Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to Pick Cooking Utensils – Wood, Plastic or Metal

Picking your cooking utensils is a personal thing. But the first decision you need to make is what material to choose. Gleaming stainless steel seems so solid and enduring. Wood – especially higher quality like olive or beech looks timeless and homey. Plastic looks, well it looks serviceable and easy. The trick is to decide which material is best for you. Here is a quick overview of the pros and cons of metal, plastic and wooden versions.

Kitchen utensils are a key tool for anyone planning to become more self reliant by learning to cook from scratch. What type of utensils to buy can be a little overwhelming. There are a few absolute basics like a ladle, a large flat spoon, spatula, slotted spoon, and a fork. Toss in a whisk and some measuring spoons and that kit is probably sufficient for living simple. Everyone needs these and it is probably all one really needs to have. But eventually you end up with a huge variety of gadgets. To be honest, the type of utensils one buys is really a matter of how much stuff you want to shove in your drawers. It is a matter of personal tastes and you are really on your own deciding what is best for you.

Wooden utensils are often relegated to the role of décor in many modern kitchens. This is a shame. Wood is not only attractive and traditional, it is really a marvelous material for the basic items one needs in a home kitchen. Due to the flood of cheap imports made from cheap soft woods, wooden utensils have gotten a reputation for being porous and quick to stain. They are and they do. You are much better off to look for good wood like olive, maple or beech when choosing wood as your material. Although, cheap wooden ones can be made serviceable if you heavily coat them with mineral oil as soon as you buy them. The point is to saturate the grain with clean, safe oil before they can get clogged with messier ones. It is the same principle behind seasoning cast iron. It will work, but it is best to buy better wood if this is your choice.

Metal utensils come in two basic versions. Aluminum alloys and stainless steel. Avoid aluminum at all costs. It is cheap, conducts heat too quickly and is possibly a health hazard. Stainless steel is superior on grounds of heat, durability and ease of cleaning. A good set of stainless steel will last forever. By the way, since longevity and durability are the keys to stainless steel – why add flimsy rubber handles to it? Take my advice and get a set with either solid metal handles or wood. The rubberized stuff will get tacky and discolored in no time at all.

Plastic is the last choice to examine. It has many reasons to not choose it. It is flimsy; it is easily discolored and tends to get grainy as fast as cheap wood. But, plastic does have its virtues. Namely it is economic to buy for the new cook and it easy to clean. It will not rust or stain if you leave it in a sink of dirty dished overnight. I would not have plastic in my house with the single exception of one silicon scraper I use to get batter out of bowls. But it really is a valid choice if it feels good to you.

So, there it is. You can make good sound choices that make sense to you. Just keep in mind the practical differences between the three materials and buy the set that fits your needs. It is ok to mix and match if your sense of esthetics will allow. Sometimes simple living really is simple.

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