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Rinse. Drain. This sounds like a simple enough pair of steps, right? And they are, with the right tool, of course. But without … well, it can be at least a nuisance and at most, outright dangerous.
While losing errant berries and wily spaghetti strands can be annoying, steam burns, hot water spills, and blisters from too-hot handles are a real risk when pouring out pasta. That’s exactly why Leigh Hamp, vice president of product at Banza, is particular about how she does it and what she uses.
"I cook a ton, between my job leading the Product team at Banza and life in general, and am always using strainers for different things in the kitchen," says Hamp. "Right now, I’m using a small colander to store cherries that I’ve just washed, and"—because Hamp tests products side by side—I’ll undoubtedly break out two more to test some Banza pasta today!"
Hamp does get particular when it comes to which colanders work with different pasta shapes. "I like using a fine mesh colander. I’m usually testing two versions of a product at one time, so I set up two colanders in my sink so I can drain two pots of pasta in quick succession," she says. "In other colanders, you may lose some noodles, but a mesh design works well across Banza product lines, from stringy spaghetti to curvy cavatappi and our small grains of our new chickpea rice."
But you don’t need to be a power user like her to see that a good colander is well worth the investment and the cabinet space. Anyone who has rinsed rice and unceremoniously dumped a quarter cup out, tried to use their pot lid to drain boiled broccoli, or dealt with watery pasta knows the value of a good colander.
Here are the best colanders because whether you’re doing a drain or a strain, it shouldn’t be a pain.
Best Overall: Mueller Austria European-Made Colander/Strainer
What We Love: Comfortable wide, grippy rim; ergonomic handles; deep bowl; integrated pedestral; dishwasher-safe
What We Don’t Love: Maybe too tall for some cabinet shelves; vertical slits may allow some slip-through of fine noodles
It’s easy to buy into the whole aura of "European excellence" when it comes to kitchen tools, but this colander has the substance to back it up. It’s sturdy and thick, yet lightweight, and heat-resistant enough to tolerate the shock of having boiling water poured into it.
With a combination of narrow, linear drain points on a high-walled body and small round holes on the bottom, this colander is ready to strain any variety of things speedily. It has a deeper capacity than you’ll usually find, which further supports faster draining as well as less splashing. This also means a smaller horizontal footprint for storage. In fact, it’s designed to nest into standard mixing bowls for even more convenience.
While integrated easy-grip coated reinforced handles with finger-grip patterns below offer ample support for carrying, you can’t help but appreciate the wide ribbon rim. It swoops gracefully around the entire thing, providing infinite grab points for the butteriest of fingers. And for those hands-off moments, its low pedestal keeps it elevated from a dirty sink or an aforementioned mixing bowl. "I am a firm believer in … strainers that have a pedestal and heat resistant handles," says Hamp. "The pedestal raises the strainer off of the sink base, counter, or fridge shelf so there’s room for water to drain out and air to circulate."
Material: BPA-free plastic | Dimensions (LxWxH): 12.6 x 10.6 x 6.7 inches | Weight: 9.6 ounces | Capacity: 4.2 quarts
Best Budget: Joseph Joseph Square Colander
What We Love: No-mess pouring with square edges to guide the food; convenient nesting storage; designed for one-handed pours
What We Don’t Love: Integrated feet may not be as heigh as preferred
Joseph Joseph is reliable when it comes to small but smart innovations that simplify your kitchen tasks. Best of all, they do it in sleek ways at affordable price points. This pair of nesting colanders hits it out of the park again.
Its non-traditional shape is tremendously convenient in several ways. They’re super stable with nubbin feet that hold it just above your sink’s surface. But more ingeniously, the softly rounded square corners not only make it easier to store more in your cupboards but also to pour whatever you’re straining into its next vessel. It’s simply a brilliant shapeshift that I love in my matching Joseph Joseph strainer spoon, which is perfect for smaller, individual portions.
This funneling mentality is also a part of the design of the drain holes of the colander, which are tapered with subtle angles that lead down into the perforations, drawing liquid away. Shaking those final drops out couldn’t be easier, with an ergonomic vertical handle that keeps your hands away from rising steam, versus the traditional raised two-sided types. And cleaning them is also a cinch, thanks to the use of a more matte texture of BPA-free plastic that keeps it looking clean rather than slick.
Material: BPA-free plastic | Dimensions (LxWxH): 8 x 7.5 x 4.5 inches | Capacity: 13.1 ounces
Best Collapsible: Vremi 5-Quart Collapsible Colander
What We Love: Collapses to a mere 2 inches high, sturdy plastic base, drainage holes along the side and bottom, wide ergonomic handles
What We Don’t Love: Cannot be put in a microwave or directly over a heat source; holes are too big for fine grains like rice
Collapsible silicone colanders often run into the same kinds of problems as silicone ice cube trays: a lack of stability. Silicone is a floppy material and needs a little help from whatever it’s containing in order to stay in shape. This design addresses that by propping up its body on a sturdy plastic pedestal and rimming the upper frame with the same. Better yet, it adds heavy-duty thick handles to the top section and makes them wide and ergonomic with a bumpy texture that helps you maintain your hold.
