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September/October 2015

Paper Towel Holders

We purchased six paper towel holders, priced from $13.00 to $24.99, determined to find a sturdy holder that would make tearing quick, precise, and tidy.

How We Tested

We could put a roll of paper towels directly on the counter, but a designated paper towel holder aids with tearing and protects the roll from wet spots and spills. We purchased six models, priced from $13.00 to $24.99, determined to find a sturdy holder that would make tearing quick, precise, and tidy. All consisted of a center pole set on a metal base, sometimes with an arm to provide resistance for tearing. After checking that towel rolls of all styles and widths fit on the models, we tore off sheets in small and large increments (using one hand and two) and made note of which models were easy—or not—to handle and move.

For a full large roll to be able to fit and spin, it requires at least 3 1/4 inches of clearance between the holder’s center pole and any helper arm, and we quickly eliminated one model with just 2 inches of space. Angled, hinged arms also automatically adapt to accommodate rolls of any size. Not only did these arms make one-handed tearing more precise, but they also prevented sheets from drooping and kept rolls looking tidy. (Straight, stationary arms become useless once a few layers of towels have been pulled off.)

Countertop stability is also crucial, and we quickly learned that heavier models are better. Anything under 1 3/4 pounds felt flimsy and slid across the counter, while the suction cup base on one lightweight model was difficult to activate and had to be released each time we wanted to move the holder. Tall, easy-to-grip center poles also helped with mobility, but testers balked at models with oversize twist-on knobs that had to be removed each time a roll had to be replaced. A few models had additional features intended to hold the rolls in place, like flexible fins on the center column and textured silicone pads on the base, but these simply weren’t necessary.

After narrowing our lineup to three front-runners, two with arms and one without, we subjected them to a month of near-constant use in the kitchen to evaluate long-term durability and stain resistance. All three cleaned up easily—even when we deliberately stained them with yellow mustard, oil, and minced garlic and left them over the weekend—but one model in particular won us over. Not only did its angled arm ensure precise and even tearing, but it was also stable and featured an easy-to-grip knob atop its center pole that didn’t have to be removed when changing the rolls.

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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.