A colander is the go-to tool to use when draining pasta, but a good one can do so much more than that. Which model is best?
Published July 13, 2020. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: Japanese-Inspired Favorites
It’s easy to imagine. The kitchen is cozy and smells spectacular as a pan of shrimp scampi or perhaps a pot of Sunday gravy is simmering on the stovetop. A timer dings, signaling that your pasta—the last component of a carefully planned meal—is ready to be drained. But then, as you pour the pasta and its cooking water into the colander set in the kitchen sink, the unstable colander tips over while the pasta slips through the oversize holes. Just like that, half your dinner is down the drain.
In the test kitchen, our longtime favorite colander is not only stable, but its bowl is covered with tiny, well-distributed perforations that ensure optimal drainage. Another plus? It’s lightweight and easy to carry. But since it had been a while since we last tested colanders, we wondered if it was still the best option. Previous reviews of colanders have taught us to avoid models with innovative features or old-fashioned designs (see “Skip These Styles”), so for this testing we focused on simple, no-frills stainless-steel models with lots of tiny perforations. We purchased six colanders, priced from about $15 to roughly $26, with capacities of 4.5 or 5 quarts. Two of the models in our lineup were sold as parts of three-piece sets.
The number, size, and arrangement of a colander’s holes are of paramount importance, as these factors determine how quickly liquids drain from its bowl. If there aren’t enough holes, angel hair and other delicate, quick-cooking pastas can become overcooked in the time it takes the cooking water to drain away. If those holes are too big, small foods can slip through them. Instead of having artful clusters of holes scattered across their bowls, our models were covered with tiny, evenly distributed perforations. Four of the models looked almost like they were made from sturdy mesh, with their numerous tiny holes distributed evenly across the surfaces of their bowls. The holes of two other models were arranged in tight columns along the walls of their bowls and in sets of concentric circles at their bases, with unperforated strips dividing the two sections. The bowls of all the colanders we tested allowed pasta cooking water to drain quickly; however, this did not mean that all the colanders performed equally.
We learned that the shape of a colander’s bowl also matters. The bowls of two of the models we tested were fairly low and wide, with walls that were just 3½ inches tall. When we emptied a Dutch oven full of boiling water and cooked orzo into these models, some of the orzo cascaded up and over their walls and into the sink. However, when we perfor...
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Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.