Published April 1, 2012. From Cook's Country.
Eight sets, 41 spoons, many runs in the dishwasher, and umpteen jars of herbs: We took the measure of measuring spoons, demanding accuracy, comfort, and sturdiness.
When you’re shopping for measuring spoons, you can find enough choices to make your head spin: plastic or metal, magnetic or looped on a chain, long- or short-handled, round, oval, or square—even in the shape of hearts and flowers (get real!). Does any of this affect how well the spoons function? We gathered eight sets, priced from $4.84 to $21.99: our old favorite and seven challengers. The spoons we tested were made from both plastic and stainless steel. They came in varying shapes and designs, and to be included, they had to have 1-tablespoon, 1-teaspoon, 1/2-teaspoon, 1/4-teaspoon, and 1/8-teaspoon measures. (Our recipes often call for 1/8 teaspoon, but many sets on the market don’t include this size.)
We used every spoon in each set to perform common tasks: measuring liquid and flour and scooping spices and herbs from narrow jars, including leafy, static-prone dried oregano; powdery ground sage; granular celery seeds; and slippery red pepper flakes. We assessed how easy and comfortable the spoons were to use, averaging the opinions of testers, and finally ran the spoons through many dishwasher cycles to check how well they’d hold up over time. If numbers faded, bowls warped, stains materialized, or spoons rusted, they were out of the running.
You’d think that when you measure out a tablespoon, you’re getting exactly a tablespoon. That’s the point of a measuring spoon, after all. In fact, manufacturers may not have the size perfect on every spoon in a set, plus design flaws can make perfect measurements difficult. To confirm the accuracy of each spoon, we carefully measured water and weighed it on a sensitive scale, repeating this multiple times with multiple testers and averaging the results. It was clear which spoons were consistently over or under the mark. True, the worst offenders were inaccurate by no more than 1 gram. But if you consider that a gram is nearly the weight of 1/4 teaspoon of water, your precisely measured ingredients will be incorrect. Our top choices were almost perfectly accurate for each spoon in the set, and their designs facilitated precise measurements.
In the test kitchen, we have found that the most accurate way to measure dry ingredients is a method we call “dip and sweep.” You scoop up a heaping spoonful of the ingredient and then sweep across the rim of the measuring spoon with a flat blade to level the contents. Not all spoons in our lineup allowed this. Some had a bump or dip in the handle where it met the bowl, making it hard to get a clean sweep. Dipping was difficult and uncomfortable with some sets, especially those with spoons with thick handles tightly attached to their mates, making us hold a fistful of bulky spoons while we measured. Spoons with narrow handles were easier to use as long as they were lightweight. Sure, you could simply detach the spoons from the rings, but then you have to hunt for unlinked spoons in your kitchen drawers. We preferred spoons that were comfortable to use while on the ring or that could be easily pulled off (and returned to) their rings.
For reaching into spice jars, shorter, thicker handles were a hindrance. The most expensive set we tested had the longest handles—nearly 5 inches. But their heft proved uncomfortable. We preferred sets with slim metal handles for compact storage; a few plastic sets were too chunky and bulky, and static cling made some spices stick to plastic spoons. Metal wasn’t always the answer, though: After a few dishwasher cycles, two metal sets showed rust (including one that claimed to be “stainless” steel).
After taking the measure of every set, we had a tie between one set made from plastic and one from metal. Both offered accurate spoons with long, comfortable handles that extend on a level plane for easy sweeping. With the metal winner, the slim design made using the spoons on the ring simple and comfortable; the plastic set’s bulkier spoons popped on and off the ring easily. The majority of our testers, however, preferred the metal set, which simply felt sturdier in our hands. Our old favorite nudged out the runner-up by a nose.