes in)—with the exception of vacuum-sealed canisters like the Fellow Atmos.

We Tested 10 Stand Mixers—Four Stood Out Above the Rest

We tested 10 popular stand mixers to find out which ones performed the best and were the easiest to use.

three stand mixers on a grey surface
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

A vast majority of baking recipes call for a stand mixer. And we’ve long recommended the KitchenAid Professional Series 600 Stand Mixer: it’s wicked powerful, has a flat-bottomed bowl suitable for double-boiling or using on the stovetop, can tackle nearly any recipe, and has a handful of other helpful, notable features that you can read about here

However, stand mixers are expensive—and take up a lot of countertop real estate. You want to be sure you’re getting the right one for money, needs, and space. So, we decided to (finally!) test 10 popular stand mixers (including the Professional Series 600) to find the unequivocal best ones. 

The Winners, at a Glance

The professional 600 series has a generous 6-quart bowl that allows for a large amount of dough or batter. However, the attachments are designed to mix closely to the bottom and sides of the bowl, so even smaller batches mix up evenly. The more vertical-shaped bowl also means that ingredients didn’t go flying or splashing out of the bowl when added. And the powerful 575-watt motor ensures the mixer doesn’t strain when you’re kneading stiff pizza or bread dough.

The KitchenAid Artisan series mixer is a 325-watt tilt-head stand mixer that is smaller, lighter, and less powerful than the above Professional Series. But it sacrifices power to be small enough to either store in a pantry or on the countertop without dominating the entire area. And it still had enough strength to cream butter, whip egg whites and heavy cream, and make pizza dough without struggling too much.

If you bake professionally or bake large batches of items frequently, the Wolf Gourmet is a great option. The stand mixer is one of the heaviest and largest machines we tested, and its bowl securely locks into its base. But the 500-watt motor easily creamed butter, whipped up heavy cream, and kneaded dough. And the generous 7-quart bowl was large enough to double the recipe amount we tested.

With an extra-large capacity, this super-stable stand mixer kneaded dough exceptionally well (it also was surprisingly fast at aerating whipped cream). While it's expensive and has a learning curve, for serious bread bakers, it may be well worth it.

The Tests

Two dough balls on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin
  • Whipped Cream Test: We whipped one cup of heavy cream (sans gums or stabilizers) to see how easily the stand mixers could handle a small amount of ingredients.  
  • Pound Cake Test: We picked pound cake because the majority of its leavening is mechanical, created by whipping and creaming air into butter, with no or minimal assistance from chemical leaveners like baking powder or baking soda. We started out with a combination of room-temperature butter and cream cheese, beating with the paddle attachment, to see how that fared. We then sprinkled in sugar to see how fluffy the mixture got. Then, we slowly drizzled in a beaten egg to see if we could maintain the emulsified mixture. Then, we baked the pound cake to see if there was any difference in the final cake rise and crumb. 
  • Pizza Dough Test: We made Neapolitan pizza dough to see how well the mixer kneaded stiff and sticky dough with its dough hook. We checked to see how much the dough “climbed” up the hook, how often we had to stop to adjust the dough in the bowl, and how the dough felt and looked after the 10-minute kneading time. 
  • Usability and Cleanup Tests: Throughout testing, we evaluated how easy each stand mixer was to operate and how simple it was to add and remove its attachments and bowl. After every test, we cleaned the attachment and bowl by hand.

What We Learned

How Do Stand Mixers Work?

A person adjusting the speed dial on a KitchenAid stand mixer
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Stand mixers have a bowl attached to the base. Typically, they have one attachment that rotates in what’s called planetary action—meaning it moves in a circular motion while the bowl stays put. It’s sort of like how to the earth rotates around the sun. This rotating, circulating attachment ensures ingredients are evenly distributed and mixed (ideally).

Larger Attachments Were Generally Better

A closeup look at a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

To be an effective stand mixer, the attachments have to fit the bowl shape. Mixer attachments need to come close to the bottom and sides of the bowl so that ingredients can smear, fluff, or stretch properly. The poorest performing mixers all had attachments that were set too far away from the bottom and sides of the bowl. Whipped cream in the Instant 7.4-Quart Stand Mixer had liquid at the sides and bottom, requiring you to constantly stop the mixer to scrape and incorporate the liquid cream. Pizza dough crept up the dough hook of the Smeg 50’s Retro Stand Mixer enough that we had to stop the kneading multiple times to pull it off the top. And Breville’s The Bakery Chef Stand Mixer’s paddle attachment didn’t come close enough to the metal bowl side to adequately cream the butter or incorporate the sugar, which meant we had to constantly stop and scrape down its sides. 

