Colanders are an essential piece of kitchenware, useful for draining, straining, rinsing and sifting a wide variety of foods. But the broad applications also mean that a single colander won't be ideal for all potential uses. A colander that's perfect for draining rice isn't perfect for washing off veggies, for example. So, many home cooks understandably end up with more than one type of colander. Think about how you'll use it most to figure out which is the best colander to buy.
But before we proceed, there's a matter of semantics to address. There's sometimes confusion about strainers, colanders and sieves. "Strainer" isn't really a technical term; it just refers to anything that can be used to strain stuff. A colander is something more specific: a bowl-shaped strainer. And then a sieve is a mesh strainer, often with a concave strainer and an elongated handle.
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For our purposes here, we'll include mesh strainers—aka sieves—in the discussion. Apologies to any purists who might object, but we believe it's a useful inclusion for the topic at hand.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Colander
The Holes: The wrong colander holes easily lead to frustration—especially when you watch your food fall through into the sink and down the drain. Mesh strainers have tiny holes that are great for sifting and for separating all the liquid from all the solids, even when the solids are small pieces like rice, tiny pasta, or bits in a stock. But they drain slower and are more difficult to clean. Larger holes are better for quickly draining bigger pasta and allowing dirt and debris to filter through when rinsing vegetables, beans, berries, or other produce. They're less likely to clog, too. Holes come in different shapes, like round and slits. If you drain angel hair or spaghetti often, you're not going to appreciate slits, or larger holes for that matter. And there's also the number of holes. Generally, the smaller the holes, the more there are (as it should be).
Material: Stainless steel is a go-to material for lots of kitchenware, and colanders are no exception. It's durable, easy to clean and nice looking. But it can get hot when you pour boiling water over it. Melamine is another option, stronger than regular plastic; regular plastic colanders are lightweight and cheaper than other materials, but they're also the least durable and may not be able to handle the heat of boiling water or the dishwasher. Silicone colanders are available too, and they're often collapsible. This is handy for storage, but some can collapse at very inconvenient times during use. Silicone is also a bit sticky and hard to clean. Enamel is a higher-priced, attractive, durable option, but you do have to be careful with it to avoid cracks and chips.
Size and Shape: Colanders generally range from about 2 cups at the small end to around 5 quarts at the big end. Bowls can be wide and shallow (great for rinsing veggies), tall and narrow (useful for something like lasagna noodles), or somewhere in between. There are also scoop- and spoon-shaped colanders that are small and exceptionally easy to use for small straining tasks. Think about the types of food you'll put in the colander, as well as the quantities you work with. Also, consider your storage space.
Base and Handles: Some colanders have feet or a pedestal base that let you set them down in the sink, freeing up both hands for pouring. If you frequently empty heavy pots, this is helpful. Pay attention to how high the colander sits off the surface of your sink though, as one that sits low can end up with its contents getting backwashed. Also, consider the handles. Mesh strainers usually have one long handle, and sometimes also a U-shaped helper handle. That's good when you need one hand to pour, but since they rarely stand in the sink, it's no good for two-handed pouring. Bowl-shaped colanders typically have two handles on opposite sides, so look for ones that are easy to grip. Some over-the-sink models have handles that rest on the sides of the sink, another option that frees up both hands.
By considering these factors—along with what you're willing to spend—you can pick out the best colander for your needs and preferences from the countless choices available.
The Best Overall Colander
Bellemain Micro-Perforated Stainless Steel Colander
If you only own one colander, make it this fairly priced, lightweight, durable stainless steel strainer. It has a spacious 5-quart capacity to hold plenty of food and liquid from a single pour. The holes are small enough to retain just about anything besides liquid—even rice and angel hair—but larger than mesh for a faster drain that lets out dirt and small bits of debris. Draining is also accelerated by having the holes so close together and covering the entire surface of the bowl. It also has a high, stable pedestal base for setting down in the sink and two easily grasped, securely riveted handles. Plus, this colander is dishwasher safe.
The Best Mesh Colander
LiveFresh Large Fine Mesh Strainer
This is an excellent choice if you're looking for a single-handled mesh strainer or sieve to also use as a colander. Nothing but liquid will escape through this fine mesh. And not only does it have a comfortable, nonslip rubberized handle, it also has convenient resting hooks for placing it on the rim of a pot or bowl. The reinforced frame is sturdy enough to handle hefty loads, which the ample 9-inch diameter can accommodate. It's a professional-quality piece that will last, available at a budget-friendly price. This strainer is rust-proof, heat-resistant and dishwasher-safe, which is always nice with this style, as it can be hard to get clean by hand.
The Best Over-the-Sink Colander
Cuisinart Over-The-Sink Colander
For a colander that rests on the edges of your sink—rather than setting down inside it, leaving your food vulnerable to backwash—look no further than this product from a beloved name in kitchenware. Its stainless steel mesh retains even your small solids, and thanks to having holes all the way up the sides, this model drains faster than many other over-the-sink colanders that only have holes on the bottom or just partway up the sides. The rubberized, nonslip, telescoping handles extend to fit over just about any sink, and the strainer has a generous 5.5-quart capacity. Its elongated shape also makes it well suited to longer vegetables that don't fit nicely into a round colander. This strainer is light but durable, made of stainless steel, and it's dishwasher safe.
The Best Collapsible Colander
Vremi Collapsible Colander
Here's a great buy at a great price if you need a space-saving straining option. This 5-quart, BPA-free silicone collapsible colander folds down to just 2 inches high with one easy push. A sturdy plastic pedestal and rim help prevent disastrous collapsing during use, a common concern with colanders made of silicone, a rather floppy material. Wide, ergonomic handles with bumps provide a secure grip, even with wet hands. The spiraling, vertical oblong holes along the sides of the bowl help water drain efficiently. However, the holes are large enough to let some grains, little or thin pasta, and other smaller solids through. This colander is dishwasher-safe, but note that it isn't microwave-safe and can only handle temperatures up to 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Best Budget Colander
Chef Craft Select Plastic Colander
If a low price point is your priority when choosing a colander, this is a smart buy. It's sturdy and durable for a plastic colander, and it's BPA-free. And, at 5 quarts, you're not giving up any capacity for the cost savings. The holes are on the larger side, which means it drains quickly and is well designed for rinsing produce, but it will let smaller food slip through. There's a sturdy base for resting in the sink, and the U-shaped handles allow for gripping with your fingers or supporting from underneath. As an added bonus, this is a dishwasher-safe plastic colander.
The Best High-End Colander
All-Clad Stainless Steel Colander
All-Clad is known for high-quality, long-lasting, elegant-looking stainless steel cookware, cooking utensils and accessories. It offers this 5-quart colander with a polished exterior that fits into any high-end kitchen. The relatively large holes that run high up the sides of the bowl allow for fast draining and effective washing of fruits and vegetables (but they're not ideal for draining small or thin pasta, grains and other smaller foods). The holes do get progressively smaller toward the bottom of the colander though, so smaller quantities of many smaller foods should be safe. A tall pedestal base means this colander sits sturdily in the sink and keeps its contents out of reach of any backwash. The spacious handles are comfortable to hold onto and securely riveted to the bowl. While this is a dishwasher-safe product, it's better to hand-wash it to protect its attractive finish.