Spatulas are essential tools in cooking and baking. There are just so many variations, types, and materials that so many people get quite confused about them, especially those who are not into cooking and baking. There may be occasions when you have to do your own cooking. So, knowing the kind of spatula needed and how to use it will make your cooking and time in the kitchen pleasant and productive
Three types of spatulas and what they are for. The simplest way to answer that is to classify all the different material and shape variations of the spatula by its function and usage, whether in cooking or in baking. From that standpoint, the spatulas for cooking and baking can be classified into three basic types:
01 Turner Spatula: a.k.a. Metal Spatula, Flipper, Turner
Uses: This type of spatula is good for moving, flipping, turning and lifting food such as fish, meat, cake, and other baked goods. It usually has slots or holes. Here’s an image of a turner spatula and a fish turner spatula.
02 Scraper Spatula: a.k.a. Rubber Spatula, or simply Scraper
Uses: It is ideal for scraping off ingredients and leftovers from the side of the container. Here’s how a scraper spatula usually looks like.
03 Palette Spatula: a.k.a. Frosting Spatula, Palette Knife
Uses: This type of spatula is mostly utilized in baking, such as the application of frostings or icings on the cake. A variation of this has a blade that is slightly offset at the handle for more intricate icing applications. It is called an offset palette spatula. In cooking, it is used to spread ingredients on food, salads, and sandwiches. The palette spatula looks like this.
Making things simplified and go beyond descriptions and labels make it much clearer to us why it is made that way, shaped like that, and why some are done in plastic, metal, and silicone. A spatula’s function and usage should be the basis to classify each of them. Function is what the spatula does; what it is used for. Use and usage means how it is used, or how we use them.
The different types of spatulas…then what? It is a question, and the first thought that would come to mind may be the different materials spatulas are made of, and the variations in shapes and configurations. How evident or subtle those can be is not an issue. Advertising and its product description will take care of it.
So it may appear random. Objects and things can be classified more accurately by its function and usage, not only by the material it is made of. A simple example is a piece of art paper that comes in different colors. The different colored sheets of art paper do not mean that a blue art paper is a different type of paper from the red one. They are just in different colors, but it does not change what art papers are basically used for. But most everything man-made has variations, and it usually comes to a point where everything can be quite confusing.
So, let us take it one step at a time, and understand the types of spatulas we see based on its purpose. Let us agree that spatulas were first used for baking, and then found its way in the kitchen. So, then it also became a kitchen tool. That is because it is also useful in some aspects of food preparation and cooking. Human beings are imaginative, resourceful, and creative creatures. Our brain is capable of lateral thinking, of both divergent and convergent style of thinking.
With the power of imagination, we can see beyond its present usage. We imagine other possibilities, challenges, and opportunities in cooking that this piece of baking implement may also be very good at.
So, you would agree that differentiating spatulas in terms of its function and usage would be a clear and illuminating way to understand why this spatula and that other spatula are different. The moment we get that, we can go further and appreciate why there have to be variations, especially of things that are useful to us.
The reason and the need to have versions of it in other materials is that there are certain materials that can handle high heat, there are materials that are quite pliable that it would be perfect for putting icing on a cake, and so on. This may be a long explanation, so put on your thinking caps and let’s get on to it.
Types of Spatulas According to Usage
This excerpt from an article written and published in 2014 in December says it all clearly. It is an inspiring article written by Bruce Turkel about baking and cooking. He is a successful entrepreneur and has written a lot of books, and is knowledgeable in the field of branding. Click on this link to read the entire piece.
“Cooking tends to be more free form and open to interpretation and improvisation – asking for things such as “a handful of sliced almonds,” “season to taste,” or “occasional stirring.” Baking, on the other hand, is rigidly precise, demanding not just a cup of flour but one cup and one tablespoon of sifted white flour, for example. And while cooking allows for substitution, baking does not. Don’t have as many onions as the recipe calls for? Throw in some scallions. Short on shallots? Garlic will do nicely. But if you find you don’t have enough baking powder, baking soda’s just not going to do the job.
