Nine times out of 10, when you need to stir, mix, spread, or flip something in the kitchen, a spatula is the tool you reach for. There are silicone spatulas, offset spatulas, wooden spatulas, metal spatulas, wide spatulas, narrow spatulas. How to choose? And how many spatulas does one kitchen need?
My mom once had a home economics teacher who was vigilant about her students knowing the difference between soft, silicone-tipped spatulas, which are used for stirring and scraping the sides of a bowl, and hard metal or plastic "pancake flippers" which are flat and used for flipping or lifting. According to her, there was no such thing as a spatula, there were ONLY rubber bowl scrapers or pancake flippers. There’s actually a third category I'd add to this that falls under the umbrella of “spatula” (whether or not my mom's home ec teacher believed they exist at all) — a long thin flexible spatula used for spreading.
Personally, I don't think you can ever have enough spatulas. So let's stop debating semantics and instead turn our attention to the spatula spectrum, and more importantly, which spatulas your kitchen is sorely lacking.
Here's what to look for in a good spatula:
- Heat resistance: Many silicone spatulas can handle temperatures up to 550F. Plastic ones are more prone to melting, while all-metal ones can get hot. What material you look for depends entirely on how you plan to use the spatula.
- Easy to clean: The more pieces a spatula has, the more potential it has for collecting dirt and bacteria in the grooves where the pieces join. Many spatulas have a rubber or silicone top that is stuck onto the handle. With enough wear and tear, the end will start to come loose and might even detach completely. Easiest to clean are spatulas made from a single piece of silicone.
- Flexibility: Some spatulas have thick edges, or are rigid throughout with little give to them. Others have thin, flexible edges or flexible stems to give some leverage. Ultimately what you choose depends on your particular preference and what you plan to use the spatula for.
- It feels good to hold: Arguably the most important qualifier for any spatula you choose to bring home, you need to like using it! If it doesn't feel good in your hand, it's not the right spatula for you.
The Practical Kitchen's guide to spatulas
These white spatulas with their burgundy red handles were a mainstay in my pastry school kitchens. These are heavy duty, no-nonsense spatulas with solid, ergonomically designed handles. The silicone spatula paddles withstand temps of 500F and won't scratch your non-stick pots and pans. They might not have the cutest design or come in a range of colors, but when you just need something you know will get the job done, this is the spatula you're looking for.
If cake decorating is your game, then Wilton's 9" offset spatula is what you're looking for. The wide, flat blade is sturdy but flexible. The offset design makes it easy to hold in either direction, easily flipping it around to reach over a cake to smooth the frosting from the other side. It's perfect for spreading frosting up the sides and across the top of a cake, and makes it easy to scrape off any excess without making a dent in your crumb coat.
At just $1.50 this is one of the most affordable spatulas on my list. It's a pretty, light green, aqua-ish color and is very sturdy and rigid. Of all the spatulas we own, this is Jimmy's favorite. He likes that the silicone edge is soft enough that it won't scratch our pots and pans, but that it doesn't bend under pressure either. Unlike some of the other spatulas on this list with thinner, more flexible edges, this is a sturdy spatula great for tasks like crumbling ground beef, scraping up fond from the surface of a hot pan, and even beating stiff, dense pate a choux dough.
I'm not the first person to wax poetic about a mini offset spatula, but these lil guys are one of the most useful tools you can have in your kitchen. People who don't have them think they don't need them — but once you've added one to your kitchen you'll be so glad you have it.
Mini offset spatulas are ideal for doing smaller cake decorating work, sure, but are also the best tool for smoothing cake batter into the edges of pans, a cookie crumb crust tightly into the bottom of a pan, smoothing out ganaches, dislodging bubbles from jam jars, and so much more. I even use mine to flip things in hot skillets, smooth out donut glazes, and scrape the last bits of sauce out of narrow jars.
It wouldn't be a product list of mine without something from GIR (Get It Right). GIR's spatulas are amongst the best reviewed ever, and for good reason too. The unibody design is made from medical-grade, FDA approved, platinum cured silicone which makes them super easy to clean in the dishwasher.
GIR's spatulas can handle temperatures up to 550F, they come in a wide range of fun colors, and just like my favorite GIR whisks, are ergonomically designed and sturdy, making them just as fun to use as they are to look at.
If you've read my about me page you know I pretty much never cook fish. But that doesn't mean a fish turner spatula doesn't have a special place in my heart and kitchen. The blade of a fish turner spatula is thin and flexible, designed to slide neatly between a piece of fish and a hot skillet without tearing the delicate skin. The asymmetrical edge makes it easy to maneuver around a crowded pan, lifting out just what you need without disturbing everything around it.
The wide, narrow supports with wide gaps make a fish turner the best tool for the job when it comes to lifting and flipping just about everything. Unlike the square-ended spatulas with wider supports which can occasionally stick to your food, or that aren't long enough to provide the support needed (who hasn't had a pancake crack in half on them?) a fish turner functions almost like a combination between a wire spider and a spatula, providing plenty of support without damaging your food or lifting lots of oil out of the pan with it.
OXO has a reputation for well-designed kitchen products, and their black and white silicone spatula is no different. The silicone on this one covers the head and neck of the spatula making it easy to clean and less likely to come apart with use. It's even heat resistant up to 600F, which is significantly higher than the ~500F max temperatures most other spatulas recommend.
The black and white aesthetic of this OXO jar spatula is similar to the one above, but it's got a narrow design meant for reaching deep into jars and containers to get every last bit out. I can't imagine what you'd be doing with it that you'd be glad it's heat resistant up to 600F, but just in case you can rest easy knowing that it won't melt or warp on you.
When it comes to mini spatulas, sometimes it really is all about quantity. I have probably close to a dozen mini spatulas, and some days that doesn't even feel like enough. I like this set because they have a solid stainless steel core inside the silicone unibody design, but still have plenty of flexibility in those thin edges to make curving around a bowl to get every last bit of food inside a breeze. And if you like these as mini spatulas, you'll probably also like their larger counterparts.
It feels kind of funny to call this a spatula, because using it feels more like shoveling than anything else. My mother in law stuck one of these in my Christmas stocking last year and I wasn't sure how useful it would be, but I've actually used it a lot. The 6" wide scoop is perfect for lifting lots of cookies at a time and I've even used it to support smaller cakes when moving them onto cake boards, too.
11. Brownie spatula
Getting the first brownie out of a pan is always a challenge. Regular spatulas are too big and mini silicone spatulas don't have the strength needed to lift the brownie cleanly out of the pan. That's where this brownie spatula comes in handy. The sharp, short stainless steel blade is perfect for cutting and lifting brownies out of a pan without destroying the shiny top crust on all the neighboring brownies. It's also dishwasher safe, which is always a win.
Yes, this is the second giant spatula on the list. But when it comes to lifting delicate cake layers safely, you'll be glad you have this on hand! In a pinch it also works as a mini-pizza peel and makes scooping up lots of cookies super easy too. But if you make a lot of cakes, especially layer cakes, which can be prone to cracking and crumbling if not well supported, or that are fully assembled need to be moved from your decorating board to a serving board, a giant cake lifting spatula like this is exactly what you need.