The rotary grater was one of the best things that could have happened to Parmesan cheese. It helped introduce the solid wedge of Parmesan to the American dinner table by making the task of grating not only simple but also sort of fun. That in turn helped people realize that freshly grated Parmesan—the authentic Parmigiano Reggiano in particular—also tastes so much better than factorygrated cheese. The mechanics of these tools are quite straightforward. A sharp-toothed drum is rotated by a handle as the cheese (or other food) is pressed up against it for more efficient grating. In evaluating ten rotary grater models, we found that some are significantly more effective than others. In fact, we found just three that we wanted to stock in our test kitchen.
How we ran our tests
We evaluated ten graters primarily for their ability to grate Parmigiano Reggiano, although grating nutmeg, chocolate, and nuts were also part of the tests. We considered grating efficiency, the comfort of the grip and overall feel (including leverage), the size of the chamber, the consistency of the grated cheese, and the amount of cheese left in the chamber at the end of the task. We also considered stability and ease of assembly. All three of the rotary graters we liked are widely available at kitchenware stores and online at Amazon.com. Our top choices are listed below; the other graters we tested were made by Copco, CuisiPro (Accutec and stainless-steel models), DeLonghi (cordless electric grater), Leifheit, Microplane, and Pedrini.
Average retail price: $14.99
Pros: Testers liked this grater for its seemingly effortless, smooth grating action—not jerky at all. Little pressure is needed during grating. The handle is relatively short, a feature those with smaller hands liked, although it was less popular with one tester with large hands. The turning arm can be set on the right- or left- hand side, although for lefties, the rotating action of the turning arm is backward (rotating toward the user). A coarse grater drum is available separately, as is a measurement cup that fits on the side of the drum and comes with a lid to double as a storage container.
Cons: The handle isn’t particularly comfortable or slip-resistant when wet, although its overall ease of use made comfort and grip less of a pressing matter. As noted above, the handle may be too short for those with larger hands.
Average retail price: $19.99
Pros: The ease and sharpness of this model’s grating action makes it particularly noteworthy. The chamber that holds the cheese is the largest of the three graters featured here. The rather long handle makes leverage easier at the beginning of grating a large chunk of cheese but more of a challenge when grating the last bit. It comes with two additional drums, one with coarse grating teeth and one for slicing, although these weren’t included in our evaluation.
Cons: It’s rather bulky, and the plastic handle doesn’t offer the best grip. The turning arm fits on the right-hand side only.
Oxo Grips Seal & Store
Average retail price: $15
Pros: With a silicone seal around the rim of the chamber’s lid and a cap that fits on the side of the drum, this grater doubles as a storage vessel for extra cheese. The cap to the drum is also handy when you want to grate a quantity of cheese (e.g., for a measured amount for a recipe) without it tumbling out as you grate. The soft, slip-resistant grip to this grater’s handle and rotating knob are remarkably comfortable. The grating action is relatively continuous, producing mediumfine shreds of cheese.
Cons: The silicone seal on the chamber lid creates drag, which makes it hard to lift up the arm and creates some added resistance when pressing the arm down during grating. The turning arm sets on the righthand side only.
How fine is fine?
When not to use a rotary grater
Most manufacturers of rotary graters tout them as effective at more than just grating a hunk of hard cheese. They’re often recommended for grating nutmeg, nuts, and chocolate. After trying all these tasks with each of the ten graters evaluated, we found that rotary graters are really best suited to just grating hard cheese.
Most couldn’t grate nutmeg to a fine enough consistency. We prefer a little nubby-toothed handheld nutmeg grater for that task.
Most of the graters were cumbersome at grating chocolate to use, say, for topping whipped cream on a dessert or a hot beverage. A wand-like rasp-style grater like a Microplane would be better at this.
And with a whole lot of effort, a rotary grater will grate nuts into a fine powder—useful for garnishing a dessert but little else.