Our winners had attachments that perfectly fit their bowls, letting the machine do its job with minimal help from the user. 

A Stand Mixer Shouldn't Be Tough to Use

A closeup look at a stand mixer's control panel
KitchenAid stand mixers are exceedingly simple to turn on and off.Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Our winning stand mixers all had intuitive buttons, knobs, switches and levers that we could immediately figure out. The KitchenAid Professional 600 and the Artisan stand mixers had switches on the side that you use to increase or decrease the speed of the mixer. Easy.

The Wolf Gourmet had a large control knob dial in Wolf’s signature red color (though the mixer comes with exchangeable black and stainless steel dials) that smoothly turned on the mixer. It has 10 settings, with clear, printed numbers on the dial. There’s even a “pulse” mode on the Wolf—a nice addition when you don’t want a continuous spinning paddle, like when adding dry ingredients or mix-ins like chocolate chips.

We'll admit that the Ankarsrum has more of a learning curve to operate (you don't add ingredients in the typical way, which you can read about here), but once you got the hang of it, it was fine. What wasn't fine: touchscreens. With this style of interface, adding or increasing speed became annoying, as you had to press the plus or minus button repeatedly, then press start. 

We Preferred Bowls with Handles

A person pouring batter from a stand mixer bowl into a loaf pan
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Though it seems like a small detail, having a handle on the bowl actually made a difference. Pouring batter or scraping out the dough was significantly easier to do when you could hold the bowl with one hand and tilt it.

Mixers that had bowls with large, comfortable handles were also easier to lift off and place back on the stand mixer. The KitchenAid Classic bowl in particular tended to jam tightly when we kneaded pizza dough due to the direction the dough hook spun, and it was exceedingly difficult to remove the handleless bowl afterward.

Your Stand Mixer Shouldn’t Go for a Walk

three stand mixers side-by-side
See these stand mixers? They were all stable.Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Walking is great, unless you’re a stand mixer. In which case, you want it to stand still when it’s working. Some mixers are prone to “walking” across the countertop as they knead dough or rapidly cream butter. Most stand mixers are heavy for a reason, as their weight helps keep the mixer stationary. For example, our favorite stand mixers from KitchenAid and Wolf weighed 19.4 to 25.8 pounds. 

Some lighter mixers have suction cup feet to keep them steady. However, we found these annoying to use and move. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Stand Mixer

a closeup of a black stand mixer
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The best stand mixers can mix, cream, and knead ingredients thoroughly without any issues. Attachments should properly fit in the bowl, with minimal clearance on both the bowl bottom and sides, ensuring the stand mixers can handle both large and small amounts of ingredients with ease. 

Look for a stand mixer that is also easy to operate. The mixer should have simple and intuitive speed adjustments as well as straightforward methods of adding and removing its bowl and attachments. Heavier stand mixers are more stable and less prone to walking. More powerful motors ensure that the mixer can knead doughs of all hydrations and stickiness, without strain.

What we liked: The Professional series 600 stand mixer is a powerful machine with a 575-watt motor that kneads stiff and sticky doughs with ease. Because its attachments are well-designed and are properly aligned closely to the sides and bottom of the bowl, it does well with smaller amounts of ingredients as well. It whipped up a cup of heavy cream easily and smoothly and creamed butter to make a classic pound cake.

The large 6-quart bowl is big enough for double batches, though, and is shaped in such a way that dry ingredients don’t fly up when added and liquid ingredients don’t splash out when initially mixed. The lever on the side of the mixer makes it easy to lower the bowl, giving you better access to add ingredients or scrape down the sides when needed. Finally, it's very easy to adjust its speed.

We’ve recommended this stand mixer for years, and our recommendation holds up after testing. 

What we didn’t like: The bowl doesn’t twist on, but instead has arms and notches it rests on. Making sure the bowl is on and settled can be a little finicky at times. It’s a fairly large stand mixer, too, for those with limited countertop space. 

Price at time of publish: $550.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 23.2 pounds
  • Dimensions: 16.5 inches high x 14.5 inches long x 11.25 inches wide
  • Stated bowl capacity: 6 quarts
  • Wattage: 575 watts
  • Cord length: 40 inches 
  • Attachments: Paddle, dough hook, whisk, plus splash/pouring guard
  • Care instructions: Paddle, dough hook, shield, and bowl are dishwasher-safe; whisk is handwash-only 
  • Materials: Stainless steel bowl, metal, plastic 
a black kitchenaid stand mixer on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: For folks who don’t bake as often but still want a top-of-the-line stand mixer, the KitchenAid Artisan series is a great option. With a 325-watt motor, it’s less powerful than its Professional sibling, but still does a great job creaming butter, whipping heavy cream, and making cake batter and cookie dough. The smaller size means it doesn’t take as much space on the countertop, but the 5-quart bowl is still big enough for most baking projects.

