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The Best Disposable Utensil Set

By Carolyn Grillo Published

After putting these single-use utensil sets to the test at a backyard barbecue, we found two sets worth considering.

I’m standing at an outdoor gathering, holding a paper plate in one hand and a disposable fork in the other. I poke at the salad on my plate, and my fork comes back empty. I direct my fork back into the salad with more force, but still nothing sticks. Most of us have experienced this scenario. Disposable utensils can be an asset when hosting guests, when having a picnic, and when things at home are especially busy, but dull or flimsy disposable utensils aren’t particularly convenient.

Given those garden-party disappointments, my colleagues and I wondered if any utensil sets (consisting of forks, knives, and spoons) are worth purchasing. First, we identified the top-selling, nationally available utensil brands based on sales data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, and purchased each brand’s best-selling set. All the utensils in these sets were made from plastic, but when doing our research, we learned of a few single-use utensil sets made from plant-based materials and marketed as being eco-friendly. We were curious to see how they would compare with plastic versions, so we included three: one made from bamboo and two made from crystallized polylactic acid (CPLA), a commercially compostable material derived from corn, sugarcane, potatoes, tapioca, or soy protein. (See “Are Compostable Utensils Really Better for the Environment?” for more information about how to compost plant-based utensils.)

Testing at home: We used each fork and knife to cut and then eat chicken thighs. We also ate ice cream with each spoon as our friend Ollie provided support and encouragement.

The seven utensil sets in our lineup were priced from about $0.05 to about $0.30 per utensil. Two sets came with an equal number of forks, spoons, and knives, while the other five sets contained more forks or more forks and spoons than knives because knives are the least used utensil. We used utensils from each set to eat Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs, Bibb and Arugula Salad with Pear and Goat Cheese, Italian Pasta Salad, and ice cream. We served the foods on both ceramic and disposable plates, and we ate the foods while sitting down and while standing. Throughout, we considered how well the forks and spoons picked up food, how well the knives cut foods, how sturdy each utensil was, and how comfortable each utensil was to use.

Knives and Forks Must Be Sharp

When we used the knives and forks from each set to cut and then eat the roasted chicken thighs, we noticed that most of the knives had small, sharp serrations that allowed them to easily navigate around bones and cut through meat. The bamboo knife’s blade, however, was thick and had square serrations that were dull and ineffective, so cutting with it required more effort. We essentially sawed off shaggy bites of chicken instead of easily and cleanly slicing through the meat. Most of the forks performed well here. We rarely needed to poke a piece of chicken twice to get it on our forks. Again, the bamboo model was the exception: Its tines tapered to dull, squared edges rather than sharp points, so they pressed down on the meat instead of spearing it. 

The forks in our lineup had tines that ranged from dull, squared edges to sharp points. Forks with dull tines struggled to pick up lettuce; they pressed into the food rather than spearing through it. We much preferred forks with pointy tines as they easily pierced through every food we ate: chicken thighs, pasta salad, and delicate lettuce.

The differences in the most important tool in each set—the fork—became clearer when we ate delicate lettuce and slippery, olive oil–coated pasta salad. The squared edges of the bamboo fork’s tines again pushed on food rather than spearing it, but some of the other forks also struggled to pierce the lettuce. When we examined those tines closer, we noticed that they were wide or squared-off at the ends. The tines of our favorite forks had visibly sharper, narrower points. The best thing about using the sharp forks and knives in our lineup was that we didn’t have to think when using them; they just worked the way they should.

Most of the spoons we tested were sturdy and able to easily carve portions from scoops of firm ice cream. This one, however, felt flimsy and bent backwards, making it more challenging for us to scoop out ice cream.

