What is a Spatula? (Definition, What it Looks Like, Uses and vs Turner)

Remember that old saying, “the first pancake is always spoiled”? It’s what people say to us when they try to encourage us to keep at it – be it making pancakes or trying ourselves at any other challenging tasks in the kitchen or in life.

It’s a way of saying hey – few of us get it right at first try. And pancakes just happen to be notorious for messing up the first time around. However, we’re going to let you in on a little secret that might make the old, “first pancake” saying obsolete.

Perhaps the reason why most people end up throwing out their first pancake is that they’re using a spatula rather than a turner to flip them.

You’d think it would be easy to differentiate between these two essential kitchen tools but, as it turns out, even experienced hobby-cooks tend to get it wrong from time to time.

This comes down to the similarities between spatulas and turners, and the fact that they are often marketed misleadingly. In other words, you’ll often find a company advertising a flipper, when a seasoned chef would clearly define it as a spatula.

So, how are we to distinguish between the two to assure we’re using the ideal tool for whatever it is we’ve got cooking or baking?

What is a Spatula?

Think back to the good old days when you were a child and your grandmother allowed you to polish off the remaining cake batter from the bowl. Now, what kitchen gadget did she hand you to scrape every last bit of it out? It certainly wasn’t a turner now, was it?

No, it was a tool that allowed you to wipe the inside of the bowl clean – something a flat, thin and square-shaped turner wouldn’t be able to do. Chances are, your grandmother used the same tool, namely a spatula, to spread the batter evenly throughout the cake tin, too.

What Does a Spatula Look Like?

A plastic spatula

Spatulas are commonly made of silicone rubber heads, plastic or metal with a straight top-edge and a slightly curved corner that adapts perfectly to the insides of pots, bowls and pans, and are thus ideal for scraping out batter or sautéing finely chopped ingredients without scratching the recipient.

It’s the tool we should be reaching for when recipes require gentle mixing or folding. The spatula’s flexible shape allows you to combine ingredients and spread them out evenly once properly prepared.

What is a Turner?

The turner, as you may have guessed by now, does exactly what its name implies: it’s used to turn the ingredients sizzling in your pan whenever required, to ensure they are cooked evenly on both sides.

Also known as a “flipper”, this is the tool top chefs use to flip their burgers and pancakes when there’s no time to show off their aerial spectacles. The head of a turner is square and often fitted with slots or holes – referred to as perforated – which allow excess grease or liquid to drip off.

Slotted turners are favourable because they allow foods to breathe as you transfer them from pot or pan to plate, hence it will not stick. This is especially important for certain baked goods and delicately prepared meats.

Turners are also simply used to serve food. By pushing flat surface under a burger, for example, you can serve it in one elegant swoop rather than gingerly balancing it on a fork, only for it plonk onto the plate. Presentation matters!

Know Your Tools

Next time you get up early on a Sunday morning, happily humming away in the kitchen as you prepare your pancake batter, choose your tools wisely. What are you going to use to scrape every last drop of precious pancake batter out of the bowl? That’s right, the spatula.

It’s funny how using the right or wrong kitchen utensils can seriously impact the quality and presentation of our food. Knowing how to differentiate between these two essential kitchen tools will also end up saving you a lot of money on other, pricier utensils.

So many quality pots and pans get ruined thanks to the improper use of a turner. By using it to make scrambled eggs, for example, and scratching up your non-stick pans in the process.

While a spatula works wonders when it comes to preparing deliciously fluffy scrambled eggs, it would be a nightmare to use to transfer a cooked egg onto a plate. It would send your dreams of a vibrant orangey-yellow sun of egg-yolk staring back at you running.

You see – that knowledge alone may have gained you an extra pancake in the future. And it also happens to be the answer to the old scrambled-egg dilemma. All you need to remember is this: spatulas are for scrambling, turners are for lifting cooked eggs out of a pan and serving them onto a plate.

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