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What Is a Spatula?

Narrow spatulas are used for a variety of tasks.
A spatula is a common cooking tool that comes in a variety of sizes and has several uses.
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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2014
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A spatula is one of the most common cooking tools. It's a simple tool that is basically a flat, usually squarish piece of plastic or metal, on the end of a straight handle. It also goes by the names of tosser, turner and flipper and even fish slice. As these names suggest, the tool is basically used for flipping food, usually in a frying pan. For example, you might use a spatula to flip a burger patty. Some blades have slots or holes in them to facilitate draining food, and others are solid. Another variation of spatulas do not have such pronounced ends, and are made of a more pliable material, useful for mixing and scraping bowls of cake batter.

For safety reasons, kitchen spatulas normally have a handle with a length adequate to keep the cook’s hands out of harm’s way. The handle should be rigid enough to be able to control the food being handled. Conversely, the spatula blade needs to be flexible and thin enough to safely and effectively get under and turn food items. A considerable amount of spatula styles have blades that are longer on one side to aid in maneuvering food.

Materials used to make spatulas vary greatly. They come in metal, plastic or wood. More recently, heat-resistant silicone has become a popular material as well.

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Spatula blades and handles come in different sizes. Those with shorter blades are normally used when cooking or turning small items like cookies, meat patties, pancakes or eggs. Medium size blades are often used when cooking vegetables on the stovetop. If large pieces of meat or fish are being prepared, larger blades with long handles are usually more useful.

The length of the handle also depends on the task for which it is being used. Shorter handles are often found on spatulas used for cooking food in small pans or skillets. For jobs that require the cook to reach food at a distance, like oven-baked food or food being prepared on a barbecue grill, spatulas with longer handles are popular.

Other culinary uses for spatulas include scraping and mixing. Cooks frequently turn the spatula blade upside down and, through applying pressure, use the tool to scrape food from pan bottoms that has adhered to them during cooking or baking. More pliable spatulas with more narrow blades, such as rubber spatulas, are also regularly used to roughly mix dry ingredients for recipes. A special tool called a frosting spatula which is quite narrow, is frequently used to apply frosting and icing to the surfaces of cakes and cupcakes. Spatulas can also refer to a tool used in construction.

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