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March/April 2017

Fine-Mesh Strainers

These handy tools are useless unless they live up to their names.

How We Tested

Fine-mesh strainers are great for rinsing rice, washing small quantities of herbs or vegetables, sifting flour or powdered sugar, and straining sauces and blended purees. As our favorite model has been discontinued, we set out to find the best new strainer—one that would be stable, durable, and comfortable to hold and would create silky-smooth soups and sauces. We tested six fine-mesh strainers priced from $12.28 to $47.02, focusing on models that were about 8 inches in diameter, which we’ve found is a good all-around size for most kitchen tasks.

One problem emerged immediately: The mesh on some of the strainers wasn’t very fine at all. When we used the strainers to sift the bran out of whole-wheat flour (as we do when making baguettes and fougasse), the coarse, looser weave of two of the strainers let all the bran pass through. Coarser mesh also meant coarser purees; these same two strainers strained out less vegetable fiber from gazpacho and fewer seeds from raspberry coulis, leading to grittier final products. We preferred strainers with very fine, tightly woven mesh.

We also preferred mesh that was stiff to mesh that was loose and floppy, as stiff mesh held its shape better and made it easier to push purees through with ladles or spatulas—a restaurant trick we often employ in the test kitchen. Because the diameters and depths of the strainer baskets varied slightly, the capacities did, too. Strainers with a capacity of at least 5 cups were best; smaller models required us to strain our food in an extra batch or two. And we preferred baskets with a depth of 3 inches or less; baskets that were deeper sank too low in our bowls and pots, sitting in the purees they produced.

Strainers with wide, flat hooks (the stabilizing braces across the basket from the handle) attached more securely to pots and bowls of different sizes; models with smaller hooks were harder to stabilize, rocking back and forth on our cookware when we pressed ladles or spatulas into them. And strainers with dedicated grips were more comfortable to use for extended sessions than strainers with simple wire-loop handles.

We use our strainers a lot, so we needed one that would stand the test of time. To simulate long-term use, we suspended a 12-pound mortar in each strainer for half an hour to see if the mesh would warp or detach from the rim. (Some did.) And we banged each one on the counter 10 times to see if any handles or hooks fell off. (One did.)

Our favorite strainer, the 5.5-cup Rösle Fine-Mesh Strainer, Round Handle, 7.9 inches, 20 cm ($45.00), isn’t cheap, but it’s built to last—it survived our abuse without so much as a scratch. Its very fine mesh removed lots of bran from wheat flour and consistently turned out some of the sleekest purees. Its wide, flat hook made it sit stably on all sorts of cookware, and its metal grip made it comfortable to hold.

Methodology

We tested six strainers priced from $12.28 to $47.02, focusing on models that were about 8 inches in diameter. We used the strainers to sift the bran from whole-wheat flour and to strain the seeds from raspberry coulis and the vegetable fiber from gazpacho. To test durability, we suspended a 12-pound mortar in each model for half an hour, and we banged each model on the counter 10 times. We also washed each model by hand or in the dishwasher 10 times. Models were evaluated on performance, ease of use, and durability. All strainers were purchased online, and they appear in order of preference.

PERFORMANCE: We gave more points to strainers with fine, tight mesh that did a better job of filtering out coarse material from flour and purees.

EASE OF USE: We awarded more points to roomy, medium-depth strainers with stiff mesh, comfortable handles, and long, wide hooks that attached easily to medium and large pots and bowls.

DURABILITY: We gave more points to strainers that didn’t rust, warp, or break apart over extended use.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.