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January/February 2012

Oyster Crackers

Many people enjoy oyster crackers simply for snacking, but they were originally intended to accompany soup. We wondered which brand would perform both functions best.

Update: July 2013
We have received somewhat cranky emails from readers who love OTC Crackers, which we did not recommend, because the big, hard, spherical crackers were difficult to eat. The method known to aficionados is to put one cracker in each hand and crush them together, before dropping them into soup. While we appreciate the tip about how to avoid breaking teeth, the crackers themselves struck our tasters as a bit stale and bland (even though they were well within their expiration date).

How We Tested

How oyster crackers earned their name is long forgotten, but either their shell-like shape or traditional pairing with seafood chowders must have played a part. Today they’re available in various forms, from more archetypal versions resembling dense hardtack to light, flaky disks. Many people enjoy oyster crackers simply for snacking, but they were originally intended to accompany soup, and we wondered whether traditional or modern versions would perform both functions best.

We evaluated four nationally distributed brands for their taste and texture, both alone and in tomato soup. The crackers ranged from small and hexagonal to large and almost spherical, with some featuring the typical crimped edges. Our tasters panned the largest and most traditional cracker for being too “dense,’’ “bland,’’ and even “raw’’-tasting. The winning cracker, by contrast, was better suited for straight-from-the-box snacking, with its  “tender,” “flaky” texture and “wheaty” taste, yet it also held its crispness in soup. The more classic runner-up closely rivaled it in the rankings, also retaining its crunch after soaking in soup. This brand had a pleasantly “floury” flavor that was deemed “just what an oyster cracker should be.”

Bottom line: Tasters want an oyster cracker that not only stays crunchy in soup but also can be eaten on its own.

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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.