Published April 27, 2007.
You can pay anywhere from $5 for a simple cotton barbecue mitt to $33 for a high-tech model. Does advanced technology equate to advanced performance?
Choosing a barbecue mitt isn’t as easy as you might think. Models have lately turned high-tech, offering a confusing array of materials and features, including leather, rawhide, treated cotton, neoprene (the same rubber used to make wet suits), Kevlar (a fiber used in bulletproof vests), Nomex (a plastic used in uniforms for race-car drivers, firefighters, and military pilots), and silicone (a rubber-like injected polymer). These modern mitts are expensive, selling for up to $33 apiece. Are these innovations really worth the extra money?
Fancy features aside, a barbecue mitt must meet two core requirements: enough heat resistance to keep hands from burning and enough pliability to keep cooks from inadvertently dropping grill grates or smashing food. Our lineup consisted of eight mitts, including the winner of our oven mitt testing
Once outdoors, testers were asked to hold mitt-clad hands three inches over a 600-degree grill. As the seconds ticked by, testers were questioned about their comfort level. The best performer in this exercise, a leather model, provided superior protection during a minute-long stint over hot coals. Cotton mitts also did a fine job of protecting hands from the scorching heat of the grill. When it came to the silicone mitt, protection was less than stellar. We were surprised at how warm (and sweaty) our hands got while using our silicone model for just 30 seconds, as its outside surfaces became almost too hot to touch.
Until this point, we had been careful to keep the mitts dry, as per manufacturer warnings. But such a caveat seemed a cop-out for a product meant for settings in which rain might be in the forecast. So we dunked each mitt briefly in water, let it dry overnight, then repeated the heat-resistance test. The silicone and rubber models were waterproof, as advertised, while the leather gloves initially resisted moisture but then soaked through and stayed that way. The damp gloves still protected us from the heat of the grill, however. The cotton mitts got soaked and took a long time to dry, though they also protected our hands while wet.
Next, we evaluated the mitts’ effect on testers’ dexterity when flipping zucchini slices with tongs and reaching to the back of the grill to manually turn potatoes. In most cases, we found that heavy, thick fabrics significantly impaired agility. Models that reduced dexterity slipped in our hands, allowed zucchini to escape from tongs during flipping, and made picking up hot potatoes nearly impossible. In fact, some models were so thick that we couldn’t comfortably grasp a pair of tongs.
Last, we briefly (and carefully) inserted each mitt directly into a flame to simulate a flare-up, a common occurrence in the outdoor kitchen. One candidate aced the test, braving the fire unscathed. The cotton mitts, on the other hand, scorched and charred. Even the mitts made mostly of flameproof material emerged from the tests with char marks in certain sections, with the seam on the on one briefly catching fire.
Having analyzed fabric choices, we turned to the question of length. Testers discounted the shortest mitt tested which left much of the arm uncomfortably exposed. While 15 inches is the optimal length for indoor oven mitts, testers wanted more security over the grill, especially with large gas grills, which can be as deep as 35 inches. We found that 17-or 18-inch models were long enough to protect our arms while still allowing good maneuverability.
And what about our favorite kitchen oven mitt? If you are an occasional griller and want a dual-purpose accessory, you may want to consider this mitt, which didn’t restrict dexterity, repelled water nicely, and provided good protection against brief direct-flame contact. Keep in mind, however, that while an oven mitt needs to protect a cook’s hand for only the short time it takes to transport a hot dish from the oven to the counter, a barbecue mitt must protect for longer periods—while extended over a hot grill flipping numerous shrimp or reaching to the back of the grill to turn corncobs or potatoes. Our favorite barbecue mitt might sacrifice some flexibility (which makes them unsuitable to pulling a pie plate out of a hot oven), but it did offer increased protection from heat—which is exactly what you need when cooking outdoors.