The word "spatula" describes a variety of very different kitchen utensils. It might mean the rubber kind of spatula that's used for mixing batters and scraping bowls, or it might refer to a hefty, long-handled grill spatula. There are wood spatulas and plastic spatulas and metal spatulas, spatulas that are slotted and spatulas that aren't, and all can be useful for different things. Any well-equipped kitchen will probably have several types. But if you have to get just one spatula, the most versatile, comfortable option for almost anything but baking is the one with the most specific name: the fish spatula, sometimes also called a slotted offset spatula, and not used for fish alone.
The fish spatula is an essential part of every chef's tool kit, and useful for all kinds of everyday cooking tasks. It has a short handle, a metal flipper with large slots cut into it, and an angled front edge with a bladelike bevel, making it more lightweight and easier to manipulate than the longer spatulas often found in home kitchens. That bladelike edge and thin metal flipper make it the best spatula for sliding under pieces of food without accidentally jamming into them; if a piece of chicken or fish is sticking slightly to the pan, these features can make all the difference between a clean flip and a shredded chunk of protein. A good fish spatula is just as adept at handling half-pound burgers or neatly flipping pancakes as it is at turning fragile fish fillets. It is, for the most part, one of those wonderful and inexpensive yet endlessly helpful kitchen tools—you can get a great one for around $20.
But you can just as easily spend the same amount (or more) on a not-so-great one. So, to sift out the bad from the good, I studied reviews from sources like Cook's Illustrated and The Sweethome, combed through products on Amazon, and eventually narrowed it down to a list of eight different fish spatulas to test. I'll get into the details of that testing shortly, but first, here's what came out on top:
The Victorinox Chef's Slotted Fish Turner is an all-around great spatula for a little over $20. The curve of the flipper and the angle of its front edge are just right for slipping under a delicate piece of fish or scraping the bottom of a pan. It's lightweight, flexible, and easy to control, but still strong enough to lift a half-pound burger. The wood handle is comfortable, though it's also the only downside—it means this spatula is not dishwasher-safe.
A dishwasher-safe alternative, which happens to be less expensive than the Victorinox but also slightly flimsier, is the Wüsthof Pro Slotted Fish Spatula. At about $15, it's one of the least expensive spatulas I tried, and it still does a fine job of flipping and scraping, even in a crowded pan. The flipper flares a little wider than the one on the Victorinox, so lifting things like pancakes is a bit less of a balancing act. But the Wüsthof flipper is also more flexible than the Victorinox one, so, while it could still hold a hefty burger, the perch felt more precarious.
The angled end of a fish spatula means it's one of the few kitchen tools out there that is not ambidextrous. And unfortunately, a lot of manufacturers, including the two above, don't make a left-handed version of their spatula. So if you're a lefty, go for the LamsonSharp Chef's Slotted Turner. It's a bit more expensive than the Victorinox (the lefty version is currently around $23, while the righty is around $30), and the flipper doesn't curve as much, which makes it trickier to slide under things. But overall, it's quite comparable to my favorite spatula, and you can get it with either a walnut handle or a dishwasher-safe polyoxymethylene (POM) handle. (It also gets a stamp of approval from Serious Eats' resident lefty, Daniel.)
Flexibility and Strength
The flipper of a fish spatula should be thin and flexible, so that it slips smoothly under even delicate items and is easy to maneuver around a crowded pan. If it's too stiff, it can be hard to move the short handle (and your knuckles) away from the hot edge of the pan, or to slide the blade under a fillet at an angle that won't disturb its neighbor. Wide slots in the flipper help with flexibility, and also allow oil to drain off quickly. But the spatula shouldn't be too flexible: It still needs to be sturdy enough to lift a big burger or steak without buckling or sagging. The last thing you want is your food sliding off it onto the floor.
The shape of the spatula is important, and even small differences can make a big impact. The flipper of a good fish spatula should angle upward near the edge, enough that it can squeeze into tight spaces and cradle a piece of food securely. The beveled blade edge should slip easily under fragile fish skin or fluffy pancakes, and it should efficiently scrape every stuck-on bit from the edges of the pan. A flipper without enough curve or enough of a bevel on the end can be difficult to manipulate. Too flat, and foods roll off easily, while your hand is forced too close to the hot pan. Too blunt, and you end up pushing into foods, rather than sliding under them.
The size and shape of the handle are also important. If the handle is too long or too heavy or too chunky, it can give you less control, or, at the very least, be a little more uncomfortable to hold. A good handle is lightweight but balanced, and close enough to the flipper to allow you to work with precision.
Most fish spatulas have stainless steel flippers, but a handful of manufacturers make a nylon version, for use on nonstick pans. I tested one of these, but it confirmed my suspicions: A plastic spatula can't be made thin enough to function well as a fish spatula. It has almost no flexibility, and is too thick to slide under delicate items, like tilapia fillets, without damaging them. For a fish spatula to do what it's supposed to do, it needs to be stainless steel. The corollary, of course, is that metal spatulas are not a good choice for most nonstick cookware, given their propensity to scratch the pan's coating. A plastic spatula is a better bet when cooking with nonstick, and, since a nonstick surface allows food to slide around more easily anyway, the spatula's thicker construction will be less of a problem.
The material of the handle may also matter if you have a dishwasher. Spatulas with wood handles aren't dishwasher-safe, so, if you're averse to the idea of hand-washing anything, go for one with a poly handle. That said, it's pretty quick and painless to hand-wash a spatula, and some may prefer the feel and grip of a wood handle (not to mention the fact that it won't melt if left in contact with the edge of a hot pan).