The heavy-duty silicone of the colander’s body is punctured with vertical oblong holes in a spiral pattern, the better to funnel water out fast. "I’ve tested a number of colanders over the past few years and have found that colanders with lots of small draining holes distributed evenly across the bowl enable water to drain quickly, without letting food slip through," says Hamp. "Fine mesh and perforated colanders do the job well because the drain holes are tiny and plentiful." The plastic bottom, however, has classic small dots to keep your grains from falling out.
Lastly, its wide basin is designed to reduce spatter and therefore burns, even while it resists heat high enough for blanching vegetables in. Keep in mind that it can only handle up to 175 degrees, so it's best to avoid putting it over a heat source or in the microwave.
Material: Silicone | Dimensions (LxWxH): 12.6 x 5.1 x 10.4 inches | Weight: 9.3 ounces | Capacity: 5 quarts
Related: The Best Pasta Makers
Best Metal: LiveFresh Stainless Steel Micro-Perforated 5-Quart Professional Strainer
What We Love: Riveted handles, built-in drainage port, micro-perforated hole pattern throughout, thicker metal resists warping/denting
What We Don’t Love: Can get scratched or dented, bulky to store, handles may get hot
Sharp rimmed edges, handles that eventually detach, overly high bases that make the colander unwieldy to store, and rough straining surfaces that catch on to your sponge as you try to clean it … these are problems you won’t have with this model of stainless steel colander.
Its precise micro-perforation, punched in from top to bottom, gives mesh—Hamp’s favorite draining pattern—stiff competition. Plus, its smoother overall surface makes it that much easier to clean. Riveted handles ensure that they’ll stay on your strainer as long as the material lasts, which might be forever with this thicker-bodied, 18/10 rust-proof stainless steel.
Another smart improvement to traditional metal colanders is the built-in drainage ports in the wide, solid pedestal, which helps guide liquid away from your food and prevents flooding at the base. This colander is able to be put into the dishwasher after dinner and comes with a lifetime warranty.
Material: Stainless steel | Dimensions (LxWxH): 12.6 x 12.3 x 5.3 Inches | Weight: 15.8 ounces | Capacity: 5 quarts
Best Over-Sink: Learja Collapsible Colander
What We Love: Compact storage, large capacity, non-slip adjustable handles, elevated for freestanding use as well
What We Don’t Love: Drainage is only on the bottom
If you’re looking for a colander that incorporates features of nearly every other competitive colander out there, it’s this one. It comes in the wide variety of fun colors you expect from silicone and plastic models and solves the problem of storage space with a format that folds down to under 2 inches wide. However, it’s still more than capable of handling up to 6 quarts of whatever you need to drain, with non-slip handles to help you bear the weight of its contents. But it’s not above a hands-off approach, either. Its rigid plastic base is raised on a scallop-legged platform that keeps the colander off your sink or counter.
Its versatility is great, but what really sets this model apart is the thick extender handles that are ridged for better traction against your sink’s edges. This means a lesser chance of slippage and spilling your colander’s contents like when you have to drain and rinse multiple cans of beans. Plus, the encased assembly makes the retracting parts far simpler to clean than other models.
Material: Silicone | Dimensions (LxWxH): 15.2 x 11 x 2 inches | Weight: 1.2 pounds | Capacity: 6 quarts
Related: The Best Mixing Bowls
Best Clip-On: Kitchen Gizmo Snap N Strain Pot Strainer
What We Love: Compact, very sturdy, lets you control keeping some pasta water
What We Don’t Love: Holes are too big for fine grains, may not fit flush against every pot edge
If you’re short on space and make a lot of one-pot meals, this convenient heat-resistant, BPA-free strainer turns any pot into a half-colander. Seriously, any pot as it’s designed for universal fit. Its flexible silicone body bends with the curve of your pot or pan and specially designed, grippy clips that will grab onto their rims securely.
It also has a funneling spout that not only drives the run-off down and out but also helps target the steam in one direction. This addresses the scalding that can sometimes happen when you dump hot items into a colander too unceremoniously. Elongated rectangular drain holes that extend side-to-side help get water out speedily, while also allowing you to hold on to precious pasta water should you have use for it, rather than dumping all of it out.
Material: Silicone | Dimensions (LxWxH): 9.1 x 4.6 x 2.8 inches | Weight: 7 ounces
You'll get many years of solid use out of a well-made plastic colander like our overall pick, Mueller Austria European-Made Colander/Strainer (view at Amazon). For smaller quantities, the budget-friendly Joseph Joseph Square Colander (view at Amazon) conveniently nests and is great for one-handed pours.
What to Look for in a Colander
Colanders must first and foremost be heat-safe, making metal, enamel, plastic, and silicone all good materials for production. "When given the choice, I would turn to a metal colander any time I’m cooking!" says Hamp. "Stainless steel is rust-resistant and stands the test of time in the kitchen. I’ve used my set almost daily for years and it still looks brand new." Additionally, they can be put into pots to be used as steamer baskets, making them more than just strainers.