Because the Artisan series has less power and a tilt-head, it does struggle a bit with stiffer bread and pizza doughs. However, it still got the job done, producing a smooth dough without heating up or becoming too loud. The Artisan series is solidly constructed and doesn’t move much when in use, as long as you knead the dough at a lower speed. It also has a variety of attachments that you can purchase for it, making it an exceptionally versatile kitchen appliance.

What we didn’t like: The motor is a little less powerful than other stand mixers, so it does struggle a bit with stiffer doughs. 

Price at time of publish: $400.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 19.4 pounds
  • Dimensions: 13.5 inches high x 13.75 inches long x 8.75 inches wide 
  • Stated bowl capacity: 5 quarts
  • Wattage: 325 watts
  • Cord length: 38 inches 
  • Attachments: Paddle, dough hook, whisk, plus splash/pouring guard
  • Care instructions: Paddle, dough hook, shield, and bowl are dishwasher-safe; whisk is handwash-only 
  • Materials: Stainless steel bowl, metal, plastic 
a red stand mixer on a marble surface
Serious Etas / Irvin Lin

What we liked: If you’re a professional baker or frequently bake in large batches, the Wolf Gourmet High Performance Stand Mixer might be the machine for you. It has a large 7-quart bowl that twists and moves up and down as you lock it into place, which helps keep the machine ultra-stable—even during sticky, tough tasks. 

The large bowl also mixes up smaller batches just fine. It made airy whipped cream, creamed butter, and easily kneaded the pizza dough without struggling. It also had some nice features, like a pulse option and more adjustable speed settings.

What we didn’t like: There’s no way to get around it: this is a huge machine.  It takes up a lot of real estate on your countertop, and might not fit under some cabinets (measure first). And it weighs a lot, so moving or storing it is pretty difficult. It’s also a very expensive machine—nearly twice as much as the KitchenAid Professional 600. 

Price at time of publish: $995.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 25.8 pounds
  • Dimensions: 17.5 inches high x 16.75 inches long x 10.5 inches wide
  • Stated bowl capacity: 7 quarts
  • Wattage: 500 watts
  • Cord length: 38 inches 
  • Attachments: Paddle, dough hook, whisk, plus splash/pouring guard shield
  • Care instructions: Bowl is handwash-only; attachments and shield are dishwasher-safe (top rack-only)
  • Materials: Brushed stainless steel, die-cast construction
A stainless steel stand mixer on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: Unlike many stand mixers, which use planetary rotation (e.g. the mixing arm spins while the bowl remains stationary), the Ankarsrum spins the bowl—we know, mind blown. As we noted in our review, this setup allows it to have a larger bowl capacity (seven liters versus the 6-quart of the KitchenAid Professional Series) and also means it can mix at higher speeds. It also features a unique kneading paddle, quite unlike the dough hook you might be used to. In our testing, we found it quickly and efficiently kneaded bread—which is why many bakers of loaves love it so much. We also found that the whisk attachment excelled at aerating whipped cream, doing so in a mere 35 seconds (!!). 

What we didn't like: There's no getting around it: the Ankarsrum isn't exactly intuitive to use if you're used to a planetary stand mixer. It requires adding ingredients in a certain order (liquids and soft things, like butter, go first before dry ingredients) and finagling the head, which can be adjusted to swing closer to the center of the bowl or the edge, takes some getting used to.

Key Specs

  • Weight: 28 pounds
  • Dimensions: 18.5 x 18 inches
  • Stated bowl capacity: 7 quarts
  • Wattage: 600 watts
  • Cord length: 78 inches 
  • Attachments: Dough roller, scraper, kneading hook, two single-wire beaters, two multi-wire beaters, plastic bowl, lid, metal bowl
  • Care instructions: Attachments and bowls are dishwasher-safe; to clean the exterior of the machine, wipe down with a damp rag before drying
  • Materials: Plastic, stainless steel
the ankarsrum with the plastic bowl and lid, with the beater attachment used to make whipped cream
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The Competition

