Alex Arpaia/CNN

An excellent grater can improve the cooking experience by leaps and bounds. A well-designed box grater can speed you through a variety of tasks without forcing you to turn to a food processor, a good zester makes short work of adding flavors and a solid rotary grater lets you turn out fluffy grated Parmesan with minimal fuss.

We tested a dozen highly rated graters to find three picks that will elevate the grating and shaving experience enough to make a difference in your cooking and baking.

Best grater overall

The Cuisipro Surface Glide was the lightest and easiest to use. It grated every food we tested with finesse, plus it has thoughtful features like etched measurements and a cap on the bottom to hold in your trimmings.

Best zester and plane grater

Microplane is universally recognized as making some of the best zesters. Its blades are tightly spaced, creating more zest with less effort, and sharp enough to produce long, consistent strips with every pass.

Best rotary cheese grater

Most people don’t need a rotary grater, but this one stood out at grating fluffier Parmesan while being easier to disassemble and keep clean.

Best grater overall: Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology 4-Sided Boxed Grater ($31.96, originally $42; amazon.com)

Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology 4-Sided Boxed Grater
Alex Arpaia/CNN
Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology 4-Sided Boxed Grater

The Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology 4-Sided Boxed Grater was easier to use, captured more grated food inside and had greater functionality than the other two box graters we tried. This grater was able to handle vegetables, citrus fruit and hard and soft cheeses with ease. Every side, including the zester, worked seamlessly. And it had a bevy of features that others lacked, including different volume measures marked on the sides of the grater itself.

We found this grater smoother and far easier to use with a range of vegetables than competitors. The other box graters had issues capturing the grated ingredients inside the box itself, whereas the Cuisipro captured more food inside than out. It was also able to easily grate hard vegetables like carrots and soft cheeses like mozzarella using any of its various planes.

While the zesting portion of many box graters is absolutely useless, the Cuisipro was able to effectively zest and drop the zest into its capture area. With many of the others, zest got caught on the rasps, outside the box itself, rather than collecting inside the grater where we wanted it. While we recommend a plane-style grater overall for zesting, it was important to us that any box grater we recommend work effectively on all sides, and this one did that better than the rest.

This grater also had many extra features that we appreciated. The bottom has a lid that clicks into place, making it easy to collect your potato or cheese shavings without needing to have it situated over a bowl the entire time you’re using the device. On two sides, the Cuisipro has dry measures as well: up to 1,100 milliliter markers on one corner, and up to 4 cups on the other. We found this feature incredibly useful when doing things like grating large quantities of cheese for a recipe; it lets a user skip the step of dumping the grated stuff into a measuring cup before adding it to the recipe.

We also like that the Cuisipro is lighter and smaller than its competitors; it nestles easily into mixing bowls for grating directly into them. But similarly, it is light enough to hold for prolonged periods, if you need to keep the box elevated for some reason. For comparison, the KitchenAid was far heavier and too large to fit into smaller mixing bowls.

Best zester and plane grater: Microplane Premium Classic Zester Grater ($15.99; amazon.com)

Microplane Premium Classic Zester Grater
Alex Arpaia/CNN
Microplane Premium Classic Zester Grater

We tested six plane graters, or zesters, and across the board, the beloved Microplane Premium Classic Zester Grater came out on top. Its design isn’t as pleasing as the Cuisipro or Oxo zesters, but it delivered far better results, with less effort, and was just as comfortable to use and hold. The surface area wasn’t as large as other zesters, but the blades were closer together, resulting in more zest produced than competitors. It’s also handy for finely shredding cheese.

The Microplane Premium Classic Zester Grater was far superior in construction and results. Its tiny blades are punched far closer together than competitors, creating more zest with less effort. Anecdotally, the blades also seemed sharper, producing longer strips of zest or cheese more readily. This zester handled soft grapefruit skin far better than any competitors and was a standout with lemons too. A major issue with most zesters is that the shavings will stick and refuse to fall off the grater without outside intervention. The Microplane didn’t have this problem, as the processed fruits and cheese readily dropped off onto our test cutting board.

This zester also has a pleasing design. It has a chunky, ergonomic handle that’s easy to grip without outsized effort. The end of the blade has two nonskid rubber bumpers that grip the counter or a bowl without slipping while you’re grating. And there is a plastic protective cover that slides on and off to protect your hands when not in use. We ordered one grater for testing that didn’t have a cover, and I almost immediately nicked my fingers on the sharp blades, so any protective covering is especially handy.

Best rotary cheese grater: Oxo Rotary Cheese Grater ($16.99; amazon.com)

OXO Rotary Cheese Grater
Alex Arpaia/CNN
Oxo Rotary Cheese Grater

You probably don’t need a rotary grater, especially if you already own a good box grater or plane grater. But for those who eat a lot of pasta, or enjoy the novelty of these devices, the Oxo Rotary Cheese Grater is the best rotary grater we tried. The Oxo was easier to use, was able to grate cheese with a better texture and was simple to disassemble for cleaning. This grater also has a cover over the dispenser hole that opens and closes, so you can grate the cheese without sending it flying everywhere.

As with most kitchen accessories made by Oxo, the design of this grater is more thoughtful, with an eye toward all the smallest details. The handle is thicker, and therefore easier to hold, than on the competing Zyliss we tried. It also has rubberized grips on either side of the handle, ensuring the grater won’t slip if you hit a snag. The rotator’s handle is similarly well thought out, with a flat handle to grip that’s covered in the same rubber coating. And finally, the dispenser hole has a removable cover, with a sliding hatch to open or close when you’re ready to top your spaghetti.

