Cheese graters are indispensable in the kitchen because they're so versatile. There are several low-tech ones on the market, along with battery-powered and electric models that do all the work for you. Learn about the different types of cheese graters and discover which is the right one for you.
If you’re a cheese lover, then a cheese grater is a must-have in the kitchen. Freshly grated cheese just seems to taste more authentic than the packaged, shredded variety. And, of course, these graters come in handy when you’re making other dishes, too.
When you want some homemade hash browns, you can run the potatoes over the grater to get that shredded consistency that tastes so good when fried and topped with cheese and anything else you might like to add.
But not all graters are one and the same. So, without further ado, here’s a look at the different types of cheese graters. Considering their versatility, we can also call them kitchen graters. After all, they’re good for so much more than shredding cheese.
Table of Contents
- Types of Cheese Graters
- What to Look for in a Grater
- How to Use All the Sides of a Box Grater
- Uses for a Cheese Grater Beyond Shredding Cheese
Types of Cheese Graters
Manual Cheese Graters
These are low-tech and can be used anywhere, no batteries or power sources required.
Handheld Cheese Grater
A handheld grater is a type most of us are familiar with. It’s paddle-shaped, and you can only do the shredding on one side. Unlike a box grater, this flat grater only comes with one size of holes. They’re large and incredibly sharp, as you know if you’ve ever gotten your fingertips too close to them.
One thing people really like about these shredders is you can place them over the top of a bowl so that whatever you are grating falls right into it. Many hand graters come with rubber on the sides to provide traction so they don’t slip when placed this way. And since they are so thin, these graters allow for convenient, space-saving storage.
Rasp Grater (Also Known as a Microplane Cheese Grater)
Rasp graters are long and thin, so a lot of people confuse them with zesters. You can use a rasp grater (or Microplane) to zest, but it’s most often put to work to grate Parmesan cheese or another hard, aged cheese. If you want to give stir-fries and dressings a little extra kick, ginger is the perfect addition. But you’ll need to grate it first, and a Microplane grater is a good fit for the task. Its slender design and small holes make this Parmesan cheese grater incredibly easy to work with, no matter how you want to use it.
Box graters have four sides, and each side has different-sized holes. Usually, one of the sides can be used for slicing. I really like these graters because they are free-standing, so they’re easier to handle than the ones that are strictly handheld. A boxed grater can easily be your go-to when you’re working with hard cheese like Mozzarella or cheddar.
This tool really comes in handy for shredding all kinds of veggies, too — potatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. You will also need a grater to make cauliflower rice. Some people use this culinary essential to cut butter for biscuits or grate chocolate for decadent desserts. The only drawback to box graters is that they take up more room than some other types, so they are not as easy to store when space is limited.
These are inexpensive and a must-have for slicing fruits and vegetables into matchsticks or thin, uniform slices. This is the device of choice for many when they’re cutting up potatoes to make French fries or an au gratin dish. A mandoline will also make your life a lot easier when slicing apple chips.
It’s much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve such thin, precise cuts when slicing with a knife. Plus, these devices give you some flexibility to set the desired thickness of the slices. Higher-end models even give you the ability to cut out different shapes.
A spice grater looks a lot like a rasp grater but is even more narrow. (if you need to shred herbs and don’t have a spice grater, you can use the rasp or hand varieties instead). The smaller holes on spice graters give you more precision in cutting, and also make it harder to cut your fingers in the process. Including freshly grated spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, can transform the flavor of baked goods and other dishes.
Rotary Cheese Grater
Shredding dry, hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano can be a bit of a chore if you’re not using the right tool. That’s where a rotary grater comes in to take the tedium out of the task. What sets this cheese cutter apart is that you don’t move the cheese along the grater. Instead, the blade rotates along with the cheese.
With the help of a turning crank, the cheese is pushed against the drum blade. Using a rotary grater makes shredding fast and safe (meaning you shouldn’t have to go running for the first aid kit to deal with incisions to the fingers). These graters aren’t exactly alike; they vary a bit depending on the manufacturer.
One great way to put these graters to use is to make a little cheese garnish for pasta dishes, just like they do in upscale restaurants.
Electric Cheese Grater
This is an incredibly versatile tool. While it’s great for making shredded cheese, you can also use it to chop nuts and spices. And since it’s electric, it does all the work for you. This countertop cheese grater allows you to shred not only cheese but fruits and vegetables too. This countertop grater usually comes with a suction base to prevent it from slipping during use.
Automatic Cheese Grater
These graters typically consist of a handle attached to a grate. They’re battery-powered and come with a charging base. One advantage of automatic graters is their consistency, as they produce food shreds that are relatively uniform in size and shape. If you want to make your dishes especially pleasing to the eye, this is the device to use.
What to Look for in a Grater
Buying the cheese grater that’s right for you is easier when you know what to look for. Here are some factors to consider as you weigh your options.
- Food Receptacle. Some graters come with a container to hold the shredded food. This definitely keeps messes to a minimum
- Material. Most graters are made of metal. A stainless steel grater will likely be more effective than other materials at shredding finely. Interestingly, there’s been a growing demand for ceramic graters too, as this material is food-safe and looks good in the kitchen.
