HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >

Discussion

Cook's Illustrated Cookware picks

While reading the Oxo duds thread, I noticed that several of the Oxo products were called out even though they had been favorites of Cook Illustrated equipment reviews. For those who've never heard of them, CI is like the Consumer Reports of cooking.

What's been your experience with CI's equipment picks- were they really the best or did you end up being disappointed with them?

Even though I've heard horror stories about CI's website, I think I'd sign up for it just to read through their equipment reviews. But, if their reviews are off, then I can just avoid that whole mess.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. I don't know about the CI reviews but I do know that the advice/experience of fellow chowhounders is excellent. I would rely their opinion before I'd pay attention to any website/magazine.

    My advice: save your $$$ & ask the chowhounders. Also the reviews on sites like Amazon & Williams-Sonoma are very helpful.

    1. I've always found CI recommendations to be spot-on. They put each piece of equipment, whether it's a $10 fish spatula or a $200+ dutch oven through an array of cooking tests, as well as testing for things such as whether something is truly dishwasher safe (after 100 washings) or the level of its breakability. They also take price into consideration -- when the winner is, say, an All-Clad skillet or a Le Creuset dutch oven, they always provide a cheaper "best buy" alternative.

      The other important thing to note is that the Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen organization is nonprofit. They don't accept advertising at all for their TV programs or magazine. So there's no worry that they're choosing according to advertising pressure. I'd suggest you get a free trial and judge for yourself. I find their assessments to be far superior to anything you'd read on Amazon. Fellow Chowsers are great at providing their own experiences (and I've benefited from much of the knowledge on this site), but CI fully explains their tests and rationale. Any time you'd buy a computer or some other expensive piece of equipment, you'd survey your friends as well as read something like Consumer Reports, right? Same idea.

      7 Replies
      1. re: herring

        Maybe, its just me, but I'm not a fan of CI's current model where they charge their readers and subscribers money to get access to their website. And, to ensure that their readers and subscribers will want to read their website, CI will publish truncated reviews in the magazine where you can only read the rest of that review on their website.

        If it meant CI didn't need to resort to such tactics, I wouldn't mind if CI accepted some advertising as long as it didn't compromise their material. Maybe, just accept advertising from people you know you're not going to review like companies that make kitchen ovens or ranges.

        The whole 'we don't accept advertising' was born out of necessity when CI started because they couldn't find advertisers, and they've succesfully spun that necessity into a virtue.

        1. re: hobbess

          Actually the magazine has full reviews, while the website has truncated reviews. I only subscribe online so I take notice.

          The online sub gets you access to all of their mag recipes from all the years. That is worth the charge. Plus, they do not accept advertisers and that is the way it should be.

          I love and trust their equipment reviews...

          1. re: Becca Porter

            I have to disagree with that. I know because that's happened to me several times.

            I wanted to see if there had reviews on a specific product, and found out that CI had done a review on that product in a specific month like June09. So, I'd comb through my food magazines to see if I had that particular issue and find that magazine. Yet, when I read through that magazine, I couldn't find the information I was looking for. CI might have an abbreviated comment about one product in the series of products they reviewed. To read the rest, the magazine would state 'for complete testing results, go to their www.CI/junXX."

            I wouldn't begrudge them if they wanted to charge non-subscribers. But, when you have the hardcopy of that month's magazine and yet can't find the complete equipment review, I think that's a bit too much.

            1. re: hobbess

              Can you give an example? I've never noticed a "you can't read this review unless you are a website subscriber" in the hard-copy magazine.

              Personally, as a magazine subscriber, I wish CI would offer a discounted rate to the site, but its their strategy, and I won't pay full-price for access to a magazine I already get, so no deal.. that's capitalism for ya. But I've never felt the website was superior, depriving me of material I couldn't get in the hardcopy.... maybe I don't have access to a blog or something, or maybe a few recipe variants, but nothing significant..

              And please stay on point.. your comments below about troubles with your internet service provider don't really relate to CI's performance and can confuse readers.

              1. re: grant.cook

                No example, but I can say for certain that many times the show, magazine, and website are not in sync. I love all three and start any research with their site, but you cannot take their word as the bible.

                1. re: grant.cook

                  I've got several specific examples where it literally said what I quoted, but I guess we're not allowed to talk about it...

                  1. re: grant.cook

                    I believe if you subscribe to the website, they do offer you a discount on your magazine subscription.

                    I only subscribe to the site as you can read the magazine online.

                    Also, I did the 14 day free trial online and then got an email offering a discount to subscribe so that's when I signed up.

                    Hope that's helpful.

