All this kitchen essential needs is old-fashioned cleaning.

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Credit: Mike Krautter

Even in the most modern of kitchens with induction burners and digital thermometers, you'll see wooden spoons, throwbacks to another era that are still lovingly used daily. Trends come and go, but the wooden spoon remains, a simple and dependable tool that cooks have relied on forever-or close to it.

Home cooks and restaurant chefs alike usually have at least one wooden spoon in their utensil arsenal, and it's easy to see why: they're inexpensive, versatile, and durable. They can mix batter, scrape burnt bits off a pan and stir a sauce-not to mention how effective they are when waved in the air to make a point! Unlike metal spoons, they don't heat quickly (no worries about burning your hand!), nor do they chemically react with acidic foods, such as tomatoes. They're gentle on non-stick pans, and unlike plastic, they won't melt.

Some of the best wooden spoons are made of lightweight, sturdy teak-which, not coincidentally, is also used in outdoor furniture that's frequently exposed to rain and wind. You'll also find them made from beechwood, oak, and other woods, and in varying sizes.

Whichever type you have, taking care of your wooden spoon will ensure you have it for years to come (seriously, some are even passed down for generations!). The two major don'ts when it comes to wooden spoons relate to water: soaking them and putting them in the dishwasher. If the wood absorbs too much water, it can swell and, eventually, crack. Plus, the dishwasher's high heat can warp the wood and make it lose its finish. Instead, hand wash your spoons (or any wooden utensil, really, including silicone spatulas with wooden handles) with soap and warm water; then, ideally, dry with a towel instead of letting it air dry-you're probably getting the message that moisture is the enemy here. If you really want to go the extra mile, you can rub a small amount of mineral oil into the spoon with a soft cloth, about once a month, to help keep the wood in good condition.

Maybe the only drawback to wooden spoons is that they can retain the flavor of pungent foods, and if you're finding this happening, get another wooden spoon that looks slightly different to your original, and reserve one for sweet foods and one for savory. You could call this a minor shortcoming-but we prefer to think of it as an excuse to expand your collection.

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