When it comes to wooden spoons, chefs and home cooks alike can get pretty serious.
My last wooden spoon was so well-used that the handle had conformed to the shape of my hand, and the head had been worn into an angle.
I’ve since been forced to search for a suitable replacement. Here are the criteria that I use:
- Stirring is a spoon’s primary task. It’s got to have a wide surface area so that you can move a significant amount of food around the pot with limited effort
- Scraping is necessary to get cooking food off the bottom of the pot or for deglazing the browned bits off the bottom of the pan when making a pan sauce or braise. A good spoon should be able to do this efficiently and effectively
- Tasting as you go is a necessity. A good spoon will have a bowl large enough to lift up liquids or small pieces of solids, but not so large that you can’t fit the end in your mouth
The main factors that affect these criteria are material and shape.
Only true wood will do, and the best are hard, lightweight, durable woods like beech, maple, or the new eco-friendly favourite of many manufacturers, bamboo. Wood is naturally a little giving, which allows you to more easily scrape and stir contents on the bottom of a pot or pan, pressing on the spoon to give better contact. It’s also softer on the hands, and with time, will slowly conform to the shape of your hand and pot.
Round headed spoons are the classic shape, consisting of a circular or oval-shaped bowl at the end of the handle. They are good for stirring and for lifting soups and sauces for tasting. They do, however, have two major drawbacks. First off, because of their completely round shape, it’s very difficult to make contact with a large surface of the pan bottom at the same time, making it a pain to scrape up browned bits when deglazing a stew or making a pan sauce. The second issue is this:
They simply don’t fit into the corners of a straight-walled sauté pan or Dutch oven. That can get seriously frustrating when you’re stirring a full pot of creamy risotto and the bits of shallot or rice continuously get stuck and burnt into the corners of the pan. It’s the cooking equivalent of trying to read a book outdoors on a windy day—painfully annoying.
A couple of clever manufacturers have come up with solutions to both of these problems by flattening out the heads of their spoons. These generally come in two shapes:
The completely flat-headed, symmetrical model at first glance seems like a fantastic option. It’s got a flat head for scraping and a bowl for tasting. It also unfortunately flares out around the sides, completely negating the benefits of its squared-off corners. You still can’t fit it into the corner of a pot.
A pointy edge effectively solves the corner dilemma, but it lacks a large enough flat surface for effective scraping. It’s also got a handle that’s too short, requiring you to dip your knuckles in the mix if you want to cook for more than a half dozen people.
Both do better than the classic round model, but still fall short of the mark.
The best wooden spoon shape
Shaped just like a traditional round wooden spoon, giving you a small rounded bowl to taste out of. On the other side, it’s got a flat-headed extension which ends in a sharp corner, allowing you to not only scrape the bottom of a pan effectively, but to scrape all the way up to the very edge of the pot.