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Benriner: It Will Cut You

Meet the Benriner mandolin.
Meet the Benriner mandolin.

There is no piece of kitchen equipment more effective, more necessary, more time saving, and more lethal than the Benriner mandolin.

The Benriner mandolin can be found in nearly every professional kitchen. This handheld green machine of slicing efficiency is as essential to a kitchen grunt as a knife itself. Always looking to shave time from today’s prep list while maintaining quality handiwork, the Benriner is a primitive need. And shave, you will: several layers of dermal structure if you don’t give the Benriner slicer the respect it demands.

The aquamarine green, molded plastic, lightweight slicer is just about three inches of laser beam-sharp cutting surface that turns potatoes into chips, carrots into matchsticks, and zucchini into batons of capable crudite.

In the box, the slicer is built around a fixed, stainless steel blade mounted just below a height-adjustable slide. The slide is outfitted with a single thumbscrew to adjust the thickness of the target food item. From microns in thickness to a solid quarter-inch, the platform guides parsnips, fennel, jicama, daikon, and other firmish ingredients. A little industry insight? Have some water in close proximity to dip said ingredient. The result? The water works like lube to make for easier slicing as well as a little less struggle at cleaning time, as the clingy vegetables give up their grip a bit easier.

Also in the box are three vertical blades for minimizing all that ails your prep list. Mostly. There are 1/16”, ⅛”, and ¼” blade dies that work in tandem with the fixed blade. The dies pop out with the twist of two set screws situated just at the top of the fixed blade.

The guard is a wonderful safety tool to grip vegetables and make slicing a bit more manageable, especially in the hands of somebody a little less experienced. But it sucks in design. The guard is cumbersome to move with ease, inhibits limiting waste by allowing too much of the food to remain unsliced and, worst of all, slows the process. Easily remedied, the push guard is handily removed. With the guard ejected, kitchen life becomes a lot more exciting. Using the Benriner comes with its own set of life’s little hurdles. Without the guard, you will bleed. This isn’t a little nick with, say, a vegetable peeler. No, friends, this is full-on, skin-stripping, bloodletting full tissue removal. There is a newer model that has—gasp!—the cutter guard/pusher permanently affixed. The problem? Versatility is limited. If that watermelon radish doesn’t nest within the confines of the pusher, no easily cut radish for you! But, like our industry that hurts us over and over, we work through the pain and return for more. Cooks rule!

This ubiquitous tool has been a part of the kitchen arsenal since 1940. With that type of longevity, especially without batteries or a power cord, there is a cause for serious staying power. So what could possibly be unexceptional about the Benriner? The steel blades require impeccable cleaning and even more ritualistic drying. Steel is steel. And steel rusts. It will still cut the hell out of your fingertips but will do it less delicately.

There really isn’t anywhere to store the extra cutting dies. The adaptability to cut various widths adds flexibility to the Benriner. Inevitably, the ¼” blade needed for the allemande potatoes will go missing when most needed. Maybe somebody will build a low-cost 3D printed case to keep the parts in one, dry space. Until then, in the toolbox she lives.

There are other mandoline-style cutters on the market. The ubiquitous Bron mandoline, for instance, is a formidable tool. The all-steel construct folds flat and keeps the variable blade array onboard. But the Bron is not a contender for the Benriners top seed. For starters, the Bron rings up at nearly $100 more than our little green, plastic-injected model. More concerning, as if budget weren’t critical enough, is the fixed blade. The pricier Bron has a riveted blade, while the fixed blade on the Benriner can be removed for sharpening and replacement.

There are new Benriner versions, including a BPA-free model as well as a catch tray available for the classic model. Why mess with perfection? There are wider iterations, as well. Handling becomes an issue as the wider the blade, the more gusto becomes necessary to drive the prep. Holding onto the mandoline and guiding even more vegetables may mean even more trips to Urgent Care. The classic Benriner is part of a chefs’ mettle. Once you master the hard way of julienning twenty pounds of carrots, you earn the right to julienne a little easier if not just a bit more courageously.

Jim Berman

Jim Berman is a kitchen lifer. A career cook, Jim orchestrates new menus, works on staffing solutions and manages food purchases. He received his formal culinary training in New Mexico, and has done stints in kitchens in Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, and the Delaware Valley. Jim’s writing is regularly featured on Poached Jobs, Foodable, Toast and Kitchen Grit.

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