Nonstick pans have their flaws—namely, they quickly and inevitably wear out—but they're still useful to have in the kitchen. No matter how good the seasoning on your cast iron skillet, it's still easier to cook eggs (and other sticky or delicate things) on a Teflon-coated pan. Nonstick is simply the most reliable way to make a perfectly smooth omelette, keep your over-easy eggs unbroken, and make pancakes with minimal mess.
The downside is that if you want a nonstick pan that actually works, you'll need to replace it fairly regularly, and that can get expensive (thus our recommendation to stick with the cheap ones). To save yourself from that task as long as possible, it pays to take proper care of your nonstick skillet, which means you also need a nonstick spatula. A good, gentle nonstick spatula is essential for keeping that Teflon coating in working condition for longer.
Unfortunately, the materials that make a spatula safe for nonstick pans also tend to make it a bad spatula. Many nonstick spatulas are made of nylon, with thick, inflexible flippers that are difficult to maneuver under delicate items. Plus, nylon spatulas aren't always as heat-resistant as manufacturers promise, and can start to melt or fray around the edges in a searing-hot pan. Eggs can sometimes stick to nylon like glue.
A better alternative to plastic, silicone spatulas have become increasingly common in recent years. Silicone is heat-resistant at much higher temperatures—around 600°F (315°C), depending on whom you ask, as opposed to a ceiling under 400°F (200°C) for most nylon spatulas—flexible, and as nonstick as Teflon itself, but it has its own issues. If not reinforced properly, silicone spatulas can be too floppy to scrape the bottom of a pan or pick up a burger. Silicone can also crack, and it may retain odors to a greater degree than nylon.
Still, there are some great nonstick spatulas out there. To find out which are the best—thin and flexible enough to slide under a fried egg, but strong enough to lift a half-pound burger—I read reviews from Cook's Illustrated and The Sweethome, sorted through Amazon ratings, and ended up testing six different nonstick spatulas.
One point of clarification: This review covers only the type of spatula, often called a "turner," that ends in a flat flipper sticking out from the handle, meant for sliding under and turning foods. It serves a purpose similar to that of a metal fish spatula, though it's less flexible. I did not test the "scraper" style of spatula, which generally has a flattish, oblong head made of rubber or silicone and is used for scraping down mixing bowls and the like—it's a very different tool, with a different set of uses.
Before I get to the testing process, here are my top picks.
The misleadingly named Silicone Cookie Spatula from OXO is actually a great all-around tool. Its flipper is silicone-coated steel, so it's strong, but still sharp-edged and flexible. The spatula is on the small side, but I found that its size actually made it easier to manipulate in a crowded pan. Plus, if you're like me and keep a nonstick spatula around only for limited purposes—cooking eggs and the like—you may never feel the need for anything larger. If you do want a larger size for, say, flipping pancakes, the "small" version of OXO's Silicone Flexible Turner is plenty big, and its construction is identical to that of the cookie spatula.
The GIR Mini Flipper is another great silicone spatula, with a flipper that's sturdy but still has a relatively thin edge. The handle is longer than the one on the OXO, which makes it a better choice for cooking in larger, deeper nonstick pans. It's a bit thicker than the OXO, and, unlike that spatula, it's made of one solid piece of silicone with a fiberglass core, so there are no seams or crevices for food to get lodged in. Those details make it a sturdier tool for stirring stews or scraping the bottom of a pan, and potentially a better choice for someone who plans to use their nonstick spatula frequently for a wide variety of tasks.
In the process of my research, I ended up ruling out spatulas made of nylon or any other type of plastic—they just don't hold up as well as silicone under high (or even moderately high) temperatures. I decided this after coming across one Amazon review after another featuring pictures of warped, melted nylon spatulas, and after reading the results of Cook's Illustrated's testing, which described every non-silicone spatula under consideration melting at around 350°F (177°C). There are enough silicone spatulas on the market that it didn't seem worth testing anything else. That said, silicone is not indestructible: It can still crack or wear out, especially when wrapped around thin pieces of metal. So I looked for spatulas with thick if not seamless coatings, and tried flexing them back and forth to look for weak spots.
Thinness Versus Strength
Nonstick spatulas will never be as thin as the best metal spatulas, but a good nonstick spatula should still offer some degree of precision and maneuverability. It should have a tapered edge thin enough to slip under delicate things, like crepes or fish fillets, without damaging them or shoving them around the pan. And it should be flexible enough to curve so it can slide under an egg frying in a crowded pan, without disturbing the other eggs around it. To test this, I used each spatula to cook over-easy eggs, paying attention to how easy or difficult it was to maneuver the spatula under the egg and flip it without breaking the yolk.
On the other hand, a silicone spatula that's too thin, or that lacks a strong enough core to reinforce it, turns floppy and useless when you're lifting heavy foods or scraping the bottom of a pan. So I also used each spatula to cook a half-pound burger, flipping frequently, to see whether it could hold a hefty patty without letting it slide off.
