I can't stand it when I reach for a nice big balloon whisk and start beating away only to find out that the wires are too stiff to get decent whipping action and that I might as well be trying to make my meringue with a fork. For me, the ideal whisk needs to combine a few features. Let me break them down.
For the most common tasks—making a meringue, whipping cream, emulsifying a vinaigrette—the goal is to take the simple motion of your arm and amplify it to create as much movement as possible inside the whisking bowl. This is accomplished first by having many wire loops. A whisk with a dozen wires is twice as efficient at breaking up liquids, dispersing solids, and incorporating air as a whisk with only six wires.
Similarly, maximizing the movement of each individual wire is a goal. A whisk that's too stiff won't have much more movement in the wire beyond what you give it yourself. Flexible wires, on the other hand, build up potential like a spring when pressed against the side of the bowl while whisking. That potential gets released and the wires flip out, going many times faster than your hand could get them to move on their own.
With a good whisk, each of the wires should be a different size (so rather than meeting in a point at the end of the balloon, the wires should remain separate). Their size needs to be different enough that their movement is not constricted by running into each other. Enough criteria yet? Well when it comes to whisks, I take no risks.
Then again, the wires need to be closely spaced and at least stiff enough that you can use your whisk to double as a masher. I use mine to make guacamole in the bowl, or to break up cooked potatoes in my soup to thicken the broth when I want a more rustic texture than a blender will give me. When baking, there's nothing better than the end of the whisk to break up clumps of brown sugar as you try to incorporate it with your other dry ingredients.
Is it a lot to ask for in a whisk? How about I add that it must be light enough that I can whip my egg whites for five minutes without my arm tiring out? And on top of that, I'd also like a comfortable handle that is grippy enough that I don't drop the whisk when my hand is a little wet or slick with olive oil when making large batches of vinaigrette.
So does any whisk in the real world live up to these expectations? Only one that I know of. It's the Stainless Steel Whisk from OXO Good Grips ($9.99). Light, whippy, and grippy, with a full 20 wires, it comes in a 9-inch size great for easy tasks like a few eggs for an omelet or a couple servings of whipped cream, and an 11-inch, larger-diameter size for heavy-duty whipping, like when you finally decide to throw that soufflé party you've always dreamed of.
A few tips to help you be fitter, happier, and more productive:
- Use the right-sized bowl. Most of the time, this means bigger than you think. The bigger the bowl, the more room to move, and the faster your food will whip up. Try it: whip a half cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks in a small bowl, then try the same thing in a large bowl, and see how much faster it aerates
- Get a grip. For small tasks (things that only require a minute or two of whisking), hold the whisk like you'd hold a pencil, using your wrist to whip it around. For larger, longer tasks, hold the whisk like the handle bar of a bike, using both your wrist and your arm to maximize movement
- Double fist it. Don't leave your bowl sitting on the counter or even just sitting still in your hand. Shake and move the bowl the entire time you're whisking—you'll double the motion you get inside, cutting your whisking time by half
- When whisking eggs, poke then whisk. Use the tip of the whisk to poke the egg yolks until they pop, then whisk away. It'll all come together much faster in the end