Wooden Spoons - Why Chefs Recommend Cooking With Them
I cook with wooden spoons that are at least 30 years old!
Have you ever read a recipe that calls for "stirring with a wooden spoon" and wondered why? Why not stir with a metal spoon? Or a silicone spoon or spatula? Is it important what kind of wood the spoon be made from?
Even if you haven't wondered about wooden spoons before, I have done the wondering for you, and I think I've come up with some answers.
I think that good wooden spoons are some of the most important utensils to have in the kitchen. Why? Partly because I've read it, I've seen a lot of my chef friends use them, and because I like how they feel in my hand. But now, I think I can provide a few reasons why a wooden spoon is an important kitchen utensil.
Advantages of a Wood Spoon
- First of all, let's talk about the feel of a wooden spoon. There's nothing like stirring a sauce or sautéing veggies with a wooden spoon in your hand. Especially one that you've owned for a long time. The handles are generally gently rounded and just feel good to hold.
This is especially important when you have to stir a dish a lot, like risotto. If a spoon feels comfortable in your hand, you'll feel comfortable using it. And if you feel comfortable using it, you'll use it more often. So when you're making risotto, your hand will feel comfortable stirring frequently.
If you're using a metal spoon that is basically stamped out and formed from a sheet of aluminum or stainless steel, holding the thin handle can be uncomfortable. Your hand can actually start to get tired from gripping a handle that isn't easy to grip, and your hand might even cramp up. Sorry, risotto. I can't stir right now, my hand hurts. Then you end up with a less-than-creamy risotto.
- Remember when I said that metal spoons are stamped out? Well, even though the edges are smoothed out, they still have straight sides that meet at 90 degree angles. With repeated stirring, your hand can start to get sore. Now, think about those same hard angles smashing into the food that you're cooking.
A spoon with hard edges can damage delicate ingredients. Wooden spoons, with their smooth and gentle curves are much less likely to bruise, crush or tear your ingredients as you stir.
- Another reason that wooden spoons are superior to metal spoons is that wooden spoons aren't conductive. That means that, if you leave your spoon in a hot sauce for a long time, the wooden handle will still stay cool. (Be care though, I have a bunch of wooden spoons that have funny curves in them from leaving them in a hot pot.)
Try that with a metal spoon, and you'll end up with a burned hand. Yes, you could get around this problem by using a metal spoon with a non-conductive handle, but you'll still have to contend with those hard angles smashing into your food.
- Wooden spoons are especially useful when stirring on a non-stick surface. Metal spoons can scratch nonstick coatings, while smooth wooden spoons will not harm non-stick surfaces. Even when stirring in a regular pot, metal spoons can leave scratches, and they make a scraping noise that can become bothersome over time. Again, wooden spoons to the rescue. They won't scratch your copper, aluminum or stainless steel pots and are nice and quiet to use.
- When stirring acidic ingredients, like lemon curd or tomato sauce, some metal spoons can react with the acids in foods and leave a metallic taste or even change the color of the food you are cooking. Wood is non-reactive. Score another point for the wooden spoon.
- Last, here's a somewhat subjective reason for using wooden spoons: I have a friend who is a professional chef, and he uses the same spoon every time he makes his tomato sauce. He tells me the flavors become part of the spoon and add to the taste of his sauce!
I'm not sure I buy the "flavors become part of the spoon" but it sounds good and I do believe the history in a spoon adds something magical to a dish.
As far as I'm concerned, wooden spoons win. Hands down. Choose a wooden spoon that feels good in your hand. I wouldn't recommend those very inexpensive wooden spoons with the thin, round handles. These aren't very comfortable to hold which defeats part of the purpose in buying a wooden spoon in the first place.
Buying & Caring for Your Wooden Spoons
- Purchase a spoon made of hard wood. Soft woods, such as pine, will soak up too much oils and juices from whatever you are cooking. And, more importantly, they could leach some "piney" flavor into your food. You are much better off with a spoon made of oak, maple or olive wood, all of which are readily available both online and in large home goods stores.
- Wash your wooden spoons by hand with warm soapy water and dry them right away. Don't put your wooden spoons in the dish washer, especially if you have the drying cycle on. The extreme heat can dry out the wood so it will eventually crack.
- About once a month, rub your wooden spoons with a little food grade mineral oil, let them sit overnight, and then wipe off the excess. This will keep your spoons from drying out.
These days, there are other options besides wood when looking for a spoon that won't scratch your cookware. I think wood is the better choice, regardless. Metal spoons with wooden or plastic handles, even silicone-coated metal, are not made of one seamless piece of material.
Food particles can get into the fine cracks between the different materials so that bacteria can grow. While I really like silicone for some applications, I don't think that any material can beat wood when it comes to spoons.