Fat Separators

Published November 1, 2016. From Cook's Illustrated.

Overview:

In the test kitchen, we often refrigerate stocks overnight so we can skim off the hardened fat the next morning. But if you’re making gravy or soup on a shorter timetable, you can use a fat separator to defat stocks and pan juices almost immediately. To find a favorite, we tested six 4-cup models (including our prior winner from Trudeau) priced from $11.99 to $33.95, using them to strain aromatics and separate fat from both 2-quart and 1-cup volumes of stock.

There are two types of separators—pitchers and bottom-drainers; we tested four of the former and two of the latter. With both types, you pour your stock or sauce into the separator through a built-in strainer at the top and wait a few minutes for the fat to rise to the top of the liquid. If you’re using a pitcher, you then pour off the liquid from a spout set into the base. If you’re using a bottom-drainer, you pull a lever set in the handle to release a plug at the bottom of the separator, allowing the liquid to drain out. Either way, the fat is left behind in the… read more

In the test kitchen, we often refrigerate stocks overnight so we can skim off the hardened fat the next morning. But if you’re making gravy or soup on a shorter timetable, you can use a fat separator to defat stocks and pan juices almost immediately. To find a favorite, we tested six 4-cup models (including our prior winner from Trudeau) priced from $11.99 to $33.95, using them to strain aromatics and separate fat from both 2-quart and 1-cup volumes of stock.

There are two types of separators—pitchers and bottom-drainers; we tested four of the former and two of the latter. With both types, you pour your stock or sauce into the separator through a built-in strainer at the top and wait a few minutes for the fat to rise to the top of the liquid. If you’re using a pitcher, you then pour off the liquid from a spout set into the base. If you’re using a bottom-drainer, you pull a lever set in the handle to release a plug at the bottom of the separator, allowing the liquid to drain out. Either way, the fat is left behind in the separator.

In our testing, we found that the two bottom-drainers we tested were generally more efficient than the pitchers at decanting both large and small volumes of liquid while keeping fat out. With the pitchers, some fat usually entered their pour spouts from the get-go, and as the liquid drained down to the last ¼ cup, it was harder to prevent fat from exiting, too. Bottom-drainers didn’t have this problem; because the fat stayed on top of the liquid, all we had to do was keep an eye on it and stop releasing the liquid when the fat got close to the bottom of the canister.

Defatting ability aside, certain models were just easier to use. Large-mouthed strainers provided us with bigger targets to hit when pouring stock and mirepoix from an unwieldy roasting pan. Strainers with sides taller than 1 inch acted as splash guards and helped keep solids in. And strainers with lots of little holes allowed stock to drain quickly into the separators without letting through any small aromatics. In addition, we preferred separators with large handles that were comfortable for testers of all hand sizes to grip.

A previous testing of fat separators showed us that a 4-cup capacity was the best size, giving users the flexibility to defat both large and small volumes of stock. Despite their manufacturers’ claims, however, several of the models we tested couldn’t actually hold 4 cups of liquid without overflowing. Two of the models had inaccurate measurement lines, and others had measurement lines that were too light to read. Few of the separators were easy to clean by hand; we needed fine bottle brushes to clean the pitchers’ pour spouts, and the release valve of one bottom-drainer tended to collect grease. In theory, all of the separators are dishwasher-safe, though after nine cycles, certain models warped, loosened, or cracked or their measurement lines faded slightly.

Our winner, the bottom-draining Cuisipro Fat Separator ($33.95), consistently produced the greatest volumes of defatted stock. It had a big, comfortable handle and a wide, small-holed, tall-sided strainer that was easy to pour into. It held 4 cups of liquid comfortably and had accurate—though slightly hard-to-read—measurements. And with a detachable canister, it was the easiest separator to clean by hand. Our Best Buy, the Trudeau Gravy Separator, performed almost as well. And at $16.99, it’s half the price of our winner.

Methodology:

We tested six 4-cup fat separators made of glass or plastic, ranging in price from $11.99 to $33.95. We tested the separators’ ability to separate fat from large (2 quarts) and small (1 cup) volumes of chicken stock, strain out solids, and withstand repeated use. We also had testers of different hand sizes use and rank them. Separators were rated on their ability to defat liquid and on how easy it was to fill, strain, and pour from them. In addition, we evaluated ease of cleanup, durability, and the accuracy of their stated capacity and measurements. All models were purchased online and are ranked in order of preference.

Fat Separation: We gave more points to models that separated the greatest volume of liquid while minimizing the fat that dripped through.

Ease of Use: We awarded more points to separators that were easy to fill, had legible measurement lines, did a good job of straining, and poured out stock neatly. We also gave more points to separators with big, comfortable handles.

Cleanup and Durability: We preferred separators that were easy to clean by hand and that did not crack, warp, or fade in the dishwasher.

Accuracy: We deducted points from separators that were smaller than their stated 4-cup capacity or that had inaccurate volume measurement lines.

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