If you are only a passing acquaintance of tofu, you may think of it as watery and bland. Yet fans know it as a versatile ingredient that's exactly as flavorful as you choose to make it. So what's the difference? Often, it comes down to pressing your tofu in order to expel the excess moisture. That's how you get crispy tofu that's golden brown, with a meaty texture that soaks up the flavors of any marinade or sauce. You don't need an actual press to do this—you can press tofu between two plates or cutting boards, with a weight on top and tons of paper towels to soak up the moisture—but it's neater, and more practical, when you have the right tool for the job. Intrigued? We've rounded up six of the best tofu presses and explained what sets them apart.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Tofu Press
The Basic Design: Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of tofu presses. One is the box style, which fully encloses the block of tofu. The other is the plate style, which presses your tofu between two plates which are stacked horizontally in most cases but can also be vertical. Then there's the question of how pressure is applied. The simplest method is placing a weight over the upper plate, but more commonly, you'll see a system of either elastic bands, springs or thumbscrews used to apply the pressure.
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Where the Water Goes: Pressing a block of tofu squeezes out excess moisture, and what happens to it is a big question. In the simplest presses, the answer is just ... out. Where it goes after that is your problem. Most models make at least some effort to prevent the water collecting on your countertop, though. That might mean a drip tray built into a countertop design, or a compartment in a box-type press where the excess water can accumulate for later disposal. Some are more practical and convenient than others, so it's a point to consider.
Your Meal-Planning Style: Some presses are designed to give you a fully-pressed and usable block of tofu in 15 minutes, at the price of a little hands-on intervention (you'll need to tighten the thumbscrews repeatedly over that time). If you're the kind of cook who gets home at night and thinks "maybe some tofu?" then this will work well for you. If you're the forward-planning type, you may prefer a model that can simply be loaded and popped into the fridge, so it's hands-free while it does its work. You can fill the press in the morning before work, or even the night before, and have perfectly-pressed tofu waiting for you in the fridge when you're ready to cook. Both options are fine, but it's likely that one will fit your lifestyle.
Which Types of Tofu to Press
Before we start, it's worth taking a moment to outline which kinds of tofu you should press. You'll normally use your press with firm or extra-firm tofu, though some kinds of extra-firm—the ones that come in a vacuum-sealed "brick"—are already pressed and need no further preparation. Many presses will also offer a gentle squeeze to silken tofu, thought it's questionable how much you'd use that feature. Silken tofu's custardy texture is the whole point, so don't plan to press it unless it's specifically called for in your recipe.
The Best Overall Tofu Press
This is as practical as tofu presses get. Place your tofu in the bottom of the container (it'll fit most block sizes), position the pressing plate over your tofu, and then push down and twist the handle so it locks into place under the tabs on either side. That's it, you're done! The spring between the handle and press plate applies the pressure, and excess water accumulates on top of the pressing plate so you can pour it off from the top. Usually marinating your tofu is a separate second step, but because the moisture squeezes out the top rather than the bottom with the Tofu Xpress, you can add your marinade to the tofu compartment and do both steps at once. You can have firm tofu in as little as 15 minutes, or simply park it in the fridge until you need it. It's pricier than a lot of presses, but you can't argue with the results.
The Best Value Tofu Press
Like our top pick, the Noya is a box-type press that applies pressure through a spring-loaded lid. The sides of the chamber are clear and marked with measurements, so you can tell at a glance how compressed your tofu has gotten and how much water has been expelled. It's a bit more involved than our top pick—there are lots of hinged and latching pieces—but it's still pretty straightforward. There's even a knob on top of the lid that allows you to increase or decrease the pressure, depending how quickly you want your pressed tofu. It's made of food-grade, BPA-free plastic, and unlike many of these gadgets, the parts are all dishwasher-safe. You can't drain and marinate your tofu at the same time, as you can in the Tofu Xpress, but a second (airtight) silicone lid that's provided with the unit turns it into a marinating and storage container for your finished tofu.
The Best Bamboo Tofu Press
If you love tofu but avoid plastics wherever possible, this Yarkor tofu press may be exactly what you're looking for. It's constructed of eco-friendly bamboo, a highly sustainable material that's also naturally resistant to bacteria. It uses an open press design rather than the box style, with a perforated bottom plate set into a drip tray (which holds almost 2 cups of liquid) and then an upper press plate that's tightened with two thumbscrews. The open-sided design means it'll accommodate blocks ranging from 8 to 16 ounces; just center your block under the press plate and start tightening the screws. You'll have a finished block of pressed tofu in 15 minutes or less. The press should be drained immediately, then hand-washed and dried for storage. There's a two-year replacement warranty, as well, if you should encounter any issues of materials or workmanship.
The Best “From Scratch” Tofu Press
If you're a serious DIY type in the kitchen, or if you just like your tofu really, really fresh, it's absolutely possible to become a home tofu maker. The steps are straightforward and easy to understand: You turn soybeans into soy milk, then coagulate the soy milk to form curds, then drain them in a strainer and press them to make your tofu. This simple wooden box is a press in the classic style, with a single thumbscrew that tightens to apply the pressure. To form a block from your own newly-made curds, you'd wrap them in the supplied cheesecloth and pack that bundle into the press. To squeeze moisture from a store-bought block, you can simply center it under the press (use the cheesecloth if you want to, but it's optional). You can use the same press to make your own cheeses from milk, as well, because cheesemaking and tofu-making are very similar processes. Give it a quick hand-wash after every use and set it aside to dry immediately. You may need to oil it occasionally to keep the wood from drying out.
The Most Convenient Tofu Press
"Convenient" is a subjective term, but we can make a good case for this simple ToFuture tofu press as the most convenient to use. Like a couple of our earlier picks, it's a box-type press and it's very simple to use. Drop your block into press, put the lid on, and then pull down on the silicone bands at either end of the lid to secure it in place. There are three possible positions for the bands, depending how much pressure you want to apply. For fast results, you'd use the high-pressure setting, or you can use a lower-pressure setting if you're just going to pop it into the fridge for later. Because it's barely larger than your tofu, it's compact enough to take with you to your next Airbnb rental, and you can find a home for it even in the smallest fridge. A lot of people don't like single-use kitchen gadgets, but there's a lot to like about this one.
The Best Upgrade Tofu Press
Just about any tofu press will work well enough for occasional use, but if it's one of your staples, you might want to invest in something a bit heavier-duty. If that's you, this one from Raw Rutes is your tofu press. It's manufactured in Buffalo, New York from stainless steel (40 percent recycled!) and buffed to a high gloss. It's unmatched for ease of use: Just put your tofu in the press, and place the heavy lid presser on top. Gravity does the work, so you don't have to. The solid stainless steel construction offers a maximum of functionality and a minimum of maintenance. The price is about double what you'd pay for our top pick, but this high-quality press is something your grandchildren will use.