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Test Drive: Pastry and Basting Brushes

For glazing, basting, and brushing, these top performers can't be beat

Fine Cooking Issue 118
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Pastry and basting brushes are must-have kitchen tools. They excel at different tasks, though, so knowing which one to grab means knowing your cooking needs. A pastry brush, which usually has a small head, is great for delicate work that requires precision and a light touch, like glazing a fragile fruit tart or brushing a pie’s lattice top with egg wash. For less dainty jobs, like slathering sticky glaze on a ham, a heftier, heat-resistant basting brush that holds and transfers plenty of liquid is preferable. I tested 17 brushes to find the best one in both categories. Pick the one that suits your purposes—or better yet, get them both. For less than $20, you’ll have the right brush for every kitchen task.
 

The basting brush

Le Creuset Revolution
$14 at lecreuset.com

Heat resistant up to 482°F, the silicone bristles on this basting brush excel at holding and evenly spreading liquids of varying viscosities, from thin marinades to thick, sticky glazes. Its 2-inch-wide flat head and firm yet pliable bristles coated a turkey breast with marinade in just a few swipes and worked glaze into the deepest crevices of a scored ham.

The rounded wood handle has three notched rings to give you a comfortably firm grip; it’s also long enough (more than 8 inches) to reach into the back of a grill or hot oven without burning fingers. The detachable head and bristles are dishwasher safe, though the wooden handle is not. After multiple washings, this brush was still just like new.

The pastry brush

Winco WFB-10R
1-inch round
$2.39 at tigerchef.com

With its round, 1-inch-wide head and natural boar’s hair bristles that taper slightly to the tip, this easy-tocontrol brush is great for precision work. When brushing egg wash onto a pie’s tightly crimped edge, it gently works its way into every crevice, so liquid goes right where you want it.

Its medium-soft bristles spread melted butter over gossamer-thin phyllo dough evenly, efficiently, and without tearing the delicate surface; they also easily whisk away tiny cake crumbs from split cake layers without damaging the cake. The bristles are moderately packed (neither too dense nor too sparse), heat resistant (they can brush butter over a hot crêpe pan without singeing or burning), and incredibly absorbent (they hold and transfer liquids without dribbling). Its wooden handle is rounded and comfortable. Numerous washings—by hand, as this brush is not dishwasher safe—resulted in minimal shedding, splaying, or staining.

What to consider

Handle Comfort is the most important factor. The handle should feel well balanced and natural in the hand and have rounded edges and a sufficient grip. Basting brushes with long handles make it easier to reach a rear burner or into a hot oven, but those with handles of just 4 or 5 inches will do, too. Plastic handles are more apt to be dishwasher safe than wooden handles.

Head This holds the bristles and comes in various shapes and sizes. I like a small, 1-inch round head for pastry brushes because it’s best for precise work. For a basting brush, a wider head—closer to 2‚ inches—with a flatter shape lets you cover more area with a single swipe.

Bristles Most often, these are natural boar’s hair, nylon, or silicone. For a basting brush, silicone is your best bet; it’s not only heat resistant but also easy to clean and is stain and odor resistant, too. For a pastry brush, I found that the taper of the bristles near the tip is more important than the material (boar’s hair and nylon are both fine); better tapering equals more precision. Bristles should be plentiful (one brush I tested had just 17) but not so tightly packed that they’re stiff or take forever to dry when washed. Look for bristles that are soft enough to bend easily into curves and crevices but not so soft that they fold under, making them hard to control. Very stiff bristles can gouge or tear delicate items.

Testing Methods

To evaluate the pastry brushes, I brushed sheets of phyllo dough with melted butter, brushed crimped pie edges with egg wash, and brushed crumbs off split layers of cake. To evaluate the basting brushes, I brushed grilled turkey breast with a thin marinade and a baked ham with a thick, sticky glaze.

I noted how well the bristles picked up and transferred liquid (ideally with no drips en route), how efficiently and evenly they spread liquid, and how well they fared when precision mattered. I also tested for heat resistance by using them to brush melted butter over a hot crêpe pan. I washed the brushes (by hand or in the dishwasher, if dishwasher safe) to determine how well they cleaned up. I also evaluated their design, taking into account the materials used, the shape of the handle, and the shape and size of the head.

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