  • Breville’s Bakery Chef Stand Mixer: This stand mixer had a lot of great features, including a built-in timer and a light that shines right into the bowl when the mixer is turned on. It also came with extras like a glass mixing bowl and a scraper blade. But when we tested the metal bowl for whipped cream, we found the whisk attachment didn’t mix quite as close to the bowl edge or bottom as other mixers, leaving a liquidy section. The smaller metal bowl also had a lower capacity and its thin, metal handle wasn’t comfortable to hold.
  • Smeg 50’s Retro Stand Mixer: This retro-, futuristic-looking stand mixer looks like it came off of the set of Bewitched or The Jetsons. And the slick-coated attachments were super easy to clean. But, unfortunately, the paddle attachment mixed too far away from the side and bottoms of the bowl, leaving a film of greasy butter that needed to be manually scraped and incorporated frequently while making pound cake. The mixer does come with a scraper blade, which might solve this issue, but kneading the pizza dough was also problematic. The dough kept creeping up the hook.
  • Instant 7.4-Quart Stand Mixer Pro: This budget-friendly stand mixer, from the folks that brought you the Instant Pot, seemed like a great idea. It weighed less than other mixers but had suction cup feet to help compensate and prevent the mixer from moving. However, we don’t love these feet: they make it harder to lift and move the mixer. It also had performance and usability issues (we didn’t like the touchscreen interface). 
  • KitchenAid Classic Series Tilt Head Stand Mixer: This entry-level KitchenAid mixer had a low-powered 275-watt motor, but still did a respectable job creaming, whipping, and kneading. But there was some noticeable strain on the motor when kneading the pizza dough and the smaller bowl and lack of a handle on it made it less user-friendly.
  • Cuisinart 5.5 Quart Stand Mixer: This reasonably-priced stand mixer was easy to use and clean. It did a great job with whipped cream and cake batter, but it struggled to knead pizza dough. The motor became extremely warm and made an alarming sound.
  • Frigidaire 4.5 L Retro Stand Mixer: This stand mixer looks cool and was very reasonably priced. But it performed poorly in all of our tests, with the motor running too hot and struggling with dough. The lightweight mixer also moved continually around the countertop when on.

FAQs

What is a stand mixer? 

A stand mixer has a bowl attached to a stand or base, and a motor that powers attachments that mix, whip, or knead ingredients inside the bowl. Stand mixers come in a variety of colors, styles, and shapes. They are used to make the dough and batter for baking projects like cookies, cakes, brownies, and breads, automating the otherwise tedious repetitive task of stirring, whisking, or kneading.

What’s the best KitchenAid stand mixer? 

The Professional 600 series stand mixer is the best KitchenAid stand mixer. It has a robust 575-watt motor that easily kneads stiff bread and pizza dough, but also does a great job at smaller tasks.

Are any stand mixers as good as KitchenAid? 

We love KitchenAid stand mixers, but we also found the Wolf Gourmet stand mixer to be a great option, especially if you’re a professional baker that wants a large capacity stand mixer. It features a 7-quart bowl and has a more variable speed dial.

What’s the best tilt-head stand mixer? 

We found the KitchenAid Artisan series had the best tilt-head mixer in our testing. It creamed butter efficiently and kneaded pizza dough with minimal strain. It was also easy and intuitive to use.

Why You Should Keep Desiccants Packets in Your Kitchen

You often get ‘em for free, but they’re actually pretty handy for keeping pantry ingredients clump-free and meringues crispy.

Desiccants Packets
Serious Eats /

The weather in San Francisco is typically mild, but it can be oddly humid. Especially this year, where we’ve had a record 11 atmospheric rivers pass through (with more to come). This means it takes forever for dishes and kitchen towels to dry. And anything that's hygroscopic (something that absorbs moisture from the air or environment) will suck up water like a dry sponge. Thankfully, my husband, a chemistry professor, bought a bag of desiccant packets. I’ve been using them all over the kitchen.

What Are Dessicant Packets?

a desiccant pack in a jar of instant coffee
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Desiccant packets are those small rectangles you find in things like bottles of vitamins, shoe boxes, and bags of beef jerky.  And while most folks just toss them, they’re extremely handy to have around, especially if you live in a humid environment.

Most gel desiccant packets are made of silica and can hold up to 35 to 40% of their weight in moisture. They’re hygroscopic (yes, I like that word) which means they attract moisture. This moisture-seeking property helps keep whatever they're stored with dry.

What Can Desiccant Packets Be Used for in the Kitchen?

a desiccant pack in a jar of dried mushrooms
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

There are dozens of ingredients that are hygroscopic and sensitive to moisture, like espresso powder or instant coffee. Both are made by dehydrating pre-made espresso or coffee into a solid state, but the powder wants to be a liquid again. It’s hygroscopic and will suck moisture from the air like a sponge.

