This old-school kitchen tool is sprouting all kinds of new bells and whistles. But do any improve on the classic design?
Published May 14, 2020. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 14: Paprikash and Stroganoff
Wooden spoons are one of the oldest cooking tools found by archaeologists in Bronze-Age settlements and Egyptian tombs, and home cooks love them to this day. Wooden spoons are useful for a variety of tasks, such as mixing stiff cookie dough, browning roux, scraping up fond for stews and sauces, sautéing onions, stirring soups, or breaking up ground beef or sausage as it cooks. In the test kitchen, we use them to stir and scrape, particularly when we need more leverage than a softer silicone spatula can provide, and when we want to protect the surface of nonstick pans or enameled cast-iron pans. We also appreciate that they’re made from a renewable resource.
Recently, our longtime favorite wooden spoon was discontinued, and as we looked for replacements, we came across many spoons with bells and whistles purported to improve on the basic model. We found “corner” spoons with an asymmetrical point, spoons with flat scraping tips and high sides like a shovel, spoons that are as flat as ice pop sticks, mash-ups of spoons with other tools such as Scottish “spurtles” (designed for stirring porridge), and notched “lazy” spoons that perch on the pot edge. We bought 13 spoons, priced from about $4 to about $36, of various styles and made of various materials, including bamboo and cherry, olive, beech, acacia, and teak woods.
To test their mettle, we used them all to make Indian-Style Curry with Potatoes, Cauliflower, Peas, and Chickpeas; Weeknight Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce; and Classic Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. We also asked a variety of testers, including lefties, to use every spoon to break up Italian sausage as it browned in a skillet. After each cooking test, we washed the spoons with a sponge and hot, soapy water; dried them carefully; and observed their conditions, including whether they’d retained odors or become stained. Finally, we washed them in the dishwasher 10 times, tried to snap their handles like twigs, and checked for wear and tear. We rated them on performance, ease of use, and cleanup and durability.
The biggest factor in determining whether a spoon was effective was the shape of its head. Spoons with thinner front edges were easier to slip underneath food to scrape or scoop than those with thick front edges that felt blunt and clumsy. Scoop-shaped spoons helped us lift and move more food at a time than flatter, paddle-style models. Heads that were wider overall were more effective than narrower ones. Traditional round- or oval-headed spoons varied in the amount of scraping area they provided; most of these needed to be held at an angle to get enough of a scraping ...
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Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.