A Brief Guide to the Mandoline, the Scariest (But Most Amazing) Tool in Your Kitchen

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Williams-Sonoma)

One of my favorite kitchen tools is the mandoline, a super-sharp slicer that is admittedly quite intimidating with its razor-like blades and wobbly stance. But at the same time, it is so useful that I’ve overcome my fear of potential blood loss and gone on to embrace this hardworking appliance. Yes, the mandoline is scary, but it actually doesn’t have to be if you follow a few tips.

What Is a Mandoline (and Why Is It Scary)?

A mandoline is simply a kitchen slicing tool that allows you to make quick, even, and paper-thin slices of many fruits and vegetables. Some models even have interchangeable blades so you can create julienne and crinkle cuts as well.

You work it by sliding the fruit or vegetable over an unnervingly sharp blade that has been positioned on a rectangular plank of metal or plastic. By adjusting the blade, you can create thicker or thinner slices. It’s perfect for shaved or shredded salads and other salad fixings, pickles of all sorts, potato chips and fries, gratins, and krauts.

The only difficulty is that it’s relatively easy to slice off a fingertip while sliding your chosen fruit or vegetable over the blade — a gruesome event that makes me shudder just to think about it. But it’s also easy to follow a few simple guidelines that help prevent such occurrences. Here are some tips for keeping your relationship with your mandoline on the friendly side.

(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

Safety Essential #1: Choose Your Model Wisely

Do research, read reviews and testimonials, ask your friends — you want a safe, sturdy model with all the safety features in place. Look, for instance, for a model with a guard for holding the fruit or vegetable without having your fingers directly exposed to the blade.

More on Shopping for a Mandoline

  • Can You Recommend a Safer Mandoline Slicer?
  • What Is the Best Mandoline to Buy?

Safety Essential #2: Always Use the Hand Guard

Most mandolines should have a hand guard — a plastic claw-like thing that will grip the food you are slicing and act as a shield to protect your hands. The biggest danger in using a mandoline is not using the hand guard. You should always use the hand guard!

The hard part about this is that the hand guard needs a bit of the vegetable to cling to, so you’re often left with a chunk of it in the end. It’s tempting to want to slide this last chunk over the blade a few times, sans hand guard, in the name of thrift. Don’t do this. Never, ever do this because if you do this, you will lose a fingertip and you will bleed all over your food.

Safety Essential #3: Slow Your Roll

Another danger is that it gets a little thrilling when you develop a rhythm and start to quickly run your fruit or vegetable over the blade. There’s a tendency to get a bit reckless in this moment, and the last thing you want to be is reckless with your mandoline. So watch the pace and put safety first.

If your madoline has legs, then the legs should have grabbers so that it doesn’t slide all over the place. It should also balance really well on the legs and not wobble.

Safety Essential #4: Embrace the Armored Glove

Say you are the reckless type, or the thrifty type, or the forgetful type. Does this mean all is lost? Will the joys and benefits of the mandoline ever be yours? Relax! There is a solution for those of us who, for whatever reason, need to eschew the hand guard: the armored glove. If you can’t use the hand guard, always use the armored glove!

And Yet, It’s Amazing!

For all this talk of safety precautions, slicing, and bleeding, however, the mandoline is truly one of the most amazing tools in the kitchen. It’s worth the danger, as it’s slim and easy to store, yet it does much of the work of a food processor, slicing and shredding with speed and ease.

It also makes translucent, tender slices of tough vegetables like fennel and kohlrabi, enabling you to enjoy winter salads with crunch, texture, and real flavor.

No-lettuce salads