Our experts assessed kitchen units from big-name brands including B&Q, Ikea, John Lewis and Wickes in our lab to find out how well made they are.
A kitchen's carcass is an integral part of any kitchen. It should be sturdy, excellent quality and able to withstand daily use from the whole family.
We looked at flat-pack and pre-built units. Kitchens can only be Best Buys if they score highly in our lab assessment and are made by a kitchen brand that was highly rated in our customer survey.
Many of the national kitchen companies use the same one or two kitchen carcasses for all of their kitchens. Then you add different doors and accessories depending on what range and style you're after.
Sometimes the difference between different units from one brand is whether they come flat-packed or pre-built. Pre-built can be quicker to install, while flat pack units can be cheaper. We've assessed both.
The carcass underneath the door styling is the same so our Best Buy units logo applies to all the different kitchen ranges the manufacturer uses that particular unit for.
For each different kitchen carcass sold by a brand, we looked at a drawer unit, a floor cupboard unit and a wall unit, both with shelves.
For all of them, we also asked the brands to supply the basic, entry-level drawer fronts or doors and handles that would accompany that carcass. We didn't assess the individual doors or drawer fronts.
If the kitchen units were flat-pack, they were assembled in lab conditions by furniture experts. All of the units were then attached to a wall and, where applicable, to each other as they would be in a normal kitchen. They were then assessed by our experts.
To make sure that the kitchen units you choose are great quality – the look, feel and build – we first examined how well each unit is built overall and the quality of its inside. Then we rated it for specific elements, including whether it had any:
Examining the joins, we assessed whether the method used to construct them (for example, dowels and glue or cam-stud and metal dowels) would have an impact on build quality, and whether any joins were irregular and uneven or had gaps.
We also noted what the units are made of, for example whether they were constructed from a material or finish that is known to be less durable and likely to scratch more easily.
In the average kitchen you're likely to be loading your shelves and drawers with heavy pans, bulky bags of flour and sizeable gadgets.
So we looked at how well the drawers, shelves and hinges dealt with force being placed on them.
To do this, we applied pressure to all of the shelves and base of the units, as if someone was using them to stand up. We did the same thing to the base of the drawers, and separately the drawer fronts, once when they were partly open and again when fully extended.
This allowed us to see whether the drawers themselves, and the runners that keep them in place, hold up under pressure.
We also noted whether the shelves could be easily displaced by pulling them forward or lifting them up.
Finally, we checked whether the joins seemed to be under any particular stress.
Shelves, drawers or joins scored less if they flexed considerably or came off their runners or shelf supports.
The last thing you want is jerky and awkward drawers, or ones that easily come off their runners, clattering cutlery everywhere.
So we checked how smoothly they ran in and out, whether the drawers could be accidentally knocked or pulled off their runners, and how easy they were to remove and replace.
If you counted the number of times you open and close your kitchen doors over their lifetime, the number would probably reach into the thousands. So you want to know that your kitchen hinges will do the job of keeping the doors safely in place.
To examine their sturdiness and how well they are attached to the carcass, we put force on the open doors, as if someone was leaning on them or attaching a heavy rack. Those that flexed considerably or came away from the door or carcass were rated lower.
Some brands have soft-close hinges and drawer runners as standards, but others let you choose between these or standard fittings.
For each unit (drawers and shelves), if two versions were available, we examined everything based on standard hinges and drawer runners, and then for soft-close versions.
We were surprised to find that soft-close didn't make any difference to the overall scores and, across the board for all of the different elements, the marks were identical too.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't pay extra for soft-close or premium features, as these can give a kitchen a more luxurious feel. But it's not essential to make the kitchen units work better, so you could save money.
Once all of the kitchens were inspected, we calculated overall scores for the unit quality, loading of the shelves and doors, movement of drawers and runners, and hinges.
These scores were then weighted based on which are most important when finding the best kitchen – see below. This allowed us to calculate the overall lab assessment score.
As well as looking at the kitchen units themselves, we also looked at how easy they were to build (if they were flat-pack) and install.
We noted the clarity of the instructions, how simple it was to build the units and attach the handles, how easy they were to fix to the wall and each other (if instructions and the right equipment was provided), and how secure the fixings were.