Updated January 2022
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Buying guide for Best fat separators

Making a rich meat stock for gravies, soups, stews, and other dishes is a worthwhile project, but there’s one step in the process that can be challenging: separating the fat from the liquid. A kitchen gadget called a fat separator is the ideal tool for the job, and its use couldn’t be simpler.

While some fats and oils enhance the finished product, meat stock needs to be clarified in order to end up with a smooth sauce or gravy with a pleasant mouthfeel. A fat separator can also serve as a liquid measuring cup, oil and vinegar dispenser, and batter dispenser.

There are other, more labor-intensive ways to remove unwanted fat from meat stock, but these methods are less efficient. A dedicated fat separator takes advantage of gravity, fat density, and time to replace fat skimmers, spoons, paper towels, or a freezer. This in-depth buyer’s guide can help you make an informed decision when adding this useful utensil to your culinary tool kit.

fat separator
It generally takes at least 15 to 20 minutes for fat to separate from other liquids.

How to buy the best fat separator

How a fat separator works

Meat stock contains some ingredients that should not be in the final product, such as vegetables, herbs, bones, and fat. Removing these involves pouring the hot liquid into a fat separator, which resembles a large measuring cup. A strainer at the top captures the large solids, a filter traps the smaller solids, and the stock collects at the bottom.

As the stock cools, the less dense fat naturally floats to the top and congeals. The result is a layer of fat-free liquid stock trapped beneath a layer of fat. Because of the tool’s design, the liquid stock can be siphoned into a separate container while the fat layer is discarded or stored.

Materials

Fat separators, like their measuring cup cousins, should be made of heat-resistant, food-safe materials. It’s best to avoid inexpensive models made of thin plastic or standard glass that can’t handle high heat or resist staining. 

Stainless steel is used in many high-end fat separators that also serve as oil and vinegar dispensers or gravy separators. Stainless steel resists high heat well, although a lack of insulation can be a problem for users. Metal fat separators are stain-resistant but not transparent, which makes it challenging to gauge where you are in the process.

Food-grade plastic is a common material for separators at any price point. Plastic is lightweight and durable, and these can also work as measuring cups. It’s important to find models that are BPA-free because some plastic containers can leach hazardous chemicals into food or liquid when heated. Clear plastic is preferable because the dividing line between stock and fat is easy to see.

Glass is one of the best materials for these tools because it’s transparent and exceptionally heat resistant. It also resists staining and is generally dishwasher safe. Glass fat separators are available in a wide range of sizes and also work well as liquid measuring cups.

Design

There are two common designs, and each one has its supporters and critics, so the choice often comes down to personal preference. 

Simple: One type resembles a traditional measuring cup but with a pouring spout positioned at the bottom. A tight-fitting stopper prevents the hot liquid from escaping as the stock is filtered and poured. After the fat has completely separated from the stock, you carefully remove the stopper and pour out the clarified stock until the level reaches the fat layer. The process is fairly straightforward, but some fat might still remain in the stock.

Mechanical: The second design involves some mechanical assistance. The fat separator contains a spring-loaded mechanism that closes a hole in the bottom until the stock is cool and separated. When the process is finished, you position the separator over another container and release the stopper with a button on the handle. The clarified stock drains out slowly, and the stopper keeps the fat layer contained.

Capacity

Meat stock is often prepared in a large stock pot because the liquid stores well and is easier to make in big quantities. Separating the fat must usually be performed in batches because separator capacity is measured in cups, not quarts. A standard model holds 4 to 6 cups, but there are some more expensive separators designed to hold 8 cups or more. There are also inexpensive models with a 2-cup capacity for processing meat drippings or bacon grease.

Dyk1-pancake batter
Did You Know?
Some modern fat separators can also be used to dispense funnel cake or pancake batter.
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What features should I look for in a fat separator? 

Strainer and filter

Strainer: One vital step in the fat separation process is the removal of solids such as bones, vegetables, herbs, and sachets. Most of these tools accomplish this with a mesh strainer at the top, but some models don’t include this step. In that case, the stock needs to be poured through a separate strainer and then poured into the fat separator. To simplify the process, look for a fat separator that includes a strainer.

Filter: The second step in the process involves a filter capable of trapping spices, oils, and other ingredients. Some fat separators include a special filter for this step, while for others you’ll need to add a paper filter in or under the strainer.

Handle

Meat stock can be extremely hot, and a large-capacity fat separator is heavy. This means that the handle must be sturdy and slip-resistant. The stopper mechanism in a bottom-release model is located in the handle, so it should be easy to activate and control. Some cheap fat separators have plastic handles that can become slippery or metal handles that can get too hot to hold. When comparing these devices, it’s a good idea to check the sturdiness of the handle while the cup is full of water.

Accessories

As with many other kitchen tools, bundling is common with fat separators. In addition to the strainer, stopper, and filter, the package may also include other essentials such as a paring knife, vegetable peeler, and/or cleaning brush. These bundles are usually found at the mid-range price points.

In 1920, inventor Harvey E. Lyons received a United States patent for a fat separator and strainer.

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How much do fat separators cost?

Inexpensive

You can find basic ones with limited capacity for less than $20, but these typically don’t include a strainer, filter, or stoppered spout. A bottom-release model is difficult to find in this price range.

Mid-range

Most separators for home use are made of glass, food-grade plastic, or stainless steel and cost $20 to $45. A 4-cup capacity is common in this range, but specialty stores carry some larger ones. 

Expensive 

High-end separators that retail for $50 or more are commonly made of stainless steel and can serve as a gravy separator, oil and vinegar dispenser, and oil strainer. 
 

St2
Staff Tip
Line the separator’s lid with a coffee filter to help keep solids out of the stock.
Staff
BestReviews

Tips

  • Don’t pour rendered fat down the sink. The fat will congeal and potentially clog household plumbing. Store the fat for later use or discard it in a sealed trash bag.
  • Allow enough time for the fat to fully separate. The minimal amount of time required to separate fat completely is 15 to 20 minutes. It can take much longer depending on the temperature.
  • Save rendered fat for other recipes. Fat may not be an ideal ingredient in stocks or gravies, but it does work well for roux, stews, and pan frying.
  • Store the fat separator away from pets. Rendered fat is a temptation for carnivores like dogs and cats, so pet owners should store the separator out of reach.
     
fat separator freezer
You can safely place the fat separator in the freezer to speed up the process.

FAQ

Q. Which material is best?

A. Although stainless steel, glass, and plastic all have their advantages and disadvantages, heat-resistant glass seems to be the best overall option. Its transparency allows you to gauge the progress, it can handle hot liquids, and glass resists staining.

Q. Are there alternatives to a fat separator?

A. While it is the ideal tool for this process, you can also use a large spoon to skim off small amounts of fat or a turkey baster to drain off a pool of collected grease. Paper towels can also absorb a layer of grease or fat. However, these alternative methods are more labor-intensive. 

Q. How can I speed up the process?

A. Separating fat from liquid takes advantage of the properties of fat and the force of gravity. There is no mechanical method that will speed up the process. However, you can place the separator in the refrigerator or freezer to shorten the wait time a bit.
 

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