I use espresso powder to bake with whenever I make anything chocolate. A touch of coffee or espresso boosts the flavor of the cocoa, which is why it’s included in many brownie and chocolate cake recipes. But because I only use a couple of teaspoons at most per recipe, a jar of instant coffee can sit in the pantry for months. No matter how tightly I screw on the lid, the instant coffee grains always lump and solidify, making them unusable the next time I want to make chocolate mousse.

But once I started throwing a desiccant pack into my instant coffee powder, it started lasting a lot longer. Long enough for me to use the entire jar to bake with, which is pretty impressive.

Once I figured out that I could throw desiccant packets into ingredient containers, I started adding them everywhere. There’s a desiccant pack in my powdered sugar to help prevent clumping, in my box of kosher salt, and in my cocoa powder. I stick a packet in any dry ingredient that I think might clump together or get moldy, including dried mushrooms, panko and regular bread-crumbs, baking soda, freeze-dried fruit, bulk dried herbs and spices, and hard candy. Genevieve Yam, Serious Eats' culinary editor, has used desiccant packets in restaurants, too. "We basically used them to keep meringues and crispy things dry, and at the end of the night we would dehydrate the silica in a combi oven at like 100ºF," she says. "So we’d fill the bottom of a flat/wide container with the contents of a silica packet (we’d open it), line it/trap the silica with taped parchment, and then keep meringue pieces in the box. It would keep the meringues crisp."

The one clumping ingredient I wouldn't put a desiccant packet in, though, is brown sugar. Brown sugar clumps for the exact opposite reason that other ingredients like powdered sugar or instant coffee do. With the latter, moisture gets in, partially dissolves things, and clumping occurs. But because brown sugar is often white sugar processed with molasses, when the molasses loses moisture and dries out, it hardens. Adding a desiccant packet to brown sugar would just harden the brown sugar quicker. 

Three desiccant packs in a bamboo steamer
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Beyond kitchen ingredients, wooden salad bowls or bamboo steamers get a couple of desiccant packets thrown into them when I put them away. The desiccant packets prevent moisture and potential mold from growing.

And one of the best things about the desiccant packets that my husband bought (from Wisedry) is that they have dyed pellets that change color as they absorb more water. Once they go from orange to green, you know the packet has absorbed as much water as it can. Microwave the packet for 30 seconds and the water will be driven off, making the packets usable again! 

The one caveat (and it’s a big one) is clearly labeled on the packet itself: do not eat the packet! If you think the packet is broken or damaged, discard the entire content of the ingredients it’s sitting in or thoroughly wash the wooden or bamboo item. This scenario, by the way, has never happened to me, but it’s an important one to note. And if you have small children or someone who might mistake the desiccant packet as part of the food, you should probably avoid using it in your kitchen.

FAQs

Are desiccant packs poisonous?

Almost all desiccant packets are labeled with a “Do Not Eat” warning. But most desiccant packets are filled with silica gel, which is usually non-toxic, though occasionally they have a coloring agent like cobalt that is poisonous. That said, the silica gel pellets can be a choking hazard, especially for little kids. And if you ingest a large amount of the silica gel, it might cause an intestinal or bowel blockage which can be life-threatening. If you or someone you know has accidentally swallowed a desiccant packet or the contents of a desiccant packet, call 911 or seek medical attention immediately. For more information about the potential dangers of desiccant packets, visit this WebMD article 

Can you dry desiccant packs?

Yes. Most desiccant packs can be dried and reused. Some desiccant packs, like the WiseDry ones that I recommend above, have instructions on microwaving them, to heat them up and dry them out. But most other desiccant packs shouldn’t be microwaved, as that can overheat them. Only use the microwave method if the packet itself recommends it.

You can dry most other desiccant packs by placing them on an aluminum foiled lined baking sheet in a 250°F oven. Heat the packs for an hour to drive off the moisture. Let the packs cool to room temperature before using again or storing them in an air tight container.

We Tested 9 Saucepans and Came Away with Three Favorites

We tested nine popular saucepans to find out which ones performed the best, were the most comfortable to use, and were the easiest to clean.

two stacks of stainless steel saucepans on a kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Serious Eats is Team Saucier over Team Saucepan. However, that doesn’t mean saucepans don’t have their purpose in the kitchen, and many home cooks do want to buy them. Plus, saucepans are still a workhorse: they can be used to boil water, cook rice or pasta, poach eggs, reheat soup, and more. And the higher, straight sides and larger capacity tend to prevent boiling over more than their lower profile saucier siblings.

