Why A Small Fine Mesh Strainer Is Incredibly Versatile

a small fine mesh strainer drains hot peppers of their oil
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

My utensil drawer is a nightmare. I admit it: I’m a sucker for gadgets. I’ve got bench scrapers and bowl scrapers, multiple instant-read thermometers, wooden spoons, mini whisks, silicone spatulas, and tongs galore. As handy as some of these kitchen tools are, I don't use them all daily. And the one I do might come as a surprise: because my favorite kitchen tool is an understated small fine mesh strainer.

As a bread baker, it’s perfect for quick-sifting flour when I need to dust a surface. Because I use rice flour to dust my bannetons and regular flour to dust my loaves before scoring with a lame, I love how quick it is to switch between the two. It’s also perfect for when I’m stretching and shaping pizza dough: I can quickly dust the counter I’m working on with white flour and immediately switch to semolina for the peel, to keep the dough from sticking when loading it into the pizza oven. And the same goes for hand-shaping pasta.

It’s also my go-to tool for garnishing dinner. I use a citrus press while cooking, but if I just need a quick hit of lemon juice on some roasted broccoli, it’s going to be hand-squeezed and the strainer catches any pulp and seeds. Or for pizza night: I love hot peppers and giardiniera scattered on a thin crust pie, but the oil they come packed in gets everywhere, and it’s also easy to accidentally rub it into your eye. Since I’m the only hot lover in my house, a quick strain with a small fine mesh strainer set over a ramekin gives me the perfect pizza topping (and saves me a trip to Urgent Care).

a gaiwan tea brewer pours tea through a small fine mesh strainer into a carafe
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

The mini mesh strainer is also likely to be found in bars and tearooms, and for good reason. Double-straining cocktails with one ensures no fruit pulp or muddled herbs make their way into your drink, muddying its flavors and yielding an unpleasant texture. I make loose leaf tea throughout the day, and traditional tea brewers, like the gaiwan, don’t have a built-in strainer. A 3-inch strainer fits perfectly across most cups or tea vessels and keeps my teeth free of leaves.

Of course there is one downside: I don’t necessarily want my oolong tea to have an aftertaste of hot peppers. As much as the small fine mesh strainer is a multi-tasking tool, it’s not a bad idea to have a few on hand—otherwise you might be waiting for your dishwasher cycle to finish before you can bake your pizza. Luckily, it’s often an inexpensive piece of equipment, and with how often I use them, what’s the harm in cramming my drawer even fuller? 

Small Fine Mesh Strainer Options

A Comfortable Handled Small Fine Mesh Strainer: OXO Good Grips Mini Mesh Strainer

This strainer features a thicker rubber handle, which is more comfortable for handheld applications, but is slightly bulkier when resting on top of a cup. 

A Basic Wire Handle Small Fine Mesh Strainer: Norpro 3-Inch Strainer

This strainer’s simple wire-loop handle helps it balance better on top of cups or mugs, though it's less comfortable to hold.

An Upgrade Small Fine Mesh Strainer: Rösle Small Fine Mesh Strainer

The smaller version of our top full-size fine mesh strainer pick, this model has a wider cup rest and a sturdier mesh for people who want a heavy-duty option. 


What do you use a mini strainer for?

Mini strainers are a great tool for straining loose leaf tea, cocktails, and mulling spices, and any other strainer application that might be scaled down to a single serving. The smaller size is ideal for resting on top of a single mug or glass, which allows for a more precise straining action right before serving. 

What’s the difference between a mesh strainer and a sieve?

A mesh strainer and a sieve are essentially the same thing: a wire ring with a metal mesh basket used to sift out larger particles from smaller particles. It can be used to sift flour to remove lumps, strain pasta water, or to allow marinated ingredients to drain. 

How do you clean a small fine mesh strainer?

Many fine mesh strainers are dishwasher-safe, but if you need to use it sooner, you can hand-wash them as well. Start by soaking the mesh side in soapy water for a few minutes to clean between the wires, then scrub and rinse to remove any leftover residue. 

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