A kitchen utensil is a small hand held tool used for food preparation. Common kitchen tasks include cutting food items to size, heating food on an open fire or on a stove, baking, grinding, mixing, blending, and measuring; different utensils are made for each task. A general purpose utensil such as a chef's knife may be used for a variety of foods; other kitchen utensils are highly specialized and may be used only in connection with preparation of a particular type of food, such as an egg separator or an apple corer. Some specialized utensils are used when an operation is to be repeated many times, or when the cook has limited dexterity or mobility. The number of utensils in a household kitchen varies with time and the style of cooking.
A cooking utensil is a utensil for cooking. Utensils may be categorized by use with terms derived from the word "ware": kitchenware, wares for the kitchen; ovenware and bakeware, kitchen utensils that are for use inside ovens and for baking; cookware, merchandise used for cooking; and so forth.
A partially overlapping category of tools is that of eating utensils, which are tools used for eating (c.f. the more general category of tableware). Some utensils are both kitchen utensils and eating utensils. Cutlery (i.e. knives and other cutting implements) can be used for both food preparation in a kitchen and as eating utensils when dining. Other cutlery such as forks and spoons are both kitchen and eating utensils.
Other names used for various types of kitchen utensils, although not strictly denoting a utensil that is specific to the kitchen, are according to the materials they are made of, again using the "-ware" suffix, rather than their functions: earthenware, utensils made of clay; silverware, utensils (both kitchen and dining) made of silver; glassware, utensils (both kitchen and dining) made of glass; and so forth. These latter categorizations include utensils — made of glass, silver, clay, and so forth — that are not necessarily kitchen utensils.
Benjamin Thompson noted at the start of the 19th century that kitchen utensils were commonly made of copper, with various efforts made to prevent the copper from reacting with food (particularly its acidic contents) at the temperatures used for cooking, including tinning, enamelling, and varnishing. He observed that iron had been used as a substitute, and that some utensils were made of earthenware. By the turn of the 20th century, Maria Parloa noted that kitchen utensils were made of (tinned or enamelled) iron and steel, copper, nickel, silver, tin, clay, earthenware, and aluminium. The latter, aluminium, became a popular material for kitchen utensils in the 20th century.
Copper has good thermal conductivity and copper utensils are both durable and attractive in appearance. However, they are also comparatively heavier than utensils made of other materials, require scrupulous cleaning to remove poisonous tarnish compounds, and are not suitable for acidic foods.Copper pots are lined with tin to prevent discoloration or altering the taste of food. The tin lining must be periodically restored, and protected from overheating.
See also: Cast-iron cookware
Iron is more prone to rusting than (tinned) copper. Cast iron kitchen utensils, in particular, are however less prone to rust if, instead of being scoured to a shine after use, they are simply washed with detergent and water and wiped clean with a cloth, allowing the utensil to form a coat of (already corroded iron and other) material that then acts to prevent further corrosion (a process known as seasoning). Furthermore, if an iron utensil is solely used for frying or cooking with fat or oil, corrosion can be reduced by never heating water with it, never using it to cook with water, and when washing it with water to dry it immediately afterwards, removing all water. Since oil and water are immiscible, since oils and fats are more covalent compounds, and since it is ionic compounds such as water that promote corrosion, eliminating as much contact with water reduces corrosion. For some iron kitchen utensils, water is a particular problem, since it is very difficult to dry them fully. In particular, iron egg-beaters or ice cream freezers are tricky to dry, and the consequent rust if left wet will roughen them and possibly clog them completely. When storing iron utensils for long periods, van Rensselaer recommended coating them in non-salted (since salt is also an ionic compound) fat or paraffin.
Iron utensils have little problem with high cooking temperatures, are simple to clean as they become smooth with long use, are durable and comparatively strong (i.e. not as prone to breaking as, say, earthenware), and hold heat well. However, as noted, they rust comparatively easily.
Stainless steel finds many applications in the manufacture of kitchen utensils. Stainless steel is considerably less likely to rust in contact with water or food products, and so reduces the effort required to maintain utensils in clean useful condition. Cutting tools made with stainless steel maintain a usable edge while not presenting the risk of rust found with iron or other types of steel.
Earthenware and enamelware
Earthenware utensils suffer from brittleness when subjected to rapid large changes in temperature, as commonly occur in cooking, and the glazing of earthenware often contains lead, which is poisonous. Thompson noted that as a consequence of this the use of such glazed earthenware was prohibited by law in some countries from use in cooking, or even from use for storing acidic foods. Van Rensselaer proposed in 1919 that one test for lead content in earthenware was to let a beaten egg stand in the utensil for a few minutes and watch to see whether it became discoloured, which is a sign that lead might be present.
In addition to their problems with thermal shock, enamelware utensils require careful handling, as careful as for glassware, because they are prone to chipping. But enamel utensils are not affected by acidic foods, are durable, and are easily cleaned. However, they cannot be used with strong alkalis.]
