Published March 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
Pasta forks are designed primarily for serving long-stranded pastas like spaghetti. But are they just a one-trick pony?
Pasta forks, or “spaghetti servers,” resemble large slotted spoons surrounded by prongs. They’re designed primarily for serving long-stranded pastas like spaghetti, but we wondered if they might also be up for other tasks, and if a basic pair of kitchen tongs could perform those tasks equally well.
To find out, we tested eight models (priced from $3.99 to $22) against our favorite 12-inch OXO tongs, using them to prepare and serve slippery spaghetti; delicate, clump-prone angel hair; and short penne. We found that the pasta forks were useful not just for serving but also for stirring and separating pasta during cooking, snagging a piece to test for doneness, and tossing the noodles with sauce. We quickly ruled out two: the priciest, a stainless steel model that was too heavy to use comfortably, and a bamboo version whose flat head and stumpy tines failed to grip pasta. The rest ably stirred and unclumped pasta during cooking, but extracting small amounts to test for doneness yielded mixed results. Angel hair and spaghetti were easy to snag, but smaller penne slipped through the oversize central drainage holes on most forks; only two featured smaller holes that drained cooking water while still holding on to pasta. Almost all of the forks worked well for combining cooked and drained pasta with sauce, though one model with a squishy silicone head felt too flimsy for this task.
As we dished the finished pasta into serving bowls, we were again impressed by the overall effectiveness of these tools. Very little pasta was dropped, and the countertop was spared from sauce drippings. Design details ultimately made the difference: The top performers featured handles at least 10 inches long—long enough to scoop pasta out of tall pasta pots and keep our fingertips far from the boiling water. Their heads were gently angled, which made it easy to scoop pasta with a smooth motion; heads that were either flat or too steeply angled felt awkward. The best models also had deep bowls that could hold more pasta and deliver a full serving in one or two scoops.
And what about tongs? For stirring long pastas in boiling water and mixing with sauce, tongs performed just as well as the top pasta forks. But when we tried to serve small pasta tubes, tongs grabbed such tiny amounts that we had to go back and forth repeatedly to dish out just one portion. When plating, however, tongs can perform one task that the forks cannot: twirling strands of spaghetti into a tidy mound—a nice touch for company, but not necessary every day.
In the end, we felt that a well-designed pasta fork is a helpful—although not indispensable—tool. It combines the actions of tongs and a serving spoon, simplifying kitchen tasks and maximizing time at the table. Our favorite features a long handle, small drainage holes, and a gently angled head, making it comfortable and easy to maneuver. We’ll reach for it the next time we prepare pasta.