Good for: Shredding soft cheeses (for tacos or mac-and-Jack) and harder foods (say, potatoes for hash browns); use the side with the large holes. The medium-size holes make smaller shreds of hard foods. The tiny holes turn out fine, crumblike Parmesan. The single horizontal sharp edge is for shaving thin slices of hard foods, such as carrots―it’s great if you’re slicing just one, but for a dozen consider a mandoline.
Look for: A comfortable handle; rubber at the bottom to prevent sliding across a counter.
Tip: Lightly coat the outside of the grater plate with cooking spray so the food glides more easily (this also makes cleanup easier). When you reach the end of a piece of hard cheese, put it in your palm and rub your hand flat against the grater to prevent knuckle scrapes.
Good for: Shredding directly into a bowl or a pot (rasps are much handier than box graters for this task). With only a single (medium to small) hole size, they work well for small quantities of hard cheese or other foods, such as baking chocolate and coconut.
Look for: A handle with a grip that prevents slipping; a large grater plate (more surface area equals less effort).
Tip: If your hand tires, hold the rasp at a 30-degree angle against the counter for leverage. If cheese or chocolate starts to melt in your hand, place the food and the grater in the freezer for a few minutes, then grasp the food with a kitchen towel and continue to work quickly, says Linda Carucci, author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks (Chronicle Books, $23, amazon.com).
Shown: Microplane Series 35000 Medium Ribbon Grater, $15, microplane.com.
3 of 4Justin Bernhaut
Good for: Achieving a perfect dusting of Parmesan over rigatoni, or bittersweet chocolate shavings over cappuccino. Pass the grater around the table so you don’t have to worry about people touching the block of cheese (or making a mess) as they serve themselves. Rotary graters are also faster and more knuckle-friendly than other kinds, since the cylindrical grater plate never gets close to fingers.
Look for: A lightweight body; a small drum (with larger ones, cheese can spin out too far and splatter).
Tip: A rotary is not just for pasta night; reach for it on baking day, too. “Rotary graters are fabulous for grinding nuts,” says Carucci. “They come out superfine and delicate, much better than what you get from a food processor.”
Unfortunately, this product is no longer available.
4 of 4Justin Bernhaut
Good for: Releasing tiny bursts of concentrated flavor from cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, and citrus rind. More slender and with smaller holes than rasp graters, zesters make hundreds of fine cuts. They’re ideal for lemons and limes, since the tiny holes won’t pick up pith (the bitter white part of the skin). The five- or six-hole ones, called lemon or citrus zesters, are good for making lemon curls for martinis and espresso.
Look for: Razor-edged holes; a thin grater plate (the thinner the metal, the finer the cutting edge).
Tip: Running a lemon back and forth against a zester can create a blizzard of zest and spray. Instead, drag the zester across the rind, following the curve, as if you’re shaving the lemon. The zest will collect neatly on the underside. When a recipe calls for zest and juice, zest first; squeezed fruits lose shape and are hard to grate.