- Electric or Manual? If you’re going to be doing a lot of shredding, and want to give your hands a break, an electric grater will definitely simplify your culinary endeavors. However, if you want a smaller device or would rather go for something low-tech, a manual grater would probably be a better option for you.
- Type and Purpose. Think about what you’re going to use your grater to accomplish (grating cheese, shredding vegetables, shaving chocolate) and choose a device that’s best suited for the purpose.
- Ease of Use. Most likely, you’ll want a shredding tool that is easy to use and clean. If you have limited use of your hands, an automatic or electric grater will probably work better for you.
- Size. When people consider the size of a greater, they’re usually thinking about how much cabinet space it will take up when not in use. But also think about how much counter space it takes up when you’re putting it to work. A smaller grater will probably work better when meal=prep space is limited.
- Safety Features. Most graters have a stainless steel blade, which is great because it’s sharp and doesn’t contain any synthetic coatings that would leach into the food. However, safety is always a concern. Getting your fingers too close to the holes on a manual grater can definitely cause some injuries. An automatic grater or another high-tech model usually comes with safety features to allow for low-risk operation.
How to Use All the Sides of a Box Grater
Box graters give you maximum versatility because each side is a little different. But many home cooks aren’t exactly sure what to do with each side. Here are some tips for using all four sides so you can get the most out of your shredder.
- Use side 1 for ultra-thin slicing. This is the side you can use for making potato or fruit chips. It has three openings where you can apply food to the blade. Side 1, by the way, is the one that gets the least attention.
- Use side 2 for fine grating. The holes on this side look like tiny round stars. This surface is ideal for spice-shredding and citrus-zesting. Just watch your fingers.
- Use side 3 to turn cheese into finely-shredded strips. The smaller holes work well for grating spices when you’re making soup, or shredding firm cheese for pizza and pasta. If you want especially fine veggie shreds (like the kind used in zucchini bread or carrot cake), use this side of your box grater.
- Use side 4 for everything else. With its larger holes, this side of the grater is the one most of us use the most. If you are making latke, this is the side you use for shredding the potatoes. If you’re baking and don’t have time to leave the butter out to soften, you can grate it over this side instead. And if you want some fresh tomatoes for pasta sauce, this is another good time to use the grater.
Uses for a Cheese Grater Beyond Shredding Cheese
Graters are “jack of all trades” tools because you can use them for so much more than shredding cheese. Here are a few ideas for inspiration.
If you would rather use fresh tomatoes instead of canned ones when making a sauce, you can grate the tomatoes to achieve the consistency of crushed tomatoes. Just use the coarse surface of the box grater.
When you want to thinly slice a vegetable like zucchini, the grater will make for more efficient shredding. The stainless steel edge is just what’s needed to finely shave produce for salads and sides.
The next time you need a little lemon zest for a pie, use a grater, especially if you don’t have a tool designed just for zesting.
DIY Bread Crumbs
Have some bread that’s getting a little…stale around the edges? If you don’t want to throw it out, you can apply it to the coarse side of a box grater to make bread crumbs, which you can toast after grating. What’s great about this project is it involves minimal cleanup; the crumbs are easily contained at the bottom of the grater.
Grating Butter for Pie Crust
The butter needs to be “workable” so you can evenly distribute it throughout the crust to get just the right consistency. Grating the butter allows you to do just that.
When you want to add a little chocolate to your coffee or ice cream sundae, use a grater to make cocoa shavings. Shredded chocolate looks like it would be labor-intensive to make, but it doesn’t take too much time and effort.
A box grater is ideal for shredding cabbage for coleslaw. Since most box graters come with a receptacle to capture the shavings, it won’t make much of a mess.
There’s nothing like fresh ginger in your favorite Asian recipes. Use a cheese grater for nearly-perfect shredding.
Can you grate cheese if you don’t have a cheese grater?
Yes. If you don’t have a grater, you can use a food processor as a cheese shredder. Sometimes a food processor can also be used as a cheese slicer. Follow these steps:
- Chop the cheese into long rectangles or small cubes.
- Prep the food processor, making sure you’ve secured the cheese-shredding attachment.
- Close the top of your appliance and open the compartment where the cheese goes.
- Turn on the processor and begin feeding the cheese chunks into the feed shoot.
You can also use a knife to slice the cheese into matchsticks. That’s about as close to grating as you can get with that type of utensil. And it requires a lot of extra effort, so a food processor is the better choice.
What’s the best way to grate softer cheeses?
Soft cheese is really difficult to grate. To make shredding less of a headache, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes first. This will make the cheese firmer and easier to handle.
What kind of blade is most often used for shredded cheese?
Most shredded cheese as we know it is associated with coarse grating. When using a coarse grater for this purpose, the general rule of thumb is to select one with holes measuring one-quarter of an inch.
Is a grater the same thing as a zester?
No. These are two different tools. You can use a grater as a zester, but it won’t achieve quite the same consistency as the citrus peel-paring device. However, you can use a grater for so many other things.
Zesters, on the other hand, can only be used for shaving the inside of citrus peels. These gadgets are small and have only a few holes, producing small strips of citrus zest. Graters are larger and, in most cases, have more holes.