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By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2016

Fat Separators

Published November 2016

How we tested

In the test kitchen, we often refrigerate stocks overnight so we can skim off the hardened fat the next morning. But if you’re making gravy or soup on a shorter timetable, you can use a fat separator to defat stocks and pan juices almost immediately. To find a favorite, we tested six 4-cup models (including our prior winner from Trudeau) priced from $11.99 to $33.95, using them to strain aromatics and separate fat from both 2-quart and 1-cup volumes of stock.

There are two types of separators—pitchers and bottom-drainers; we tested four of the former and two of the latter. With both types, you pour your stock or sauce into the separator through a built-in strainer at the top and wait a few minutes for the fat to rise to the top of the liquid. If you’re using a pitcher, you then pour off the liquid from a spout set into the base. If you’re using a bottom-drainer, you pull a lever set in the handle to release a plug at the bottom of the separator, allowing the liquid to drain out. Either way, the fat is left behind in the separator.

In our testing, we found that the two bottom-drainers we tested were generally more efficient than the pitchers at decanting both large and small volumes of liquid while keeping fat out. With the pitchers, some fat usually entered their pour spouts from the get-go, and as the liquid drained down to the last ¼ cup, it was harder to prevent fat from exiting, too. Bottom-drainers didn’t have this problem; because the fat stayed on top of the liquid, all we had to do was keep an eye on it and stop releasing the liquid when the fat got close to the bottom of the canister.

Defatting ability aside, certain models were just easier to use. Large-mouthed strainers provided us with bigger targets to hit when pouring stock and mirepoix from an unwieldy roasting pan. Strainers with sides taller than 1 inch acted as splash guards and helped keep solids in. And strainers with lots of little holes allowed stock to drain quickly into the separators without letting through any small aromatics. In addition, we preferred separators with large handles that were comfortable for testers of all hand sizes to grip.

A previous testing of fat separators showed us that a 4-cup capacity was the best size, giving users the flexibility to defat both large and small volumes of stock. Despite their manufacturers’ claims, however, several of the models we tested couldn’t actually hold 4 cups of liquid without overflowing. Two of the models had inaccurate measurement lines, and others had measurement lines that were too light to read. Few of the separators were easy to clean by hand; we needed fine bottle brushes to clean the pitchers’ pour spouts, and the release valve of one bottom-drainer tended to collect grease. In theory, all of the separators are dishwasher-safe, though after nine cycles, certain models warped, loosened, or cracked or their measurement lines faded slightly.

Our winner, the bottom-draining Cuisipro Fat Separator ($33.95), consistently produced the greatest volumes of defatted stock. It had a big, comfortable handle and a wide, small-holed, tall-sided strainer that was easy to pour into. It held 4 cups of liquid comfortably and had accurate—though slightly hard-to-read—measurements. And with a detachable canister, it was the easiest separator to clean by hand. Our Best Buy, the Trudeau Gravy Separator, performed almost as well. And at $16.99, it’s half the price of our winner.

Methodology

We tested six 4-cup fat separators made of glass or plastic, ranging in price from $11.99 to $33.95. We tested the separators’ ability to separate fat from large (2 quarts) and small (1 cup) volumes of chicken stock, strain out solids, and withstand repeated use. We also had testers of different hand sizes use and rank them. Separators were rated on their ability to defat liquid and on how easy it was to fill, strain, and pour from them. In addition, we evaluated ease of cleanup, durability, and the accuracy of their stated capacity and measurements. All models were purchased online and are ranked in order of preference.

Fat Separation: We gave more points to models that separated the greatest volume of liquid while minimizing the fat that dripped through.

Ease of Use: We awarded more points to separators that were easy to fill, had legible measurement lines, did a good job of straining, and poured out stock neatly. We also gave more points to separators with big, comfortable handles.

Cleanup and Durability: We preferred separators that were easy to clean by hand and that did not crack, warp, or fade in the dishwasher.

Accuracy: We deducted points from separators that were smaller than their stated 4-cup capacity or that had inaccurate volume measurement lines.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*