Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: A primer on your favorite stirrers.
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The wooden spoon—that much-loved, earthy-looking kitchen tool—is ubiquitous in home kitchens and professional restaurants alike. But rubber and silicone spatulas are tempting too, with their rainbow of colors and their ease.
If you’re unsure whether to stay old school with your wooden spoon or delve into a spatula situation, don’t fret—I’ve explored the best uses for each utensil as well as some of their drawbacks, and when you can use both interchangeably.
Wooden Spoons There’s a reason wooden spoons have been considered the cooking utensil par excellence for so many years. First off, they are non-conductive, so their handles remain cool even when rested in or atop a hot dish. Second, they are gentle on pans and won’t scratch the surface of your beloved cast iron skillet or copper pot. Finally, their handles are comfortable to hold, so you can stir for a long time without hurting yourself.
Like most things other than world peace and chocolate, there are some drawbacks to this beloved kitchen tool. The wooden spoon can be somewhat more difficult to clean because of its fibrous material. Although it can usually survive a run in the dishwasher, wood tends to warp and dry out after a few cycles, so it’s best to wash these spoons by hand. Wooden spoons tend to absorb smells and colors (think curry powder, turmeric, and tomato sauce), so I recommend reserving at least one spoon for baking—you don’t want your blueberry muffins to taste like garlic.
Wooden spoons have almost limitless uses, but I find that there are two instances in which they prevail over all others. Sauces and stews cooked over high heat are a great time to use one, as the handle won’t get hot and there’s no risk of melting. Also, the wooden spoon’s curved edges help to move liquid around particularly easily.
Since it’s so comfortable to hold—especially after years of wear—the wooden spoon is also perfect for dishes like risotto and and polenta that require frequent or constant stirring.
Rubber and Silicone Spatulas These tools aren’t just pretty to look at, thanks to their smooth edges and rainbow of colors—they are also indispensable in the kitchen. They’re easy to throw in the dishwasher countless times (and simple to wash by hand); they are much less likely to absorb smells or colors; and they, too, are gentle on the bottoms of pans.
Although rubber spatulas may run the risk of melting, silicone ones won’t, which is very helpful if you’re using them in high-heat dishes, or to melt chocolate or stir a pan of roasting vegetables. Spatulas are also an ideal tool for thinly spreading or smoothing pastes and frostings, thanks to their thin, flexible edges.
The one drawback to silicone spatulas—aside from the fact that yours probably isn’t an heirloom from Great Aunt Joan—is that their handles can be a bit uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time; and those with thin handles can get hot easily.
Baking is an excellent time to break out your brand new spatula, both when you’re stirring batter and when you’re swooshing frosting over the top. Flexible spatulas can scrape even the most miniscule remnants from the sides of a mixing bowl and are great for creating an even layer of batter in a cake pan. When mixing ingredients with oil or other fats, a rubber or silicone won’t absorb any of the fat and can be cleaned super easily.
So, there you have it—the best reason to immediately run (or click) to the kitchen store and rapidly expand your collection of stirring utensils.
What do you use your wooden spoons and your spatulas for? Tell us in the comments!