Kitchen Confidence

Spatulas and Wooden Spoons: A Primer on Stirrers

July 24, 2014

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.

Spoon or Spatula

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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  Wooden Spoon on Food52

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.

Lemon Risotto

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. 

More: The ten kitchen utensils you should have in your arsenal.

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. 

Spatulas on Provisions by Food52  Spatulas on Provisions by Food52

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. 

More: Pick up our favorite spatulas, then go bake yourself a cake.

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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Smaug
  • Caroline May
    Caroline May
  • rod
  • PinkCupcake22
  • bookjunky
Leah is a food writer living and working in New York. She loves dumplings, old school R&B and anything pickled.


Smaug June 26, 2018
I know of very few sauces or stews that are cooked over high heat.
Caroline M. January 8, 2017
What about wooden spatulas? For a bechamel sauce, I find that the flat edge is better for keeping the sauce from sticking, than a wooden spoon. I would always rather use wood than plastic, because you have to think ahead to what happens when you decide to throw it away. That said, I love a silicone spatula for getting every last bit of mix out of a mixing bowl or food processor.
Smaug January 4, 2017
I eventually retired my wooden spoons; the silicone spatulas simply work better in every way. I've had no problem with the handles.
rod February 6, 2016
I buy bamboo spoons and flippers for a dollar each in Chinatown (Toronto). They go in the dishwasher and last forever. Since I have no emotional attachment to them, when they do wear out, they get tossed and I buy more for a dollar a piece.
PinkCupcake22 July 25, 2014
I love the mint green spatula in the top photo; can you please tell me what brand it is or where it was purchased? Thanks!
bookjunky July 25, 2014
The other thing about silicone spatulas is that if you get the two piece ones as pictured in the first photo, they get super disgusting between the handle and the head after a while. I didn't realize it for a while and then one day SAW what was inside the head and tossed it. Now I only use the one piece spatulas. Amazon is a good source.

I would also advise buying wooden spoons on etsy or another site where you can find handcrafted spoons of locally sourced good wood. It makes a BIG difference in the durability of the spoon, not to mention a craftsman's livelihood.