Tags: Categories: Kitchens

8 Different Types of Spatulas (How to Choose the Right One)


All about the different types of spatulas with pros and cons for each type of material to help you choose and buy the right kind of spatula for cooking every meal.

Hand holding a spatula in the air.

I spent the first two decades of my life unaware of the conflict surrounding the term spatula. It wasn’t until I started working at a local diner that I realized how many different utensils people refer to as spatulas. To some folks, they are wide and flat and used to flip eggs or burgers. To others, they are thin metal blades good for smearing sugary icing on cakes. And, for people like me, they are soft rubber-tipped tools that were clearly designed to scrape the cookie dough bowl clean. We had some good-natured, if not slightly heated, debates about what qualified as a true spatula at that diner. In the end, we were all a little bit right and a little bit wrong.

As it turns out, the origin of the word spatula is as broad as its current use — literally. Going all the way back to the Roman Empire, it comes from the Latin word spathe, which refers to a broad-bladed sword. It appears in English for the first time in 1525, when it morphs from being a weapon to a utensil most commonly used at apothecaries. Today, it describes any cooking tool with a long handle and a thin flexible blade. Chances are you don’t spend too much time thinking about spatulas, but you have probably used one of these marvelous gadgets that are a staple in kitchens everywhere.

No matter what side of the spatula argument you choose, I think we can all agree that the spatula in any format is a widely used and often underappreciated cooking champion. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the spatula in all its glorious forms.

Types of Spatulas

As we’ve established, spatulas fall into three main categories; flippers, spreaders, and scrapers. Each has a specific purpose and is available in a slew of different options and features. Choosing the right one for the job is half the battle, deciding which model you prefer is the other half.

Flippers (aka Turners)

Flipper resting on a grill.

What does it look like?

This spatula consists of a long handle and a wide thin surface that is usually shaped like a trapezoid. (For those who were sleeping that day in geometry this is a trapezoid). It may be solid or slotted, and the “blade” is roughly the size of a human hand. The tip is often tapered to make it easy to slide under foods.

What is it made of?

Many flippers and turners are made of a metal like steel or aluminum, which is strong, durable, and easy to clean. Other materials include plastic, nylon, or silicone, which are gentle on your pans and won’t leave scratches. They are usually heat-proof but be careful not to leave it sitting in the pan or you may be serving melted spatula (gross!).

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Lastly, you may opt for a wooden or bamboo spatula. Some people swear by these traditional tools because they don’t transfer heat, they won’t scratch your pans, they don’t react to acidic foods, and they never leech chemicals or weird smells into your food. Just be sure to wash them right away and never leave them sitting in water (they are prone to splitting if left wet for too long). We like this one that doubles as a spoon or this one that serves as a spoon rest.

What it does best?

As the category title implies, it is used to flip or turn foods like grilled cheese, fried eggs, burgers, and chopped veggies. Any seasoned grill master has a favorite grill spatula in their arsenal. Some are thicker or thinner, are more or less flexible, they may have a soft-grip or an extra-long handle, or even a serrated edge for convenient in-pan cutting. Each is meant for a very specific purpose, but they can all be used in place of another.

What options are available?

Perforated spatulas have a bunch of small holes that allow excess fat and oil to drain and are best suited for turning greasy burgers. BBQ spatulas are an example of the perforated type, they are extra long, extra sturdy, and made of quality metals that can withstand the intense heat and extra weight. They even come in customizable patterns (these would make great father’s day gifts).

Slotted spatulas have long slits that work great for handling delicate foods, like latkes and crepes. We don’t know how they keep these crumbly and fragile foods intact, but they do!

Fish spatulas are a very specific slotted type with extra-long slots and a thin, slightly curved surface that helps you turn flaky fish like a pro.

Solid surface spatulas are often the most flexible of the bunch. They are perfect for flipping floppy foods like pancakes and French toast.

Creative uses

A fly and a blue fly swatter.

One widely circulated rumor is that spatulas were actually invented by Horace Spatula 1798 to kill pesky house flies. While we know this to be untrue, we can see how a flipper style spatula would make a perfect fly swatter. And, if you needed some extra protein in your diet, you could grill up the fly (eeew! seriously though, please don’t).

Similar household tools

You may find several items in your home that remind you of your slotted spatula. Some common look-alikes are paint scrapers, flat razors, and drywall spreaders. But we don’t recommend using any of these to cook with.

Which should you choose?