But not all saucepans are made the same. They come in different materials, have various layers of cladding, and are available in an array of sizes/shapes. Some have built-in spouts on the side to make pouring easier or internal measurement markings etched or printed onto their walls. And the handles and lids can also vary considerably. With all these variables, we set out to find the best 3- to 4-quart saucepans, evaluating nine popular models.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Zwilling Spirit's handle stayed cool while water boiled, which allowed us to hold and pour from the pan without difficulty. The flared rim made stirring easy and the saucepan heated evenly. The glass lid allows you to monitor food as it cooks (though it can steam up) and we appreciated the measurement markings on the pot's interior. The handle was comfortable and secure, too.

The Tramontina wasn’t the cheapest saucepan we tested, but it performed on par or even better than some of the pans that cost twice as much. The handle stayed cool, with a slightly rounded shape that felt comfortable to hold. The pan itself cooked evenly with no hot spots, and the lid handle didn't heat up while cooking, making it easy to take on and off.

We're longtime fans of All-Clad's stainless steel cookware, and the D3 saucepan is no exception: it was heat-responsive and easy to clean. Plus, you get All-Clad's lifetime warranty. While it's more expensive than our other winners, it's often discounted.

The Tests

rice stuck in the bottom of a saucepan beside a bowl of cooked rice
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin
  • Boiling Water Test (Part 1): We boiled two quarts of room temperature water on medium-high heat without the lid to test how long it took for the water to boil, how easy it was to pour the water out of the pan, and how comfortable the handle and pan were to hold and move.
  • Boiling Water Test (Part 2): We then repeated the boiling water test with the lid on to see how fast the water boiled with the saucepan covered and how comfortable it was to remove the lid.
  • Rice Test: We made one cup of jasmine rice on the stove to see if the lid leaked steam, as well as to examine how evenly the rice cooked. We then soaked each pot for five minutes in hot water from the tap and hand-washed the saucepan to see how hard it was to remove any cooked-on rice.
  • Browned Butter Test: We browned four tablespoons of unsalted butter on medium-low heat to see how evenly the pan heated the butter, which can easily burn.
  • Pastry Cream Test (Winners-Only): We made a batch of pastry cream in each of our favorite pans to see how evenly it cooked and how easy it was to maneuver a bulky balloon whisk in the cookware. Afterward, we cleaned each pan by hand to see if there was any burnt- or stuck-on pastry cream and evaluated ease of cleanup.

What We Learned

We Preferred Wider Saucepans

A person pouring brown butter from a saucepan into a bowl
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

We stuck to testing 3- and 4-quart saucepans, so most of the cookware had similar capacities. But the shape of the saucepans varied, with some taller and some wider. Unlike sauciers, with their low sides and gently sloped corners, saucepans have straight sides that jut out from the base at 90-degree angles. This means getting into the corner of the pan, especially with a balloon whisk, can be challenging. With taller, more narrow saucepans, stirring was harder. The upright whisk had difficulty getting into the corners of the pan and snagging, splashing the pastry cream as we stirred. 

Wider saucepans were more user-friendly, allowing us to angle and tilt the whisk handle lower so we could maneuver into the sharp corners and stir and scrape the pastry cream. Clean-up was also easier, as the wider silhouette made reaching in with a sponge to scrub the sides and bottom of the pan a cinch. The Tramontina, Zwilling, and All-Clad, were eight inches from lip to lip. In comparison, some of our least favorites were 7 1/4 to 7 3/4 inches wide.

Evaluating Handle Design

A closeup look at the interior of a stainless steel saucepan
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

The saucepans' handles varied quite a bit: some were short, some long, some rounded, and some thinner with center indentations. We found rounded, wider handles to generally be more comfortable for a variety of users. Rounded handles (like the Tramontina) or handles that had some depth and width (like the Zwilling), felt comfortable in our hands and offered a nice balance, making the pan easier to pick up.

It was also important that the handles didn’t get too hot. While most stayed cool, some got quite hot, which made maneuvering the pan difficult when picking up or pouring.

Finally, though it seems like a minor quibble, a couple of pans had handles positioned slightly lower on the pot. This resulted in the inside rivets being lower as well, which made cleaning more difficult, as food got trapped more easily around the rivets. 

There Were Little (But No Less Important) Differences Amongst the Lids

a stainless steel saucepan on a stovetop
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Placing a lid on a pot creates a closed environment where heat gets trapped, bringing liquid to a boil faster and preventing moisture from evaporating. We liked lids that were slightly arched, which allowed moisture to run down the sides and fall back into the pot.

Beyond the shape, the handle on the lid needed to stay cool. Ideally, you’d be able to cook a pot of rice or boil water and then remove the lid without a towel, pot holder, or oven mitt. Lids with larger or taller handles stayed cooler and were easier to pick up.

What's the Difference Between a Tri-Ply and a Five-Ply Saucepan?

