Whether you're a crafter or a home cook, it often feels like there are so many tools you can purchase to help you get a job done. Which ones are really worth investing in? Our editors are here to help. From everyday essentials to more obscure must-haves that will take your practice to the next level, we're breaking it all down. Each week Tool of the Trade will highlight one must-have crafting or cooking item you need to know about.
Ask any chef what tools (besides knives!) they can't live without, and you might be surprised just how many will rhapsodize about the wonders of the offset spatula. Why is such an exquisitely simple—and very affordable—utensil so essential, and just what is it used for? The name doesn't give much of a clue.
What Is It?
The offset spatula doesn't look very impressive—it's simply a thin, flexible, rounded metal blade with an angled handle that comes in different sizes. With that being said, it's important to note that this handy tool is so versatile and does so many tasks so well.
How Is It Used?
An offset spatula allows you to spread everything from frosting to hummus to peanut butter in a smooth, even layer. What it's best known for is frosting and decorating cakes; creating fanciful swoops and swirls, or forming a perfectly smooth, flat surface ready to be decorated. But there are many other things an offset spatula excels at including smoothing out the top to achieve even baking after you've poured the batter for cakes, quick breads, brownies or cheesecakes into the pan. It's also the best tool for spreading perfect layers of peanut butter, jam, butter, hummus, cream cheese, and all other manner of topping on toast and sandwiches.
When you need to get the layers of filling just right for cinnamon rolls and jelly rolls, use an offset spatula. The thin, delicate cookie known as a tuile requires the light touch of an offset spatula to spread the batter on the pan before baking, and to lift the finished tuiles off the pan to shape and cool. Another everyday baking task the offset spatula excels at? Loosening cakes, cheesecakes, and muffins from their pans after baking; the blade is thin, flexible, and blunt enough to loosen without damaging the cake or the pan. It's also our preferred tool for transferring small, delicate baked goods like petit fours, crumbly shortbread, madeleines, Florentines (aka, lace cookies), and pizzelles from one pan or rack to another without manhandling them. The offset spatula is also perfect for flipping food in pans, like grilled cheese or chicken cutlets.
Why We Love It
An offset spatula can do anything a butter knife or a flat spatula can do—but better. The angled handle keeps your knuckles out of the food, and the blunt, flexible blade is dexterous enough to handle all kinds of jobs that bulkier, more expensive spatulas and gadgets can't do. Even better, offset spatulas are ultra-affordable, with small ones starting at less than $5.
Our Editor's Pick
Offset spatulas come in several different sizes, though we mostly categorize them as either "small" (4.5 to 6-inch blade), "medium" (7 to 8-inch blade), and "large" (9 to 10-inch blade). If you do a lot of cake decorating, you will find all three sizes to be useful for different kinds of cakes. However, our go-to size, and by far the most versatile, is the small offset spatula. Our pick is the most commonly available, and the most affordable: the Ateco 4.5-inch offset spatula with a stainless steel blade and wooden handle.