All Disposable Utensils Should Be Sturdy

In our first set of tests, we noticed that some of the utensils bent as we pushed down on them, while others were more rigid in our hands. Using the spoons to eat dense, firm ice cream really separated the flimsy sets from the sturdy sets. One especially flimsy plastic spoon bent backward when we attempted to wedge it into solid scoops of ice cream. As a work-around, we had to choke up on the handles for leverage, hoping that these efforts wouldn’t result in the scoops flying out of our dishes. Three of the other plastic spoons along with the bamboo spoon were sturdier, allowing us to easily carve bite-size portions from scoops of ice cream. The remaining two models in our lineup, which were both made from CPLA, were so sturdy that we almost forgot we were using disposable spoons. They gave us maximum control and allowed us to eat bite after bite of ice cream with ease. 

Discovering that some of the utensils sets were flimsier than others made us wonder if they would be more likely to melt or warp. To find out, we heated soup to 200 degrees, submerged a spoon from each set in the soup, and let the soup and spoons sit for 30 minutes. Happily, none of these spoons melted or warped.

One spoon’s bowl was almost flat and didn’t hold much food (left). Another spoon’s bowl was so deep it was uncomfortable to eat from (middle). Our favorite spoons were ones that had moderately deep bowls (right). They were pleasant to eat from and held enough food.

Good Design Leads to Good Performance

Lastly, we considered how pleasant the sets were to use. The knives in our lineup were all similarly comfortable to hold. As for the forks, we noticed slight differences in the lengths of their tines, which ranged from 3 to 4.5 centimeters, but we didn’t have a preference for shorter or longer models. However, we did have clear preferences when it came to the spoons’ bowls. We didn’t like spoons with bowls that were too shallow. The bowls of some were almost flat and held only ½ to 1 teaspoon of liquid. On the flip side, it was slightly awkward to eat from spoons with deep bowls, which held from 1½ to 2 teaspoons of liquid, because we had to work harder to fully empty their contents in one bite. We liked spoons with moderately deep bowls that held about 1½ teaspoons of liquid.

When comparing all the utensils in all the sets, we preferred those with smooth surfaces, both on their handles and on their heads. The textures of the bamboo forks and spoons were slightly dry and woody, which was off-putting when compared with the smooth textures of the plastic and CPLA utensils. Most of the utensils had comfortable handles, but there was one exception, a CPLA set whose skinny handles had hard, narrow ridges that were slightly uncomfortable when we held them in our hands. We preferred utensils with wide, smooth handles.

Clearing Up the Confusion Around Disposing Compostable and Plastic Utensils

The idea of compostable utensils is appealing, but are they really better for the environment than plastic utensils? And what's the best way to dispose of both plastic and compostable utensils?

Our Two Winning Utensil Sets: Ecovita and Diamond

After all our cutting, poking, and scooping, we found a winning disposable utensil set: Ecovita 100% Compostable Forks Spoons Knives Cutlery Combo 380 Set ($0.14 per utensil). The fork had pointy tines that easily speared delicate lettuce and slippery pasta. Although the fork’s tines are shorter than some of the other sets’ tines, we had no problem piercing a good amount of food with it. This set’s spoon was ideally shaped; it was neither too flat nor too deep, and it held 1½ teaspoons of liquid. The knife’s blade was thin, and its serrations were sharp, which meant that the blade sliced smoothly and easily through chicken. This set’s flat, sturdy handles and smooth CPLA material made the utensils a pleasure to eat from. 

We also named The Diamond Entertaining 96 Combo ($0.18 per utensil) our Best Set Under 100 Pieces. As much as we love our winner, some may balk at the number of utensils in the set (380) and its price tag (more than $50.00). The Diamond utensils were slightly less sturdy than the Ecovita utensils, and the forks were a bit less sharp, too, but they still easily accomplished every task we put them through. The next time you have a gathering or want to minimize cleanup, we recommend picking up either of these disposable utensil sets. We promise you’ll be able to focus on the fun you’re having and not the food you’re chasing around your plate.

Equipment Review Disposable Utensil Sets

After putting these single-use utensils to the test at a backyard barbecue, we found two sets worth considering.

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16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.