We’ve all been there: A dozen cookies are baking in the oven, slowly turning a perfect golden brown. The sweet smell of sugar and chocolate fills the room. You reach for the baking sheet and, with a quiet whomp, your oversize pot holder flops over and squishes a few of them. Or, worse, the heat from the sheet radiates through the fabric to your hand, so you break into a jog and practically throw the sheet onto the counter, ruining a few of the cookies in the process.
Unfortunately, bad pot holders are not hard to find. Our two favorite models were recently redesigned or discontinued, so we decided to retest. We purchased nine pot holders, priced from about $7.00 to just over $60.00 per pair, in a range of styles. Some had pockets or loops for our hands and fingertips while others were coated with silicone dots or panels for extra grip. Some models were simply no-frills squares. We also included a model made from neoprene (a synthetic rubber used to make wet suits and car tires) as well as a thick, pillowy pot holder marketed to professional cooks. To test them, we put them through a pot holder boot camp, noting how they measured up when used to maneuver cake pans and pie plates into, around, and out of hot ovens; transport Dutch ovens filled with 4 quarts of simmering water; and handle scorching-hot skillets holding 4-pound roast chickens. And that’s not all. A team of testers also used them to bake cookies, rotating the hot sheets in the oven and transferring them to cooling racks. Finally, to gauge long-term durability, we deliberately stained the pot holders and washed them five times before checking their condition.
To our dismay, we found that many of the models weren’t protective. Two became uncomfortably hot in every test. Others were fine if we were handling thin, lightweight bakeware but failed miserably when we handled heavy Dutch ovens and skillets.
In one of our tests, Senior Editor Kate Shannon removed preheated cast-iron skillets from a hot oven.
Many models performed well with lightweight bakeware, but only a few allowed us to comfortably grip a preheated cast-iron skillet handle for more than a few seconds.
We tried several methods, including clipping a probe to the skillet handle, before landing on the best way to quantify how well the pot holders protected our hands from hot equipment.
To better understand our testers’ impressions, we performed a controlled test. After affixing lab-grade thermometer probes to the pot holders on the side where a user’s hand would be, we set them on the counter and placed a hot cast-iron skillet atop each pot holder. The performance differences among the nine pot holders were dramatic—and they mirrored our experiences in the kitchen. After 30 seconds, four of the probes’ readings were impressively cool, between 85 and 95 degrees. The probe underneath the worst-performing model was registering nearly double that, 163 degrees. We weren’t surprised—when we tried gripping the hot skillet handle with this same model, we had to let go of it 5 seconds later, not enough time to safely transfer a blazing-hot skillet from the oven to the stovetop. The best models stayed comfortably cool for 15 seconds or longer.
Although the three worst-performing holders were made from different materials (suede, terry cloth cotton, and silicone-coated fabric), they had one important trait in common: They were the thinnest holders in our lineup. The models we tested ranged from 3.0 millimeters to 9.3 millimeters thick, and we found that those thicker than 4.4 millimeters, no matter their material, performed well in our heat tests.
After evaluating safety, we turned our focus to testing the holders’ maneuverability. We confirmed that flexibility was key, as two of the models were too rigid to allow us to securely grip a variety of pans. One pair was made from thick, padded fabric, and the other pair was made from cotton with silicone panels attached. Both pairs sometimes slid in our hands, leaving us pinching the middle of the holders with our fingertips and resulting in the pot holders ending up in our food.
Mishaps like these led to our next round of tests—checking to see how easy the pot holders were to keep clean. We brushed them with turmeric-spiked marinara sauce and found that most were prone to not only staining but also fading slightly with repeated laundering. We would much rather use pot holders that stay clean and require less frequent washing.
The best pot holders felt secure in our hands and stayed out of the food we were maneuvering. One of these models was made of supergrippy neoprene, which clung tightly to our hands. Our other favorites had pockets into which we could push our fingertips, ensuring a close, secure grip on whatever we were holding.
The good news is that we found two styles of pot holders to recommend—one pair with pockets and one pair without. The overall winner is the OXO Good Grips Silicone Pot Holder. These pocketed holders sport a solid sheet of silicone on one side and fabric on the other, and they protected not only our hands but also our wrists. Our runner-up pair, the San Jamar UltiGrips Hot Pads, are simply flat, double-sided squares that were exceptionally simple to use. The testers who liked these holders noted that they used them without pausing to slide them onto their hands or orienting them a certain way. Made from neoprene rubber, they were very grippy and felt secure in testers’ hands while offering top-notch heat protection.