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December/January 2015

Frozen Dinner Rolls

When there isn't time to make fresh dinner rolls, the frozen variety can be a tempting alternative.

How We Tested

Frozen rolls pale in comparison with good fresh ones, but they do have their perks. They keep for months in the freezer, so you can always have bread on hand. And you can bake only what you need and forgo that leftover half of a baguette that often lurks for days, stale and forgotten. We’ve tasted frozen rolls before and found them so-so—OK in a pinch, but it would have to be quite a firm pinch. Our previous winner was discontinued, so we returned to the freezer aisle and found new lines touting “stone baked,” “artisan,” “crusty,” and “French” rolls. They certainly sound better—are they?

We tasted three nationally available products; two are partially baked at the factory, and one is fully baked, quickly frozen, and reheated at home. We cooked them according to their package instructions and called 21 editors and test cooks to the table. One product completely tanked, but we liked a second product and really liked the third.

Tasters wanted rolls that were crusty outside and tender inside. Both of our top two products nailed this, but the bottom-ranking product was “gummy” and “dense.” We compared labels and saw that the dense rolls had 17 different ingredients. (The other two had seven and eight, respectively.) Among these were vital wheat gluten, guar gum, and xanthan gum; all three ingredients retain moisture and create a gummy texture. These rolls were also the only ones to include some whole-wheat flour, which makes for denser bread.

As for flavor, the two products we liked were pleasantly wheaty and yeasty. Our favorite product earned extra points for tasting “the most homemade.” We checked and found that it uses a basic recipe of mostly flour, water, salt, and yeast. These rolls also have 40 to 60 milligrams more sodium per serving than the others, which enhanced the bread’s flavor without overwhelming it. Tasters noted that the lowest-scoring product was “funky” and “tart.” We found that it’s the only one that adds sourdough starter. Sourdough flavor can be excellent, but here it was off: “Not like sourdough. More like gym shoes,” said one taster.

Pleasantly wheaty, crispy, and chewy, our dairy-free winning rolls are better than any frozen rolls we’ve tasted before. They’re also the only product that’s fully cooked at the factory in a stone oven, which yielded the crispiest, lightest rolls. Good fresh bread is always our first choice, but when it’s unavailable, we’d be happy to serve our winning rolls at our table.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

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"

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"

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"

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"

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"

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"

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"

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"

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.