However, when buying a metal colander, it’s important to take note of the kind of metal used and the way it’s finished. Some alloys can rust, thinner layers may dent, mirror-polished types can get noticeably scratched, and edges can scratch pots, your sink base, and even you. Feel the inner surface and outer rims to make sure it’s smooth and uniform to the touch.
Plastic colanders bear the benefit of being lightweight, typically inexpensive, easy to clean, and available in a variety of shapes, colors, and finishes. However, as Hamp points out, they don’t age as well as perennial materials like metal. “Plastic options can experience some color and surface dulling over time,” she says, not to mention cracking with extended use, and staining if rough-textured and light-colored. Anyone who has ever put tomato sauce leftovers into a plastic container can attest to that!
"I also try to avoid bringing plastic products into my kitchen for environmental reasons," says Hamp, another valid point to consider. Many plastics are recyclable, and you can seek out colanders made of recycled material, but the fact of the matter is, colanders are usually made from new plastics.
Silicone is a new darling when it comes to kitchenware, and more and more manufacturers are offering options made of it. It’s flexible, heat resistant, and doesn’t hold onto odors. Moreover, "Silicone colanders are typically collapsible, which is great if you’re tight on space in your kitchen," says Hamp. The downside is that they can get punctured or melt, and it can be annoying or challenging to clean thoroughly.
"Enamel options often come in beautiful colors and patterns, and can double as a beautiful fruit bowl since it allows for air circulation," Hamp concedes. Enamel colanders are typically dishwasher-safe, but ought to be gently hand-washed. Another downside to enamel is that it may chip or crack, which makes it necessary to handle them with more care than other materials.
Common hole patterns in colanders—in order of fineness—include mesh, micro-perforation, round, angled, and vertical slits. The best colanders have a high concentration of draining holes, and have more perforated surface than solid. Regardless of the shape the holes take, the closer they are to one another, the faster your food will drain.
What shape does impact, though, is what you can drain in the colander. "Spaghetti and angel hair can slip through colanders with vertical slits or round dot patterns, and those options don’t have as many draining holes as I’d like to ensure a rapid drain,” says Hamp. "I’ve found that the draining holes in plastic, silicone, and enamel colanders are too large to catch small pasta shapes, like orzo, but work well for rinsing and drying fruit and greens," she adds.
Another point of consideration is how easy it is to clean. Most things you strain in a colander are just in water, keeping cleaning to a minimum, but that doesn’t mean debris can’t get caught. In these cases, note that mesh can shred or capture sponge or scouring pad pieces and round holes may be hard to get crumbs out of. A good dish brush can do the trick for either and is especially effective for vertical holes.
Most users prefer colanders that are slightly elevated. Raising the base of the colander eliminates the problem of pooling, keeps your food farther from unhygienic surfaces like your kitchen sink, and increases airflow for more even and faster liquid elimination.
Pedestals and feet are the most popular built-in ways colanders keep their contents from stewing and steaming, and you’ll find these in freestanding colanders with handles. The colanders that will last you the longest will have pedestals or feet integrated into the body, if not sturdily attached. It’s trickier with metal colanders, whose bases must be attached. Their feet or pedestal rings are often glued on, so just make sure it’s secure if it’s not part of the mechanical structure.
What's the difference between a colander, a strainer, and a sieve?
A colander tends to be freestanding, like a raised bowl with drainage holes.
A sieve is a fine mesh strainer, like a bowl suspended with a long handle on one side and a smaller loop on the opposite side to help prop it up across a bowl or basin. These are good for pour-through sifting or straining; you can also use a sieve to, say, skim the scum off of soup with more ease than saying that sentence out loud.
Strainers have a far more flexible definition, and is an umbrella term that can include both colanders and sieves, not to mention chinois. They can be mesh or have hole patterns punched into them. They can stand alone or depend on secondary support in order to be functional, which may mean suspending over (yes, that includes your sink drain) or clipping or snapping on to a larger vessel. If it separates liquids from solids, it’s a strainer.
Can you use a colander to steam food?
That depends on the material and if it has feet or a pedestal that will elevate the ingredients over the water. Just be aware that the bottom layer may get more boiled than steamed if it’s not raised enough over any bubbles, and delicate items may become soggy if that happens. Also, because it won’t be as raised as if you were to use a steaming basket or a rack, it’s important to keep a close eye on the water level to avoid scorching the pot.
But in general, in a pinch, a metal colander and highly heat-resistant silicone colanders can act as makeshift steamers. However, if they have any plastic elements, steer clear since these will melt. Make sure the silicone bits don’t touch the side of the cookware, either! Sustained contact with a hot surface like that will test and sometimes disintegrate even thicker silicone given enough time.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
This guide was authored by Su-Jit Lin, who has over a dozen years of experience writing about food, twice that in cooking it, and thrice in enjoying all of it with extreme and likely unseemly gusto. However, she doesn’t like soggy noodles, waterlogged lettuce or steamed broccoli, nor moldy berries from improper drying, which makes her a big fan of colanders.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bisphenol A (BPA) factsheet.