How we tested
Italian chefs on TV dip their tongs into pots of boiling water to retrieve strands of pasta. The rest of us drain our pasta like mere mortals: in a colander. Our favorite has long been a stainless-steel model covered from rim to base in holes that allow water to escape easily. But with many newcomers on the market, we decided that a rematch was in order: our longtime winner versus 15 new colanders, priced from about $18 to $60. Our lineup included larger (roughly 5-quart) colanders made from both stainless and enameled steel and wire mesh, as well as collapsible silicone baskets set in stiff plastic frames. One such model even had extending arms, allowing it to span a sink.
Right off the bat we eliminated eight models that were so fundamentally flawed that we didn’t consider them worthy contenders—collapsible models in particular. The annoying tendency of these supposedly innovative colanders to come unclipped or tip over and dump pasta all over the sink canceled out their flat storage appeal. A sturdier example from one manufacturer had issues of its own—namely, broad flat handles where water collected and turned the metal slippery and ripping hot—that made its sky-high price seem even more ridiculous.
With the remaining eight colanders, we started by taking a closer look at the most obvious feature: the holes. Big holes might seem advantageous for speedy drainage, but they can backfire when dealing with slender or small foods. Colanders from a couple of makers illustrated this when we used them to drain rice-shaped orzo. Water streamed out of their large (3.36- to 8.02--millimeter) perforations—followed by as much as 1/2 cup of orzo.
Ironically, though, none of these large-holed models drained water all that quickly. That’s because their holes were arranged in clusters surrounded by solid, unperforated areas that thwarted drainage. Those inferior designs put them at a considerable disadvantage against a fine-wire-mesh colander and two stainless-steel products. With tiny (1.90- to 2.28-millimeter) all-over perforations, these colanders not only drained more effectively but also contained every last grain of orzo. One stainless-steel model in particular drained water particularly well; when we shook the bowl to drain any excess water, barely a drop came out.
As for the bottoms of the colanders, most of the models sporting feet or ring bases proved sufficiently stable. They also provided crucial clearance between the base of the colander and the sink floor. In a colander without feet or a base, the food in the bowl can come into contact with a backwash of drained liquid (and whatever grunge may have escaped your last sink scrubbing). Such was the biggest downfall of one collapsible colander, a model with no base at all that allowed the bottom half of the drained pasta to get soaked with water bubbling back up the drain. (Sure, you can mitigate this effect by pouring out the water and pasta slowly—but who thinks of that when they’re holding a pot full of scalding water?) Meanwhile, the model’s sibling, which is designed to fit over the sink, made this a nonissue.
That might argue for buying an over-the-sink colander, or one with the tallest, most substantial base you can find, except that a too-beefy base can get in the way of another core colander task: resting over a bowl while salted produce sheds excess moisture. When we loaded up each model with 2 cups of diced tomatoes tossed with salt and set the colanders over 9-inch bowls to collect the juices (as you would when making salsa), we encountered a few fit issues. Suddenly, the over-the-sink colander was no longer convenient, as its oblong frame didn’t come close to fitting over the mouth of the bowl. Likewise, the placement of the feet on a wire-mesh model caused it to sit unsteadily on the bowl rim (though its medium-size sibling, included in the set of three, fit fine).
When it came to cleaning, we noted which models could go in the dishwasher—a feature that we consider essential, so we automatically downgraded the two models that weren’t dishwasher-safe. We ran the other six colanders through 26 cycles in a residential dishwasher (normal wash, with heated drying) and found that the stainless-steel and mesh colanders emerged in much the same condition as they went in. That wasn’t so for the silicone models, all of which emerged looking noticeably faded and dingy.
By the end of testing, we had found several colanders that we wouldn’t want in our kitchens and none that we’d want more than our old stalwart. It boasts an excellent combination of small, all-over perforations, a wide base for great stability, and a decent amount—1 1/8 inches—of ground clearance. All these features add up to class-leading draining performance.
We tested eight colanders, each roughly 5 quarts. All were purchased online and are listed in order of preference. We eliminated the following models in pretesting for a variety of design flaws, including flimsy or poor construction, difficulty cleaning, and cramped size: Architec Gripper Colander, Dexas Popware Collapsible 10" Pop Colander, Joseph Joseph Folding Colander, Norpro Stainless Steel Expanding Over-the-Sink Colander with Base Frame, OXO Good Grips 3-Piece Large Bowl and Colander Set, Progressive International 5-Quart Collapsible Colander, Rösle Collapsible Colander, and Tovolo Stainless Steel Perforated Colander.
We drained 1 pound of angel hair and 1 pound of orzo, each cooked in 1 gallon of boiling water, in each colander, looking for efficient, thorough draining and noting when any pasta escaped. We also drained 2 cups of diced tomatoes tossed with 1/4 teaspoon of salt in each model, setting each colander over a 9-inch bowl for 30 minutes.
We evaluated each colander’s perforation coverage, stability, and elevation from the sink floor (noting whether backwash from draining liquid was able to reach the colander bowl), as well as the material, size, and placement of the handles.
After each pasta and tomato draining test, colanders were left to sit for 15 minutes and then washed by hand under warm running water with a sponge/scrubber and liquid dish soap. Testers then evaluated how easy it was to remove residual pasta starch and tomato seeds. Dishwasher-safe colanders were run through 26 cycles in a residential dishwasher (normal cycle, with heated drying), and their condition was evaluated after each cycle. Colanders not described by manufacturers as dishwasher-safe were noted as such in the chart (and downgraded because of it).