An All-Around Great Spatula
I put all eight spatulas through three rounds of testing. First, I tested how each handled the potentially messy process of flipping blueberry pancakes in a crowded pan. Then I cooked tilapia fillets, looking to see how gently each spatula lifted and turned the flaky fish. Finally, I cooked half-pound burgers to test the strength of each flipper, as well as how it handled scraping drippings from the cast iron pan. In every test, the Victorinox Chef's Slotted Fish Turner felt the most comfortable and precise to use.
The flipper has just the right amount of curve: It maneuvered easily in the narrow gap between two pancakes, and it cradled a tilapia fillet gently and securely. It also had the most sharply angled edge, which turned out to be a good thing—those that curved less felt clumsier to use. (With those, I sometimes had to slide the spatula under the tilapia at such a low angle that my fingers felt at risk of grazing the pan.)
Flexibility might have helped some of those flatter spatulas feel easier to use, but the Victorinox came out on top there, too. The flipper has a nice spring to it and curves easily under pressure, bending to just the right angle for flipping items in a crowded pan or sliding under a wide pancake. Other, stiffer spatulas immediately felt awkward to use next to the Victorinox: With little or no give, they shoved their way under a pancake rather than sliding, and again brought my hand dangerously close to the heat.
But, for all its spring, the Victorinox still lifted a half-pound burger easily. It didn't droop or wobble under the weight, the way a couple of the weakest spatulas I tried did, and the burger never felt at risk of falling off on the journey from pan to plate. The beveled, angled blade on the flipper is also sharp and strong: It cut easily through a pancake and efficiently scraped up stuck-on bits from the bottom of the pan. In comparison, a few other spatulas felt dull. The worst had a slightly U-shaped blade, which made it difficult to scrape flush against the pan.
The walnut handle on the Victorinox does mean that it's not dishwasher-safe, but I think the overall quality outweighs this small downside. Plus, I found the thick poly handles on a couple of the spatulas I tested too chunky and heavy to hold comfortably. The wood handle on the Victorinox is light, well-balanced, and easy to grip. It feels, as the best fish spatulas do, like a natural extension of your hand. At around $20, it's an affordable and invaluable addition to any kitchen.
Cheap and Dishwasher-Safe
If you're really against wood handles, or washing things by hand, consider the Wüsthof Pro Slotted Fish Spatula. With a price tag of around $15, it also happens to be less expensive than the Victorinox, though, in the grand scheme of things, five bucks is probably not a huge difference for most people.
Overall, this Wüsthof is a good spatula. The Pro line is Wüsthof's set of utensils designed for outfitting commercial kitchens, and is meant to be both affordable and durable. This means the Pro fish spatula is not as high-quality as the $45 Wüsthof Gourmet Offset Slotted Spatula, but it's not as far off as the price difference would suggest (and $45 is more than you need to spend to get a good spatula).
The flipper on the Wüsthof is a bit wider than that of the Victorinox or any other spatula that I tested, and this felt like an advantage when trying to pick up large pancakes or burgers. It doesn't angle as much as the Victorinox, but a bit more flexibility made up for this, at least in terms of maneuverability. Because the springy flipper yields so easily to pressure, it was easy to work the Wüsthof in and out of tight situations, and to keep my hand well away from the pan.
On the flip side, the Wüsthof Pro could feel a little too flexible at times. It was able to pick up a half-pound burger without dropping it, but it seemed wobbly under such a heavy load. Transferring the burger from pan to plate, I sensed a somewhat greater risk that the burger might just bounce off the spatula.
The other slight downside to the Wüsthof is that the edge of the flipper is not beveled, so it's not as sharp. It still did a fine job scraping the bottom of a pan and sliding under pancakes, but it's just a hair clumsier than the keen, beveled Victorinox or some of the other spatulas I tested.
But the real reason to get the Wüsthof, besides maybe the price, is if you're set on having something you can throw in the dishwasher. The durable poly handle makes this spatula easy to clean, and, though it's larger than the light wooden handle on the Victorinox, it has a comfortable ergonomic shape and rough exterior that's easy to grip. The spatulas I tested with plastic handles more similar in shape to the Victorinox's tended to get slippery, and they happened to be some of the least flexible I tried. One other spatula with a large poly handle was just too chunky and uncomfortable to hold.
If you're left-handed, the bad news is that you won't be able to use most of the fish spatulas on the market, including the Victorinox and the Wüsthof. The angled ends of their flippers make them strictly right-handed, and these companies don't offer lefty alternatives. The good news is that the LamsonSharp Chef's Slotted Turner comes in a left-handed version that's actually less expensive (at least for now) than its right-handed counterpart. At $23, it costs just a little more than the Victorinox, while the right-handed version is $30.
The Lamson is also very similar to the Victorinox. It's light and well-balanced with great flexibility, but it's still strong enough to feel sturdy underneath the weight of a burger. The beveled edge on the end is nice and sharp, and angled well for scraping the bottom of a pan. The biggest difference between the two is that the Lamson, while still curved, is noticeably flatter than the Victorinox. I liked the bigger curve, which made it feel easier to get in between two pancakes and to keep my hand safely away from the pan. For that, and the price, the Victorinox won out overall.
One nice thing about the Lamson is that it comes in a wood-handled version as well as the dishwasher-safe POM-handled version. I like the grip on the wood handle and don't own a dishwasher, so I might go for that one, but others may prefer synthetic. Having the option of either is especially great since, if you're a lefty, the Lamson is quite possibly the only good choice out there.