Spatula, Turner, Flipper Or Scraper? What’s the Difference?


Image from Pixabay

For those of us who enjoy food but don’t know a thing about preparing or cooking up something special– spatulas, turners, and flippers may just be a bunch of words to us, and associating the right mental images for each one of them may not be easy. So, here’s a little something to know these kitchen utensils a little better, and how important they can be.

Cooking utensils like spatula, turner, flipper, or scraper are a few of the kitchen tools a dedicated chef and cook would surely have in their kitchen.  These utensils may generally have the same function, but you may be wondering what each of them is really good at.  Let’s spend some time exploring this to get the most out of these helpful kitchen implements.

Image from Pixabay

Spatula, Turner, Flipper, or Scraper? What’s the Difference? Basically, the ‘turner’ and ‘scraper’ are variations of the ‘spatula.’  They are all used in cooking and preparing food. The ‘flipper’ is another name for a ‘turner.’ Both have the same function. All four kitchen tools are used to flip, move, and handle foods and foods being cooked.  However, the turner and flipper are designed quite differently from the spatula to make it do a better job of turning food while being cooked. The Scraper is designed to handle scraping off ingredients or food from a jar, container, a pan, or dish.

Cooking has become more than just a kitchen chore. It is, in most cases, a skill, a passion, or something that you enjoy doing. It is even a source of pride and joy for people like moms, chefs, foodies, and those who just love cooking foods for themselves and their loved ones.

And wouldn’t it be fascinating to know the differences between each kind of spatula and how each is used?  This is beneficial if we want our time in the kitchen preparing and cooking food a much more pleasant and fulfilling experience.

A Quick Look at the Basic Types of Spatulas Currently Available

  • Spatula: a kitchen utensil for mixing, lifting, spreading, usually with a flat, broad, and flexible blade with a handle.  The classic wooden spatula is now available in different materials with more colorful options, designs, and sizes to choose from. Here’s an image of a spatula.
  • Turner Spatula: a kind of spatula with a slightly bent handle to enable easier turning and handling of food being cooked. Here’s a sample of a turner spatula.
  • Flipper Spatula: its function and advantages are the same as those of a Turner Spatula. It is used to turn or flip over the food to cook its other side.  This is another term used for a turner spatula. This is an example of a flipper spatula.
  • Scraper Spatula: a kind of spatula used for scraping off food from jars, pots, and pans; made of silicone or stainless steel with either a wood or metal handle. Take a look at this image of a scraper spatula.

Four Qualities of a Good Silicone Spatula, Turner, and Scraper

There are four factors that make a silicone spatula better than the others.

SILICONE QUALITY:  It may be challenging to determine the strength or durability of the silicone used in your spatula.  Usually, it would be after a certain length of usage that would show if the quality of silicone is poor or good.

UTENSIL SIZE:  Not all spatulas are created equal in terms of size.  Most often the bigger it is, the better.  A simple explanation for that is a smaller spatula may not be as efficient as a bigger one. The bigger version will also proportionally have a longer handle.

In short, a longer reach, which means your hands will be farther away from the source of heat, like hot steam, and will be more appropriate if you are using gas.  High-temperature water steam from cooking on electric or even induction cookers can also hurt and scald your hands, which can happen using a shorter and smaller spatula.

UTENSIL THICKNESS:  The thicker a utensil is, the stronger it is in resisting and handling wear and tear, and bumps and knocks. On the other hand, a thinner one may be weaker, but it can be good at sliding under food, lifting, and moving around food more efficiently.

OPTIMAL DEGREE OF FLEXIBILITY/MALLEABILITY: Since the spatula has different uses in handling food, the right amount of “give” or the quality of being flexible enough makes a spatula good at maneuvering tight corners and bends.  On the other hand, too much of it would make it impossible to flip over and turn what is being cooked, and to lift it on to the serving plate.

Other Kinds or Derivatives of the Classic/Regular Spatulas You May Want to Know Of

  • Fish Spatula: Primarily used to flip and move fish in the pan when cooking it, the fish spatula can even do much more.  Aside from fish, it is the ideal spatula to use with other larger sizes of foods, such as beefsteak or hamburger patties. The slots in the metal, the thin, flexible blade that is strong enough to resist bending stresses, and its angled head are all features of a fish spatula. These attributes make turning, flipping and moving around your fish in a cooking pan much more efficient. 
  • Offset Spatula: If you love baking, an offset spatula tool is a must-have variant of the spatula.  On top of being the right one to use for icing cakes and other baked goods, the offset spatula performs well when you want the cake batter and similar preparations evenly laid out.  It’s also the one to use to loosen up the edges of baked goodies when taken out of the oven.  Likewise, it comes in handy when placing the cookies to cool on a rack or plate, or to flip pancakes effortlessly.
  • Rubber Spatula:  You may be wondering if anyone still uses a rubber spatula. It is now accepted that rubber is not an appropriate material for cooking utensils as it can melt under high heat. That’s why we have silicone spatulas that withstand high temperatures. But then again, it would be nice to have one in your kitchen, especially if you love cooking with eggs. Rubber spatulas handle foamed egg whites and folding batter much better than the silicone version does. That’s enough reason to include one in your collection.   
  • Stainless Steel Spatulas: Considered as the choice of professionals like master chefs, gourmets, and cooking aficionados, stainless steel is undoubtedly a durable, heat-resistant, and quite flexible material.  There are a lot of shapes it can be molded into. It’s the only material that meets all three essential qualities for a spatula: strength, durability, and springiness, or ‘bounce.’  Just imagine how easily a stainless steel spatula, with its thin profile, can quickly flip over a fried egg and strong enough to lift a hefty serving of steak onto a plate.

The Different Kinds of Spatulas Used in Baking

The spatula can be viewed as a kind of generic word, in a sense.  Just consider that in the engineering and building construction fields, the ‘term’ spatula is a tool that is employed to mix and apply cement or concrete to a wall.

In the arts and painting, the palette knife is the blunt tool that painters use to mix and apply paint.  It is interesting to note that it’s a far cry from the spatula that we employ in cooking, although basically, it has a similar function. Having mentioned that, it becomes more apparent now why the frosting knife in baking is also called a palette knife.  

Now, even in the sphere of culinary arts and cooking, the spatulas for cooking may be quite different from the spatulas used in baking and cake decoration.  They may even have the same description or type of spatula, but the form or shape itself may differ because of the difference in the way it is used.

01 The Metal Spatula: This is a broad, flat spatula, with vents in it, for turning, transferring, scraping, flipping and serving.  There are also spatulas of this kind that is made of hard plastic. 

02 The Rubber Spatula: Used for scraping and smoothing, this is the image of the spatula for baking that readily comes to mind for most people.  It does a great job of scraping the bowl to transfer the contents, such as batter, into another container, or to mix in other ingredients.

03 The Frosting Spatula: The Frosting Spatula is used to apply the icing or frosting onto the already baked cake.  With a flexible, thin blade and a handle, one can easily mistake it for an artist’s knife; that is, more so if that person is a painter or artist.

The frosting spatula is either an offset type or a flat one.  The offset blade is a bit angled or bent slightly from the handle, making it much easier to manipulate around the cake without the hand accidentally touching the icing or cake.

How to Take Care of Your Spatulas

The initial step in taking better care of your spatulas is to keep it in excellent condition for a long time. First, you must know how to clean them properly. Here are some ideas.

Cleaning Rubber Spatulas

  1. In the kitchen sink or a basin filled with soapy water, pour in about one cup of white vinegar to remove heavy stain and clean soiled portions.
  2. Soak the spatula in the water for a minute or two.
  3. With a cleaning rag, scrub the spatula, concentrating more on the affected portions.
  4. With warm to hot water, rinse the spatula.
  5. Finally, using a dry, clean rag, soak up the remaining moisture to dry the spatula.

Cleaning Silicone Spatulas

  1. With a gentle liquid dishwashing soap, pour a little into a basin or sink containing hot water.
  2. Using a non-stick sponge that will not scratch the silicone, clean the spatulas.
  3. To get rid of the stubborn stains and grit, use a dab of rubbing alcohol to clean those spots
  4. Wash it a second time and rinse it off thoroughly to remove traces of alcohol and soap.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Wooden Spatulas

To prevent wooden spatulas from accumulating bacteria, clean it thoroughly and carefully after each use.

  1. Rinse, but do not soak, the wooden spatula in a bowl or sink of warm water.
  2. For daily washing, use mild dish detergent and warm water.
  3. With a sponge or a cleaning pad, scrub the spatula.
  4. Rinse off thoroughly to get rid of the remaining suds
  5. Dry the wooden spatula with a clean, dry towel
  6. Let it dry completely without using any dryer to avoid cracking and warping.

