When you invest in a sturdy chef’s knife, cooking immediately becomes easier, safer, and more satisfying. The same thing is true of a good pair of oven mitts. You don’t need to worry about burning your hand on a hot skillet handle or dropping a stockpot full of boiling water halfway between the stovetop and kitchen sink.
We’ve long recommended the San Jamar Cool Touch Flame Oven Mitt and the Mastrad Silicone Mitt Plus. They keep our hands and forearms safe from the heat of the oven and kitchen equipment, but they’re both more cumbersome than we would like. On occasion, we’ve squished cookies (don’t worry, we still ate them) or dragged their wide sleeves over the bubbling surfaces of casseroles. Seeking a pair that let us work safely and nimbly, we purchased nine ambidextrous models in a range of styles. Five were fairly traditional-looking models shaped like mittens. The designs of the other four models were more innovative. Two were gloves, with individual sections for each finger and our thumbs that were meant to fit fairly snugly. The final two were “double mitts,” which are basically two pocketed pot holders connected by swaths of fabric that are presumably intended to protect a cook’s forearms from heat. Some of the mitts were sold singly and some were sold in sets; we purchased second copies of all the mitts sold singly. All told, the prices of the models ranged from about $9.50 to roughly $66.00 (for one of each double mitt and sets of two of each oven mitt and oven glove). We used them to maneuver sheets of cookies, full cake pans, and pie plates lined with pie dough into, around, and out of hot ovens; carry and empty Dutch ovens filled with boiling water; and lift and maneuver ripping-hot cast-iron skillets that each contained a 4-pound roast chicken. We also evaluated how well the mitts protected our hands and forearms from heat and how easy they were to clean.
We started by assessing the fit and agility of the innovative models. First up: the two double mitts. The mitts of both these models were made of fairly flexible cotton (or cotton and polyester) and were roughly the same size and shape. We liked that we could push our hands all the way into the corners of the mitts’ pockets, which allowed us to easily pinch the edges of cookie sheets or small knobs and handles. That said, there was no clear advantage to this style (and there were plenty of drawbacks). When we used both hands to carry an item, the connecting strips of fabric that were supposed to protect our forearms from heat drooped ineffectually between them. And when we needed to use our hands for two different tasks, such as holding a skillet handle while stirring a pan sauce, we had to work with our hands awkwardly tethered together or opt to cover one hand and let the other mitt dangle dangerously from our wrist.
The two sets of oven gloves in our lineup were made with heat-resistant synthetic fibers called aramid, and the surfaces of both were adorned on both sides with silicone strips to ensure a steady grip. One set of gloves was available in only one size, and testers with smaller hands noted that these gloves were too wide and too long; the excess fabric at the end of their fingertips flopped around and limited their dexterity. The other model was available in two sizes: a larger version and a more petite version that fit testers with smaller hands well. We liked that all the gloves allowed us to move each finger independently. However, both sets fit snugly and took some effort to tug onto our hands.
The five traditional oven mitts in our lineup varied considerably in material, size, and design. One was cotton with grippy silicone stripes on both sides, while another was made with patented versions of aramid called Nomex and Kevlar; both these models had thick stuffing. The exteriors of the other three mitts were made of silicone, and each had fabric linings that ranged from slightly padded to fairly thin. When evaluating the maneuverability and dexterity of this style of mitt, we considered fit to be an important factor. Our previous winner, from San Jamar, was about an inch wider than every other model we tested and very puffy. It was easy to slip on, which we liked, but testers with smaller and average-size hands noted that the excess material surrounding their hands got in their way. One described the mitts as “cavernous,” and some noted that the mitts at times rotated around their hands, making their grip on hot kitchen equipment feel unsteady.