The Oxo grater also shredded fluffier, longer strips than its competitor. Its chamber is bigger too, and could hold a larger sized chunk of Parmesan than the Zyliss. There is no need to chop down a big wedge into smaller pieces so it will fit comfortably into the grater. And, of course, you can hold more grated cheese inside the grater before releasing it with the aid of that removable hatch.

Finally, this grater comes apart completely for easy cleaning. With the aid of a simple lever that’s concealed within the handle of the device, the housing containing the grating mechanism opens up and the grating drum is released. This makes it easy to clean inside the grating cylinder and every part of the grater housing itself as well. Disassembly of the Zyliss wasn’t as straightforward — the handle twists into the grater drum itself. I wouldn’t have known this if I didn’t accidentally loosen it while testing. Furthermore, the Zyliss is harder to clean, as the housing for the grater itself doesn’t open fully. While both separate into three pieces, you’re unlikely to lose any pieces from the Oxo — the grater and handle are attached, and the larger housing is one complete piece.

Alex Arpaia/CNN

How we tested

We brought in 12 graters across three categories from various retailers to determine the best graters for any cooking circumstances. Although you won’t need to buy all three types, some combination of box grater, zester/rasp and rotary grater will serve most kitchens well.

First, we assessed the design and construction of each grater. We noted how well stamped the surfaces and blades were, if the handles were comfortable to hold and whether any graters were particularly heavy. Some had additional accessories, like an attached measuring cup that came with the KitchenAid box grater, and we noted the construction and utility of those.

Then we put each set of graters to the test. We had a bevy of ingredients on hand, including: potatoes, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, lemon, grapefruit and ginger.

For the box graters, we tested all four sides of each, noting if any performed especially well or poorly. We paid special attention to the zesters on the box graters, as those are often ineffective or too difficult to be useful. If you’re only going to buy one box grater, then it might as well work.

For the rotary graters, we gave the most attention to design and were secondarily interested in grating quality. All rotary graters will work, but whether or not they’re easy to use and clean sets the best apart.

And finally, with zesters and rasp graters, we tested on hard cheese and citrus fruits with an eye to how much effort was required to cut through the hard citrus peels and how well the fruit came off the zester. Of course, we looked for consistency with every grater we tried.

In the end, we thoroughly washed each grater, noting how easy they were to clean. We accounted for any food gunk stuck in hard-to-reach places and took note of how easy it was to clean up those crusty messes.

Other graters we tested

Box graters

Cuisinart Boxed Grater ($12.50, originally $22; amazon.com)

Despite being brand-new, this grater already felt old and dated to us. It lacked a cap on the bottom to hold in grated food, so it must be used over a bowl or other container. The Cuisinart also failed to capture the grated material inside of the box effectively, with almost as much potato getting stuck outside the box as going in, and the grating experience wasn’t smooth.

KitchenAid Gourmet 4-Sided Stainless Steel Box Grater ($23.08, originally $30.99; amazon.com)

The KitchenAid grater was especially heavy and onerous to hold, and the lid fell off the bottom after being picked up, without anything in it. The blades didn’t feel particularly sharp either and seemed like they would give a pretty painful cut if you had any slipups while using this grater. The shape of these blades was slightly more useful and modern than the Cuisinart but paled in comparison to our pick, the Cuisipro.

Rotary grater

Zyliss Classic Rotary Cheese Grater ($21.29; amazon.com)

This rotary grater was smaller, holding less cheese than the Oxo and lacking features like the grater cover. It was also harder to disassemble for cleaning and didn’t produce cheese that was as voluminous when grated.

Zester/rasp graters

Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology Deluxe Dual Grater ($13.95, originally $17; amazon.com)

It was nice to get two sizes of grated materials in one small tool from this, but it felt redundant to the Cuisipro box grater. We also didn’t love that it lacked a handle; instead, it makes you slide the plastic cover from one end to the other, making you grip it that way.

Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology Fine Rasp ($16.95, originally $20; amazon.com)

This Cuisipro rasp was pleasant to use and did the job well, but the rounded end ultimately felt slippery on our cutting board. Unstable graters are a deal breaker because if they slip, then you’re liable to cut yourself.

Deiss Pro Citrus Zester and Cheese Grater ($10.98; amazon.com)

Citrus was very difficult to grate on this zester. The skins of the lemons were repeatedly getting stuck, without dispersing onto our cutting board. It also wasn’t as ergonomic as competitors, making it less comfortable to hold.

Microplane Classic Zester Grater ($24.12; amazon.com

A close second to the Microplane Premium Classic Zester Grater, this lacked a few of the key features that our main pick had. The handle wasn’t as nicely made — with a hard plastic that was unforgiving — so it didn’t feel as comfortable to hold. And it lacked the rubber bumpers on the ends that keep the Microplane Premium from sliding around.

Oxo Good Grips Etched Zester and Grater ($9.99; amazon.com)

We liked the Oxo, but the blades and holes were a bit on the small side and spaced out too far, requiring more work to get a comparable amount of grated material than our top pick. It also didn’t handle ginger as well as its competitors.

Rosle Stainless Steel Coarse Paddle Grater ($39.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)

The Rosle was larger than most of the box graters we tested but was less flexible, with only one size of grating hole to choose from. It similarly felt enormous over our medium-sized mixing bowl, and was unwieldy overall. While it worked well on potato and mozzarella cheese, you’d be better off buying a box grater for the versatility.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: