There have long been questions in the kitchen about which are better, wooden cooking utensils and stainless steel cooking utensils.
Chefs flock to wooden spoons like their favorite cast iron skillets and relish in the way that these baking utensils seem to hold within them memories and nostalgia. The more practical cook or baker stands up for the stainless steel or plastic utensils for their sturdiness and the ease with which they can be cleaned.
But when should you be using wooden cooking utensils vs. stainless steel cooking utensils? What are the benefits of each and the differences between the two?
Let’s take a plunge into utensils and kitchen tools to uncover the details of the great debate. Through this article, you’ll get a full run-down of the pros and cons of each utensil. Let’s get started!
Wooden Cooking Utensils
Wooden Spoons Don’t Scratch
Wooden spoons are soft and gentle on cooking surfaces, meaning they won’t scratch your cast iron skillets and stainless steel pots. They also don’t make that metal scraping on metal sound—the one that tends to offset the otherwise peaceful nature of stirring.
Wooden Spoons Are Beautiful
We know stainless steel can be beautiful, too. But there’s something about the soul-filled nature of a set of wooden spoons and kitchen tools. They look wonderful when set on display in the kitchen and when they’re handcrafted, they often look like works of kitchen art.
Wooden Spoons Don’t Conduct Heat
Unlike stainless steel or plastic cooking utensils, wooden spoons don’t conduct heat. Because of this, you can leave them on a hot pan for extended periods of time and rest assured that the handle will still be cool (probably better to remove the spoon, though, if you have the option). This makes wooden spoons ideal for dishes that require lots of stirring like soups or risottos.
Wooden Spoons Are Comfortable
Wooden spoons have a good grip to them. As many chefs note, they tend to mold into your hands after repeated use. This adds a sense of comfort to them when you’re doing dishes that require prolonged stirring and attention.
Wooden Spoons Are Eco-Friendly
Wood is a natural resource, and opting for kitchen utensils that are made from nontoxic, biodegradable material is the eco-friendly way to go. Plus, because wood is non-reactive, it doesn’t react with ingredients and leave chemicals or a metallic taste in your food.
Wooden Spoons Are Tough to Clean
It’s true: wooden spoons are more difficult to clean than their stainless or plastic counterparts. They tend to pick up stains (especially if you’re using ingredients like turmeric or beets) and throwing them in the dishwasher isn’t a good idea, as it may cause the wood to crack and split.
Wooden Spoons Can Break
Whether you’re stirring a super thick ragu or a massive batch of dense cookies, there’s definitely the possibility of a wooden spoon breaking in half. They’re durable, yes, but if they’re not being taken care of properly, if they're thrown into the dishwasher, or if they’re being put to the test with heavy ingredients, they very well can crack.
Wooden Spoon Recipes
From pasta to chili, here are a few recipes that will pair well with your favorite wooden spoons.
This recipe for Parmesan and Garlic Whole Wheat Pasta from Chef Billy Parisi is rolled out by hand and entirely nostalgic of a meal you’d find in an Italian kitchen. Billy notes that doing it this way will make you appreciate it more (as it will become a labor of love). For him, it brings back fond memories of rolling out dough in his grandma’s basement. We love that about this dish, and we also love that he uses Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour as for his creation. After the noodles are created, your trusty and beloved wooden spoon comes into play. You’ll add butter and olive oil to a large sauté pan and cook the garlic over low heat, stirring occasionally (without the risk of scratching the pan). Throw in the pasta along with the Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, and toss until completely coated and hot. In this recipe, a wooden spoon and pasta are the perfect match.
Wooden spoons are wonderful to use for sauces, stews, chilis and soups. They just feel good to hold in your hand for extended periods of time. When you’re stirring a soup or stew, the last thing you want to be is uncomfortable; wooden spoons add to the romance of stirring and allow you to stand back and enjoy the scents wafting through the kitchen. This Vegan Quinoa Chili is the perfect recipe to use if you’re looking to test the durability and comfort of your wooden spoon. Made with a unique combo of quinoa, lentils, beans, sweet potatoes and cocoa, the chili simmers before being served with sliced green onions. All you need is a football game in the background and a few friends.
Because wooden utensils don’t conduct heat, they’re a great choice for dishes like risotto and polenta, which need constant stirring. Unlike plastic (which will melt) or metal (which will get hot in boiling water), you can easily rest your wooden spoon on the side of a hot spot when you need a stir break. Another recipe that’s fit for the autumn season (or any time of year) is this earthy and flavor-packed Farro Risotto. Katie Workman uses Organic Farro as a whole-grain stand-in for white rice in her risotto and adds golden beets and crispy fried shallots. Stir, stir, stir is the name of the game for risotto, so put on some tunes, grab your favorite wooden spoon and ease into the beautiful aromas of the season.
Stainless Steel Cooking Utensils
Stainless Steel Is Strong
Stainless steel has a connotation with being tough to break for a reason: it’s super strong. In times when you need something sturdy, like when you’re dealing with a heavy piece of meat, stainless steel is a better option.
Stainless Steel Is Easy to Clean
Stainless cooking utensils are easy to clean and wipe off, and they don’t stain like wooden utensils do.
Stainless Steel Is Great for Scraping
Whether you’re using it to get every last tidbit of roasted potatoes from the pan or to gather up your cookies once they’re ready to slide off the baking sheet, stainless steel makes the act of scraping easier.
Stainless Steel Is Pricier
Stainless cooking utensils tend to be more expensive than wooden cooking utensils.
Stainless Steel Can Scratch Nonstick Pans
If you cook with nonstick pots and pans, stainless steel utensils can scratch the coating, which can cause food to stick and eventually ruin the pan.
Stainless Steel Utensil Recipes
From ragu to roasted veggies, here are a few of the best ways to put those stainless steel utensils to use.
Big pots of warm and rich ragu are notoriously thick to stir. Stainless steel cooking utensils help get the stirring done when you need something strong (raise your hand if you’ve ever broken your mother’s best wooden spoon and cried out in devastation). Sometimes, you just need a tough spoon to do the job, and in these cases, there’s no better way to go than stainless steel. This Lamb and Chard Ragu is incredible once the cool weather has set in. You can substitute beet greens or lacinato kale if you can’t find chard in the grocery store or your local farmers’ market. If you’re not a big meat eater, you can also substitute the lamb with an equal quantity of carrots for a fantastic vegetarian option. Although using a wooden spoon to stir this dish is possible, the thickness is easier to handle with a stainless steel option. Once it’s all stirred and ready, spoon a portion of polenta into an individual bowl, top it with the lamb ragu and garnish with extra grated pecorino.
Roasted vegetables are the ideal food candidate for stainless steel cooking utensils. If you attempt to use a wooden spoon to scrape your roasted veggies out of the pan, you probably won’t be able to get every last bit. But with a stainless steel utensil, scraping the pan becomes easier, as does tossing the veggies to ensure they’re coated with oil and seasonings. This recipe from the Bob’s Red Mill Cookbook for Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa is simple yet delicious and can easily be altered based on whatever you have on hand (or whatever is in season). The roasted veggies make for a nutritious and vibrantly colored base and the quinoa adds needed protein. After roasting your vegetables, you’ll find your stainless steel utensil works well for giving them a hefty stir. Add the raisins, serve with a loaf of crusty bread, and you have an easy meatless Monday meal to add to your weekly rotation.
If you’ve ever tried to gently slide a batch of cookies from the cookie sheet with a wooden spoon, you know that stainless steel is the way to go. Because stainless steel cooking utensils are thin and durable, they’re the perfect choice for sliding under cookies. These Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies are gluten free, buttery and soft, with a hint of salt and a crispness to the edges. They’re created with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, butter, a mix of sugars, vanilla extract, eggs and chocolate chips (of course). If you have them on hand, chopped walnuts make for a tasty addition, too. Cookies are baked for 11 to 13 minutes then cooled on baking sheets for 5 minutes. When they’re done, use your handy dandy stainless steel spatula and move them to a wire rack to cool completely.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both. Whether you’re packing your wooden spoon in your bag everywhere you go and using it to remind you of the beauty of grandma’s bolognese sauce, or opting for a metal spatula every time you bake a big batch of chocolate chip cookies, we hope this article has helped to clarify the best of both utensil worlds.
What are your thoughts on wood vs. stainless steel cooking utensils? What’s your go-to and why? Better yet, share your best recipe with us in the comments below!