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July/August 2016

Chain Mail Scrubbers

Can these little gadgets clean cast iron better than oil and salt?

How We Tested

The Knapp Made Classic CM Scrubber, a 4 by 4-inch square of interlinked stainless-steel rings (the “CM” stands for “chain mail”) that sells for $14.99, makes easy work of cleaning stuck-on food out of cast-iron pans. Recently, Knapp Made released a new model, the Small Ring CM Scrubber ($19.98), that is larger overall (it’s about 5 by 5 inches) and has smaller, thinner rings. To see which scrubber was better, we put the two models to the test, cleaning up a range of messes not only on plain cast iron but also on dark enameled cast iron, stainless steel, and heat-resistant glass—all types of cookware that the manufacturer claims the scrubbers can handle.

The good news is that both scrubbers did a stellar job of removing gunk from all of the pans. The bad news is that they both scratched and damaged the enameled and stainless-steel pans—we don’t recommend that you use either scrubber on those types of pans. But if you stick with plain cast iron and Pyrex, these scrubbers work very well for big messes.

Which is better? We prefer the newer scrubber to the original by a hair. Because of its larger size, the Small Ring CM Scrubber was easier to handle and covered more territory more quickly than the original, taking between 10 seconds and 2 minutes less to clean the same kinds of messes. And its smaller, narrower rings made it more agile and better at maneuvering around corners and detailing hard-to-access areas (like the grooves of our grill pan). These scrubbers are metal, so go easy—if you use excessive force, you can strip the seasoning from cast-iron pans and even scratch their surface.

Methodology

We tested two chain mail scrubbers, priced at about $15 and about $20, evaluating their performance in cleaning dirty pans made of plain cast iron, enameled cast iron, stainless steel, and Pyrex. The scrubbers were purchased online and are listed in order of preference.

PERFORMANCE: We cooked a pound of bacon in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, scrambled eggs in an enameled cast-iron skillet, cooked hamburgers on an enameled cast-iron grill pan, burned teriyaki sauce in a stainless-steel skillet, and slow-cooked lasagna in a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. Then we timed how long it took to clean each piece of cookware with each scrubber. We gave more points to the scrubber that took less time to clean up all the different messes.

MANEUVERABILITY: We evaluated how easily the scrubbers scoured the sides, corners, and grooves of the different pans in each of the cleaning tests. We awarded more points to the more agile scrubber.

CLEANUP: Between cleaning sessions, we cleaned the scrubbers themselves by hand, using 140-degree water and a teaspoon of our favorite dish soap, and timed how long it took to remove any trapped or melted food particles from the scrubbers. We gave more points to the scrubber that was easier to clean by hand.

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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.