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April/May 2015

Dill Pickle Spears

To see if the quality of supermarket pickles had improved in recent years, we put five kosher dill pickle spears to the test.

How We Tested

With chefs and home cooks pickling everything in sight these days, we wondered if the quality of supermarket pickles had improved in recent years. Most supermarket pickles are what the industry calls “fresh packed,” meaning they’re made by soaking fresh cucumbers in vinegar and salt. The pickles are then either pasteurized, making them shelf-stable, or immediately packed in jars and refrigerated.

We tried three shelf-stable and two refrigerated products, all marketed as “kosher dill.” Kosher, in this case, has nothing to do with Jewish dietary restrictions but denotes the presence of garlic, a common seasoning in Jewish deli pickles. We served all the spears, lightly chilled, to 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers.

Tasters could easily identify the shelf-stable spears, which were “atomic green,” thanks to food coloring. They’re gently cooked before packaging and thus have a “wilted” texture. The two refrigerated products took home top honors for their “fresher” taste and “more crisp” texture. Refrigerated pickles have a shorter shelf life, so they don’t sit in their liquid as long and are much crunchier than the oversaturated shelf-stable pickles. Tasters also thought that most of the shelf-stable pickles had “off,” “chemical” aftertastes.

Garlic was also important—these are kosher pickles, after all—and many bottom-ranked products use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. Our winning product is one of only two to use real chopped garlic, and it was praised for its “peppery” spiciness and “bold” garlic flavor. (The other product with fresh garlic uses whole cloves, which didn’t saturate the pickling liquid enough to be detected by tasters.)

Tasters deemed our winning product the crispest and freshest spears of the bunch. Found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, these “crunchy,” “tart” spears are minimally processed and our top pick.

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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.