Cooking then, seems more like art; baking more like science. No wonder, too, that the different disciplines attract different types of people. While the uninitiated would think that good bakers would make good cooks and vice versa, that doesn’t usually tend to be the case. Instead, good cooks will usually say that they can’t bake and good bakers don’t brag about their cooking abilities. Different strokes for different folks.”
Spatulas for Cake Baking
Special celebrations like wedding receptions, grand reunions, milestones, welcome and send-off parties are made extra special with cakes, particularly ones with several tiers of cake, and richly decorated. These cakes that are also works of art definitely can grab the limelight and make a fantastic focal point in any big venue.
Cakes, regardless of how simple and elaborate they are, all undergo baking, and cake decorating, with implements such as spatulas. Below are the kinds of spatulas utilized in creating those culinary works of art. Let’s get to know them.
Metal Spatula for Turning and Transferring
This spatula can be described as wide and flat, the perfect shape to turn and transfer cake ingredients and decorations. Imagine having to flip pancakes. That is precisely how it works in cake making and decorating. It is the kind of spatula for flipping, scraping, and serving. Mostly made of metal, thus called metal spatulas, there are also ones made of hard plastic that also do a good job.
Some procedures that require the use of a metal spatula in baking are the following:
- Transferring baked items such as cookies from the baking tray to the cooling rack
- Loosening the underside of a baked item such as a cake from the pan
- Flipping a baked piece such as a cake or muffin into a wire rack or a tray
Since baked goods can be fragile, quite heavy at times, and big, a spatula designed around the unique needs in cake baking is called a “cake spatula.” It is bigger, and the surface for flipping is thicker or fatter from the underside, which is the right design perfect for transferring cakes, layers, and cake decorations easily and efficiently.
Rubber Spatula for Scraping and Smoothing
The rubber spatula has a flexible, rubber-textured flat scraping blade and a long handle, usually wood. It is the preferred kind of spatula for efficiently removing or taking out ingredients, by scraping down the bowl’s sides, into another container, either for further use or storage.
Being made of rubber, the blade has the optimum level of flexibility that makes the spatula so useful in scraping the bowl to mix ingredients thoroughly and to transfer ingredients, or the batter, into another container such as a bowl or a baking pan. On top of that, the rubber spatula does an equally fantastic job of mixing, like folding and incorporating ingredients into the batter, and for placing and evenly smoothing batter in the cake pan before it is placed in the over.
A later version of the rubber spatula is called the spoon spatula. As the name indicates, the curvy blade is shaped almost like a spoon, designed for scooping portions of ingredients and breaking up dense ingredients. An even later variation of the spoon spatula incorporates both scoop and scraping capabilities. You guessed it right. It has a longish handle with one small scoop at one end, and a flat scraper on the other. Brilliant!
Frosting Spatula for Icing Placement on the Cake
Frosting spatula is actually a flat, narrow spatula, which is a more generic term that is used in other disciplines. For one, it resembles an artist’s palette knife to mix paints on the palette and apply paint on the canvas or painting.
For baking purposes, of course, it has to be called a frosting spatula, as it is the best and appropriate type of spatula for that purpose in baking. The frosting spatula is used to frost as well as to spread frost or icing on the baked cake.
To make the frosting spatula even more efficient, you have two kinds of it to help with your baking.
01 Flat Frosting Spatula: The flat frosting spatula’s blade extends from the handle straight out, or in line with it, without any bend or offset. It is ideal for the application of frosting or icing onto the larger, flatter, and less curved areas of the cake.
02 Offset Frosting Spatula: The blade is typically bent by about half an inch from or below the handle. This feature makes it easier to handle and manipulate. It can reach parts and intricately shaped areas of the cake and apply the frostings without your fingers touching the cake or getting in the way.
