Mandolin slicers cut more quickly than knives, but are more dangerous. Here’s how to choose one and use it safely.
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What is a Mandolin Slicer?
Mandolins (also called mandolines) are great for quick and consistent slicing and julienning (cutting into strips, like fries) of vegetables and fruit. They can replace a chopper knife for many tasks
A horizontal blade is fixed to the middle of a metal or plastic board. Food is pressed down against the end of the board and slid towards the blade. The blade cuts a slice off the end of the food, which drops out through a slot in the board.
The width of the board (and the blade) varies from 3 to 8 inches.
There are different ways to collect the sliced food:
- Placing the mandolin over a bowl. The bottom edges of the mandolin should be ridged so that it doesn’t slide off the bowl.
- Holding the mandolin at about 30 degrees over a chopping board. One end rests on the chopping board and the other end is held in the hand or supported by folding legs. Rubber feet are useful to prevent slips.
- Placing the mandolin over a custom container that comes with the mandolin.
Popular brands include Oxo Good Grips, Benriner, Kyocera, Kai Shun, Cuisinart, Norpro, Kitchenaid, GSD, Zyliss, Borner, Jaccard, Pedrini and Bron. Prices range from ten dollars to a few hundred dollars.
Plastic Japanese Versus Stainless Steel French Mandolins
Mandolin boards are made out of stainless steel (typically French) or plastic (typically Japanese). Cutting ability is not affected by the type of material.
Compared to plastic, stainless steel mandolins:
- Are more expensive.
- Are harder to clean (gaps are caused by the wire and sheet metal construction).
- Last longer (the board lasts longer, not necessarily the blade).
- Typically do not come with a custom container that collects the sliced food.
Adjustable and Interchangeable Mandolin Blades
The blade is almost always stainless steel. Kyocera makes mandolins with ceramic blades. They stay sharp longer and don’t rust, but are not necessarily sharper than steel blades.
Most blades are angled diagonally across the board. Some mandolins have two blades forming a “V” shape. V blades aren’t always better. Some V blades do have good reputations, probably because of the quality of the blades, not the V.
Many mandolins have interchangeable blades. Different types of blades are fixed to removable plates that slide in and out of the board. The plates should lock securely in place. A plate that slips out when cutting is dangerous.
Mandolins ususually come with the following blades:
- 2 or 3 straight blades of different heights, to slice different thicknesses.
- 2 or 3 julliene blades, to julliene strips of different sizes.
Less common are:
- Cheese grater plates.
- Crinkle cut (wavy cut) blades.
- Double-edged blades for quicker slicing. The mandolin cuts on both the up and down stroke.
- Dicing plates to cut cubes (these require 3 strokes on different blades).
More sophisticated (expensive) mandolins are adjustable: the height of the blade (the thickness of the slice) can be changed by turning a knob.
How to Use Mandolins Safely
Mandolins can be more dangerous than knives.
Users cut themselves when they:
- Don’t pay attention and don’t realize that they’re running out of food to slice.
- Try to slice down to the last sliver of food, instead of pulling out a knife to finish the job, throwing the stub away or snacking on the stub.
- Use too much force: slicing food that is too hard (radishes, beets) or too wide (wider portions need more force to slice, cutting a piece into half with a knife reduces the force by half), or using a blunt mandolin.
- Don’t use safety equipment: food holders (safety guards), steel mesh and other cut-resistant gloves (butcher’s gloves).
- Keep loose blades in a drawer instead of in a box.
The Best Mandolin Slicer
The quality of the blade is more important than anything else. Sharp and durable steel blades don’t have to be expensive. An Internet search will turn up user reviews of cheap and good mandolins. The Amazon links at the top of this article will lead you to user reviews.