Talking Shop: Spatuli 101
Sometimes in the kitchen, we fail. A cake may not rise or something may stick to the bottom of a pot with the ferocity of a barnacle on an Italian cruise ship. Sometimes the hallways are filled with the melodic sonata of the fire alarm. In my kitchen, I’ve run across these predicaments many times in many forms. Most recently though, I have been failing mostly by melting, shredding or otherwise destroying a spate of spatulas unintentionally.
Admittedly, the reason for the unfortunate demise of so many spatulas in my kitchen isn’t because I’m clueless. Not at all, at least in the regards of what a spatula does. The reason why I’ve destroyed so many spatulas in my kitchen is simply because I’m cheap. Of course I’m going to invest 59 cents on an Ikea silicon-like spatula (rather than the much better Le Creuset one) and assume that it will hold up on the fly in the heat. It just never pans out.
So the other day when I looked at the two spatulas that were permanently bent in half from a cooking experiment, I realized that I was investing in spatula quantity over quality. No longer was it acceptable to continue to fuel my 59 cent habit due to my faulty assumptions. Instead, I decided to find out all about the function of the spatula so that I could save myself the potential of garnishing dinner with plastic shards. It was time to invest, but I wasn’t about to be lured in by sexy looking hunks of wood and silicone splayed all over the Sur La Table website. I began to search what my options were.
You may be completely unsurprised about how little information there is out there regarding one of the most common kitchen utensils known to man, but it was rather captivating to me. There’s plenty of shopping options, but very little out there in regards to what a spatula does and the advantage that some have over others in the kitchen. Some spatulas scrape foods away, others move food around. Some are designed to withstand heat, while other spatulas should never come close to a hot material. There are nylon, silicon, wood and metal spatulas in just about every shape and form that you can imagine and still they assume the home cook knows.
It is because of this nonalarming deficiency of information on spatulas that I decided to take on the tedious task of outlining the different types of kitchen spatulas and the best use for them. Enjoy, sans a chiffonade of spatula.
The Bowl or Plate Scraper
This type of spatula is by far the most common type of spatula found in the kitchen utensil market. The primary purpose of the bowl or plate scraper is to remove food from a surface and therefore is generally made from a soft, flexible material such as nylon or silicone. These spatulas are generally not designed to work under hot conditions. Rather, they are designed simply to remove food from a surface quickly, easily and gently. The bowl or plate scraper also comes in a variety of shapes to make the cook’s life easier, but most of them appear in the beveled edge shape like the ones shown here.
The Bench Scraper
The purpose of the bench scraper resides entirely in its name. This type of spatula is a thin metal, wide shaped variety designed to remove detrius from a working surface or for lifting unbaked dough. However, it is handy to note that the bench scraper spatula went through a heyday of popularity recently when it was renamed to the “bash and chop” by Graham Kerr and sold as an all-in-one spatula, ruler and cutting utensil. Ultimately a bench scraper is a useless knife but an extremely handy cleaning and lifting tool in the kitchen.
The Grill Spatula
This offset handle spatula features a long, narrow metal surface and a heat resistant handle (generally made out of wood). These types of spatulas were designed for flipping dense proteins and vegetables, oftentimes in quantity. Grill spatulas may be perforated along the flat edge or without perforation depending on the cook’s preference.
The Pancake Spatula (or Flipper)
Essentially the pancake flipper is the same thing as a grill spatula in regards to function. The pancake flipper, in comparison to the grill spatula however, features a wider, shorter surface in which to flip a wide, flat surface efficiently. This type of spatula are available in slotted or unslotted models and a variety of materials such as nylon, wood and metal.
The Fish Spatula
Unlike the grill spatula or the pancake flipper, the fish spatula is a very thin metal spatula designed solely for the purpose of picking up delicate food items. Most fish spatulas are thinner near the handle and gradually widen to the end, as shown. The other differentiation between a fish spatula, a grill scraper and a pancake flipper is that the fish spatula has a slightly curved surface to cradle the food when moving it. Fish spatulas are generally slotted as well, whereas the other two varieties may not be.
There are so many pastry spatulas available that almost an entire article on this type could be written on this subject itself. The basic function of what most people think of a pastry spatula is to spread fillings and therefore is designed as a long, thin metal spatula with an offset or straight handle. Other varieties of pastry spatula include the cake lifter, a teardrop shaped, wide offset spatula for lifting finished baked goods and smaller spatulas in a variety of shapes designed to lift and move delicate small food components, such as sugared flowers or semisoft decorative candies.
There are simply too many shape varieties to discuss briefly in this spatula category. Just about every shape of spatula can be found in wood as in every other material, but the advantage that wooden spatulas have over other material options is that they will not conduct heat in temperature sensitive cooking projects, they will not scratch nonstick cookware and they can be used in hot or cold cooking scenarios. The downside to using wooden spatulas is that they are more fragile and less durable than silicon or metal spatulas as well as being thicker than other materials.
Like the wooden spatula, the silicon spatula comes in every shape imaginable under the sun. They can scrape, stir and flip just like wooden spatula varieties without damaging nonstick cookware as well. This type of spatula also does not conduct and can withstand heat, which makes them ideal to use in temperature sensitive cooking situations. The advantage that silicon spatulas have over wooden or nylon ones is that they are flexible and smooth, therefore lend themselves to more functions than the rigid varieties as they will work in delicate situations when sticking may be a problem.
The nylon spatula, like the wooden and silicon types mentioned before, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The nylon spatula is an alternative to the silicon variety as they are flexible but oftentimes the surface is slightly rougher than the silicon ones and would encourage gripping slippery foods. They may be designed to withstand high temperatures or not, so checking this before beginning a cooking project is essential.