Peel-Off: Which Peeler Works the Best?
A few weeks ago our beloved culinary editor Rebecca Firkser made a bold claim: You should physically throw away all your peelers and replace them with Y-peelers. This, I felt, was an affront. My colleague knows what she's talking about—I regularly consult her on such topics as "what should I make for dinner tonight" and "what should I do with this overabundance of butter"—but I am a straight peeler devotee, and have been since I was a wee child peeling potatoes for my Irish granny. In fact, some of my gnarliest kitchen injuries have come from when I attempted to switch up my peeling situation.
The more I talked to the culinary professionals I have the fortune to work around, the more I realized that this whole peeling thing was very much up for debate. The Food & Wine team seems evenly split between straight and Y-peelers, for example. Extra Crispy Associate Editor Kate Welsh swears by a straight peeler, and Senior Food & Drinks editor Kat Kinsman uses a very specific Y-peeler with a cushy handle. So, like an extremely regular not-at-all obsesssive person, I organized a peel-off.
The kind people at Kuhn Rikon, truly a one-stop-shop for every kind of peeler you could imagine (and the maker of the Y-peelers Firkser prefers), sent over an array of peelers for us to test. To me, "novelty peeler" just sounds like "hospital bill," so I admit that I approached some of the offerings with trepidation, but emerged with all of my fingers intact. If you're attempting a new peeler at home, though, it couldn't hurt to put on a pair of cut-proof gloves while you're getting the handle of it.
Swiss Swivel Peelers
First, we tried out a standard straight peeler, one that Kuhn Rikon sells in a pack of two as a "Swiss swivel peeler." This is the kind of peeler I grew up with, and felt comfortable handling, but Firkser remained not a fan. It took her two seconds longer to peel a carrot and almost six seconds longer to peel a potato. "I hate this, I feel like I'm being stifled," Firkser said. Which, fair enough, but there was some implicit bias going in, of course.
Firkser was able to sip through the work of peeling potatoes with this bad boy, largely because it allows you to peel both up and down instead of just one direction. And I can see what she means. I found the straight peeler much easier to handle than a Y-peeler when it came to peeling an apple (who doesn't love that one long unbroken peel strip—I mean the satisfaction) but admittedly less good with a potato. Probably the lesson here is that different peelers are better for different tasks, but that's much less fun than choosing one peeler that rules supreme.
Serrated Straight Peelers
As we were working through a pile of carrots, potatoes, and apples, we hit upon a straight peeler that made Firkser change her tune. This is the serrated piranha peeler, a peeler that's very similar to the swiss peelers above but with a grippier, serrated edge. (I should note here, smugly, that this is the peeler I use at home and love deeply, so obviously I was pleased to see Firkser's conversion.) "I'm so happy right now," Firkser said. "I was really ready to hate it."
Another hit of the peeler parade is the stainless julienne peeler, a sleek-looking little number that made incredibly satisfying, even ribbons out of carrots. If you don't have room for a spiralizer, this is a lovely option for making slaws out of carrots and zucchinis. It wasn't as effective with the squash, potatoes, or apples, but it's a nice, smaller alternative to bulky counter-top devices or actually developing knife skills.
We also tried several double-sided peelers, which might be handy for the home cook who wants an all-in-one device that offers both a serrated and a straight peeling side, but which we found clumsy to use and harder to clean. Maybe I'm just not that precise a cook, but I can't imagine a situation where I would need both a serrated and a straight peeler for most things, and if I really did, I'd probably invest in two different peelers rather than deal with a two-sided one.
The novelty peeler that everyone in the kitchen fell in love with was a total surprise: the wide peeler, a kind of super-sized version of a Y-peeler. It is enormous, and not suited to tasks like peeling a carrot. You should also be careful with its large sharp blade or you'll peel your own hand. But have you ever attempted to peel a butternut squash and felt helpless and frustrated as you jab away at the skin? Yeah, this puppy solves that problem. It essentially functions like a handheld mandoline, not only evenly removing the skin of squash but also slicing potatoes into beautiful, even slices. You could make one heck of an impressive salad with it. It was another device I came in slightly afraid of, and came away coveting.
Another thing that this test showed was how nice it is to have a good, sharp peeler. If you've had your peeler more than a year and you use it often, it's probably worth replacing it. It's one of those kitchen devices that's fairly cheap and hard to sharpen, and it makes a world of difference when you have a nice, fresh, sharp one versus an old, dull one. You could say it's just so much more, ahem, appealing.