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June/July 2012

All-Purpose Whisks

Do you need a bunch of different shapes and styles crowding your kitchen, or can one perfect whisk do it all?

How We Tested

Judging by what we’ve seen in most kitchens, nobody has just one whisk. Fat or skinny, tapered or short, with wires that twist at odd angles or sport a colorful silicone coating, there seems to be a whisk for every facet of cooking. Has the market overreached? Can’t one all-purpose whisk tackle everything from whipping cream to blending a silky pan sauce? 

We began by placing our bets on skinny whisks. In the past, we’ve found that slim, tapered French-style whisks and “skinny balloons” work best at getting into the corners of a saucepan, where wide balloon whisks can’t reach. As for whipping air into egg whites and heavy cream, a skinny whisk is nearly as handy as a fat balloon, provided your arm can sustain enough speed. So we rounded up 10 stainless steel French models and skinny balloons, priced from $2.49 to $29, and tried them out on these tasks. 

Sure enough, most of our contenders whipped 1 cup of cream to stiff peaks in a nonfatiguing two minutes or less and brought four egg whites to full foam even more quickly. But some whisks were clearly better at incorporating air than others. The more wires a whisk has, the more streams of air it pulls through liquid, creating foam. Our top performers had at least 10 wires; whisks with seven or eight wires took up to 30 seconds longer to whip cream and egg whites into stiff peaks. The best whisks also had wire loops that were thin and flexible. The more flexible the wires, the more quickly we could pull the whisk through the thickening mixture. The real drags were heavy whisks with eight thick, stiff wires, which fatigued testers’ forearms as they slowly churned.

Wire thickness varied greatly from whisk to whisk: 1.16 to 2.25 millimeters. Thicker, stiffer wires worked best with pan sauce: They were able to break up browned bits in the pan and incorporate them into the sauce. Whisks with very thin, flexible wires tended to brush over the browned bits without scraping them up. Some heft and stiffness in the wires also helped blend heavy cookie dough and custard as it thickened, plus thicker wires had good shape memory, so that after even vigorous bending, they returned to their proper form. Moderately thin wires (1.3 to 1.4 millimeters) were best able to address both ends of the whisking spectrum: They tackled pan sauce and cookie dough as efficiently as thick, stiff whisks, and they churned cream and egg whites almost as quickly as did those with the thinnest, most flexible wires. 

Overall whisk length was also important. When whisking and deglazing pan sauce in a 12-inch skillet, we found that the 11- and 12-inch whisks kept our hands safely away from the heat. Longer whisks felt more proportional in large mixing bowls, although they did have an annoying tendency to flip out of a medium bowl if we left their handles resting on the bowl’s edge for a moment to attend to another task. The 10- and 11-inch whisks stayed perched, even in small mixing bowls. 

Whisking is repetitive and taxing. Throughout our triceps-building whisking sessions, we began to see the virtue in a comfortable handle. The ergonomic rubber handle on one contender made it feel like an extension of a hand. Too-slender handles made a few minutes of cream whipping feel like a lifetime, and handles with metal loops at their ends (for hanging) felt awkward when we gripped them as we reached into tall saucepans.

With its slightly bulbous, rubbery handle, our winner was big enough not to get lost in skillets and all but the largest mixing bowls. Its moderately thick wires could scrape the browned bits in pan sauce and also whip heavy cream quickly, and its light overall weight made using it effortless. It was also the second-cheapest whisk we tested, making its range of abilities an even better bargain.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.