How we tested
It’s easy to imagine. The kitchen is cozy and smells spectacular as a pan of shrimp scampi or perhaps a pot of Sunday gravy is simmering on the stovetop. A timer dings, signaling that your pasta—the last component of a carefully planned meal—is ready to be drained. But then, as you pour the pasta and its cooking water into the colander set in the kitchen sink, the unstable colander tips over while the pasta slips through the oversize holes. Just like that, half your dinner is down the drain.
In the test kitchen, our longtime favorite colander is not only stable, but its bowl is covered with tiny, well-distributed perforations that ensure optimal drainage. Another plus? It’s lightweight and easy to carry. But since it had been a while since we last tested colanders, we wondered if it was still the best option. Previous reviews of colanders have taught us to avoid models with innovative features or old-fashioned designs (see “Skip These Styles”), so for this testing we focused on simple, no-frills stainless-steel models with lots of tiny perforations. We purchased six colanders, priced from about $15 to roughly $26, with capacities of 4.5 or 5 quarts. Two of the models in our lineup were sold as parts of three-piece sets.
A Good Colander Lets Liquid Out and Keeps Food In
The number, size, and arrangement of a colander’s holes are of paramount importance, as these factors determine how quickly liquids drain from its bowl. If there aren’t enough holes, angel hair and other delicate, quick-cooking pastas can become overcooked in the time it takes the cooking water to drain away. If those holes are too big, small foods can slip through them. Instead of having artful clusters of holes scattered across their bowls, our models were covered with tiny, evenly distributed perforations. Four of the models looked almost like they were made from sturdy mesh, with their numerous tiny holes distributed evenly across the surfaces of their bowls. The holes of two other models were arranged in tight columns along the walls of their bowls and in sets of concentric circles at their bases, with unperforated strips dividing the two sections. The bowls of all the colanders we tested allowed pasta cooking water to drain quickly; however, this did not mean that all the colanders performed equally.
We learned that the shape of a colander’s bowl also matters. The bowls of two of the models we tested were fairly low and wide, with walls that were just 3½ inches tall. When we emptied a Dutch oven full of boiling water and cooked orzo into these models, some of the orzo cascaded up and over their walls and into the sink. However, when we performed the same test in those two colanders with angel hair pasta, the angel hair stayed put, perhaps because the ends of the noodles were tangled together. The bowls of the four other models were at least 4¼ inches tall, and we could pour confidently into them without losing any orzo or angel hair.
In addition to draining pasta, we often use colanders to hold salted vegetables or sugared fruits as they release excess moisture. To see if the shapes of the colanders mattered when draining fruits and vegetables, we placed diced, salted cucumber pieces in each model and set the colanders atop large plates to drain for 30 minutes. Although the cucumber pieces were piled higher in colanders with narrower bowls and arranged in thinner layers in models with flatter, wider bowls, we didn’t notice any meaningful differences in the textures of the drained cucumbers or the amounts of moisture they shed.
A Colander Needs a Solid, Tall Base and Good Handles
Another important factor when determining the performance of a colander is the design of its base. All the models we tested were relatively stable, but the amount of space between the bottoms of the bowls and the bottoms of the bases varied noticeably. When we drain pasta in a colander, a large volume of water can pool in the sink. This pooling was problematic for two of the colanders we tested, both of which had stubby feet that provided only ⅜ inch of clearance between the bottoms of the bowls and the sink. As the starchy water drained slowly from the sink, the pastas in the bottoms of these colanders became submerged in it. This short delay was a nuisance, but the bigger issue was that any detritus in the sink could flow back onto the pasta. Models whose feet lifted them at least ½ inch off the sink’s surface performed much better. Our favorites had wide ring-shaped bases that were more than 1 inch tall.
In terms of handling, all the models were acceptable. The rims of two models were ringed in black plastic; while these rims seemed narrow, they were wide and grippy enough for us to easily grasp and carry the colanders. However, we had a slight preference for the wide loop-shaped handles on the other four models. They were especially easy to grip, even with bulky oven mitts or towels.
They Were Reasonably Sturdy
As final tests, we dropped the colanders on the floor from counter height three times and washed them 10 times, including five rounds in a dishwasher. One colander dented slightly in our drop test, but none of the feet or handles of any of the colanders loosened or broke off. No models rusted or warped in the heat of the dishwasher either. We still recommend being relatively gentle with these colanders because they’re made of fairly thin, heavily perforated metal, but we always appreciate when a piece of equipment can weather the occasional kitchen mishap as well as frequent cleaning.
The Best Colander: RSVP International Endurance Precision Pierced 5 Qt. Colander
When we last reviewed colanders, there weren’t many models available with the tiny, well-distributed perforations that we prefer. Now, they’re much more common. In fact, one of the models we tested looks almost identical to our longtime favorite, with only a slight difference in how its handles are attached to the bowl. Both models landed at the top of our rankings, so we put them through another set of abuse tests in an attempt to settle the tie. We washed them five more times in the dishwasher and, to zero in on the one distinguishing feature, dropped them repeatedly so that the handles bore the brunt of the impact. Both models emerged looking almost like new. Ultimately, we still recommend our previous winner, the RSVP International Endurance Precision Pierced 5 Qt. Colander, because we have nearly two decades of experience using it in the test kitchen. It has everything we look for in a colander: numerous, tiny perforations that drain quickly; walls that are tall enough to contain a full pound of cooked pasta and sturdy enough to withstand the force of the 4 quarts of water being poured into it; and a 1⅛-inch-tall base that lifts it well above any pasta cooking water draining in a sink. This colander isn’t just a must-have for pasta lovers. It’s a surprisingly versatile item that’s essential in every home kitchen.
- Test six models (including two models sold as parts of three-piece sets), priced from about $15 to about $26, with capacities of 4.5 or 5 quarts
- Drain 1 pound of angel hair pasta cooked in 4 quarts of water
- Drain 1 pound of orzo cooked in 4 quarts of water
- Drain salted cucumber left to sit for 30 minutes
- Drop from counter height to floor three times
- Wash 10 times (five times by hand, five times in dishwasher)
Performance: We evaluated how quickly water drained from the colander and whether any food escaped through the holes. We also noted if food splashed out of the colander as it was being poured and drained.
Feet and Handles: We noted whether the colander’s base or feet provided enough clearance to efficiently allow pasta cooking water to drain from the bowl. We also considered the sturdiness of the base and how easy it was to grip the model’s rim or handles.
Cleanup and Durability: We considered how easy it was to clean each model and noted if they became damaged when we dropped them.