Obviously, they should prevent burns, but the best mitts should also be comfortable, dextrous, and durable.
The manufacturer of our winning oven mitt has informed us that this product has a new name and is now known as the San Jamar Cool Touch Flame Oven Mitt.
UPDATE: OCTOBER 2014
We recently learned that our winning oven mitt, the Kool-Tek 15-inch Oven Mitt by KatchAll (model KT0215), was updated, so we tested the new version. The new mitt has a magnet in the tag for easy storage, which we liked, but the manufacturer lowered its comfortable temperature threshold to 535 degrees for 30 seconds. (Previously the company had reported this to be 550 degrees and didn't specify a timeframe.) In our testing the new mitt was still comfortable, flexible and plenty protective. It's very slightly bulkier, but it's still our top pick for the best oven mitt.
How We Tested
We were always bothered by the high price of our favorite oven mitt ($44.95 each), and recently we began to wonder if newer (maybe cheaper) models might offer any advantages. We gathered eight mitts, including our former winner, priced from $14.95 to $44.95 each. We included the standard quilted cotton oven mitts but also many others made of fancier stuff, including leather, silicone, neoprene (a material used for wet suits), Nomex (a fireproof fabric worn by race-car drivers), and Kevlar (which is found in bullet-resistant body armor).
What were we looking for? Above all, a good oven mitt must be functional, offering protection from burns (obviously), but also letting the cook easily maneuver everything from a baking sheet to a heavy casserole dish to the handle of a hot skillet. We considered our level of control and comfort as we wore these mitts to perform our first task: moving hot sheet trays loaded with baking cookies. Many mitts were oversize, thick, and awkwardly shaped, making it hard to get a good grip and even leaving thumbprints in our cookies. Thinner, more form-fitting styles were easier to maneuver. In particular, one model let us use all of our fingers. Moving a scorching hot oven rack posed the next challenge, and some models became downright painful the longer we had to hang on. Disappointingly, our early front-runner failed this test: it quickly became too hot around the fingers. And what good is dexterity if you can’t take the heat?
So we turned up the temperature. Holding a full casserole dish that had just come out of a 450-degree oven, we walked around the test kitchen, timing the mitts’ heat resistance. To measure how hot they got, we wired our middle finger and thumb with temperature probes. When the temperature reached an unbearable 110 degrees, we called it quits. Some mitts let us travel only a few feet, others several yards before we had to put down the casserole. Most mitts clocked in at a respectable 45 seconds. The worst models withstood the heat just a paltry 18 seconds. Our old favorite, made of Nomex and Kevlar, lasted 1 1/2 minutes. The best performers? Silicone mitts that lasted well over two minutes—longer than most cooks would ever need to hold a hot dish.
Oven mitts must be washable. We stained each with a measured amount of ketchup, soy sauce, and vegetable oil and headed for the laundry room. (All mitts were machine-washable with the exception of the neoprene models.) The oil stain clung to some gloves, one faded, another emerged covered in lint, and a few shrank considerably. Only our winner and best buy emerged from the washer as good as new.
If your oven mitt accidentally comes in contact with a heating element, does it melt or scorch? With a fire extinguisher handy, we cranked the burner to high and stuck each glove in the flame for five seconds. Neoprene and terry cloth mitts caught fire (the neoprene smelled foul), leather gloves scorched, and Nomex models discolored. Again, silicone proved its mettle, emerging intact. Our winner, made of Nomex and Kevlar, was also unscathed.
Against its new crop of rivals, our old winner once again came out on top. While it wasn’t the most dexterous mitt we tested, its heat resistance and durability more than made up for a little stiffness. If $44.95 per mitt is too steep (and you will need two mitts for many tasks), we suggest our best buy ($14.95 each). It performed almost on par with our winner, with slightly less control in the thumb.