A good set of utensils will make preparing and cooking food easier and more efficient.
And while boiling eggs for yourself for breakfast isn’t very hard to do, feeding a large family or a crowd (think kids’ friends or guests over) can be challenging, especially if you don’t have the right tools at hand.
As home cooks, we often invest a lot of time and money to buy the best chef’s knives and frying pans for our budgets, yet we forget about another, equally important category of tools—our utensils.
Whether it’s the spoon that we stir sauces, gravies, soups, and stews with or the spatula that helps us lift, flip, and carry eggs, chops, and lasagne, our utensils can sometimes make or break our cooking experience (think about burgers falling on the floor from a cheap and floppy flipper).
With all the variety (and lousy advice) out there, choosing the proper utensils for you is one of those tasks that are easier said than one. I guess that’s why, this week, I’ve been publishing posts mainly on this topic, intending to help you make better-informed decisions.
In this post, I’m going to address one of the most common questions I get asked on the topic of utensils by friends and family, and that’s “Should I buy silicone or wooden utensils?”
Continue reading the full article or click on one of the headings above to navigate to the section that interests you the most.
Silicone is a non-toxic, heat-resistant, and long-lasting alternative to plastic. So it’s no wonder that it’s so popular as a material for bakeware and utensils!
Contrary to what most people think, silicone is capable of withstanding high heat. Most silicone utensils are heat-resistant up to 600°F (315°C), and won’t melt if they come into contact with the hot sides of your frying pan or pot.
At high heat, silicone is chemically stable. Utensils made of it won’t leach chemicals or emit fumes during cooking, even if you use them to flip a sizzling steak in a scorching-hot cast iron skillet.
Pros of Silicone Utensils
Without a doubt, the most significant advantage of silicone utensils is that they’re flexible. Good silicone spatulas will flex enough to comfortably slip under bull’s-eye eggs, fish fillets, and pancakes without mangling them or tearing them apart into pieces.
Silicone utensils also double up as the best tools for baking. Their flexibility makes them highly useful for tasks like scooping out melted chocolate from a pot, scraping honey from measuring cups, and folding ingredients into doughs, batters, whipped creams, or frozen yogurts.
Silicone utensils are an excellent choice for both non-stick or enameled-cast-iron cooking. Just like their wooden counterparts, they are gentle to your cookware so that they won’t scratch non-stick coatings or chip porcelain enamel, rendering expensive cookware pieces unusable.
Compared to wood, silicone spoons, spatulas, and tongs are more sanitary and easier to maintain. They won’t pick up color and catch smell, and they can safely be cleaned in the dishwasher (unless they have wood handles).
Cons of Silicone Utensils
Silicone utensils get cut up by the blades of your chopper or food processor if you use them to scrape chopped foods from the bowl. So you’ll have to replace them fairly often if that’s one of the things you need them for.
Scraping up the fond from a skillet is hard-to-impossible with silicone spatulas. This is why they’re not practical to use with “stickier” cookware such as stainless steel frying pans, anodized aluminum skillets, and baking sheets without a non-stick coating.
Good silicone spatulas can be hard to find. There are just way too many cheap, multi-piece silicone spatulas out there that bend and twist like floppy noodles, are not as heat-resistant as their manufacturers claim, and disassemble into pieces always at the worst possible moments.
Though silicone is recyclable, it can be challenging to find a recycling site nearby that accepts silicone utensils. And while you can always get a mail-in recycling box from TerraCycle, doing so costs a pretty penny.
What to Look for When Buying
Silicone utensils can be single-piece or multi-piece.
In my experience, single-piece is almost always the better choice. Liquids (sauces, creams, condensed milk, even dish soap) and foods (chocolate chips, candy sprinkles, peanut butter) can, and very often do, get stuck in the ridges of multi-piece silicone utensils.
Don’t fall for silicone utensils with wooden handles. Usually, they’re not dishwasher-safe and are not as long-lasting. So you kind of end up paying more money for less utility.
When it comes to spatulas and spoons, you’re looking for the right balance between hardness or flexibility of the heads.
You don’t want your silicone utensils as rigid as wood; it defies the purpose of having them in the first place. But you also don’t want them floppy, bendy, and pretty much useless.
As a general rule of thumb, you want your silicone utensils to have the flexibility of a high-end stainless-steel fish spatula.
Wooden utensils look lovely. Not only will they assist you with stirring sauces, soups, and stews or flipping over burgers and steak in your daily cooking, but they’ll also decorate your kitchen by sitting around when not in use.