A closeup look at browned butter in a saucepan
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

More than half of the pans we tested were tri-ply, meaning they were constructed with three layers of metal. Tri-ply cookware usually has an outer and inner stainless steel layer, and a more heat-conductive metal (typically aluminum or copper) sandwiched between them.

But there were a few non-tri-ply pans we tested, too. This included the Farberware, Material, All-Clad D5, and Avacraft. (There latter being a hybrid pan, with a 5-ply capsule bottom.) Five-ply, as you can guess, means there are five layers of metal, often more aluminum (or copper) and stainless steel to help diffuse the heat. Five-ply pans often take more time to heat up and weigh more, but the extra layers of metal (theoretically) distribute heat better and are more durable.

Notably, the All-Clad D5 heated beautifully and was responsive to temperature with no hot spots. But the added weight may be tougher for some users (it was nearly a pound heavier than the D3). The Material pan cooked slightly unevenly (even though one of the core materials was copper, a metal known for its quick heat distribution) possibly due to the extreme curve on the bottom of the pan. The Avacraft pan had a slightly uneven bottom, with lower edges around the pan, which caused butter and rice to cook more around the sides. The Farberware pan, which was neither tri-ply or 5-ply, felt cheap and heated unevenly due to the thin metal.

In the end, we found the tri-ply pans balanced performance and usability the best. They heated up evenly and though most were not quite as responsive as the All-Clad D5 pan, they were still consistent and had minimal hot spots. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Saucepan

a saucepan with its lid beside on it on a marble countertop
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

For most home cooks, a 3- to 4-quart saucepan offers a versatile, spacious capacity. Look for a saucepan that is tri-ply, which will ensure that the pan heats up consistently and evenly with little to no hot spots while still being lightweight. Wider saucepans (eight inches from lip-to-lip) allowed for easier stirring and cleaning.

In general, we preferred saucepans with wider and rounder handles, which felt comfortable to grip. We also found lid handles that were taller or larger heated up less readily, and lids that slightly arched upwards encouraged moisture to run back into the pan quickly.

What we liked: The Zwilling Spirit 4-quart saucepan was the largest pan we tested, as well as one of the heaviest due to its size. But the handle had a slight flare near the end, as well as a rounded bottom and slight indentation on top, which allowed our thumb to rest comfortably while holding and carrying it. The handle stayed cool, only getting hot about one inch from the pan’s body, allowing you to choke up on the handle for leverage. 

The included glass lid, which is oven-safe to 400°F, made it easy to see when the water was boiling, without having to lift up the lid to check. The lid’s handle stayed cool to the touch as well and there are measurement markings on the interior of the pot. 

The tri-ply material conducted heat well with no hot spots. Despite having a larger capacity, stirring was relatively easy when making the brown butter and pastry cream thanks to its wide size and flared rim. Finally, clean-up was a cinch with this model, with minimal scrubbing to get any stuck, cooked-on rice off. It’s also induction-friendly.

What we didn’t like: The handle of the Zwilling Spirit could have been slightly longer, as it was a relatively short seven inches. Folks with larger hands might find it too small. 

Price at time of publish: $100.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 4 quarts
  • Weight: 4 pounds, 8 ounces with lid; 3 pounds, 5 5/8 ounces without lid
  • Layers of cladding: 3 (stainless steel and aluminum)
  • Lip-to-lip diameter: 8 inches
  • Base diameter: 7 1/4 inches
  • Depth: 5 inches
  • Handle length: 7 inches
  • Induction compatible: Yes
A stainless steel saucepan on a marble countertop
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: The Tramontina saucepan performed remarkably well for its price point. The tri-ply pan heated up evenly with no hot spots. Rice, browned butter, and pastry cream all came out nicely, with no sticking or burnt-on spots. Stirring was relatively easy, as the 3-quart pan was still eight inches wide, which allowed you to angle a wooden spoon or whisk down to get into the corners and edges of the pot.

The pan’s handle was slightly longer than the Zwilling pan (at about eight inches long) and had a nice, rounded feel. It stayed cool, only getting warm about one-and-a-half inches from the pan's body. The stainless steel lid had a tall handle that didn't get hot, making it comfortable to remove mid-cooking. Clean-up was pretty easy as well, with minimal scrubbing necessary to remove the cooked-on rice. It’s also induction compatible.

What we didn’t like: The lid’s handle was a bit thin, making it a little less easy to grab. The shiny mirror finish on the outside is pretty, but showed fingerprints immediately and the long-term durability of the finish is questionable, as mirror finishes tend to show scratches more easily than brushed ones.

