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Metal Spatulas

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2010

How we tested

Few people give much thought to choosing a good turner-style spatula. Most of us simply put up with tools that don’t particularly help us—and may even get in the way of our doing a better job as we flip or transport food. Whether they’re too long or too rigid, whether they have an awkwardly shaped head, a too-thick front edge that can’t slide easily under food, or a handle angle that forces our arm up or elbow out, most of these fly-swatter look-alikes tend to damage food. They can tear the whites and break the yolks of fried eggs, crumple warm cookies instead of lifting them neatly off the pan, or drop your neat square of lasagna into a messy heap as you’re ferrying it to a plate. Because spatulas are fairly cheap, most people own a drawer full of assorted styles and brands. But wouldn’t it be better to own the perfect spatula that feels natural and makes cooking easier? We all need a plastic spatula to protect nonstick pans but we also need a real metal one for traditional pans, where thick, blunt plastic ones just won’t do. In this testing, we looked at metal spatulas.

To this end, we scooped up tools of varying prices, sizes and designs and started the evaluations with a basic challenge: frying eggs in an 8-inch skillet. Shoveling—and breaking—the delicate eggs in such cramped quarters winnowed the lineup to 5 spatulas; these graduated to tests with fresh-baked cookies, pans of lasagna, fluffy pancakes, and oversize hamburgers. To gauge strength, we then tried to balance bricks on them. 

Measure for Measure

The initial egg test pointed us to our first conclusion: A good spatula must have a slim front edge that can slip under any food with ease. Thicker-edged heads pushed the eggs around the skillet until the yolks turned dense and dry and the whites were rubbery and tough. (At that point we could have flipped the eggs with a forklift.) Our favorite spatula measured less than 1 millimeter at the front edge and deftly shimmied under the eggs.

But nailing down the ideal head size was a balancing act—literally. If it was too narrow, it didn’t provide enough support. Conversely, super-wide flippers struggled to pick up a single pancake, burger, or cookie without knocking (or crushing) its neighbors. An overly long head was also a detriment—these spatulas literally kept us an arm’s length from the pan. Our conclusion: A rectangular, well-proportioned head—roughly 3 inches wide and 5 inches long—offers support without compromising dexterity.

The handle driving the head also plays a role; its length can mean the difference between a smooth ride and a fatal, food-fracturing accident. One handsome spatula, with a 9-inch-plus handle, stretched nearly 15 inches long and seemed better proportioned for the blasting heat of a grill than the tame warmth of a griddle (it too was eliminated after the egg test). But there was also such a thing as too small, which felt like a toy. The most successful spatulas fell between those two extremes, with handles measuring roughly 6 inches and a total length of about 11 inches, a distance that kept us safe while letting the spatula maneuver as a natural extension of our hands.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Our intuition told us the angled offset style of more traditional spatulas, which follow the curve of a pan, would give us the best leverage. To our surprise, we preferred only a slight offset to the grip; in fact, the handle on our top-rated spatula extended nearly straight out from the head. Steeper angles limited our movement, especially in small or deep pans.

Instead of an angled handle, we got more control with models that had flexible heads, which could bend slightly and slide under foods in any kind of pan. The slotted head on our winner was a bit stiffer but sported a gentle curve that yielded the same result. Besides, a little stiffness could actually be a good thing: When we balanced bricks on each model to test strength and stability, some were too flexible and threatened to drop their cargo.

As for slots, some spatulas had them while others were solid sheets. Manufacturers claim the openings let grease drip off, but we saw little evidence of that. It turns out that the slots actually perform a more important function: They break up the surface of the spatula, reducing the friction of the food across the head and making it easier to slide under food. Our top-rated spatula had long, vertical cuts through the head for just enough slither potential. (Obviously, a good spatula can’t be too slippery or the food will slide right off—another point for our winner and its upturned edge.)

In the end, we flipped for the sleek agility and gently cradled head of a traditional metal fish spatula, which performed well beyond its piscine job description and vastly outperformed the rest of the pack. This tool is essential to our everyday cooking arsenal.

Methodology

We tested 10 metal spatulas, eliminating 5 in the first round (testing each frying eggs over easy), for a final lineup of 5 metal spatulas. Prices were paid in Boston-area stores or online.

FRONT EDGE: Thickness, in millimeters.

PERFORMANCE: We flipped fried eggs, pancakes, and burgers; transferred cookies from baking sheet to cooling rack; and cut and served lasagna.

DESIGN: We considered head size and shape, total length, handle comfort, material, and maneuverability.

STRENGTH: We assessed each spatula’s ability to handle heavy loads like lasagna—even a standard 4-pound brick—without buckling.

MELTING POINT: We tested heat-resistance claims of plastic spatulas by monitoring their performance in a cast-iron skillet fitted with a temperature probe.

These additional metal spatulas were eliminated from the final lineup after testing: All-Clad Stainless Steel Flexible Spatula, All-Clad Flexible Angled Spatula, Rösle Perforated Angled Spatula, Cuisipro Tempo Large Turner

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*