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November/December 2016

Universal Knife Blocks

We tested 10 universal knife blocks priced from $24.99 to $248.64, using them to hold our winning and Best Buy à la carte knife sets, each featuring a chef’s knife, serrated knife, paring knife, slicing knife, boning knife, and shears.

How We Tested

Knife blocks allow you to store your knives without mounting a magnetic strip on your kitchen wall or taking up valuable drawer space with an organizer. Because conventional blocks hold only knives of specific sizes (the small slot for the paring knife, the deep slot for the slicer, etc.), we prefer universal blocks, which are designed to accommodate knives of all sizes in any configuration. There are two types of universal knife blocks: those that use magnets to secure the knives and those that use a mass of bristles or folds or an open grid to hold them. To find the best universal knife block on the market, we tested 10 models priced from $24.99 to $248.64, using them to hold both our winning and Best Buy six-piece à la carte knife sets (which both include a pair of shears).

What did we find out? While nonmagnetic models were generally cheaper, they were less durable: Plastic bristles shed and bent out of shape, plastic folds got nicked easily, and the wooden grid chipped with extended use. Worse, nonmagnetic models were often smaller and less safe, crowding the knives together and/or leaving larger portions of their blades sticking out.

We preferred magnetic models, which generally exposed less of the blades and held the knives more securely—usually in a side-by-side configuration that made it less likely that the knives would scrape against each other and dull or scratch the blades. We liked blocks with magnets that were just strong enough to hold a heavy cleaver without letting it slip but not so strong that we struggled to remove it. To learn more about the magnets in each block, we used iron filings to locate and measure them. Magnet type, size, shape, or number didn’t seem to matter, but magnet coverage did: Blocks with large gaps between their magnets had less usable space overall and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives.

Stability was a final and important concern. We preferred heavier blocks with wide bases lined with rubbery nonslip material, features that helped keep the blocks from tipping over when we removed knives or bumped the blocks. Too light—or too narrow—and the blocks became dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

At $248.64, our winning block, the 360 Knife Block by Design Trifecta, is a serious investment, but it will serve your knives well for years to come. It weighs almost 14 pounds, ensuring that it will never budge from your counter. It’s roomy, sturdy, and durable, surviving extensive testing with nary a scratch. With excellent magnet coverage, it was easy to attach and remove knives—a rotating, lazy Susan–esque base allowed for quick access to all six of its sides. It was also simple to clean. For a lower-priced alternative, we also recommend the Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block, $67.99. Because it has a plastic guard, it was a little less easy to use and clean, but it did a good job of holding all our favorite knives securely.

Methodology

We tested 10 universal knife blocks priced from $24.99 to $248.64, using them to hold our winning and Best Buy à la carte knife sets, each featuring a chef’s knife, serrated knife, paring knife, slicing knife, boning knife, and shears. We also checked to see if the models could hold our favorite heavy cleaver. We used iron filings to assess the number, size, arrangement, and strength of the magnets, where applicable. Blocks were evaluated on their design, safety, durability, and ease of cleanup. All models were purchased online and appear in order of preference.

Design: We gave more points to blocks that fit our winning and Best Buy six-piece à la carte knife sets comfortably and made it easy to attach/insert and remove knives.

Safety: We gave more points to blocks that sat securely on the counter, had guards that protected our fingers from accidentally coming into contact with blade edges, and were tall or wide enough so that no knife blade stuck out.

Durability: To simulate long-term use, we inserted or attached and removed a chef’s knife 100 times for each block, evaluating the block for any damage and the knife for any dulling. We liked knife blocks that showed less wear and tear after repeated use.

Cleanup: We spattered each block with tomato sauce and washed it by hand; dishwasher-safe models went through the dishwasher an additional five times. Blocks that were easy to clean received higher marks.

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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.