Earthenware, porcelain, and pottery utensils can be used for both cooking and serving food, and so thereby save on washing-up of two separate sets of utensils. They are durable, and (van Rensselaer notes) "excellent for slow, even cooking in even heat, such as slow baking". However, they are comparatively unsuitable for cooking using a direct heat, such as a cooking over a flame.
James Frank Breazeale in 1918 opined that aluminium "is without doubt the best material for kitchen utensils", noting that it is "as far superior to enamelled ware as enamelled ware is to the old-time iron or tin". He qualified his recommendation for replacing worn out tin or enamelled utensils with aluminium ones by noting that "old-fashioned black iron frying pans and muffin rings, polished on the inside or worn smooth by long usage, are, however, superior to aluminium ones".
Aluminium's advantages over other materials for kitchen utensils is its good thermal conductivity (which is approximately an order of magnitude greater than that of steel), the fact that it is largely non-reactive with foodstuffs at low and high temperatures, its low toxicity, and the fact that its corrosion products are white and so (unlike the dark corrosion products of, say, iron) do not discolour food that they happen to be mixed into during cooking. However, its disadvantages are that it is easily discoloured, can be dissolved by acidic foods (to a comparatively small extent), and reacts to alkaline soaps if they are used for cleaning a utensil.
An exhibit of Israeli Defence Forces kitchen utensils at the Batey ha-Osef Museum in Tel Aviv.
In the European Union, the construction of kitchen utensils made of aluminium is determined by two European standards: EN 601 (Aluminium and aluminium alloys — Castings — Chemical composition of castings for use in contact with foodstuffs) and EN 602 (Aluminium and aluminium alloys — Wrought products — Chemical composition of semi-finished products used for the fabrication of articles for use in contact with foodstuffs).
A great feature of non-enameled ceramics is that clay does not come into a reaction with food, does not contain toxic substances, and it is safe for food use because it does not give off toxic substances when heated.
There are several types of ceramic utensils. Terracotta utensils, which are made of red clay and black ceramics. The clay utensils for preparing food can also be used in electric ovens, microwaves and stoves, we can also place them in fireplaces. It is not advised to put the clay utensil in the 220-250 temperature oven directly, because it will break. It also is not recommended to place the clay pot over an open fire. Clay utensils do not like sharp change in temperature. The dishes prepared in clay pots come to be particularly juicy and soft – this is due to the clay’s porous surface. Due to this porous nature of the surface the clay utensils inhale aroma and grease. The coffee made in clay coffee boilers is very aromatic, but such pots need special care. It is not advised to scrub the pots with metal scrubs, it is better to pour soda water in the pot and let it stay there and afterwards to wash the pot with warm water. The clay utensils must be kept in a dry place, so that they will not get damp.
Biodegradable plastic utensils made from bioplastic
Plastics can be readily formed by molding into a variety of shapes useful for kitchen utensils. Transparent plastic measuring cups allow ingredient levels to be easily visible, and are lighter and less fragile than glass measuring cups. Plastic handles added to utensils improve comfort and grip. While many plastics deform or decompose if heated, a few silicone products can be used in boiling water or in an oven for food preparation. Non-stick plastic coatings can be applied to frying pans; newer coatings avoid the issues with decomposition of plastics under strong heating.
Heat-resistant glass utensils can be used for baking or other cooking. Glass does not conduct heat as well as metal, and has the drawback of breaking easily if dropped. Transparent glass measuring cups allow ready measurement of liquid and dry ingredients.
"Labour-saving" utensils generating more labour
However, many of these utensils were expensive and not affordable by the majority of householders.Some people considered them unnecessary, too. James Frank Breazeale decried the explosion in patented "labour-saving" devices for the modern kitchen—promoted in exhibitions and advertised in "Household Guides" at the start of the 20th century—, saying that "the best way for the housewife to peel a potato, for example, is in the old-fashioned way, with a knife, and not with a patented potato peeler". Breazeale advocated simplicity over dishwashing machines "that would have done credit to a moderate sized hotel", and noted that the most useful kitchen utensils were "the simple little inexpensive conveniences that work themselves into every day use", giving examples, of utensils that were simple and cheap but indispensable once obtained and used, of a stiff brush for cleaning saucepans, a sink strainer to prevent drains from clogging, and an ordinary wooden spoon.
The "labour-saving" devices didn't necessarily save labour, either. While the advent of mass-produced standardized measuring instruments permitted even householders with little to no cooking skills to follow recipes and end up with the desired result and the advent of many utensils enabled "modern" cooking, on a stove or range rather than at floor level with a hearth, they also operated to raise expectations of what families would eat. So while food was easier to prepare and to cook, ordinary householders at the same time were expected to prepare and to cook more complex and harder-to-prepare meals on a regular basis. The labour-saving effect of the tools was cancelled out by the increased labour required for what came to be expected as the culinary norm in the average household.