What the best mandoline has
- Sturdy construction. The best mandoline slicers are durable enough to withstand the pressure of sliding produce down the slicing plane without wobbling or flexing. Spiral slicers should cut long, unbroken ribbons without clogging.
- Comfortable, safe cutting guard. Essential for safety on a mandoline, the hand guard grips the food -- usually with pointed, stainless-steel or plastic spikes -- and presses it against the slicer, keeping your fingers away from the sharp blade. The safest guards are at least as broad as the base of the mandoline slicer, and run smoothly along the slicing track without catching or jittering. Those shaped like derby hats with brims wider than the slicing plane feel the sturdiest and are considered safest.
- Safe cleaning options. Spiralizers are safe to use because of the way the blades are set into the plastic housing; however, great care should be taken in cleaning them -- some experts recommend a soft brush (included with the purchase of some models) to clean the blades so you don't have to get your fingers near them. At the very least, wear a good pair of rubber gloves. Or, choose a spiral slicer with dishwasher-safe components to avoid direct contact with the sharp blades.
- Razor-sharp slicing. Whether it's ceramic or stainless steel, the blade should cleanly slice produce without having to push hard against the mandoline. The best mandoline slicers deliver precise cuts on a wide range of produce, from soft tomatoes to firm potatoes. Some experts feel that models with V-shaped or diagonally slanted blades perform much better than the horizontal style, particularly for softer, more delicate foods like tomatoes. Blades are constructed of either ceramic or stainless steel. Both are equally sharp, but stainless steel can be sharpened, ceramic can't. However, the blade should stay sharp for several years.
- Several height settings. The more height settings, the more versatile your slicer will be; enabling you to cut deli-thin slices of cucumbers or thick tomato slices. The thickness setting (blade height) should be easy to adjust and lock firmly in place. Mandolines with pre-set increments are faster to set up but limiting. Most experts prefer dials that let you select any cutting height and make fine adjustments as you go.
- An assortment of blades. Many people just need a basic mandoline for slicing and making julienne cuts, but, some mandolines come with blades you can swap out to make waffle cuts, dice, shred or even cube. Spiralizers should have a variety of blades you can change out for various thicknesses and shapes, although handheld spiral slicers typically have fewer options, and some come with only a single, built-in blade.
- Easy-to-swap accessories. A key to safety with any slicer is blades or cutting tools that can be swapped out without having to dig out the blades or fumble with them to put them in place.
- Easy cleanup. The best slicers have a body that washes easily and doesn't trap food in its crevices. Look for dishwasher-safe models for fast cleanup, though some manufacturers recommend hand-washing removable blades to prevent dulling.
- Onboard storage for blades and other accessories. Storing blades and other accessories separately from a mandoline slicer or spiralizer makes it more difficult to keep everything together, so look for models with onboard storage. That said, if blades and other items are stored in an area that tends to get dirty during use, it may be necessary to remove stored items before use or wash them after every use, both of which can be inconvenient.
Know before you go
What types of dishes you want to create? If you need only an occasional slicer, consider a simple mandoline with a fixed straight blade. For more complex dishes -- such as fries, chips, stir fry meals and ornamental salads -- select a mandoline with replaceable straight, julienne and crinkle blades.
Expect some scraps. The hand guards on mandolines limit slicing the entire vegetable because of their design, but it's much better to have a bit left over than to remove the hand guard and risk cutting off a fingertip. Some chefs use a knife to finish that last bit, or just save it for stew.
All slicers are extremely sharp. Owners frequently are caught off guard when using specialized slicing tools for the first time; learning to clean and switch blades can be difficult without cutting yourself if you're not careful.
Invest in an extra measure of safety? Whether you're using a mandoline, spiralizer or a knife, you may want to look into investing in a pair of cut-resistant gloves. They've long been available for people who work with cutting tools in the shop. Now they're being redesigned for the home cook, and they can help you avoid a nasty cut.
Maybe you just need a knife. If you almost never slice anything, or maybe just slice the occasional potato or carrot, a mandoline or spiralizer is probably overkill. But everyone needs at least one good knife. If that's you, head on over to our separate report on kitchen knives for the best chef's knife, paring knife, knife set and steak knives.