                    And to stay on topic.. I have had good luck with their recommendations.
                    They've usually been spot on for me.
                    Maybe a few small gadget items they don't or no longer recommend work fine for me.. such as my zyliss garlic press is still going strong.

          2. I find their reviews to be pretty spot on... I've purchased a few of their top picks and have found them to be solid buys. They do tend to not cover niche products, so you might not see some super high end or imported line of cookware, but I think that's natural - you want to review products that you audience is likely to come into contact with. They also seem to be honest about value - they for example always seem to rank All-Clad high, but also mention that the Tramontina set at Wal-mart is almost as good and 1/3 the price..

            1. The only thing we have that CI recommended was a micro plane grater.
              Mrs. Sippi gave it to me for Christmas. For things like nutmeg it's great but too small for lemons or parm IMHO.
              So good but limited. Not what I would recommend.

              So I ended up with a larger MPG as well.

              DT

              1. While I may agree with the conclusions CI reaches about what it tests, I sometimes find that what they test is limited to choices I would not have included in the real of possible choices in the first place. However, for good assessments of mainstream stuff they seem to be good. The equipment reviews are probably the last reason I look at CI. I lke the way they break down recipes and tell you what works and what doesn't and why.

                1. Save your money on the website and get this instead.

                  http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Americ...

                  DT

                  1. CI picks are usually good, but may not be the best. I have read some knife/cutlery reviews on CI and I disagree with the tests they used to assess their knives. Granted that they test a many high quality knives, so at the end, it really does not matter which one they pick as the best because they are all decent knives anyway.

                    What sort of "horror" stories are you referring?

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I think one has to be careful of reviews for things like knives.. a lot of what's good/bad about a particular style of knife is personal - the heft, the flex you like, etc. So a reviewer might give you a good family of knives to look at, and tell you technically what works, but in the end, how it feels in your hand might be the thing that makes the sale..

                      1. re: grant.cook

                        Grant,

                        I agree. The shape and handling is completely subjective.

                      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I've heard stories about CI subscribers that were overcharged for things they never ordered, and how difficult it was to resolve those issues with CI's poor customer service.

                        Even if it doesn't happen to me, why take that chance if I can possibly avoid it. Ideally, Ideally, I wanted to read those reviews without subscribing to CI so there wouldn't be any possible mixup.

                        Any more specific things you didn't agree with- from the Oxo thread, it seemed people hated the Oxo can opener and pizza cutter even though they had both been CI's winners in that category.

                        1. re: hobbess

                          If you can, a lot of their equipment reviews get stuck into their cookbooks - Best Recipe, More Best Recipe.. now, they do update reviews, so over time, they'll relook at stuff to take in new competitors (It seems like they do inexpensive chef's knives like once a year), so things in an older cookbook might be a bit out of date, but that might be a resource if you just wanted some ideas.

                          They generally also offer a 14-day free trial, if I recall, of the website.. I did that a couple of years back and had no issue.

                          The local library might carry the magazine as well..

                          I've enjoyed CI, and had none of the horror stories that you seem to be speaking of as lurking out there.. other than a sort of singular focus on traditional American cooking (e.g. 35 ways to roast a chicken or cook a pork chop), its a good read..

                          1. re: hobbess

                            Hobbess,

                            Now that you mentioned it, yes I heard the same thing about overcharging and inability to cancel. Thanks.

                            1. re: hobbess

                              I subscribed for 2 years and did not renew due primarily to poor customer service. My problems were minor and easily resolved but no one would get back to me. I sent a long letter detailing my problems to the head of customer service and never heard back.

                              1. re: crimcard

                                And probably the head of the customer service never read it.

                                1. re: crimcard

                                  That's the reason why I'm so wary about subscribing to CI website or CI; I've heard too many similar stories about that happening.

                                  Its my theory that companies do this on purpose to make it as difficult as possible so that frustrated customers give up. When my internet connection was done for almost a week, it was not only inconvenient but I also thought it wouldn't be fair that I should be charged for week. Two hours on the phone and after calling multiple different people, I just hung up the phone after realizing that I had better things to do.

                            2. I'm not a member but I get their e-mails, each including a taste test and equipment review. They claim they've revamped the web site, but I wouldn't know.

                              The equipment reviews have worked for me. I've bought their top choice several times and have no complaints. Whether all their ratings below the top are sound, I wouldn't know.

                              1. I'm not a subscriber, so I'd have a hard time evaluating on the whole. But I have seen their knife reviews - and I know enough about kitchen knives to point out a couple flaws in their methodology. Whether or not those flaws are major or generalize to their other reviews, I can't say for certain.