Now, it is clearer to understand why a certain kind of spatula is named differently, or is called by various names. The name has to give a clear indication of what it is used for or what it accomplishes, and the slight design changes it undergoes make it function better. For baking and creating cakes, there are different types of spatulas to use for scraping, smoothing, and icing. The result is a cake that is not only delicious but also a sight to behold.
Spatulas for Cooking and Food Preparation
First, let’s get some help from Wikipedia to get the most generic, simplest description of the word “spatula.”
Now that it has been taken care of, let’s get acquainted with the spatulas employed in cooking and food preparation.
Turner Spatula: For home cooking and food preparation, it is the most widely used kind of cooking or kitchen spatula. It is mostly the spatula for frying food in the pan, or transferring food from the pan to the serving plate.
It is so versatile that it can be used for stirring, flipping, scraping, and serving: all actions we go through when preparing, cooking, and serving our foods.
Depending on your preference, you can either get one in metal, ideally stainless steel, or plastic, such as the silicone versions that can withstand higher temperatures than other plastics.
It will cover more possibilities if you get yourself one of each. They are not expensive, and the convenience of having both in your kitchen would more than compensate for the initial expense.
The Scraper or Rubber Spatula: The rubber spatula is the best kind for scraping every bit of ingredient from the cooking pan into the serving dish, storage bowl, or even direct to your dinner plate. Being made of rubber, it can get into hard to reach corners and bends. It does a great job of it that can’t be topped by any other type of spatula or other kitchen utensils. On the side, it delivers an equally great job in mixing ingredients.
The Offset Spatula: The offset knife is the closest in appearance to the palette knife used for mixing and applying paint. In baking, it is the spatula used for applying frosting on a cake or any baked goods such as rolls.
In cooking and food preparation, the offset spatula is used to spread ingredients such as spreads on sandwiches, breads, or toppings. There are variations with wider blades that can be very helpful in transferring and turning food while cooking and in serving.
Why It’s Advantageous to Include a Silicone Spatula to Your Collection of Kitchen Spatulas
Over the years, the choice of materials to our favorite kitchen and cooking tools have multiplied. We now have plastic, wood, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and a few others. Most recently, the newest material that came along is silicone. We now see a dizzying collection of silicone products catering to different niches of markets or users.
As with any new product, it may be hard to tell if they are better, or if we should switch to that material, get rid of the old ones and start getting a new set of things made with that new material. More importantly, is that material safe and non-poisonous? Is it environmentally sustainable or harmful? We ask the same exact questions to silicone products, especially products used in the kitchen, food preparation, and cooking.
Below is the definition of silicone from Wikipedia:
“Silicones, also known as polysiloxanes, are polymers that include any synthetic compound made up of repeating units of siloxane, which is a chain of alternating silicon atoms and oxygen atoms, combined with carbon, hydrogen, and sometimes other elements. They are typically heat-resistant and either liquid or rubber-like, and are used in sealants, adhesives, lubricants, medicine, cooking utensils, and thermal and electrical insulation. Some common forms include silicone oil, silicone grease, silicone rubber, silicone resin, and silicone caulk.”
Let us cut to the chase and focus on information about kitchen tools and utensils made of silicone. Here are a few advantages of silicone kitchen tools.
- Resistance to high heat reaching up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit
- Silicone material is non-porous making it resistant to odor, stain, and discoloration
- Due to its rubbery property, silicone cooking utensils can be used on non-stick pans and not damage the coating
- It is resistant to corrosion and does not react chemically to acidic ingredients
Reasons Why Some People Prefer Stainless Steel Spatulas and Cookware Above Other Materials
We want to get the best when buying a product, so we look to professionals and see what they buy and are actually using. Reviews may be helpful, but it is better to do our own investigation and research, and then decide on what we want and consider important.
Now, when it comes to the kind of material that is best for a spatula, regardless of usage or type, it is hands down for stainless steel. This material is durable, flexible, heat resistant, and can be molded into any shape required.
Let us view it from the perspective of the user because sometimes a product becomes better with the way it is used and the techniques acquired. Then again, the strength and effectiveness of the technique can also be brought about further by the higher quality and design of the product.