Cleaning Stainless Steel Spatulas

  1. Before cleaning a stainless-steel spatula, allow it to cool down to room temperature because abrupt changes in temperature will make it warp. This can result in an uneven base, which could make it unstable.
  2. Rinse the stainless-steel spatula with water.
  3. To remove remaining stains and stubborn dried morsels of food, wash it with soapy water.
  4. Due to excessive heat, the stainless-steel spatula may get discolored and stained.  To get rid of it, mix a small amount of water and stainless steel cleaner into a paste, This home-made paste is non-abrasive and non-chlorine and won’t damage the finish and color of the spatula.
  5. Apply a dab of paste to the stained spots.
  6. With a damp paper towel or microfiber cleaning cloth, rub the paste using a circular motion.  Rub or buff gently.  
  7. With warm, soapy water, wash off the paste.
  8. Finally, rinse it thoroughly and let it dry.

The Five Essential Kitchen Tools Every Home and Cook Should Have

We have explored a lot of things about the spatula in general and all its modern-day permutations. As sentient and intelligent beings, we constantly have to explore ways to improve life and to make things around us much better. Generally, that’s a good thing.

Now, to really create a fully-equipped and functional kitchen, there are other just as indispensable kitchen gadgets we need to have, such as the ones listed below.

01 The Chef’s Knife: If not the most used kitchen tool in most homes, the importance of having a sharp knife can never be denied. One of the important aspects of cooking is the ability to carry out various food preparation techniques, and some of them require a knife. For example, cutting, slicing, and chopping.  So, getting a good quality set of knives is not one to scrimp on.  Though significantly more expensive, a high-quality knife is safer than a cheap one.  The pricier ones are less likely to slip, cut or injure you.

02 Cutting Boards: To go with the high-quality knife is a matching high-quality cutting board. Not only would it make sense to have different sizes of chopping boards but also to have cutting boards in various materials.  Get one in wood, plastic, and glass. It is also safer to have a separate cutting board for meat, another for poultry, and a separate one for vegetables. That is an excellent way to avoid cross-contamination in the food we eat.   

03 Measuring Cups and Spoons: Although there are people who are good at preparing and cooking foods without having to use measuring cups and spoons, some recipes may require precision in the amounts of ingredients to be used. It’s quite important if you are cooking for a party or for valued guests.

Relying on measuring cups and spoons may be needed in some cases when the ingredients are expensive or hard to find, or that too much of a spice or other miscalculation may potentially ruin your cooking.

04 Mixing Bowls: A big number of cooking and food preparation requires mixing. What you are preparing or making may require either a small, medium, or large mixing bowl. You should also consider getting a stainless steel bowl. Consider also getting a few reusable and easy-to-clean silicone lids to cover foods in the bowl.

05 Wooden Spoon and Spatulas: We have talked about the importance of spatulas in our food preparation and cooking.  And that includes wooden spoons as well, being a helpful, all-around cooking aid.  Wooden spoons are not only great for mixing and scraping in baking, but also for frying and sautéing. And it won’t scratch and damage your pots and pans. 

Some Intriguing Etymological Trivia About Spatula

Having originated from the Latin word ‘spatha’ and the Greek word ‘spathe,’ both meaning a long sword with broad blades, the spatula then was the word used to describe the flat, broad blades that were used in cooking, medicine, and masonry construction work.

As pointed out earlier, the word spatula having been derived from an ancient language, it is understandable that it has acquired other names over the years. These names are more descriptive and more appropriate, reflecting its present-day usage.  The words ‘flipper,’ ‘scraper,’ ‘tosser’ and ‘fish slice’ are some often-heard examples.

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE SPATULA

One reason for the confusion of one kind of spatula for another is that different people in different locations would call a particular spatula a ‘turner,’ or in other places, it is commonly referred to as a ‘flipper.’ Though the meaning is almost the same and interchangeable, it may be a more appropriate description or label to the generic, broad, old-world term spatula.

And since our way of cooking food not only evolves and changes gradually over time, it also becomes evident that the utensils and gadgets we use will have to adapt along with these changes and variations. 

Come to think of it, these utensils are meant to make life much more comfortable and efficient, and that we need food as sustenance to live and thrive.   Being handy and used practically daily, it is understandable and, of course, an advantage to have variations and additions, or changes in the original design. That will make it much more useful and conform to new ways of preparing and cooking food and being much more efficient in the kitchen.

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