You probably don’t need this many flippers in your house, so if you are going to pick just one, we recommend you look for a medium-sized, sturdy slotted spatula with a soft-grip handle.

Spreaders

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Spatula used to spread icing on top of a cheesecake.

What does it look like?

Long and narrow, these spatulas resemble their namesake ancestors (swords). Too dull to be of any use in a duel, the flexible blade, and rounded head make it a formidable weapon for fighting culinary battles.

What is it made of?

Most spreader style spatulas are made of metals, such as stainless steel, though there are plenty of plastic and rubber models too.

What it does best?

As you may have guessed, they are best used for spreading soft toppings like cake icing, cheese spreads, and sandwich condiments. The rounded end is great for scooping up the perfect amount of creamy condiment, and the flexible blade makes it easy to spread toppings without ripping the bread or cake base. Every baker or bagel smear lover should have one of these in the drawer.

What options are available?

There are two main types, offset and straight/flat. Offset spreaders have a bend in the handle’s neck that allows you to cover a large flat surface without getting your hand in the product. (Imagine trying to ice a sheet cake with a flat blade, things could get messy fast!) Rubber models are extra flexible and are good for soft and fluffy icings like buttercream. Straight spreaders are usually shorter and round, are often found in delis, and are excellent cheese spreaders. They are also good for getting icing on the shorter rounded sides of cakes.

Creative uses

Palette knife on a canvas painting.

Artists are familiar with spreader type spatulas, as they are perfect palette knives (not too much difference between them really), useful for mixing colors and even applying paint and creating texture on the canvas.

Similar tools

Trowels and putty knives are the spreader spatula’s cousins, you could definitely use yours to spread cement in a pinch. Scientists also use spreaders; you may have seen your pharmacist use one to quickly count pills and fill prescription bottles. Lab workers use them to divide and transfer powdery substances.

Which should you choose?

This comes down to a matter of preference, though many professional bakers swear by their offset spatula to apply smooth and flawless layers of sugary frosting without getting any on their hands. On the other hand, bagel enthusiasts should opt for a straight model that will make for quick and easy work of deli-style toppings.

Scrapers

Scraper spatula with melted chocolate

What does it look like?

Hard to describe, but easily recognizable, rubber-tipped spatulas have a rectangular head with at least one rounded edge poised on the end of a straight handle. They come in all different widths and lengths and can be found in a rainbow of bright colors that make them seem more fun than other more lackluster utensils.

What is it made of?

Rubber spatulas are made of…. you guessed it…. rubber! Silicone models are also a popular choice, and they are heat resistant so they can be used for hot ingredients. The slender handles are super simple and may be composed of any number of materials like wood, rubber, or plastic.

What it does best?

You won’t want to use a rubber spatula on the stovetop because it may melt (burnt rubber is not appetizing at all, ask me how I know!). It is best for stirring, folding, and scraping cold, wet ingredients in a mixing bowl. No tool does a better job of cleaning sticky dough from a flat surface, it’s like a squeegee for bakers. Anyone who works with dough should have a couple of these on hand. You always want to have at least two so you can use one to scrape the other. They are inexpensive and easy to find, so go ahead and buy a few.

What options are available?

Rubber spatulas are quite basic, so the options are really about size and color. Silicone versions pull double duty as hot and cold utensils, but often lack the strength needed to be truly useful for stovetop cooking. There are also wooden spatulas that belong in this category. They are often used to toss salads or stir tomato sauces.

One unique version of the rubber spatula is this one, an extra-long and extra-thin model made to get the very last bit from awkwardly shaped narrow containers. While it’s meant for food, we don’t see why you couldn’t also use it for beauty products like shampoo and lotions.

We also really like this one, designed to make getting food out of cans quick and efficient.

Creative uses

Applying facial mask using a spatula.

Its ultra-soft head and non-toxic material mean a silicone spatula can be used to apply and remove gooey beauty products to your body without getting your hands all messy or stained (think depilatory creams, self-tanner, and clay body masks).

Similar household tools

Just because it’s meant for the kitchen, doesn’t mean you can’t make use of it in other rooms. The clean wiping action, long handles, and the nonstick surface of a rubber or silicone spatula makes for a great paint stirrer. It will help you mix in all the pigment that sticks to the bottom of the can and you don’t have to worry about wasting any pricey product.

Which should you choose?

Silicone and rubber each have their pros and cons. If you want more heat resistance, choose a silicone spatula. If you will only use it for cold ingredients go ahead and grab a rubber spatula. Another difference; rubber stains more quickly, but silicone absorbs pungent smells easily and does not let them go without some effort from you.

