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Hawthorne Strainers

Published June 2019

How we tested

If you use a Boston shaker to make cocktails, you’ll need a separate cocktail strainer to hold back the ice, stray herbs, and citrus wedges as you pour your drink into a glass. There are a few types of cocktail strainers, but the Hawthorne strainer is the most commonly used. It’s essentially a slotted and/or perforated disk with a spring mounted on part of the perimeter; the spring acts as a filter as liquid exits the shaker. We wanted to know which Hawthorne strainer was best for home bartenders, so we bought six models, priced from about $4 to about $16, and used them to strain ice and other typical cocktail ingredients.

Head Design Is Critical to Fit

All of the strainers will keep large ice cubes from plopping into your drink as you pour it into the glass—the bare minimum required of any cocktail strainer. But a few factors made certain models easier to use and capable of straining more finely than others.

Cocktail shakers vary in size, so the design of the head was critical in determining how well the strainers fit on different vessels. When using a strainer, the spring goes inside the shaker and metal wings or prongs attached to the head usually keep the whole thing perched on top. Not surprisingly, we preferred models that had wings or prongs that were long enough to reach the edges of larger shakers with room to spare, ensuring that they sat securely. One of the models had prongs that didn’t quite extend to the edges of the larger half of our favorite Boston shaker, requiring us to fuss with it to get it to latch on; as a result, the whole strainer sometimes fell into the shaker.

Handles and Finger Grips Matter, Too

Two other features determined how easy the strainers were to use. We preferred models that were well balanced, with relatively short, lightweight handles, 3.5 inches or shorter. One strainer had an unusually heavy, 5-inch-long handle that upset the balance of the whole unit, making it impossible to leave the strainer on top of the shaker without holding it in place, as it would flip backwards and fall off.

We also preferred models that had finger rests—little tabs sticking out from the middle of their heads—as these allowed for a more secure grip and better control over the strainer. You simply lay your index finger on the tab and press against the head to keep the strainer held tightly against the mouth of the shaker. By pressing down on the tab, you can also compress the spring and narrow the opening through which your drink strains, allowing you to filter the drink more finely as well.

Spring Design Determines Performance

Ultimately, how finely each strainer filtered out citrus pulp, bits of muddled mint, or ice chips was the most important factor. No strainer was able to prevent all debris from passing through its spring; if you want a drink that’s completely free of ice and pulp and herbs, you’ll need to filter your drinks through both a Hawthorne strainer and a fine-mesh tea strainer, as many bartenders do. That said, most of the strainers in our lineup did a fair job of holding back unwanted material. Realistically, we didn’t mind a few stray ice chips or tiny particles of mint, though we did prefer the models that strained more finely to those that let a bit more through.

What made certain models strain better than others? First and most important, the closeness of the coils on the spring. Strainers with gaps of less than a millimeter between their coils filtered drinks very finely, allowing almost no ice, mint, or lime bits through. By contrast, strainers with gaps of 1.3 to 2 millimeters left shards of ice covering nearly a third of the surface of the martinis they strained and permitted slightly larger shreds of lime pulp and mint to pass through. Because they catch more debris than loosely coiled springs, closely coiled springs can be more challenging to clean, but we think the performance advantages outweigh any minor annoyances in cleanup.

The tension of the spring also played a role in determining how easy it was to use the strainers. We found this action much more pleasant to perform with springs that had a moderate level of tension, as they were easier to push down than springs that were stiff and tightly coiled, but not as bouncy and hard to control as springs that were loose.

The Best Hawthorne Strainer: the Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne Strainer

Our favorite strainer is Cocktail Kingdom’s Koriko Hawthorne Strainer. With a closely-coiled spring pitched at a moderate tension, it did the best job of straining. Because it had a very large set of wings, it fit securely on vessels of different sizes; a finger tab made it easy to keep our grip on the strainer and adjust how finely we poured. Finally, it had a relatively small handle that helped keep the whole unit well-balanced.


Methodology

We tested six Hawthorne strainers, priced from about $4 to about $16, using them in three tests: straining lime pulp from water, straining muddled mint from water, and straining ice from martinis. We also had users with different levels of bartending experience, hand sizes, and dominant hands test the products. To test durability, we  washed all the products in the dishwasher 10 times. All products were purchased online and ranked in order of preference.

Rating Criteria

Compatibility: We rated the strainers on how well they fit into both halves of our favorite Boston shaker.

Ease of Use: We rated the strainers on how securely they sat on top of the shaker and how easy they were to maneuver and grip.

Performance: We evaluated the strainers on how finely they strained lime pulp, muddled mint, and ice.

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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*