Published July 1, 2008. From Cook's Illustrated.
Newfangled silicone spatulas are rife with issues—either too flimsy or too rigid, weirdly shaped, or uncomfortable to hold. Do any deliver a better tool?
Every spatula has its issues. Some melt in high heat, others come in designs that are more gimmicky than useful. Some are so stiff they can’t fold egg whites. Others are so flexible they bend when confronted with thick cookie dough. We singled out 10 silicone heat-resistant contenders with features promising greater convenience, versatility, or comfort to answer our question: Can manufacturers design a better spatula?
The business end of a spatula, the head, is its single most critical feature. We discovered certain preferred characteristics. First was the character of the silicone. Our favorite spatulas had heads that were not only soft and flexible enough to sweep all traces of batter out of a mixing bowl but stiff enough to remove sticky brown bits, or fond, from a skillet. We also decided that the top edge of the head had to be flat, fairly rigid, and squared off (in other words, not unlike the design of the traditional rubber spatula). Spatulas with pointed, floppy, or particularly curvy tips just made us work harder to scrape up food. The edge of the tip and sides also had to be thin enough to maneuver into hard-to-reach corners, rounded bowls, or the edges of a skillet.
We learned that the face of the spatula head should be as flat as possible, so it would scrape clean in one stroke against the rim of a pot or bowl. Flat “cheeks” also came in handy for swirling and blending pan sauces or slipping under the delicate edge of an omelet. A number of models have a central ridge where the handle is attached, which left batter stuck on either side, requiring multiple swipes.
With spatulas, handles are nearly as important as heads. They can help or hurt when you’re stirring for an extended time or pushing against stiff dough. And after folding dozens and dozens of whipped egg whites into batter for angel food cake and stirring pot after pot of steaming-hot risotto, we concluded that we liked a long handle on our spatulas to keep our hands a safe distance from the food. But length alone wasn’t enough—handles also had to be rigid enough to provide leverage: A few of our models had handles that literally flopped like a wet noodle just when you needed them to have a backbone.
Comfort was equally important. One spatula cut into our fingers with its hard plastic edge, making it a little painful to push through cookie dough. Another sported such an extreme curve that it forced our wrists to twist unnaturally as we stirred our way around a pan sauce. Others, however, felt comfortable and easy as we shifted hand positions for different tasks.
And while flat, Popsicle-stick-style handles are the classic choice in a rubber spatula, we broke with tradition by preferring rounded handles, whether smooth like a dowel or with indentations for the thumb. We also liked our spatula handle to be as heat-resistant as the head—one handle actually melted as it rested on the edge of a hot skillet.
But what good is a spatula if it can’t hold up for years of hard cooking or stains and smells like the last thing you cooked? We concocted a witches’ brew of curry and tomato sauce—the worst offenders—and tossed in all the spatulas for an hour-long simmer. Then we ran them through a home-style dishwasher twice. The dark-colored spatulas came clean, while lighter models stained. Depending on the formulation of the silicone in each brand, some spatulas absorbed odors, while others didn’t.
Putting the claims of heat resistance to the test, we also tried to melt the spatulas in a cast-iron skillet by firmly pressing their tips against the bottom of a hot pan for two minutes (using a thermocouple to monitor temperature). None of the spatulas lost their shape or showed signs of disintegrating, but a few turned brown or lost color at the point of contact. None gave off fumes or odors.
And after all the flipping, folding, scraping, and stirring was done, we declared a pair of winners.