While using the three silicone mitts, we noticed that the rigid outer material of some models didn’t flex with our hands when we scrunched our fingers. As a result, these mitts fit well when our hands were flat but became surprisingly bulky when we wrapped our hands around a piece of equipment. The long, rigid silicone exterior of the Mastrad mitt sometimes extended beyond our fingertips by as much as 2 inches. This fit issue was compounded by the fact that this model’s thumb is positioned in the center of the mitt rather than at the side as with the other, lobster claw–shaped models. Some testers liked this placement, but others found that it made the glove less versatile and less intuitive; they had to pause and think about how to orient their hands before reaching for an item. We preferred more streamlined, classically designed mitts because they were easy to put on and they fit us securely.
In terms of safety, our initial impressions were positive. Each model provided a secure grip and offered enough heat protection when handling relatively thin, lightweight bakeware. But when handling heavier Dutch ovens and skillets, some of the models—including our previous winner—didn’t keep our hands safe from the heat for as long as we wanted.
To get a clearer read on those differences, we decided to measure how quickly heat radiated through the mitts in simulated kitchen scenarios. We devised a test that was reasonable and realistic but considerably more rigorous than the ones we ran during our last evaluation of oven mitts. We heated a cast-iron skillet until its handle was a scorching 320 degrees and timed how long we could comfortably grip it with each model. We did this test twice and averaged the results. With the worst models, we could comfortably hold the hot skillet handle for only 6 seconds. Our old favorite lasted just 10 seconds, confirming what we had observed during our earlier kitchen tests. The three best models—all of which were oven mitts—kept our hands comfortably cool for 18 to 31.5 seconds, long enough to safely transfer a hot skillet from the oven to the stovetop or transport a heavy Dutch oven full of boiling water to the sink.
Why did some of the models in our lineup protect our hands from heat so much better than others? There are a few explanations. The two oven gloves had a fairly open weave, and heat was able to penetrate through the many tiny gaps between the synthetic fibers and reach our hands. Thickness was also a key factor. When we compressed each model (to mimic what happens when it is squeezed tightly to grasp an item) and measured its thickness, the measurements ranged from 1.5 millimeters to 5 millimeters. For the models made primarily from fabric, thicker was better. Thinner models weren't protective enough; the only primarily fabric model we liked was fairly thick at 5 millimeters. The best and most protective mitts were made mostly from silicone, which doesn't need to be as thick and bulky as fabric to be protective.
Before we could finalize our rankings, we considered how easy the nine sets were to clean. Because heat travels quickly through moisture and grease and can lead to burns, regularly cleaning your oven mitts is not only a question of aesthetics but also one of safety. It’s important that the mitts are sturdy enough to withstand regular washing. We started by smearing each model with a mix of marinara sauce and turmeric. After numerous washings, all the sets were permanently stained, which was a disappointment, but not a deal breaker. The bigger differences arose from how easy they were to clean and how well they stood up to that cleaning. One oven mitt could be conveniently taken apart—its silicone shell was dishwasher-safe, and its cotton lining was machine washable—but the liner began to separate along a seam after three laundry cycles. Another mitt also became damaged; it sported a small tab with a magnet (so that you can hang the mitt on the refrigerator), but the magnet detached and we had to pry it off the barrel of the washing machine. Our favorite models were machine washable and showed no signs of wear and tear aside from the marinara stains.
We had hoped to find a model that offered superior heat protection and didn’t limit our dexterity. Unfortunately, none of the innovative oven gloves or double mitts met these dual requirements. We overwhelmingly preferred traditional oven mitts. One, the OXO Silicone Oven Mitt, surpassed the rest. Made from fairly thick silicone with a padded cotton lining, it offered good protection from heat. We liked that the silicone exterior flexed with our hands as we gripped cookware handles or knobs and pinched cookie sheets and that the silicone was heavily textured. Both these factors helped ensure that our grip was secure, whether we were handling a thin cookie sheet or a heavy cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven. While the silicone became stained when we brushed it with turmeric-tinted marinara sauce and we had to lay the mitt flat to dry after machine washing it, we consider those two things a small price to pay in exchange for keeping our hands and forearms safe when things heat up in the kitchen.