Price at time of publish: $55.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 3 quarts
  • Weight: 3 pounds, 4 ounces with lid; 2 pounds, 8 ounces without lid
  • Layers of cladding: 3 (stainless steel and aluminum)
  • Lip-to-lip diameter: 8 inches
  • Base diameter: 7 1/4 inches
  • Depth: 4 inches
  • Handle length: 8 1/8 inches
  • Induction compatible: Yes
A stainless steel saucepan on a marble surface
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

What we liked: This tri-ply pan cooked evenly and was responsive to heat. It was also easy to clean, requiring minimal scrubbing. Its handle has an indent that runs along its length, which helped to prevent the handle from turning in your hand as you pour. This saucepan comes with All-Clad's lifetime warranty.

What we didn't like: The saucepan's handle was thin and less comfortable to hold than other winners and the small lid handle got hot, making us reach for a kitchen towel to pick it up.

Price at time of publish: $120.

Key Specs

  • Capacity: 3 quarts
  • Weight: 3 pounds, 10 1/8 ounces with lid; 2 pounds, 13 5/8 ounces without lid
  • Layers of cladding: 3 (stainless steel and aluminum)
  • Lip-to-lip diameter: 8 inches
  • Base diameter: 7 1/4 inches
  • Depth: 3 3/4 inches
  • Handle length: 9 1/4 inches
  • Induction compatible: Yes
A person pouring browned butter from a saucepan into a jar
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Competition

  • All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel Saucepan: This five-ply pan performed beautifully, and if you're looking for a five-ply saucepan, it's well worth considering. However, it's heavier and more expensive, which kept us from naming it as a winner.
  • Cuisinart Multiclad Pro Triple Ply Stainless 3-Quart Saucepan: The Cuisinart pan performed well, with even cooking and a cool handle on the pot and lid. But the lid was flat, which meant moisture clung to it for a while before randomly dropping back into the pot. The narrower and taller dimensions of the pan also made it more difficult to stir food.
  • Material The Sauce Pot: We had high hopes for this five-ply saucepan with a built-in spout which made it easier to pour (if you're right-handed). It had a comfortable handle that was thicker and rounder, making it easier to hold and pick up. However, we noticed there were some hot spots in the pan, with the rice browning and sticking in certain parts. The rice was also difficult to scrub off, making it more challenging to clean than other pots we tested.
  • AVACRAFT Stainless Steel Saucepan with Glass Lid: This pan had some hot spots due to an uneven bottom that rose slightly in the middle, with rice and butter browning around the edges faster than in the center. 
  • Farberware 3-Quart Classic Traditions Saucepan with Glass Lid: The Farberware saucepan was the only pan we tested that was not tri-ply or five-ply. It was significantly lighter in weight than the other pans, with a resin handle and lid knob. Because the pan was so thin, it performed poorly, with overcooked rice on the bottom and undercooked rice on top, and butter that almost burned in some spots and didn’t brown properly in others.
  • Duxtop Whole-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 3-Quart Saucepan with Lid: The Duxtop saucepan performed well through all the tests, with even heating and cooking, nice responsiveness, and a comfortable cool handle. But the handle placement is slightly lower on the body, which meant the inner rivet heads were also lower. Food got caught in the rivets, making clean-up more challenging.

FAQs

What is a saucepan? 

A saucepan has a flat bottom with straight sides and a long handle. It comes in a variety of sizes, the most common being two to four quarts, though you can get smaller saucepans as well. Saucepans are smaller than Dutch ovens or stockpots, more cylindrical than sauciers, and narrower and taller than a frying or sauté pan. 

What does a saucepan look like? 

A saucepan is a cylindrical pan with a flat bottom and straight sides. Saucepans have long handles and often come with tight-fitting lids.

What is a nonreactive saucepan? 

Saucepans and cookware come in a variety of different materials. Some materials, like aluminum, copper, or cast iron, will react with acidic ingredients like lemon juice or tomatoes. When reactive material is used to cook these acidic ingredients, metal can actually migrate into the food, damaging the pan itself and giving your food a metallic taste. Nonreactive saucepans use stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick coatings on the inside of their pan to make them safe and durable for cooking all food, regardless of acidity. 

What is a saucepan used for? 

Saucepans are versatile pieces of cookware, suitable for cooking anything that involves liquid. Boil some water and use the saucepan to blanch vegetables or poach items like eggs. Use a saucepan to cook rice, quinoa, or pasta, as the flat-bottomed surface heats up the water quickly on the stovetop. They are also great for reheating leftovers, including soups and stews.

What is a large saucepan? 

A larger saucepan is three to four quarts in size. Bigger than that, and we just recommend getting a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven.