There have been a number of forum threads discussing the proper protection for your hands when cooking on a grill like the Big Green Egg or handling very hot objects. Most people use fabric oven/grilling mitts or leather welding gloves but some cooks are using relatively new silicone mitts such as the Orka brand.
I have been using heavy leather welding gloves for about a year with decent results but they sometimes get pretty hot and start to char when handling super hot items for extended periods. I occasionally need to handle a hot ceramic plate setter or steel grate for up to 2 minutes while performing other tasks such as adding lump, inserting wood chips, stirring the coals, or walking some distance to set the hot item down so I was looking for a better solution.
I did some research then purchased a brand new Orka mitt for comparison against my leather welding gloves. I decided to post my test results which might help others since the topic comes up pretty often.
- They are made from 100% silicone so they are very flexible, waterproof, and washable.
- Available sizes include: 11” Regular, 11” Petite (smaller hand size), and 17” (more forearm protection)
- Standard mitts are made from regular silicone but they have “PRO” models which are made from HTS silicone. HTS stands for “High Tensile Strength” and these mitts are designed for professional kitchens. The PRO mitts are more resistant to cuts and sharp instruments so they are better for daily use but they offer the same level of heat protection as the standard mitts.
- All models are available in multiple colors including clear, blue, red, purple, pink, and black.
- All models are rated for use up to 480°F for up to 1 minute. More comments on this topic below.
- Currently manufactured by Mastrad, a french company with a US distribution office (see OrkaMastrad.com
- Sold by many distributors, retailers, and online sites including QVC, Linens & Things, Whole Foods, Amazon, eBay, etc.
I opted to get the Orka 17” PRO model since I wanted the most protection from flashbacks, larger grill accessories, and sharp knives. I also liked the black color since it would hide the stains from charcoal lump, grease, and food. The mitt arrived and my first impression was that it was a bit thinner than I had anticipated. The body of the mitt measures 0.07” thick and the cleats in the grip area provide an additional 0.14” of material, for a total of 0.21” of silicone between you and whatever you are holding. This makes the mitt softer and more flexible which was a pleasant surprise but it also offers less protection from extended exposure to high temperatures. I was a little leery of handling a super-hot plate setter after seeing how soft and thin the mitt was but I pressed on.
I removed it from the clear plastic bag and slipped it on. The top edge of the mitt reaches up to the base of my elbow when my fingertips are touching the inside top of the mitt. I am 6’ tall with 13” forearms but the Orka fit me like a glove (pun intended). It was loose enough to slip on and off quickly but snug enough to prevent it from falling down during normal use. The longer 17” mitt is great for forearm protection but you have to remember that the side wall is only 0.07” thick so don’t handle the really hot stuff with anything but the thicker grip area. The only drawback to the longer mitt is that it was a little more difficult (but not impossible) to slide on with only one hand. Fortunately I rarely need to put a mitt on while my other hand is tied up so this was not an issue for me.
First I tested the Orka mitt by using only my right hand to clean the egg, wire-brush the grate, refill the lump, and light the fire. I was able to do everything including the match strike one-handed without removing the mitt but it was a little cumbersome and I almost dropped the ceramic cap. I don’t recommend using the Orka for fine prep or detail work but I wanted to attempt the tough stuff just to see how flexible it would be in a pinch. Not bad overall, certainly better than I expected. I repeated the same test with a single leather welding glove and it was much easier to complete the detailed tasks due to the finger style of the glove versus the mitt design of the Orka. For dexterity the leather welding glove is the clear winner.
Next it was time for the real test: heat and lots of it. The heat test involved the following steps:
- Heat the egg to a set temperature and let it stabilize for at least 15 minutes.
-Open the dome and immediately remove the hot cooking grate with a pair of pliers. It was too difficult to grab the grate directly because it sits down inside the rim of the egg.
- Place the hot cooking grate in my protected right hand and it hold it horizontally just like it sits on the egg, with my 4 fingers supporting the bottom and my thumb on top.
- Attempt to hold the hot grate steady and level in mid-air for 2 minutes before placing it back in the egg.
- I repeated this test with the ceramic plate setter but I installed it legs-down inside the egg to make removal easier and I let it heat up for 1 hour prior to the test.
Heat test results were as follows:
Based on the test results at 450°F, I decided not to crank the egg up any higher for further testing. I value my hands and prefer to keep them in good working order.