Be sure to choose one with a handle that suits your needs. Wood is heat resistant but prone to splitting over time, whereas plastic is easy to clean but likely to melt if exposed to high heat.

Most people have a few spatulas in their collection, making it simple to choose the right one every time.

Spatula Materials: Pros & Cons

So now that you understand when to use each type of spatula, here is a handy list of the most notable pros and cons of the materials used to make them:

Rubber

Di Oro Seamless Series 3-Piece Silicone Spatula Set - 600°F Heat Resistant Non Stick Rubber Kitchen Spatulas for Cooking, Baking, and Mixing - LFGB Certified and FDA Approved Pro-Grade Silicone Black

Click image for more info

Pros

  • soft and flexible, won’t scratch pans
  • inexpensive and available at a variety of stores

Cons

  • not heat-proof
  • stains easily

Silicone

OXO Good Grips Large Silicone Flexible Turner

Click image for more info

Pros

  • non-stick and easy to clean
  • gentle on pans

Cons

  • holds cooking odors
  • susceptible to cuts by sharp blades

Metal

Metal Spatula Stainless Steel and Scraper - Professional Chef Griddle Spatulas Set of 3 - Heavy Duty Accessories Great for Cast Iron BBQ Flat Top Grill Skillet Pan - Commercial Grade

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Pros

  • durable and long-lasting
  • can handle heavy foods and tough jobs

Cons

  • more expensive
  • transfers heat easily

Wood/Bamboo

Scanwood Olive Wood Utensil Spatula 12 Inch

Click image for more info

Pros

  • eco-friendly and non-toxic
  • long-lasting

Cons

  • needs regular care (see FAQs – how do I clean my spatula?)
  • the porous material may hold bacteria or food particles (not for use with raw meat)

Plastic

Tenta Kitchen Flexible Slotted Spatula Nylon Plastic Fish Spatula Turner, for Fish/Egg/Meat/Dumpling Frying

Click image for more info

Pros

  • inexpensive
  • easy to clean

Cons

  • may leech chemicals
  • shorter lifespan

Spatula FAQs

A chef holding spatulas on both hands.

Where is the best place to buy a spatula?

There are so many spatulas to choose from and they are easy to find. You can buy them at gourmet cooking shops, grocery stores, department stores, and even bargain stores. Gourmet and specialty shops are likely to have the highest quality and the most innovative options, but anyone looking for a basic everyday spatula should have no problem finding one at any store they prefer to shop.

How much should I spend on a spatula?

Unless you are looking for the highest quality brands, you should be able to find a variety of spatulas that suit your needs and your budget. While prices vary widely, most stores have spatulas at prices that will not break the bank. Do be sure to check that the spatula you buy has the features you want (heat-proof, easy to clean, etc.), buying a second product because you didn’t get it right the first time will cost you more money in the long run.

How do I clean my spatulas?

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintaining your spatulas. Most of today’s models are dishwasher safe, but it is always a good idea to double-check the packaging when you make the purchase.

It should be noted that some materials need more care than others; wood and bamboo have lots of benefits but do require special care. Here are a few tips for caring for your wooden or bamboo spatulas:

  • don’t wash them in the dishwasher and never leave them sitting in water
  • allow them to dry thoroughly before putting away
  • clean them immediately, do not let food dry on their surface
  • if they smell or have stains, use a mixture of baking soda and mild dish soap
  • oil them once a month using food-grade mineral oil
  • hydrogen peroxide can be used to sanitize them

Are there any green/eco-friendly spatulas?

The best option for someone who wants an eco-friendly spatula is a wooden or bamboo model. Look for a brand that promotes sustainable logging, responsible farming, and organic manufacturing process, and recyclable packaging for the smallest footprint.

How do I know when it is time to replace my spatulas?

Unless you choose a high-quality solid stainless-steel product, eventually you will probably need to replace your spatulas. Be on the lookout for cracked or loose handles, brittle rubber, split wood, bad smells, and warped surfaces. All of these things will negatively affect performance and may make the spatula prone to harboring bacteria or mold. You might also choose to buy new spatulas because of excessive staining; buying bright or dark colors should lessen the visibility of stains and you may also consider matching colored spatulas with like-colored foods (red for tomato sauce, white for cream cheese dips, green for pesto, etc.) Luckily, spatulas are generally affordable and easy to find so replacing your worn products should be pretty reasonable.

Tags: Categories: Kitchens