Innovative Pot Holders
How we tested
Every home kitchen should have a few good potholders. We saw several new designs trying to improve on the classic cotton square, and wondered: Could any raise the bar for protection and ease of use?
To find out, we pitted five new potholders against new copies of our old winner, a classic terry-cloth square called the Ritz Basic Potholder; the six ranged in price from $7.99 to $19.98 for a set. The new designs included two all-silicone models: One had a special woven grid pattern designed to improve flexibility and strength, while the other was a set of dainty pinch grips that covered just the tips of your fingers. The third and fourth potholders used both silicone and cotton; one was a standard size and the other a slimmer hourglass shape. The fifth and final new model was a small oval shape made of cotton.
To assess our six potholders, large- and small-handed testers moved hot oven racks and loaded, rotated, and unloaded full baking sheets, cake pans, and pie plates. We also maneuvered 6.5-quart Dutch ovens filled with hot water in and out of 500-degree ovens and did the same with screaming-hot stainless-steel skillets, first empty and then loaded with sizzling whole chickens. We stained each potholder with tomato soup, left it overnight, and then washed and dried each five times (per manufacturer specifications), after which we assessed staining, wear, and shrinkage.
We looked first at the most important factor: how well the potholders protected us from the heat. Size was a deciding issue here. Two of the three smaller holders weren’t sufficiently protective. Two were too small; one was small but well designed. The sole successful smaller design was an oval, with two small pockets for fingers. At 7 by 5 inches, it was trim, but perfectly tailored to protect hands large and small.
The three larger potholders—our old winner, the all-silicone square, and the standard size silicone and cotton combo—ranged from 7 to 10 inches tall and from 7 to 8 inches wide. They were big enough to cover our hands, but only the combo model was fully protective. Here it came down to material. The combo potholder was thicker and made of layered cotton and silicone topped with an additional layer of silicone bars that disseminated the heat effectively. The all-silicone square and the old winner, made of thin cotton, were sufficient for cakes, cookies, and the like (all baked at 400 degrees or less), but for anything hotter, they were too flimsy.
After protection, we looked at the maneuverability of each potholder. The all-silicone square was an absolute wrecking ball. It was so stiff and floppy that it smashed cookies left and right, belly flopped into cake batter, and pulverized pie crusts. The old winning cotton square and the new cotton and silicone hourglass-shaped holder weren’t as destructive, but they were still too unstructured and bulky. We had to constantly tuck them out of the way or else they also ended up in the food. The silicone pinch grips were actually quite deft at rotating pans in the oven but were too small to hold hot things safely, and they put testers’ hands in such a pinched position that it was impossible to hold anything heavier than a pound or so.
The two most nimble potholders were also the two most protective. The trim, smart design of one model was incredibly maneuverable because it had zero extra fabric to bunch up and get in the way. And its small pockets covered our fingers but still allowed us to nimbly pinch, pull, and turn. As when using a folded dish towel, we had to be mindful when using these because there’s no extra buffer, but testers appreciated their agility.
Our overall favorite potholder had a deep, secure pocket that gave testers excellent control along with layers of cotton and silicone and silicone bars that kept testers’ hands safe and cool. For this combination of full protection and maneuverability (plus the handy magnet and loop, and its durability in washing tests), it was our winning potholder.