It is important to note that the Orka mitt is made of 100% silicone per the manufacturer. Silicone is a polymer made from the element silicon (Si) which is combined with various other elements including oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Silicone can withstand temperatures as high as 675°F depending on the specific polymer composition; however it is a fairly dense substance so it actually conducts heat better than other less-dense materials such as fabric oven mitts.
There is a lot of confusion on the web about the maximum temperature range that an Orka mitt can tolerate. I spoke with several reps from the Orka corporate office and they confirmed that all of their mitts have the same thickness and heat tolerance regardless of the size or model, and they are all rated to function up to 480°F for up to 1 minute. This is the only specification which they can legally support but one of the reps told me “off the record” that their actual maximum temperature is 570°F so there seems to be a safety factor built in for liability reasons. This may explain why each retailer quotes a different temperature range for the Orka.
One reason that some fabric oven mitts perform so well is that they use multiple layers of fabric with air trapped between them. Air is a much better insulator than silicone or normal fabrics, which is probably one reason why the Orka uses cleats in the grip with air gaps between them. When I supported the heavy weight of the plate setter from underneath with the Orka then the dense silicone kept the plate setter at an even distance from my hand and the gaps between the cleats still allowed air to circulate. When doing the same test with a single leather welding glove, however, the heavy weight of the plate setter significantly compressed the fabric which allowed the heat to conduct through the glove much faster than it would have normally.
Also keep in mind that there is a big difference between the melting or flammability threshold of a mitt or glove and the point at which your fingers or hand will become too hot to continue. Thus a true “working temperature” is going to be significantly less than the manufacturer’s maximum rating.
My goal was to find something that would allow me to safely and comfortably handle really hot objects like a plate setter at 500-650°F for up to 2 minutes. My research has shown that no standard mitt or glove is really up to this challenge however most mitts or gloves can be used at high temperatures for shorter periods of time if you take the appropriate precautions.
The Orka actually did a much better job than the leather welding glove especially when handling heavy objects from below. It is also capable of reaching into hot liquids that would normally penetrate a fabric glove, which may be a plus for those that boil or fry foods. I liked the fact that I could clean the Orka by tossing it in the dishwasher or just running it under tap water. Despite the extreme heat of the plate setter test the Orka didn’t show any signs of melting or disfigurement so it appears to be quite durable as long as the manufacturer’s maximum temperature rating and duration is not exceeded. The Orka does have a few disadvantages: loss of dexterity, longer time to cool down, and your arm will start to sweat if you keep the mitt on for more than 1-2 minutes. A pair of Orka mitts will also cost you about 10-15 times more than a pair of leather welding gloves.
Regardless of which glove or mitt you choose, I highly recommend that you have a safe spot clear for the hot object in advance and a place to drop it quickly if things go bad. Use two hands and grip the hot object from the sides when possible to minimize contact instead of bearing the full weight from underneath. Move it as quickly as possible without running or jerking. Also wear pants or an apron, and shoes. You don’t want to drop a red hot cast iron grate or plate setter on your foot like my namesake from Acme, Inc. might do…
After considering all the factors, my personal preference is to use a pair of Orka 17” PRO mitts for the hottest objects like a plate setter but to limit the duration to less than 20 seconds. For lower temperatures, shorter durations, or smaller objects then I will continue to use the leather welding gloves since they have better dexterity and adequate protection under these conditions.
Disclaimer: Any use of the Orka or other gloves/mitts beyond the manufacturer’s published limitations could possibly ruin the gloves/mitts and/or cause serious injuries. Even if you don’t damage the gloves/mitts then they will still get hot enough inside that you won’t want to keep holding on to the hot object.
PRICING / LINKS:
I got lucky and was able to buy two 17” Orka PRO mitts for a grand total of only $7 including shipping. If I had spent $30 or more per mitt then I might have been disappointed enough to send them back for a refund but they are easily worth $10-$15 per mitt in my opinion. I might even get a second smaller pair for the rare occasion when we actually cook something inside the house. Unfortunately the supplier for my amazing deal is not able to sell any more at this low price. If you decide to purchase an Orka then here are some links to the next best deals that I could find:
QVC - Pair of two 17” standard mitts in your choice of colors for $33.50 plus shipping
(while supplies last)
Amazon - Single 17” PRO black mitt for $29.99 with free shipping
(best price if you want the PRO model or when the QVC deal ends)
Web - 11” standard black mitt for $9.99 plus shipping
(best single 11” mitt price I could find)