If I asked you what your favorite kitchen utensil is, I imagine you’d say a well-worn wooden spoon, a pair of spring-loaded tongs, or even a whisk. My guess is that you wouldn’t say a spatula. But I bet you could be persuaded to fall in love with your spatula if only you had the right one (or ones). Start by throwing away that old thing with the rusty rivets and the two-foot-long handle (designed to protect you from those dangerous pancakes, I guess) and invest in a few shiny new spatulas with features you’ll really appreciate.
Before you start shopping, consider the kind of cooking you do and the types of problems you’d like to solve. Are you looking for a light, ultra-thin spatula to get underneath a delicate cookie or a lacy cheese crisp and whisk it away to a cooling rack in one piece? Do you often find yourself wrestling with gooey casseroles, like lasagna or enchiladas? Are you the flip-it-in-the-frying-pan kind of cook? Do you like to make pancakes on Sunday morning, or sauté a fillet of sole on Friday nights? Maybe you like to make brownies, or fudge, or lemon bars—all of those yummy, sticky things that need to be coerced out of the baking pan. Believe it or not, there’s a different spatula that works best for each of these jobs.
To find the right spatula for the task, consider material, construction, size, shape, thickness, and strength. For most uses, choose a spatula with a stainless-steel blade. Top-quality stainless blades are often made from high-carbon steel, which keeps an edge well and gives manufacturers the option of putting a sharp beveled edge along the top of the blade (great for marking or cutting pieces before lifting them). If you’re looking for a spatula to use in a nonstick pan, don’t choose a stainless-steel blade—you’ll want one made of nylon or another synthetic material that won’t scratch the finish on your cookware.
Which is the best material for the grip? My three favorites are wood handles, molded plastic handles, and rubberized handles. All three of these materials are comfortable and durable. Wood has the disadvantage of discoloring if put through the dishwasher, but it feels and looks nice. I see a lot of tools on the market with sleek metal handles. They’re eye-catching, but they’re not my favorite. They don’t feel secure to hold, and the metal’s more likely to conduct heat to your hand. And for some reason, many of these spatulas are very long; I prefer a shorter grip, like that of a garden trowel, for easier handling.
Ideally, a metal spatula will be one-piece (or fulltang) construction. In other words, the metal from the blade continues down through the handle to the base of the spatula. The handle is then riveted to the metal. Full-tang spatulas are much stronger and less likely to bend and break than spatulas made of two pieces of metal riveted together where blade and handle meet. For this reason, I like the one-piece synthetic spatulas made for nonstick pans (as opposed to a nylon blade attached to a metal or wood handle.)
Owning spatulas in a variety of sizes is really handy. I bought my first “giant” spatula when I worked in a professional kitchen with a large griddle. Yet once I brought this spatula home, I found all kinds of uses for it—transferring a just-baked galette from a baking sheet to a cooling rack, lifting pizza and bread off my baking stone, and tucking under a roasted pork loin to transfer it to a cutting board, to name a few. I find my smallest spatulas indispensable for baking pastries and hors d’oeuvres (many professional bakers have their favorite mini spatulas), and a strong, medium-size spatula is perfect for cutting just the right size pieces of brownies or gingerbread.
As a rule, the thinner and more delicate your food (whether it’s a cookie or a fish fillet), the thinner and more delicate your spatula should be. Thin metal spatulas aren’t hard to find, but be sure to compare the edges of synthetic spatulas made for nonstick pans. Some of them are much too thick for sliding under delicate or sticky food. Thin metal spatulas can be square or rectangular, but you’ll often find them in a wedge shape, as the wider area at the top allows you to slide under the food and the narrower base gives you control.
Choose a thin spatula with slots in it. It’s true that slotted spatulas are great for separating food from cooking fat, but I really like them because spatulas with more slots than metal create less drag, sliding under food with much less resistance. This is why the slotted spatulas on the opposite page are two of my very favorites. The larger one, with a slightly up-curving lip, is called a fish spatula, and it’s good for cradling a fragile fillet. But its curves also make it useful for sliding into the “corners” of a skillet or a pie pan, if you have a frittata or a potato pancake or even a giant popover that needs a little coaxing to release.
For dense foods, you’ll want a spatula with a stiffer, thicker blade. A beveled top edge makes cutting and lifting pieces of lasagna or brownies easier. An offset handle is good for digging into casseroles or getting into a crowded pan of pancakes. These stronger spatulas can be square or rectangular and come in many sizes. The shorter, squarish blades are best for desserts like gingerbread and brownies (you can cut nice portion sizes). But a longer, more rectangular blade might be best for lasagna and casseroles.
Now that you’ve considered what a new spatula can do for you, take a look at the eight pictured here (prices range from $5 to $30), check out the options in the marketplace. You’re sure to find a spatula or two that feels made for you.
For fish fillets, frittatas, and anything fragile, a flexible, slotted spatula with a slight curve l(top right) is the best tool. Lamson Sharp slotted turner $20, lamsonsharp.com.
For buttery cookies, flaky cheese coins, and delicate macaroons, a lightweight slotted spatula with a bit of flex (bottom right) offers little resistance and won’t break the goods. Wüsthof 4-1/2 inch slotted palette turner, $29) cookswares.com.
For quiche, pie, or even clafoutis, a pie-shaped server (top right) may seem like a luxury—until you need it. Oxo steel pie server, $8, oxo.com.
For scrambled eggs and low-fat sautés, a one-piece nylon spatula (bottom right) is efficient and strong—and it won’t scratch your pan. Berndes nylon spatular $5, berndes.com.