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Occasionally I’ll be cooking and ask my boyfriend to get me a spoon from the drawer. He’ll hand me a metal one, only for me to say, “Oh no, not that one!” Because I’m using a nonstick pan, obviously.

He finds the whole multiple-utensil situation confusing, and he’s certainly not alone. Do you really need a metal spatula and a silicone one? Why are there so many cooking spoons made of different materials? If you’ve ever had these same questions, here’s the breakdown of when and how to use nine essential kitchen utensils.

Cooking spoons come in many shapes, sizes, and materials, and it’s important to know which one to use so you don’t damage your cookware.

Wooden Spoons

Use with: Anything, including nonstick, glass, and porcelain

Spoons made from wood are arguably the most popular and versatile of kitchen spoons. They’re typically made from hard, lightweight materials like beech, maple, walnut, or oak, and you can find them at any cooking store.

Why are wooden spoons so great? First off, they don’t get hot to the touch like metal spoons might, even when you’re cooking at high temperature. Further, wood is a soft enough material that you can use them to stir or scrape nonstick finishes, glass, or porcelain. Wood spoons also won’t react with acidic ingredients like aluminum would.

The bottom line is that you absolutely need a wooden spoon in your kitchen, as it can be used in all types of cookware and for all types of dishes. The only downside of wooden spoons is that they shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher, as they can crack from the high heat.

Eddington Italian Olive Wood Cooking Spoon, on Amazon

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Metal Spoons

Use with: Uncoated metal and cast iron

Stainless steel spoons are also quite popular, but they aren’t as versatile as wooden ones. Metal spoons are stronger and easier to clean than their wood counterparts, and they also do a better job scraping baked-on food off cookware. Many people also prefer metal spoons when serving, thanks to their sturdy nature.

However, metal spoons can scratch delicate surfaces, so you don’t want to use them in nonstick or glass pans. Instead, use them when cooking in uncoated metal or cast iron pans, and make sure to rest the utensil well away from the heating element—otherwise, the metal may heat up and burn you.

OXO Good Grips Brushed Stainless Steel Spoon, on Amazon

OXO’s non-slip grip is ideal for rigorous stirring.

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Silicone Spoons

Use with: Anything, including nonstick, glass, and porcelain

More and more people are bringing silicone kitchen utensils into their homes, and it’s easy to see why! Food-grade silicone is heat- and stain-resistant, non-corrosive and non-reactive, and gentle on delicate surfaces. This makes silicone spoons safe to use on all sorts of cookware, and you can usually wash these utensils in the dishwasher, too.

The issue with silicone is that low-quality options are made with fillers that may compromise the material’s performance and longevity. To see if silicone contains fillers, many people recommend twisting or pinching the material—if white shows through, it’s made with filler.

Sur La Table Silicone Ultimate Spoon, from Sur La Table

You won’t find filler in this high-quality spoon that’s dishwasher-safe and heat-resistant up to 446 degrees.

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A Note on Slotted Spoons…

In addition to all the different spoon materials, there are also spoons with slots or holes (also called perforations). These spoons are typically used to remove solid food from liquid, as the holes let the liquid drain out. For instance, you might use a slotted spoon to remove onion rings from frying oil or vegetables from gravy. You’ll want to take the pros and cons of each material into consideration when choosing a slotted spoon.

KitchenAid Black Silicone Slotted Spoon, from Crate and Barrel

Scoop up your food without transferring any unwanted liquid.

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Here’s a real question: Why are there so many very different kitchen tools that are all called spatulas? Silicone scrapers, metal flippers, and icing spreaders—all spatulas!

Metal Spatulas, aka Flippers or Turners

Use with: Uncoated metal and cast iron

Flippers—or the type of spatula you use when flipping burgers—are usually made from metal. This makes them strong and allows them to have a thin edge, and you can find both solid and slotted designs. These tools are best for flipping and lifting large, flat items like burgers, pancakes, and even sugar cookies, and most come with wooden or rubber handles to minimize heat transfer.

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Turner, on Amazon

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Plastic Spatulas, aka Flippers or Turners

Use with: Nonstick

There are plastic flippers available, as well, but they can melt or warp if exposed to high heat, so it’s generally better to stick with metal ones. Plastic spatulas are really only beneficial if you’re cooking on a nonstick surface.

Norpro Nylon Nonstick Spatula, on Amazon

Your best bet when flipping and folding on nonstick surfaces.

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Silicone Spatulas, aka Scrapers

Use with: Anything, including nonstick, glass, and porcelain

Then there are silicone spatulas, which are also referred to (perhaps more accurately) as scrapers. These tools aren’t going to be useful when it comes to flipping burgers, but they’re ideal when you need to scrape (every last drop of) brownie batter out of a bowl.

The rubbery head of these spatulas forms a seal with the side of your bowl or pan, helping to ensure all the food gets scraped out. They’re also handy for folding together baking ingredients. The material is suitable for all finishes, from sturdy cast iron to vintage mixing bowls.

Wilton Easy Flex Silicone Spatula Set, on Amazon

You won’t have to sacrifice a drop of batter thanks to this spatula trio.

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Icing Spatulas

Use with: Cake frosting!

Finally, there are icing spatulas, sometimes called offset spatulas. These are really only necessary for frequent bakers who want a more precise way to spread icing and are available in metal, silicone, and plastic versions. If you’re just making a birthday cake once a year, you can use a regular knife instead.

Wilton Icing Spatula, 13-Inch, from Amazon

Want to achieve cake boss status? You’re gonna need an icing spatula.

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There are plenty of other kitchen utensils you might have hanging around, and here are a few more instances when material is important.

Metal vs. Silicone Whisks

Whisks come in a variety of styles and sizes, but you’ll generally either find them made from metal or silicone. Silicone whisks are actually just metal whisks with a silicone coating, and while they’re gentler on nonstick finishes, they’re typically not as effective at tasks like beating egg whites.

OXO Good Grips 11-Inch Better Balloon Whisk, from Amazon

Get that perfect whisk and a great arm workout.

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Anything Made From Copper

If you have copper accents in your kitchen, you might want matching copper utensils. While undeniably prettier, copper utensils have the same pros and cons as stainless steel ones. The only real difference is you shouldn’t put them in the dishwasher, as copper can tarnish.