The Cheap Tool That Protects You From Hot Food Splatter

Deep frying produces texture-filled proteins, crispy and crunchy starches, and golden brown exteriors. Unfortunately, it also comes with its drawbacks. Hot oil can sting arms and leave your stovetop with a coating of sticky residue that's tough to clean. But, with one helpful tool, you'll no longer have to pay the price for frying foods at home.

Enter the splatter screen. Made of wire mesh or silicone, the heat resistant tool offers protection against, well, splatter. This is invaluable for a busy cook — especially when you realize how much effort it requires to take your gas stovetop apart for proper cleaning. Plus, around the holidays and large gatherings, you can fry in large quantities with less of a major cleanup needed.

This tool isn't just for frequent fryers, however. The screen is also useful at protecting your surfaces against liquids like tomato sauce and wine, both of which hiss as they hit a hot pan. And when browning meats, like short ribs or bacon, the screen fights against the typical spitting grease. Even simmering soups and sauces become a smidge less messy when you add this protective cover on the pot.

Choosing a splatter screen

As with most culinary tools, splatter screens range in price, depending on the material and brand of choice, but you can find them for as little as $5. They're available in different circumferences, so you should double check the width of your pan and consider how you'll use the splatter guard before purchasing. Or, get a set so you can adapt the screens to a number of pans.

The simplest metal model, which features a handle and a flat circle of fine mesh, is quite popular among home cooks. It works by resting across the top of your pots and catching droplets of hot oil and simmering sauces before they mist onto your stove. The woven top also allows steam to escape, avoiding the condensation that plagues regular lids. You can find a silicone version of the flat shape, and a variety of perforation sizes as well, for every cooking need. 

Another approach is to purchase a silicone cone splatter guard. Similar to the cone of shame your dog might wear, these Elizabethan collar-esque tools extend the rim of your pans to catch rising splatter. Though some argue they're less effective than a mesh screen, they might be the right choice for cooks who work with a lot of voluminous ingredients like kale or spinach, as they can contain overflowing ingredients while they cook down.

How to use a splatter screen

Assuming you purchase the mesh covering style, using this kind of splatter screen might take slight adjustments. You'll need to train yourself to lift and replace the lid as you add, flip, or remove ingredients. (If you go with the conical guard, you won't have to make the same adjustments as they are open at the top.)

Some detractors say the splatter guards are imperfect and allow a few dots of grease through, but many home cooks believe the benefits are noticeable and worth it. If anything, you'll want to keep the risk of a slight drip in mind when maneuvering the top away from the pan. Once you get the choreography down, you'll find you can stand nearer to the pot and keep a more comfortable, close watch on your meal.

You can also pair the splatter screen with a wire strainer, the safest kitchen tool for scooping food out of hot oil, and become a force of nature when it comes to deep frying. Then, place all your metal tools into the dishwasher for a quick cleanup. And feel free to dig the perforated tool back out when you need a quick strainer for pasta or to catch seeds when squeezing citrus.