Tongs should be a cook’s best friend, to be used as an extension of your hand to flip a steak, fish an ear of corn out of boiling water, or grab a slice of bacon.
And like a best friend, a set of tongs needs to be reliable, so that you can reach for them with confidence in almost any situation. Who wants to fumble around with multiple pairs, trying to remember which one can handle heavy items and which one is gentle on the salad greens? We certainly don’t. So we set out to find the one pair of tongs that could admirably perform a wide range of tasks (see the “How we tested” panel, below).
Oxo Good Grips locking tongs
A clear favorite, these tongs performed strongly in all our tests and were among the most comfortable. The shallow scalloped edges held a heavy roast securely and were able to lift and hold slippery ramekins. The tension was rated “just right” by most testers. The comfy rubber handles have thumb indentations on both sides and didn’t get slippery, even when greasy or wet.
You can find tongs in lengths ranging from 6 to 18 inches, but we limited our review to those around 12 inches, as this is the most versatile size. Any shorter and your hand heats up too much over a pan or grill; much longer and they’re too awkward for precision work like flipping shrimp.
We tested more than 20 models in the 12-inch range. All were spring-loaded, so you could open and close them with only one hand. And all had a locking mechanism that you push in to close the tongs and pull out to open them.
It was surprising that so many of the tongs, even those that excelled in one area, failed miserably at certain tasks. As a result, we ended up with only three pairs to recommend as capable of performing a range of tasks.
As we put the tongs through their paces, we discovered a few other features that we really like tongs to have:
Scalloped edges. The head of the tongs can vary in size, and in shape from square and flat to curved with pronounced teeth. The most common, and most effective, shape was oval with shallow scallops or teeth. The scallops keep a grip on soft foods, but on some models they were too pronounced and tended to tear delicate items.
Good tension. One of the biggest comfort factors in tongs is tension: too low and the tongs aren’t responsive enough; too high and they quickly tire out your hand. Everyone has a different idea of perfect tension, so we recommend that you try a pair before buying.
Grippy handles. Tongs with smooth stainless-steel handles tended to get slippery and weren’t as comfortable as those with ribbed plastic or rubber handles.
Messermeister locking tongs ($10, Cookscutlery.com)
The head of these tongs is slightly flatter than that of the top-ranked Oxo, which gave them a less secure grip on heavy, awkward objects like a roast. Yet with small items, they were precise and delicate, even when moving quickly over the heat of the grill. They handled wet ramekins with little slippage, and they had a good level of tension. The ribbed rubber on the handles made for a nice, comfortable grip.
Chantal kitchen tongs ($17, Chantal.com)
These tongs were the only ones that strayed from the standard straight-arm design. Though the slightly curved arms didn’t seem to offer any unusual benefit, these tongs did a good job with both the heavy roast and the ramekins and also proved gentle and precise when handling smaller food. The tension was on the high end, which some staffers found uncomfortable, and the handles aren’t cushioned.
Many tongs are available with nylon or silicone edges, which are less likely than stainless steel to scratch nonstick cookware. The nylon-edged tongs we tried, though, couldn’t lift or hold hard objects like ramekins. This is where the silicone-edged tongs shone, with the silicone surface gripping hard, slick surfaces securely. But when it came to precise work, like turning shrimp, most of the silicone-edged tongs proved clumsy and imprecise, because the silicone edge had too much flexibility.
The stainless-steel-edged tongs in our review proved most versatile, but if you’re looking for a second set of tongs to use in your nonstick cookware, we liked the Zyliss Cook-N-Serve ones (available at Target .com, $15). They had a comfy grip, and the teeth inside the steel-boned silicone edge helped with precision work.
How we tested
We tested 21 stainless-steel-edged tongs about 12 inches long; all were locking and spring-loaded. We assessed their performance in the following areas:
- Strength: We used the tongs to lift and turn a 4-1/2-pound beef roast. We were looking for a secure hold with no buckling or slippage.
- Grip: To see how firmly they could grip hard slippery items, we used the tongs to remove ramekins from a water bath. To test how gentle the tongs could be, we lifted cooked spaghetti from boiling water. We also put them to task in quickly turning oiled zucchini slices on a hot grill to see how nimbly they handled in a high-heat situation.
- Precision: We used the tongs to turn shrimp in a sauté pan and to plate dressed salad greens. Design and construction: Our staff assessed the comfort of the handles, the functionality of the locking mechanism, and the feel of the tongs in the hand.