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October/November 2017

Electric Knives

Motorized cutlery may seem like a 1960s artifact, but we found one newer model to be surprisingly useful.

How We Tested

Electric knives may seem like relics of the past, but they’re still shimmying away in 21st-century kitchens. An electric knife has two identical serrated blades, riveted together, which are snapped into a motorized base that doubles as the knife’s handle. At the touch of the start button, these dual blades move in opposite directions—one forward, one backward—which creates a sawing motion that cuts food with minimal downward pressure. This makes them useful for delicate items, such as breads and other baked goods, that you want to cut without squishing and especially good for cutting skin-on poultry without ripping or pulling the skin.

In theory, an electric knife does most of the work for you. But we hadn’t been impressed when we previously tested them; overall, they shredded poultry and were irritatingly loud. Our former winner, the Oster Electric Knife Set, was recommended only with reservations. But with new models available, we decided to retest the category. Were any of these newer retro devices up to snuff?

To find out, we chose four top-selling electric knives, priced from $19.92 to $122.00. Slicing poultry and bread are two top uses for electric knives, so we used each knife to carve a large roasted turkey and a smaller whole chicken, as well as to slice loaves of both crusty and soft bread. For comparison, we also carved a turkey and a chicken with our winning chef’s knife, the Victorinox 8” Swiss Army Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife ($39.95), and cut both kinds of bread with our winning bread knife, the Mercer Culinary Millennia 10” Wide Bread Knife ($22.10).

Slicing ability, comfort, and noise level emerged as our most important criteria. We also looked at features including different types of blades, storage options, safety locks, and built-in cutting guides.

When it came to slicing ability, we were surprised to find that the breads—both hearty and delicate loaves—were more challenging to slice than the birds. One knife seemed to float atop the crusty loaf of bread, literally only scratching the surface. The other models performed better, but all struggled with the tough loaf bottom. (We had to tilt each loaf on its side, a trick we use with regular bread knives, to finish the job.)

And even if the knives did bite in, sometimes their slices were ragged. One knife required significant downward pressure to cut through dense bread, which squished the loaf and resulted in uneven slices. Another model handled the crusty bread well but had issues with delicate Japanese milk bread; the bread shifted under the knife’s pressure, again making it harder to cut a clean line. The rest of the knives performed better, but in general, we preferred using our winning serrated knife to cut bread; it was more comfortable to maneuver a nonvibrating blade, and we got more-uniform slices.

When it came to poultry, however, the electric knives excelled. On both chicken and turkey, all the knives allowed us to carve perfectly even slices of varying thicknesses. And while our chef’s knife sometimes dragged off the turkey skin, the electric knives cut right through, leaving each slice with its own crispy, delicate sliver of skin. They made turkey carving, which can be a stressful endeavor, feel “effortless,” according to one tester.

But slicing ability meant nothing if a knife wasn’t comfortable and pleasant to use, so while many of the knives excelled at their tasks, in the end we can fully recommend only one. A few had handles with angled edges that dug into our palms; one vibrated heavily during use, which was very uncomfortable; and another had a handle that got quite warm while we were working. We docked comfort points from all. The best models had rounded handles that felt good in our hands, vibrated minimally, and stayed cool during use.

The start button was also crucial, because for each knife we had to press it for the duration of cutting. Two knives had start buttons on top of the handle for users to press with their thumbs, and two knives had buttons underneath the handle, which users pressed with their index fingers. We disliked start buttons on top—our thumbs hurt after using those models. One especially uncomfortable knife forced us to press a ridged button down and forward, which both put our thumbs into an awkward, painful position and left an imprint on them. Buttons underneath were much easier and more comfortable to press.

Noise level was the final factor: Two models were gratingly loud. We measured each knife’s volume using a decibel meter, and these two registered a whopping 88 and 89 decibels—nearly as loud as a lawn mower. (By comparison, normal conversation is about 60 decibels.) The loudest knife sounded like “a little chainsaw,” according to one tester, and we were asked to relocate during testing because people nearby had trouble talking over the noise. We couldn’t imagine using this knife during the holidays with friends and family around, as its roaring motor would quell all conversation. The remaining two models were noticeably quieter.

As for the extra features available, we preferred products that kept things simple. Since we didn’t find substantial performance differences between specific “bread” and “meat” blades, we preferred knives with just one style of blade to cut everything. We liked one knife’s plastic storage container, but we found other add-ons such as a knife block or carving fork unnecessary. One knife even had a built-in guide light to illuminate the cutting area, but we found it misaligned, distracting, and completely useless.

There was one feature that was a must-have, though: a safety lock. Most knives had a small toggle designed to lock the start button and prevent accidental starting, but one model didn’t. We made sure to unplug this knife when we weren’t using it, which was a nuisance if we just wanted to set it on the counter for a minute.

Only one knife offered good slicing ability, comfort, and a tolerable noise level—it made us appreciate how useful an electric knife can actually be. The Black + Decker ComfortGrip 9” Electric Knife was (true to its name) comfortable to hold and operate, and it was the quietest knife in the lineup. We were amazed at how easily it carved and sliced a huge holiday turkey without shredding the meat or the skin—many users found it much easier to use for carving than our favorite chef’s knife. It handled crusty loaves of bread well, though it occasionally gave us ragged slices of delicate bread, and we wish it came with a storage case for its blade, but those were minor trade-offs. At $19.92, it was the least expensive knife we tested, so even if you use it only once or twice a year, this knife is a worthwhile investment.

Methodology

We tested four electric knives, priced from $19.92 to $122.00, using each one to slice one whole loaf each of Japanese milk bread, challah bread, and Francese bread; one rotisserie chicken; and one approximately 20-pound roasted turkey. We also tested the highest-rated knife by slicing an additional 10 loaves of Francese bread. For the two knives that came with both bread and meat blades, we tested both blades. We measured noise levels using a decibel meter and washed the knives according to manufacturers’ instructions. Prices listed were paid online. Testing scores were averaged, and the electric knives appear in order of preference.

Comfort: How comfortable the knife is to hold and operate; knives rated higher if the handle felt comfortable to grip, was rounded instead of angled, didn’t vibrate too heavily, and if the start button was easy to press for extended periods of time.

Slicing Ability: How easy it is to carve uniform slices of bread and poultry; we preferred knives that could slice bread with relative ease without squishing the loaf and that could carve poultry—including crispy skin—into neat slices without shredding them.

Noise Level: How loud each knife is when in use; knives rated higher if the noise level was tolerable and allowed for comfortable conversation.

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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.