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Spin it more ways than one

Special to The Times

“HAVE YOU ever used a salad spinner?” the enthusiastic saleswoman asked as she enumerated the virtues of the one I was buying.

Actually, I’ve always been old school, washing lettuce in a big bowl, then giving it another rinse in a colander. With a plate on top of the colander, I vigorously shake the leaves dry.

But it’s clear that I’m a lettuce loner. Nearly everyone I know seems to have had a salad spinner. But -- hardly anyone I polled said they consistently use them. One friend even said that she’d converted hers to a lingerie dryer.

Judging by how many of these devices appearing on store shelves these days, manufacturers are hoping to entice us to put our salads back on the spin cycle. In testing six new or popular models, I rated them on ease of assembly and use, appearance (especially whether the bowl was attractive enough for serving) and, of course, how well they dried the lettuce leaves. I deliberately started with overly drenched greens, and whirled each gadget for 30 revolutions.

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All the spinners have basic elements in common. There’s an outer bowl that houses an inner colander and a snap-on lid with a spinning mechanism. And that’s where things get interesting: Pick from cranks, knobs, levers and a plunger.

If this were a beauty pageant, the crown would go to the new Zyliss, with its clear green bowl. Even the colander is pretty enough to double as a fruit basket. But the Zyliss and another newbie by Oxo have features that seem superfluous. Both models have lock buttons, which I mistakenly assumed had some functional use. After struggling with this notion for a while, I realized that the lock buttons actually were just there to create a flat surface for storage, by keeping the lid mechanisms down.

The Oxo and Zyliss also have instant stop buttons, in case you’re too busy to wait 30 seconds for the whirling to stop on its own. This emergency brake is pretty silly.

The simplest and least expensive model, by Copco, was easy to use but didn’t dry the lettuce as well as the other two bargain spinners by Farberware and Cuisinart.

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The most ambitious design is found on the new KitchenAid Salad and Fruit Spinner, which has dividers, so you can keep your green grapes from co-mingling with the strawberries. The big, clear plastic bowl would have been OK for casual serve ware but is marred by the product name in bold print.

Did any of these gadgets send me spinning in delight? Maybe not, but I have to admit that they all dry lettuce more efficiently than my old bowl-and-colander routine.

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food@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Salad spinners are listed in order of preference. Some models may be available at retailers in addition to those listed. Internet prices do not include shipping.

Green machine

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The large Zyliss Smart Touch spinner easily handles 10 cups of lettuce leaves. There’s a lever-activated mechanism that you push up and down. For storage, this lever is held flat by the lock button.

What’s the difference: This spinner comes in small (two to three servings) and large (four to six servings) sizes. It’s available in white, but looks much cooler in bright lime green.

What we thought: Did a great job of quickly drying lots of lettuce. The big bowl makes a nice serving piece.

How much: About $30 at Sur La Table stores and $25 at cookingtoys.com.

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Keep it simple

The Cuisinart spinner is black and white plastic with a rubberized bottom to keep the bowl from slipping. You can fit up to eight cups of lettuce, but you get better results with half that amount at one time. There’s a rubber oval knob you turn to get things whirling.

What’s the difference: The lid has a place for one hand to hold the spinner while the other one grasps the knob. The colander is designed to do double duty as a strainer for hot pasta.

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What we thought: This spinner is just right if your kitchen or salads are on the small side. It’s easy to assemble, use and clean. Dries the greens, but the bowl is not nice enough to use for serving.

How much: About $15 at cuisinart.com and at Bed, Bath & Beyond stores.

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Heavy metal performer

This is Oxo’s newest salad spinner. The large, stainless steel bowl holds about 12 cups of lettuce. There’s a flat, circular knob that you press to spin the inner basket.

What’s the difference: There’s a brake button you push to stop the spinning instantly. The plastic lid comes apart for cleaning.

What we thought: It’s hard to say what the advantage of a more costly stainless steel bowl is, unless you want it to match the rest of your kitchen. But this spinner performed well. So well, in fact, that 30 revolutions is overkill. Half that many turns get the leaves thoroughly dry.

How much: About $50 at amazon.com and Williams-Sonoma stores.

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Divide and conquer

KitchenAid’s new Salad and Fruit Spinner includes a large, clear plastic bowl, a white colander and a bright red lid and base. It dries more than 12 cups of greens at a time. The spinning mechanism is a plunger.

What’s the difference: With eight parts, this spinner has more pieces than any of the others. There are three removable dividers, to separate different types of produce.

What we thought: The design is clever, and it effectively dried lettuce. But I couldn’t remove the plunger, which made cleaning difficult, since this part is not supposed to be immersed in water.

How much: About $32 at Kohl’s and Target stores.

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Full circle

Farberware’s Soft Grip Deluxe Salad Spinner has a knob that rotates a circle on the lid, which, in turn, spins the inner basket. It can handle about 10 cups of lettuce at once. It has the same red and white color scheme as the KitchenAid but is smaller.

What’s the difference: There’s a removable red, rubbery ring on the bottom to keep the unit from sliding around. The bowl has a pour spout that is a good place to rest serving utensils.

What we thought: For a low-priced spinner, this model performed well. The bowl would be fine for a casual serving piece.

How much: About $13 at Wal-Mart stores.

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Gettin’ cranky

Copco’s classic spinner holds about eight cups of lettuce and consists of three white pieces -- a bowl, colander and lid. To spin, turn the crank.

What’s the difference: The handle and bowl can be hung for storage.

What we thought: The price is right, but the lettuce didn’t get dry enough, even when the crank was put into overdrive.

How much: About $10 at Bed, Bath & Beyond stores.


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