Mandolines are not just for professional chefs -- kitchen experts say these convenient gadgets are must-haves for any kitchen. "This speeds things up in our kitchen like no other tool or gadget," says Faith Durand, executive editor of cooking website TheKitchn.com. Chefs frequently call on mandolines for a variety of recipes: to julienne (cut into thin strips) vegetables for an attractive salad, crinkle cut potatoes for chips or quickly slice apples for a fruit tart.
Closely resembling a grater, mandolines have a single blade set in a flat runway. Sliding food down the runway, across the blade produces very quick, consistent slicing. Users can adjust the slice thickness, and some mandolines come with interchangeable blades for different cutting styles. Hand-held mandolines have a slender, flat profile for easier storage, while traditional French-style mandolines include feet that hold the tool at a 45-degree angle.
Professionals and novices don't often see eye to eye on which mandolines are the best, but they both agree on one thing: Safety is key. In order to slice both hard and soft produce efficiently, a mandoline's blade must be razor-sharp. This poses a serious risk of injury while slicing, washing or changing blades. The best mandolines feature a well-designed hand guard, which protects your skin by holding the food against the blade while you slice. Some users take safety one step further by wearing cut-resistant gloves.
Mandolines range in price from $20 for a basic hand-held unit to almost $400 for a large, professional-grade slicer. Expensive models often include extra blades and high-quality materials but aren't always better slicers, reviews indicate. "As more and more home cooks have discovered the speed and simplicity of this ingenious gadget, companies have introduced user-friendly models that don't break the bank," writes Elliott Prag with Vegetarian Times.
To pick the best mandolines, we analyze comparison tests by America's Test Kitchen, Good Housekeeping, FineCooking.com, ConsumerReports.org and KitchenAudition.com. Single-product reviews from TheKitchn.com, Chow.com, GadgetsForTheKitchen.com and Tibesti.com also provide expert insight on performance and safety. Hundreds of owner reviews at Amazon.com, Cooking.com, Williams-Sonoma.com and ChefsCatalog.com give us a look into ease of use and long-term durability of many popular models.