It can be challenging to put those ideas and concepts into a more tangible form, so let’s get into knowing what makes the stainless steel the best material for a spatula.
The Properties of Stainless Steel
The spatula is considered a simple machine or gadget, a lever, in particular. So, the material it is made of plays a significant role in its strength, performance, and longevity. Since a spatula needs to be a bit springy or flexible, stainless steel both has that material quality and also the following: strength, durability, rust-resistant or rust-proof, and flexibility, especially when it is thinner.
An excellent example is when frying an egg. The stainless steel blade of a turner spatula, for example, is thin enough to be slipped under a fried egg, and strong enough to carry a serving size of steak.
A Matter of Technique
Professional chefs and cooks have been observed and studied. It shows that they have thought up an effective way of handling the spatula when picking up food, especially tender or fragile ones. They pick up food off the frying surface of the cookware at a slight angle from the side. This maneuver works well for tender, smaller pieces of foods that may be a bit more difficult to handle.
Plastics Can Be Wobbly and Not Thin Enough
A spatula is used for lifting, turning, and moving food around. You don’t cook with one utensil for moving and turning the food, and then pick up another utensil to lift it to the serving plate.
Imagine that, and you can understand that plastics cannot be made thin enough to slide smoothly under food that needs to be lifted or turned. Moreover, it is not strong enough to carry the weight of heavier, bigger food. Lastly, plastic is not ideal for handling food, especially hot ones, or while cooking.
No Teflon Coated Cookware in the Chef’s Kitchen
Pans with a non-stick cooking surface such as Teflon have no place in a chef’s or a professional cook’s kitchen. A steel spatula cannot be used on them.
Frying is A Healthful Way to Cook Food
Proteins and carbohydrates bring out delicious flavors when cooked and take on the appearance that is delicious and appetizing. The fat used in the pan to avoid food from sticking to the surface also improves the taste of the food.
By using a technique of cooking with short bursts of high heat and low heat, food can be cooked that results in a tasty, crispy texture with the center remaining juicy, such as in steaks.
Frying Brings Out Flavor
Distinct flavors and aromas are released from the food as the proteins and carbohydrates are being fried or cooked. Molecules are released and combine in many different ways releasing pleasing tastes and flavors.
The Right Cooking Temperature
For food to be nicely browned, the cooking temperature must be between 140 degrees to 160 degrees centigrade, somewhere above the boiling point.
The Right Stance
Called the Pro Flip, it is the seasoned professionals’ technique to separate food that may have probably adhered to the hot surface. They execute the move or maneuver by standing somewhere on the side of the cooking counter and place the spatula under the food a little from the side.
Oil and Butter Work Well Together
You might think that you should use only one or the other. But since oil withstands higher heat, and butter can show you how hot the pan is, using them both in cooking is a great idea. The oil goes first, then the butter, then when you think the right moment has come, put in your food and cook it right.
The Virtue of Patience in Cooking
Frying can sometimes be tricky. Different kinds of food need to be cooked differently to bring out the best flavor in them. Sometimes, you need to give frying some time to be done. When it has finally cooked, like when it is browned, handling it with a spatula will be much easier. Do not leave your cooking, though. Be there during the whole cooking time.
Frying Needs a Little Math
Make it a cooking habit to group your food based on its size. For example, twice as thick size of food may take about four times longer to cook. Also, brush up on the cooking time information to be exact and sure.
- Steps in Frying
- Before starting to cook, turn on the stove and warm up the pan.
- After pouring into the pan the right amount of cooking oil, let it heat up before starting to cook.
- Do not forget to dry the food before putting it in the pan for better results.
- Do not put too much food to fry at a time. If you do, it may cool down the pan than heat the food.
- The food may require some time to get brown on the surface, and to be easier to lift from the pan. Be patient.
- Use steel spatula and kitchen tweezers to make the cooking more efficient.