If you cook with a non-stick frying pan or enameled cast iron skillet, they won’t scratch non-stick coatings nor chip porcelain enamels. If you use stainless steel cookware, a wooden spatula is the best tool to help you release the fond when you’re deglazing the pan.
“Fond” is a term for the browned bits and pieces of food stuck to the bottom of your pan once you’re done cooking. If you “deglaze” the pan by adding an alcoholic liquid, like beer or white wine, while it’s still hot, you can make the most delicious pan sauce for your steak or chops.
Pros of Wooden Utensils
Unlike metal utensils, wooden spoons and spatulas won’t react to acidic foods—imparting a metallic taste to them and leaching aluminum, iron, chrome, and/or nickel into them.
Don’t rush to dismiss this as some sort of urban legend, even if you’re skeptical. One study found that stainless steel cookware was a significant source of metals released into foods during cooking. The longer the simmering time, the greater the amount of dietary metals leached.
Unlike some plastic and most silicone utensils, with the exception of heat-resistant silicone, wooden spoons and spatulas won’t melt when they come into contact with the hot edges of your frying pan.
Wooden utensils are the most eco-friendly choice of tools for your kitchen. Wood is considered a renewable resource; additional trees can be grown to replace any that have been cut down. It’s also recyclable and biodegradable.
Cons of Wooden Utensils
They’re thick and stiff, and you can easily mangle eggs or break fish fillets into pieces when using them. For some foods, you’re simply better off using stainless steel or silicone spatulas (check out my best picks).
Wood will pick up color and catch smell from any food you’re stirring, scraping, lifting, or flipping with it. If you’re not careful, tonight’s pan-fried chicken breasts can end up tasting and smelling like yesterday’s browned salmon fillets.
Wooden spoons, spatulas, and tongs can only be cleaned by hand and should never go in the dishwasher. Exposed to the heat and moisture of the washing cycles for enough time, wood will swell up, splinter, and ultimately break.
What to Look For When Buying
Cheap wooden utensils are likely to be made of softwood like pine. Avoid them and go for those made of hardwood, like olive tree, bamboo, beech, or maple, instead.
What’s the difference (and does it matter, really)?
Softwood is pale in color and less dense. Though it’s cheap, it also picks up color and catches smell from your food too much, too quickly when used for cooking. It’s also susceptible to splintering and breaking.
Depending on the variety of wood we’re talking about, hardwoods are yellowish to dark brown. They feel heavy for their weight and are more pricey, but are more practical to use for cooking and will last significantly longer than their softwood counterparts.
Generally speaking, it’s good to have a flat and a slotted spatula in your kitchen.
One will help you smash burgers Shake Shack-style; the other lets liquids and fats drip off when you’re using it to fish poached eggs out the pot or collect fried chicken wings from your Dutch oven.
Look for a handle that’s comfortable to hold and not overly long. Utensils should feel like natural extensions of your arms—not awkward, bulky tools that distract you from cooking.
When it comes to wooden utensils, you’re better off buying a set of the same type and quality of wood than hunting for a spatula, spoon, and set of tongs separately.
It’s best to get it from a reputable brand whose quality control (and warranty if you come across manufacturing defects) you can trust.
Silicone or Wood: Which Is Right for You?
By now, those of you who read this far know the pros and cons of silicone and wooden utensils, as well as what to look for when you’re buying them.
But if you can’t make up your mind, that doesn’t necessarily help you decide. So here are a few considerations to help you choose.
How do you usually clean your kitchenware?
If you don’t have a dishwasher at home or you don’t use it all that often, you can go for wooden utensils, as they can only be cleaned by hand, with soapy water. Readers who avoid hand-cleaning kitchenware in the sink at all costs might be better off buying dishwasher-safe silicone utensils.
Do you bake often (or intend to get into baking)?
The silicone scraper spatula is a baker’s best friend. With it, you can fold ingredients into batters, creams, and doughs, then scrape them out from the bowl altogether.
Suppose you don’t use the oven that oven, and you typically find yourself smashing burgers, grilling steak, and browning mushrooms on the stovetop and the outside grill. You’ll probably get more utility out of wooden utensils.
What kind of food do you mostly cook?
Rigid and stiff, wooden utensils are best for non-delicate foods like steaks, chops, and burgers. Soft and flexible, silicone utensils slip under the most delicate of foods, like eggs, fish fillets, and pancakes, without tearing them apart into pieces.
How much of an issue is sustainability for you?
Silicone utensils are generally recyclable. But, since wood is a renewable resource, especially when sourced from sustainable growers, there’s no doubt that their wooden counterparts are the more eco-friendly option.
What to Read Next
Check out my list of all the basic cookware you need to equip your home kitchen (and none that you don’t).