Like most everything in the food world, searching for the best cooking utensils causes you to confront a barrage of confusing choices. When looking for the best material for cooking utensils there are so many factors to consider. Most people are aware that you need to choose a material that is compatible with the types of cookware you are using, but you also need to take into account durability, ease of cleaning, staining and presence of environmental toxins.
One minute overview
- Metal utensils are best for cast iron cooking and finished dish serving.
- For non-stick cookware, silicone is the best choice.
- Wood cooking utensils are a versatile choice for all cookware, but have a short lifespan.
- Nylon offers a sturdy and flexible tool, but can come with health risks and isn’t suitable for high heat.
It’s important to understand that not every type of cooking utensil is appropriate for all applications. Using the wrong material can ruin your cookware as well as the dish you are preparing. Familiarizing yourself with the various cooking utensil materials and their uses will save you heartache and help you to become a better home chef.
Cooking utensil materials fall into one of four categories: wood, nylon, metal and silicone. You can find products in a range of price points in each of these categories. Each of these materials has its upsides as well as drawbacks, however, when looked at in their entirety, I believe there is a clear overall winner. Below I will introduce you to each category of utensil materials and share which one I believe reigns supreme for everyday use.
Best Wood for Cooking Utensils
Wooden utensils are a classic choice. Who doesn’t have fond memories of their grandma in the kitchen stirring something with a large wooden spoon? Wood is hard enough to be versatile, but gentle enough that it can still be used on ceramic cookware without scratching. Wood is also great for high acid foods as it won’t transfer flavor like a metal utensil will.
Wood is great for everyday use. But keep in mind wood is more delicate than other materials. Under extreme heat it is prone to cracking and splitting and shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher. So wooden kitchen utensils are hand wash only. When you buy wooden utensils, you aren’t buying something that is going to last a lifetime. Keep an eye on your wooden kitchen tools. When they start to pit, splinter or crack, it’s time to replace them.
This classic wood spurtle set is a must have tool that any home chef needs in their arsenal. The spurtle is a a hybrid of a spoon and a spatula and is as versatile as it is strange looking. These utensils have gained notoriety in popular culture in the last several years, but they have been around for centuries. My mom gifted me one a few years ago and I was surprised when it immediately became one of my go to tools.
Bamboo is a great choice if you are looking for a set of wood utensils. Bamboo is heat resistant, durable and ecologically sustainable. This six piece set of bamboo utensils is inexpensive, features practical designs and uses no glue. They have a classic look that would fit in with any kitchen decor. Bamboo grows incredibly quickly and requires few nutrients to thrive making it a more sustainable resource when compared to other traditional woods.
Best Non Toxic Silicone Cooking Utensils
Silicone cooking utensils are non toxic, stain resistant, easy to clean and can be used on any cooking surface, including nonstick cookware! What else could you want in a cooking tool? Silicone is definitely the most versatile of the materials used to make cooking utensils. Their flexibility makes them highly useful for everything from frying eggs to baking.
Unlike nylon, silicone utensils are able to withstand high heat without melting. Silicone is also chemically stable, meaning it won’t release noxious gasses or leach chemicals into your food. It also provides a durable and dishwasher safe product that is lacking in wooden utensils. Your pots and pans will even stay scratch free regardless of how delicate the coating is.
If there is a downside to silicone utensils, it’s that there are many cheaply made versions to sift through to find a good set. If you buy a set with wooden handles, you can no longer put them in the dishwasher and the materials can suffer from separation over time. Some of the cheaper versions are also so flexible and floppy, you’d be hard pressed to flip a pancakes.
Buying a quality set is crucial to realizing all of the benefits of using silicone tools. Try looking for single piece silicone tools when possible (tongs and whisks will almost always include a metal component) as these will be easier to clean and more durable over time. This eleven piece set of silicone kitchen tools features single piece construction and comes in 4 different colors to match any kitchen decor.
Stainless Steel Cooking Utensils
Metal utensils have a narrow window of use, but it would be hard to have a fully equipped kitchen without them. The are hands down the sturdiest and the most durable of all the cooking utensils. If you need to serve a hefty dish or break up ground meat, there’s really nothing else that can do the job as well. They are also dishwasher safe, which is a huge plus for some.
However, you are limited to using these types of utensils on non-coated metal and cast iron pans when cooking. They also pose a safety hazard if left too close to heat. A few minutes of use in a cast iron pan can make the handle of a stainless steel spatula too hot to touch. Many a forgetful cook has burned their hand on metal utensils after leaving them in a pot too long.
Despite their limitations, odds are that you have a use for at least a basic set of stainless steel utensils. For cooks like myself who frequently use cast iron cookware, owning a good set of high quality metal utensils is an absolute must. Do your best to limit exposure time to high temperatures (or be sure to use an oven mitt!) and enjoy your beautiful set for a long time.
This 6 piece professional stainless steel kitchen utensil set by All-Clad is the last one you will ever need to buy. They are made of high quality 18/10 polished stainless steel and come with a great cooking caddy. All of the handles are grooved on the top and rounded on the bottom for maximum comfort. The price point might seem like a bit of a splurge, but they are worth every cent.
You can also check out these 9 durable utensils for cooking with cast iron.
Nylon Cooking Utensils
These are definitely my least favorite of any of the tools mentioned in this article. Proponents of nylon cooking utensils like the combination of sturdiness and flexibility that they offer, however they have a relatively low melting point of 400 degrees which can cause issues if left in a pan or too close to a burner. High temperatures will cause these utensils to melt.
There is also the long term concern of chemicals leeching from any plastic surface that contacts food. DDM (diaminodiphenylmethane) is a chemical that is often present in Nylon and has been shown to be carcinogenic in some forms. Black nylon, a common choice for kitchen utensils as it doesn’t show staining from highly pigmented or acidic food, is more likely to contain DDM.
A study from 2016 examined the amount of these types of chemicals that is leeched in the cooking process and confirmed that small amounts do transfer, particularly when cooking with alcohol. As is the case with many environmental toxins, more research is needed to fully understand the long term effects of exposure to chemicals such as DDM. However, with so many awesome alternatives, I would suggest trying to stay away from nylon.
If you do still feel yourself called to a nylon cooking utensil set, this Rachel Ray set is highly reviewed and comes in several non-black colors.
Overall Best Choice for Cooking Utensils
If I had to choose just one set of kitchen tools to use, it would be the stainless steel set. Unless you have a lot of non-stick pans. When you compare versatility, cost, safety, longevity and ease of use, it trumps the competition in almost every category. You could absolutely have a fully functioning kitchen with just the set mentioned above. Stainless steel is always going to be my top choice for everyday use.
However, if you are a serious chef or looking for a well rounded and appointed kitchen, you will likely want to mix in some wooden and stainless steel items as well. Applications such as grilling meats in cast iron and serving pasta or dense side dishes really call for stainless steel. While if you need to be able to safely scrape the sides and bottoms of a non-stick pots and pans, wooden tools are going to be the superior choice.
If you are just getting started on building your kitchen arsenal and you’re on a budget, I recommend beginning with a quality set of silicone utensils and adding in individual metal and wooden pieces as needed. Choosing the right utensils for the job is going to help you produce your best cooking and keep your cookware in prime condition.