Ease of Cleaning
Finally, a silicone spatula should be easy to clean. Ideally, it will have minimal crevices in which food bits can hide, and it shouldn't retain stains or odors. To test this, I let each spatula sit for a few minutes in a pan of simmering yellow curry (heavy on the garlic), washed it, and checked it for any lingering scents or yellow stains.
The Best Overall
For its thin flipper and overall ease of use, the OXO Silicone Cookie Spatula was my favorite nonstick spatula. The flipper is small and squarish, made from a flat piece of steel coated in silicone, which gives it extra strength without making it too thick. It also tapers to a razor-thin edge on all sides, which helped it slide effortlessly under fried eggs in my tests, while other, blunter spatulas just pushed them around the pan. These blunter spatulas tend to be reinforced by thinner pieces of steel, or steel that reaches only halfway through the flipper, and require thicker silicone for strength as a result.
The OXO spatula manages to reach the perfect balance. It was thin enough to flip eggs better than any other spatula I tested, yet strong enough to easily lift a half-pound burger. By contrast, the weakest spatula I tried, a silicone-coated fish spatula that was weirdly floppy all the way through the handle, could barely pick up an egg but was still thicker than the OXO. And, though the OXO's flipper is relatively small, a big burger still rested easily on its flat surface, but tended to tumble off the more wedge-shaped GIR spatula.
I liked the fairly small size of the OXO because it felt easier to manipulate in a small or crowded pan. The OXO Silicone Flexible Turner, which has a longer, wider flipper, felt more awkward when I tried to squeeze it between two eggs. But if you have a large nonstick pan and use it mostly to make big things, like pancakes and omelettes, you may prefer the coverage of the larger OXO, which is almost as thin and just as sturdy as the cookie spatula.
One potential disadvantage of the OXO is that the flipper and the grip are covered in two separate pieces of silicone, with a metal length of handle in between. This opens up the possibility of food getting stuck in the crevice where silicone meets metal, though I didn't notice any issues over the several times I used and washed this spatula. The silicone did retain a garlic smell after washing, but then again, so did all the other spatulas. I washed them all by hand, and the hot water from a dishwasher might do a better job.
Because the silicone around the flipper is thinner than on some other spatulas, it's also slightly more vulnerable to cracking; a few Amazon reviews show evidence that it might. But the Amazon reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and OXO has a great lifetime product guarantee that should allow you to replace a cracked spatula. Even without that guarantee, it wouldn't be a huge loss, since the spatula costs only about $12.
Sturdier, but Less Manipulable
If you use nonstick pans for everything, not just things like eggs, you might be better off with the GIR Mini Flipper. The GIR is an attractive spatula that feels a bit sturdier than the OXO, and its longer handle makes it better for use in larger, deeper pans. But, since it's not quite as good at slipping under eggs, it's a better choice for people who do less delicate work with their spatulas—those who do more stirring and sautéing than careful flipping.
The flipper on the GIR is beveled to a nice, sharp edge, and the angled end makes it easier to maneuver under a frying egg. But it quickly thickens toward the base of the flipper, which makes it harder to get all the way under anything. It still does a better job than some of the other spatulas I tested, which had blunter edges and struggled to slip under the egg at all. But it's something to keep in mind when deciding between the OXO and the GIR.
The GIR's flipper was sturdy enough to easily hold a half-pound burger, but the fiberglass reinforcing core runs only halfway through it, leaving the front end pure silicone. As a result, the flipper has to be wedge-shaped—much thicker at the base than at the edge—and this made it easier for burgers to slip off. Again, the effect was much worse in some others I tried, like the ultra-floppy fish spatula, but it still made the GIR a little clumsier than the OXO.
On the other hand, I liked that the longer handle on the GIR (11 inches, as opposed to the OXO's nine) kept my hand farther away from the edge of the pan. Apart from the advantage it provides when you're using a large or deep nonstick pan, it's just more comfortable. That handle makes this spatula a better all-purpose utensil than the OXO, since it's easier to use for things like stirring a deep pot of stew or sautéing a tall pile of greens.
I also liked the fact that the GIR is a single, seamless piece of fiberglass coated in thick silicone. It feels strong; the silicone is thick enough over most of the spatula that it doesn't seem likely to crack, and the fiberglass core is flexible but resilient. (The latter was not the case for another, similar-looking spatula I tested, with a metal core that stayed in whatever shape you bent it.) GIR also says that the fiberglass doesn't heat up as easily as metal, so the handle doesn't get so hot to the touch.
The seamless construction also means no crevices for food to get stuck in, which makes cleaning the GIR relatively effortless. Again, it retained some garlic smell, but that was true of every spatula I tried. As for staining, the effect might depend on what color you get: GIR makes the Mini Flipper in seven different shades of silicone, and though my red version didn't show any stains, I can't guarantee that your white spatula will stay white.
One more caveat: The GIR Mini Flipper, as its name might indicate, is on the small side. The flipper is about 2.5 inches in width, the same as the OXO cookie spatula. I found this size easier to maneuver and less awkward to use in a crowded pan than some of the larger spatulas I tested. However, if you want something wider for handling pancakes and omelettes, GIR also offers two larger sizes, though I didn't test them. Keep in mind that these models are longer as well as wider, which may make them slightly clumsier to use.