When it comes to testing kitchen mandoline slicers, we found the best professional reviews at Fine Cooking and Cook's Illustrated magazines. Both magazines test 10 or more mandolines and consider a wide range of factors, including versatility, safety features, ease of assembly, build quality, smoothness of operation, sharpness, value and cutting precision. Cook's Illustrated magazine's review is particularly useful, because it puts all of the mandolines reviewed in a handy chart, ranking them from best to worst.
We also found useful professional reviews at Tibesti.com, which bills itself as a social-networking site that allows users to showcase their favorite products, and foodie website Chow.com. However, neither of the reviews -- both of which are written by professional chefs -- say much about the testing process. It's worth noting that Tibesti.com pays its authors a commission if readers purchase the products they recommend, giving them an incentive to push expensive products. Not only does this call into question the site's credibility, it may also help to explain why all four of the highly rated mandolines in Tibesti.com's review cost $100 or more. We found a dated, but nonetheless useful, review of mandolines at The New York Times, but we were surprised to find that ConsumerReports.org has never tested these handy devices.
We weighed professional mandoline test results against consumer feedback and found some surprising differences. Owner reviews at sites such as Amazon.com, Cooking.com, ChefsCatalog.com, Epinions.com and others proved helpful in determining whether mandolines are easy to set up and use, particularly for novice users. The best owner reviews discuss safety features and various kinds of cuts, including the more intricate waffle and crinkle cuts.
Mandolines are similar to graters, but they have a single cutting plane, and most can cut slices of various thicknesses. Some can also make crinkle and waffle cuts, dice and julienne. The best mandolines are simple to operate, and they allow you to make dozens of uniform slices in a matter of minutes, cutting down the time it takes to prepare gratins, stir-fried meals, ratatouille, apple tarts and other dishes. Mandolines come in a variety of styles and materials, most commonly plastic or stainless steel, and they generally have ceramic or metal blades. Most mandolines look like flat graters, but many have feet that hold the slicing plane, or runway, at a 45-degree angle. The bottom half of the mandoline is usually fixed, while the top half pivots to allow for thicker slices.
Most mandolines are equipped with finger guards and/or food pushers (which may or may not be one and the same) to keep fingers away from the slicing blades. These pushers usually have prongs to spear the food so that it cannot slip free. The prongs may be short or long, and they may have mechanisms that allow you to push the food closer to the blade, or they may be spring-loaded. Experts say you should avoid spring-loaded guards, which can cause food to bounce across the work surface. Hat-shaped guards, which hold the hand farther away from the blades, do a better job than flat, rectangular guards. Some experts dislike mandolines that have safety rails, which guide the guard along the runway's track, in part because this feature can make it difficult to slice larger produce like onions, potatoes and cabbage quarters.
Editors at a major cookware-review magazine characterize the Zyliss Easy Slice 2 Folding Mandoline's (*Est. $30) plastic "runway" as insubstantial. At Amazon.com, owners say that the food pusher is cumbersome and the frame bends too easily. Like the Oxo Good Grips Mandoline Slicer (*Est. $65), the MIU Composite Mandoline Food Slicer (*Est. $50) is said to be dull and make a mess of soft foods, such as tomatoes. This plastic mandoline has a straight blade and three additional blades for julienne and waffle cuts, as well as a circular food pusher. Owners posting to Amazon.com say that the plastic housing is flimsy, and several others say that the food pusher is difficult to grasp.
Apart from the types of cuts a mandoline can make, consumers should consider cost and construction when choosing a mandoline slicer. Most basic mandolines are made of plastic housing and some lack a stand, which some users may find more cumbersome to use. Professional-style mandoline slicers, on the other hand, are usually made of more durable stainless steel, which makes them dishwasher-safe, and have sturdy stands. They also have more thickness settings, meaning you can make a wider variety of slices. However, you'll pay considerably more for a pro-style mandoline, and some of them are much larger than simple hand-held mandolines. If you only plan to use your slicer for the occasional weekend recipe, a basic mandoline should suffice, but if you prepare elaborate dishes or cook several times a week, a pro-style mandoline may be a better investment in the long run.