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November/December 2016

Cooling Racks

We tested three wire cooling racks priced from $7.99 to $12.95, focusing on models that fit inside standard-size rimmed baking sheets.

How We Tested

A cooling rack isn’t just for cooling cakes and cookies. The combination of a cooling rack and a rimmed baking sheet is our top choice for roasting or broiling meats, holding breaded foods before and after frying, and neatly glazing all manner of confections. The rack lifts up foods so air can circulate underneath for even cooking and cooling, and the baking sheet below contains any mess.

When we discovered that our favorite cooling rack was no longer available, we set out to find a new winner. We zeroed in on racks measuring roughly 16½ by 12 inches because they fit inside standard-size rimmed baking sheets—a basic requirement that eliminated many contenders. We also nixed nonstick models because their slick coatings aren’t broiler-safe. Finally, we dismissed models with parallel bars (instead of small grids) because thin cuts of meat and other small foods can fall through the gaps. To our surprise, we were left with just three nationally available models, priced from $7.99 to $12.95.

We used each rack to cool fragile sugar cookies and to roast and then broil sticky barbecued pork. Then we piled each with 15 pounds (the equivalent of a midsize turkey) of canned goods, checking to see if any of them sagged or bent under the weight. Finally, we washed each rack 10 times to see if it warped, chipped, or rusted.

The racks were all made of plain or chrome-coated stainless steel and had support bars underneath with small V-shaped feet to elevate the rack about ¾ inch. Though the sizes of the grids differed, all of the racks performed well. They were high enough for air to circulate underneath, so cookies cooled quickly and evenly and the roasted pork was crisp and evenly browned. Both metal and plastic spatulas slid across them without sticking or snagging. Scrubbing off broiled-on barbecue sauce required some elbow grease, but each rack cleaned up completely.

Given their solid performance, our ratings came down to a few slight differences. One rack had a touch of wiggle room inside standard baking sheets, while others had none at all. Another rack was not dishwasher-safe. In the end, our new winner is the Libertyware Half Size Sheet Pan Cooling Rack ($15.99 for a set of two). Used alone or with our favorite rimmed baking sheet from Nordic Ware ($14.97), it’s a piece of equipment no kitchen should be without.

Methodology

We tested three wire cooling racks priced from $7.99 to $12.95, focusing on models that fit inside standard-size rimmed baking sheets. We included only racks that were ovensafe up to 500 degrees and broiler-safe. Testers used each rack to cool baked goods as well as to roast and broil meat with a sticky glaze. Models were purchased online and appear below in order of preference.

Baking Sheet Compatibility: Even standard rimmed baking sheets vary slightly in size and design, so we tested each rack’s fit inside eight different sheets. Since the sides of a rimmed baking sheet are flared, a slightly larger rack can fit securely in a sheet even if it doesn’t make complete contact with the bottom of the pan. Good racks sat snugly without significant gaps and didn’t slip or slide around in the sheets.

Strength and Stability: We evaluated each rack’s strength and stability throughout our testing. In addition, we piled 15 pounds of cans atop each rack, checking to see if the bars sagged or drooped. We also transferred delicate sugar cookies onto the racks, rating models highest if both plastic and metal spatulas slid across them without snagging or bumping.

Cleanup: We washed the racks by hand throughout testing, noting how easy they were to clean and checking them for damage each time. At the end of testing, we washed each model an additional 10 times, using a dishwasher if the manufacturer didn’t warn against it. We gave top marks to dishwasher-safe racks that didn’t warp or become damaged.

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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.

Done in 281 ms! 61.385 KiB - 7.5% = 56.776 KiB