Much of cooking involves breaking foods into smaller pieces, whether that’s dicing with a chef’s knife, pureeing in a blender, or crushing garlic with a garlic press. The grater may not be the most glamorous item, but it’s indispensable for ingredient prep of countless kinds, and there are mainly two types commonly found in kitchens: the box grater and the Microplane.
The Main Takeaways
Tiny, sharp blades can handle hard ingredients
Makes very even, small shreds
Small and easy to use over any vessel
Doesn’t work well with softer cheeses
Can be difficult to clean
Multiple blade sizes for different purposes
Can slice, shred, and grind
Great for cheddar or mozzarella cheese
Easy to clean
Awkward to grate over a small bowl, pan, or glass
Doesn’t work well with hard spices
Microplane Premium Zester
What it's best for: small and even shreds, hard cheeses and spices, garlic and ginger, citrus zest, grating over bowls, pots, and cocktail glasses
First made in 1991, the Microplane grater has a sharp edge carved into each of its teeth using a chemical process called photo-etching, which makes for a series of tiny blades that can slice off very even bits of just about anything. (No, really, anything: The Microplane was first sold as a woodworking tool that produces easy-to-collect shreds instead of sawdust. It didn’t catch on among cooks until a few years later.) This is a really durable item and will last a long time if you keep it clean and dry—I’m still using the same one I bought when I was setting up my first apartment well over 10 years ago.
This original Microplane model is long and narrow, made to be held over whatever vessel you need, whether that’s a boiling pot, a delicate cocktail glass, or any old mixing bowl. It’s ideal for harder ingredients, like aged cheeses and spices. It’ll also work to make fine shreds of garlic or ginger. With its tiny holes, it can’t handle large volumes of hard fruits or veggies, and will just kind of mush softer ones into puree. It makes lovely delicate strands of softer cheeses like cheddar or mozzarella, though this tends to clog up the holes pretty quickly.
Cleaning can be a little annoying with the Microplane, as bits of food can get stuck in the blades and need some scrubbing to remove. (Scrub down the dull back side of the grater so you don’t shred your sponge or your fingers!) It’s dishwasher-safe, but the machine isn’t great at removing food bits and might end up just baking them on with its high temperatures.
Cuisipro 4-Sided Boxed Grater
What it's best for: softer cheeses, shredding and slicing fruits and vegetables
The top pick in our testing of box graters, the Cuisipro is a top-of-the-line version of the classic tool. It has vertical channels etched into each side that reduce friction with the food and increase the surface area of the blades. The single-bladed slicing side works like a mandoline for items like potatoes or zucchini, and we got great results with Colby cheese on the large and small shredding surfaces. This model is actually a five-in-one tool, as the included base doubles as a ginger (or horseradish, or wasabi) shredder that separates the flavorful pulp from the stringy fibers.
The weakness of box graters in general is that they’re awkward to use in tight spaces. It’s tough to hold one over a hot stove while you grate, and the large opening at the bottom makes it hard to grate accurately over an individual plate, soup bowl, or drinking glass. This particular model is also one of the more expensive box graters out there—but on the other hand, it’ll last for years and years and is still not a huge investment compared to most other kitchen implements.
When it comes to cleaning, most stainless steel box graters—the Cuisipro included—are dishwasher-safe.
The box grater's classic design hasn’t changed much at all in a century or more. It’s one of the most multifunctional tools in the kitchen, with a different size of slicing or shredding on each of its four sides. You might use one to get evenly sliced potato chips, cheddar for a grilled cheese sandwich, shredded carrots and cabbage for creamy coleslaw, and thin-grated onions atop a hot dog—potentially all in the same meal. A box cutter is used in a stationary position, typically on a cutting board.
The Microplane is a much more recent invention, a grater with many tiny, sharp teeth created by a technologically advanced process. It can do things a more old-fashioned grater can’t. The tool is beloved for grating hard cheeses like Parmesan into teeny, even shreds that melt quickly and incorporate beautifully into soups or pastas. The heavy-duty Microplane can even stand up to hard spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, grating them into fine powder over a cocktail glass.
(We’re using “Microplane” to refer to the brand’s best-known, original product—the classic grater—but the Microplane brand now also makes a variety of kitchen tools, ironically including box graters.)
For thin and delicate shreds of Parmesan or pecorino that’ll melt right into your plate of steaming pasta, the Microplane can’t be beat. A box grater’s finest side can certainly handle hard cheeses, but it’ll yield pieces that are bigger and less even.
Winner: Box grater
To reduce a big block of cheddar or ball of mozzarella into meltable strands, the box grater’s large shredding side is the quickest and most efficient option. You can make thin, confetti-like shreds of semi-hard cheeses with a Microplane, but the blades will clog up quickly.
Fruits and Vegetables
Winner: Box grater
For slicing and shredding produce from carrots to apples to fresh coconut, you’ll need a box grater. It offers many different options for texture, and its rectangular base hold it firmly to the cutting board or countertop while you work. The holes of the Microplane are too small to be very useful with fruits and veggies, especially in large volumes.
For woody spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, or star anise, the Microplane’s sharp blades can carve off tiny, powdery bits that incorporate easily into mixtures. Even a box grater’s smallest side has teeth too big to slice through hard spices, and you’re more likely to grate your fingertips or knuckles while trying.
The goal of zesting citrus is to remove just the outermost layer of peel, which contains flavorful oils without the bitterness of the white pith. The small side of a box grater can do this, but the Microplane does it better. Its blades easily remove just a thin slice of peel, very evenly, while a box grater is more prone to get some pith along with the zest.
Should you buy a Microplane or box grater?
Of the two, a box grater is the much more multipurpose tool, good for shredding melty cheeses, slicing potatoes for chips, or turning fruits and veggies of all kinds into a variety of textures. A box grater can handle harder cheeses and hard spices, but it’ll never do as good of a job as the razor-sharp Microplane. Only the Microplane can create the delicate shreds of Parmesan that will incorporate gracefully into a plate of pasta, and it’s ideal for quickly grating hard spices like nutmeg or cinnamon into fine powder. If you can only have one, go with the box grater, but the truth is that most kitchens need both. Thankfully, neither one is terribly expensive, and they’ll last for many years.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Commerce writer Jason Horn has a master’s degree in journalism, has attended culinary school, and has been writing about food and drinks for almost 20 years. He owns way too many kitchen tools and gadgets but has been using the same box grater and Microplane for his entire career.