How we tested
In the test kitchen and our home kitchens alike, we use tongs to lift, flip, turn, rotate, and otherwise move every conceivable type of food while it cooks, from ramekins of custard in a water bath to small shrimp sautéing in a pan to gargantuan prime rib roasts emerging from the oven.
Believe it or not, tongs are no longer the straightforward affair they once were. Of course, you can still buy a basic model—two plain metal arms connected by a spring, with scalloped pincers for gripping—but you are just as likely to find tongs that fold in half, telescope, or pull double-duty as a spatula. Arms come cushioned or curved, and pincers can be nonstick-friendly and have various degrees of scalloping around the edges. With so many innovations, our question here was simple: Are these newfangled tongs any better than basic, old-school models?
We first looked at the business end of a pair of tongs, the pincers, which can be smooth or scalloped. We found that those with scalloped edges get a better grip on food. But that's not the end of the story. The shape of the scalloping can vary. While pronounced scalloping did not necessarily spell disaster, we preferred the gentler touch of wide, shallow scalloping.
Pincers that were slightly concave, or cupped, did a good job of grasping hard, irregularly shaped, and large objects. The concavity helped tongs cradle the curved sides of the ramekins and lobsters we used for testing. Nonstick or regular didn’t matter, in both cases look for pincers with gentle concavity and wide, shallow scalloping.
The arms of several contenders featured unusual designs that, in the end, made little sense to our testers. The one feature we did like was soft cushioning on the arms of the tongs. The cushion kept hands comfortable, firmly planted, and cool in case the tongs heated up during use.
We tested 11 pairs of 12-inch tongs (or as close to that size as possible from some manufacturers) and evaluated them according to the following criteria. A range of testers (large- and small-handed, more and less experienced) participated in the performance tests and evaluations of overall handle comfort, ease of use, and pincer design. Testers rated the tongs on a scale of 1 to 10, and those scores were averaged into ratings of good, fair, and poor.
This refers to the pattern of the edge that comes into contact with the food.
PERFORMANCE, LARGE ITEMS
Testers lifted a cooked, 4 1/2-pound beef roast from a deep pot of braising liquid and rated tongs for strength and grip security.
PERFORMANCE, SMALL ITEMS
Testers moved 1 pound of cooked asparagus in a skillet and rated tongs for precision and grasp.
PERFORMANCE, HARD ITEMS
Testers lifted 1 1/4-pound lobsters from tall pots and custard-filled ramekins (round and deep as well as oval and shallow) from a water bath and rated tongs for grip security.
PERFORMANCE, SOFT ITEMS
Testers turned both sea scallops and breaded chicken cutlets in a skillet and rated tongs for grip precision and gentleness.
Testers evaluated handle comfort based on shape, materials, and fit in hand.