The right tools can improve your slicing skills
Mandolines are not just for professional chefs. Kitchen experts say these convenient gadgets are must-haves for any kitchen because they can significantly shorten your food prep time. Cooks frequently call on mandolines for a many difficult slicing tasks. Mandolines can slice vegetables in a variety of thicknesses much faster than when using a knife, and they can julienne (cut into thin strips) quickly and evenly. Many can also perform crinkle or waffle cuts, a few can even shred, dice or cube.
Closely resembling a Microplane-style grater, mandoline slicers have a single blade set in a flat runway-style base. Sliding food down the runway and across the blade produces very quick, consistent slicing. The blades can be straight, set on the diagonal or v-shaped, and are made of ceramic or stainless steel. Stainless steel blades can be sharpened, ceramic cannot, but both types are very sharp. Users can adjust the height of the blades for slice thickness, and some mandolines come with interchangeable blades for different cutting styles. Handheld mandolines have a slender, flat profile for easier storage, while some mandolines include feet or a stand that hold the tool at a 45-degree angle.
One thing experts and owners agree on: You don't need to spend a lot to get a great mandoline. Sure, there are stainless steel mandolines out there that cost $200 or more, but they don't perform any better than mandolines costing $50 or less. Our Best Reviewed mandoline slicer is only $50 and comes with enough accessories to do practically any type of slicing chore, and for about $20 you can get an excellent, basic mandoline for slicing and julienning. Even some professional-quality mandolines can be found in this price class.
Safety first. And second. And third.
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. When using the mandoline to slice, you must use the hand guard, even if it's not comfortable or doesn't feel as efficient. We read too many harrowing accounts of people who thought the hand guard was awkward, or that it left too much wasted produce, or it didn't work for smaller or larger pieces, so they removed it and sliced off a fingertip, or suffered a similarly gruesome injury. And it's not just food prep, plenty of folks have sliced themselves while changing or washing blades, including an experienced chef from one of the expert reviews we consulted who cut herself while testing mandolines. It's crucial to always be vigilant and attentive when using a mandoline, and to buy one that is highly rated for a safe hand guard and easy-to-change blades.
Some people are so terrified of cutting themselves that they won't even use their mandoline -- won't even store it in the kitchen, in fact. For them we recommend a pair of cut-resistant gloves; not a bad idea for anyone, really, even if you are using the hand guard. We discuss cut-resistant gloves on our page devoted to the best mandolines. And keep in mind: If you almost never slice anything, you may just need a great knife. If so, check out our separate report on kitchen knives for the best chef's knife, paring knife, knife set and steak knives.
These are the most common types of mandolines and slicers
Basic mandoline slicers usually are fairly narrow and come with a hand guard, although the hand guards can vary in quality and sturdiness -- a good hand guard should be stable, not slip easily and be wide enough to grip comfortably. All mandolines have adjustments for slice thickness, but some adjustments are easier to make than others. Many come with interchangeable blades for various tasks, but, again, some are easier -- and safer -- to change out than others. Cheaper mandolines tend to come with fewer slicing attachments or adjustment settings, doing away with fancy cuts like julienne and waffle.
Professional-quality mandoline slicers are best left to more experienced chefs. These are extremely sharp, as are all mandolines, but tend to have less stable and secure hand guards. In fact, in professional kitchen settings, chefs usually remove the hand guards from their mandolines -- they shouldn't, but they do.
Spiralizers, or spiral slicers, are a hot kitchen item right now. People who have adopted low-carb or Paleo lifestyles love them for making faux "noodles," while others are just thrilled with being able to make fancy vegetable strands and ribbons, thick or thin, for garnishes, salads and side dishes. Spiralizers are great for people who like to stir fry, too. One professional testing organization was initially very skeptical of the need for a spiralizer, but were charmed with the results, which they said transformed ordinary fruits and vegetables into something special.
Finding the best mandoline slicers
People seem to love testing slicers, especially mandoline slicers. We found professional tests of mandolines at Cook's Illustrated, TheSweetHome.com, SeriousEats.com, FineCooking.com and Good Housekeeping. We also found tests of spiral slicers at Cook's Illustrated. In an unusual twist to what we usually find, there were few sources overall for user reviews of mandoline slicers. While Amazon.com often had hundreds or thousands of reviews, there was just scattered feedback at other retail sites we normally rely on. However, hundreds or thousands of reviews, even if it's just at one site, are plenty. Also, the top mandolines tend to get better ratings, overall, than most kitchen gadgets we review, so that's good news for the home cook.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Mandoline Slicers | Best Spiralizers | Buying Guide | Our Sources