- To clean your spatula, use warm water, liquid soap, and hand-wash them.
- Although a stainless-steel spatula can survive cleaning in a dishwasher, its beautiful finish can be damaged or dulled.
- Dry the spatula after washing them clean. Wipe with a clean, soft cloth such as a microfiber pad or towel
- Keep in mind that a clean and dry spatula lasts longer. If you do not wash it after each use, or put it off for later, the food residues or particles that cling to the surface may harden and then become stubborn to remove and clean.
What to Do When You Don’t Have These Kitchen Gadgets
You have just moved into a new home, or was asked to do some cooking in a friend’s kitchen, or you are enjoying a back to nature experience out there in the countryside. These are scenarios where you might wish you had a complete range of kitchen gadgets and tools to cook any way and any recipe you want. Here are some possible replacements for kitchen and cooking tools that are usually needed for cooking.
Possible Substitutes for a Cupcake Pan
You love cupcakes, and you enjoy making them yourself. But you don’t have a cupcake pan to place your cupcake liners on. Here are some workarounds to deal with it.
Mason Jar Rings: Take off the rings of your mason jar collections, arrange them on top of the baking sheet, and then insert a cupcake liner in each of the rings. Then, pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake them.
Cupcake Liners: Cupcake liners may be placed on the baking sheet itself without a cupcake pan. The silver foil liners are sturdy enough to hold the batter. For paper liners that are thinner, use two pieces, one placed inside another, to make it sturdier.
Possible Substitutes for a Roasting Rack
The purpose of a roasting rack is to lift the food to allow air to circulate more efficiently and to cook it evenly.
Cooling Racks: The cooling rack can be an ideal substitute. Place a baking sheet covered in foil on top of the cooling rack, then place the food on top of it for roasting.
Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil: Using a heavy-duty aluminum foil, crimp it to create small folds or ridges, about 1 inch or two. The ridges serve to elevate the food for better air circulation and even cooking. If cooking thin strips of food like bacon, lay the pieces perpendicular to the ridges. The ridges catch the grease, make the food less greasy and soggy, and make cleanup easier.
Possible Substitutes for a Knife Sharpener
Ceramic bowls, cups, mugs, and even plates have unglazed ridges, usually at their bottom. Simply position your dull knife’s blade at an angle of about 45 degrees, then rub it against the rough edge along the blade’s length.
The unglazed ridges of ceramic dining wares have a surface somewhat like that of a sharpening stone.
Possible substitute for an Egg Separator
There are recipes that require only the yolk or the white of the egg, and separating them can be quite challenging.
Bulb of the Turkey Baster: Remove the bulb of a turkey baster. Then, gently suck in the yolk from the saucer. Now you have two separate ingredients ready to use.
Plastic Water or Soft Drink Container: The same principle as the turkey baster bulb, the uncapped plastic container will act as a separator or suction to suck out the egg yolk. Gently squeeze the bottle until the yolk is completely contained in it.
Possible Substitute for a Mallet to Tenderize Meat
It is not always that we have enough time to cook. Like when tenderizing meat, for example, which requires hours of waiting until you can finally cook it. It can be around six to twelve hours. So, what do you do when you just have to tenderize your meat that could only be done in as short as fifteen minutes?
Marinating is much about infusing a particular flavor as it is about tenderizing the meat, or making it less tough. The marinating process helps in breaking down the connective tissues of the meat, which is responsible for the toughness. Now, if you don’t have a mallet, here is a surprising substitute for that.
Fruits as Marinade: Papaya, pineapple, and kiwi are three of the fruits with enzymes that have the ability to break down meat’s collagen. This results in making the meat less tough and tender.
Kiwi is the best fruit so far that can tenderize meat because of Actinidin, the enzyme in kiwi. It is not as strong as those enzymes that papaya and pineapple have, but the advantage in it is not making the meat too mushy. The kiwi fruit takes about fifteen minutes to tenderize meat significantly. It is peeled, mashed, and then the resulting pulp is spread over the meat.