Metal spatulas are great for flipping food in—or transferring food from—metal cookware and bakeware. But when we’re using nonstick cookware, we prefer to use spatulas made from nylon, silicone, or other nonmetal materials because they’re gentler and less likely to scratch nonstick surfaces. It had been a while since we last tested nonstick-safe spatulas, and we wanted to know how our previous favorite, the Matfer Bourgeat Exoglass Pelton Spatula, measured up against newer models. So we bought eight models, priced from about $7.00 to about $25.00, including our previous favorite, and used them in a variety of nonstick cookware to flip and transfer eggs, pancakes, salmon steaks, sole fillets, and veggie burgers.
A fundamental problem emerged immediately: Many of the spatula heads were just too thick. While none of the spatula heads was as thin as that of our favorite metal spatula (which is less than a millimeter thick), we preferred models that were on the thinner end of the spectrum, with heads that measured from 1.3 to 1.8 millimeters at their thickest. Models with thicker heads struggled to slip under pancakes, pushing them into each other or around the griddle; dented soft veggie burgers and tore off their fragile crusts; and gouged or mashed delicate sole fillets instead of flipping them. Some models had heads that were beveled, with a front edge that was a bit thinner than the rest of the head. While this beveled edge did help us to get the head under the food initially, the advantage was limited by the fact that we still had to push the rest of the thick head under the food, sometimes squashing or denting it in the process.
As we soon realized, the material of the head was largely to blame for its thickness, not to mention several other issues. Heads made from nylon and resin/fiberglass were almost always thinner and more flexible than heads coated in silicone. Why? Silicone is too soft and floppy to support food on its own, so manufacturers instead make a metal or fiberglass frame and cover the entire thing with silicone. The metal frame adds substantially to the thickness and rigidity of the head; silicone spatula heads measured between 2.5 and 7 millimeters at their thickest and couldn’t hug the cooking surface quite as closely as nylon or resin/fiberglass heads.
In addition, testers found that silicone heads were a bit too grippy, dragging more on nonstick surfaces and making it even harder to get under food. Smoother nylon and fiberglass/resin heads slid under foods much more easily.
Silicone does have one advantage: It can withstand much higher temperatures than nylon or fiberglass/resin. When we left the spatulas in a skillet and turned up the heat, nylon and fiberglass/resin spatula heads started to melt at temperatures between 390 and 500 degrees; the silicone heads, by contrast, were all still intact at 600 degrees—the highest temperature at which you’re likely to use them. Still, performance trumped durability for our testers, who universally agreed that they’d rather be more careful with a thin nylon spatula than fight to remove food with a thick but more heat-resistant silicone spatula.
Material aside, a few other factors made some models easier to use and maneuver. First, the size and shape of the head. In general, we preferred models that had a good amount of surface area because they were better able to handle foods of different sizes and weights. A spatula head with a surface area of 12 to 15 square inches was ideal; smaller heads couldn’t support large salmon steaks and bigger heads felt awkward and clumsy in the 8-inch skillets we used to make eggs over easy.
As we’d found in our metal spatula testing, though, the actual shape and length of the head were just as important as the surface area. Yet again, most testers had a slight preference for heads that were fairly long and tapered toward the handle—the shape of a traditional metal fish spatula. Spatulas with heads of this shape navigated smaller spaces more nimbly and provided a landing strip for food to travel along; pancakes and fish fillets didn’t fall off or get squashed when we needed to use a little force to get the spatula under the food.
Moving on from the head, we considered the spatulas’ handles. As in our metal spatula testing, we preferred handles of moderate length—4.75 to 5.5 inches was ideal—that gave large hands plenty of room to hold on and positioned hands of all sizes close enough to the food to ensure good control. Shorter handles were too small for large hands and longer handles put our hands too far from the food.
Handles that stuck straight out from the head felt more like extensions of our arms than those that were offset, which put our arms at awkward angles as we maneuvered around the sides of the skillet when flipping veggie burgers and eggs. Finally, the same grippiness that made silicone unsuitable as a material for the head made it great as a material for the handle; testers much preferred silicone handles to those made from resin/fiberglass or metal.
Our former winner retains its crown, though it had a few close competitors. Made from a resin/fiberglass composite, the Matfer Bourgeat Exoglass Pelton Spatula has one of the thinnest heads in our lineup, so it did a great job of getting under food. Essentially a nonstick-safe fish spatula, its long, relatively narrow profile allowed testers to maneuver it nimbly around even the smallest skillets and its straight, 5.5-inch-long handle provided plenty of control. The head did melt at about 450 degrees, but as long as you take care never to leave the spatula in the skillet after you’re done cooking, it should serve you well for a long time.