                                Their knife reviews were, for the average consumer, a fairly sound test. As others pointed out, there may be some bias inherent in which products they choose to review, but that strikes me as unavoidable.

                                But there was also an assumption of who they were reviewing products for that led to a subtler bias. It was assumed that knife buyers would be lax or unskilled in sharpening, that they were somewhat unskilled in using their knives. As such, they reviewed knives with no consideration for ease of sharpening, edge-taking ability of the knife, or edge durability. They found that knives with unfinished factory edges were (surprise!) not very sharp. They came to findings like an offset edge made no difference in a bread knife when cutting bread, seemingly oblivious to the fact that an offset edge is designed to make a serrated knife easier to use on items besides bread.

                                In essence, they made recommendations that are most appropriate to people without any specialized needs from knives or much knowledge of knife maintenance. In other words, the average home cook. And while this is all well and good, one should keep it in mind when wondering why Cooks Illustrated is not more relevant to knowledgeable enthusiasts and culinary professionals - their reviews (of knives, at least) don't seem to have these populations in mind.

                                Edit: I'd also like to point out that there are frequent posters to this cookware section who I'd trust far above and beyond CI. Said posters are very knowledgeable and their adivce is customized to those asking for it.

                                1. There may be another source somewhere for equipment reviews based on the same kind of rigorous testing that CI employs - but I've never found it. I have always found their reviews to be accurate and helpful. I always like that they provide a 'best buy' pick as well. As another poster wrote - you would look to expert reviews for almost everything else you spend money on. Why should this be different? These people know what they are doing and I have never been disappointed in the CI reviews.

                                  1. Folks, this is the Cookware board, and as such it is the appropriate place to discuss Cook's Illustrated's cookware picks, but discussion of its customer service and website vs. magazine is off topic here. The Food Media and News board is the appropriate place to discuss those topics, and there are several existing threads there addressing them to get you started.

                                    1. Back on topic. I agree with the poster who compared CI with Consumer Reports. While it might be helpful to post on Chowhound or look at Amazon reviews, these are self-selected samples of people who either like or don't like a particular model, so there's no real comparison. From what I can tell, when CI tests something they use multiple testers and all the testers test all the items using the same criteria, and that's about as good as it gets. I can't say they are always right, but they are not afraid to say a $20 knife is better than a $120 knife.

                                      What I don't like is that their choices of items to compare seems skewed to those you can find at BB&B and other big stores, and they don't update them often enough.

                                      And I doubt Herring is correct that CI is non-profit. It's cooksillustrated.com not .org -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Zeldog

                                        Hmm. You might be right; it may not be nonprofit, though the lack of a ".org" isn't a deciding factor. (I was the one who initially compared it to Consumer Reports, which *is* nonprofit; I thought they both were.) In any case, the point is the same: They do not take advertising for their magazines or tv programs in an effort to remain truly independent. Whether they turn a profit or not is irrelevant.

                                        1. re: herring

                                          They are most definitely NOT a non-profit.. they just have a business model, at least for the magazine, that doesn't use paid ads, and its served them well. They instead rely upon subscription revenue, and they've achieved steady growth. When I get done ripping all the inserts out of my Food and Wine (and discounting all the adds), some of the ad-sponsored mags have a lot less content.

                                          If nothing else, read the reviews and look for WHY they judged something well or poorly.. the factors and tests they use can assist you in making your own decisions about brands that might not be on the list. When they tested colandars, they used a variety of foods - e.g. orzo, spaghetti, greens, to test draining without food spillage.. it was helpful to understand the full spectrum of how you may need to use a tool.

                                        2. re: Zeldog

                                          Zeldog,

                                          I understand your desire for Cook Illustrated to test higher quality and less common goods, but Cook Illustrated approach is to produce a review which affects the most consumers -- the same approach as consumer reports. As they see it, what is the point of reviewing a $5000 knife which less than 0.1% of the population can afford it.

                                          1. re: Zeldog

                                            "They are not afraid to say a $20 knife is better than a $120 knife."

                                            Actually, they love to say that.

                                            DT

                                          2. For the basics, read cooking for engineers. That taught me loads.

                                            For advice... well, I'm really happy with all of my stuff, but some of it, like my anolon pans, aren't everyone's cup of tea.

                                            My girlfriend doesn't like using them sometimes because she thinks they're "too nice" to cook beans in.

                                            1. I have found CI reviews on cookware to be inconsistent. When our Oster blender carafe broke, I bought one of CI's recommended blenders, and it was lightweight and underpowered. I returned it and bought a replacement carafe online for the Oster (which was not easy).