Selecting a mandoline is a lot like beginning a new relationship: Before you can know what makes a suitable match, you have to know yourself.
There are several crucial questions to ask: What type of slicing will I be doing? How much am I willing to spend? How often will I really use it? (Be honest.) The answers will help determine which type of mandoline is best for you.
The ones I tested are listed here in three categories -- small, medium and large, with corresponding price tags. And then there's one mandoline that was so impressive -- the Oxo -- that it deserved a category of its own.
To understand why the Oxo is so right, you have to grasp what is less than ideal about all the others:
SMALL and GOOD FOR SLICING
These small, flat, inexpensive plastic mandolines do an adequate job of slicing. The not-so-sharp blades tend to falter at the julienne and other fancy cuts and, when not in use, they slide around dangerously in the junk drawer. But if you just want to slice potatoes and apples, this is your machine.
There are a number of unwieldy models with blades molded into pieces of plastic -- also known as V-slicers -- that snap into place with some difficulty and create a higher propensity for injury. I prefer the Super Benriner, a pastel-colored model with a runway wide enough to accommodate a (small) halved cabbage or a jicama. It's lightweight, thin and stores easily in a drawer. The thickness is adjusted by turning an awkwardly situated, tight-fitting screw. The blades are a pain to change, so stick with simple slicing. About $19.
MEDIUM and MEDIOCRE
Medium-size mandolines have more bells and whistles than the small ones and take up less counter space than the big boys. The Oxo model fits into this category.
Hoffritz took a unique and clever approach and mounted the mandoline on the lid of a metal bowl that snaps into place. The lid has handles to grasp for support while you're slicing and the food falls into the bowl. The bowl tends to slide around, and it takes up plenty of cabinet space. But the model's interchangeable blades, attached to plastic pieces, snap into place with ease. ($69.99 but often on sale for as little as $19.99, at amazon.com).
Matfer makes a fiberglass model that is unimpressive at any price but is particularly insulting at $140. The pusher-cum-safety guard is inadequately shaped and doesn't stay on track. The blades are dangerously difficult to change. The whole thing is pretty unstable. Several other Matfer models exist, but I was too irked to try them.
LARGE and CUMBERSOME
These large, seemingly treacherous slicers are traditional European-style mandolines geared toward professional kitchens. For years, the standard was a stainless-steel model designed by de Buyer for Williams-Sonoma. It offers collapsible legs, a pusher and safety guard that tracks along the length of the mandoline -- and pretty much stays on track. It also has easily interchangeable blades, obvious markings that identify the exact thickness of each corresponding blade and a straightforward, though slightly cumbersome, means of changing the thicknesses. Comes with a detailed instruction manual. The only hangup is its $185 price tag. There is a similar but less user-friendly model made by Bron ($179.95).
THE PERFECT MANDOLINE
Oxo, which initially gained a large customer base with its ergonomically correct vegetable peeler, is known for improving upon the designs of common kitchen tools. And so the Manhattan-based company has struck again.
The Oxo Good Grips Mandoline, which was more than three years in development, seems to have plucked the best stylistic design component from a few of the other noteworthy mandolines and then devised a few nifty tricks all its own to form a composite miracle mandoline. The smartest innovation is that the most commonly used blades can be turned with the twist of a knob instead of being manually removed and inserted.
But, less obviously, the Oxo design is more stable, with its low profile and splayed legs with nonslip feet. The blades that are not in use are covered, which helps prevent mishaps for hands in a hurry. The safety guard-pusher is free-standing and thus easy to use on any ingredient, not just the slender ones. The waffle-cut blade is not relegated to the bottom of the mandoline, as is the case with many models. $70. Available at Williams-Sonoma; call 877-812-6235 or see www.williams-sonoma.com.