Basting brushes are brushes uniquely designed for basting liquids such as oils, marinades, sauces, glazes, meat juices, etc. onto items while they are cooking.
As such, the design of basting brushes tries to meet two challenges: holding enough of the liquid item per trip from the sauce bowl to the item that is being basted, and, keeping the cook’s hand far enough from the heat source to protect the hand, while still close enough to have fine control over the basting.
Manufacturer’s certified heat resistance will vary from about 230 C to 315 C (450 F to 600 F).
Most modern basting brushes can be assumed to be dishwasher safe; check packaging before purchasing to be sure.
The form of bristles and their placement on basting brushes are designed to hold liquids “during transport” while the brush is being lifted from the source of the liquid to what is being basted. The contours and even the gaps between the brushes are made with an eye to helping hold liquids better.
Typical materials for the bristles include boar’s hair, nylon and silicone. Cooks Illustrated, for what it’s worth, prefers silicone bristles: “we found [silicone bristles] work better and are more durable than nylon or boar’s hair. Manufacturers seem to agree, as there are now many more models featuring silicone bristles on the market.” Bromberg, Miye. Barbecue Basting Brushes. Cooks Illustrated. 1 May 2016. Accessed January 2020 at https://www.cooksillustrated.com/articles/211-barbecue-basting-brushes Silicone bristles won’t fray or clump.
Cooks Illustrated said that they found that ideally bristles would be at least 4 cm (1 ½ inches) long.
To determine how much sauce a brush can hold, just weigh it before and after it has sauce on it:
“To get a sense of how much barbecue sauce the brushes could hold, we weighed them dry, plunged them into a bowl of barbecue sauce, and then weighed them again; we did this three times with each brush and averaged the results.” Bromberg, Miye. Barbecue Basting Brushes.
People who have attempted to use bristled pastry brushes for basting complain that oftentimes the bristles shed leaving people to pick them out of their food at the table.
Cooks Illustrated likes a handle length of about 30 cm (12 inches), which they felt maintained control while still keeping hands far enough away from heat. Still, some longer ones are designed for barbeques and grills, to keep hands away from large, open sources of heat.
Note that it’s not just the bristles that need to be heat resistant; the handles do, too. Some plastic handles could melt; metal handles could get overly hot and burn the cook’s hand.
Some but not all handles have hooks or some feature at their end for hanging when not in use.
Aficionados say that it is also important to consider the width of the brush head. The width can help determine how much of the basting liquid the brush helps in each “trip.” Too narrow, and a brush could take too many extra trips; too wide, and it could be awkward to get the brush into spaces that need basting.
Some basting brushes have angled heads.
Basting brush safety
Don’t use the same brush that you used to put a sauce on raw meat that you do to baste meat in the process of being cooked. That will cause contamination of the cooked meat. You need to either get two brushes, or apply the sauce onto the raw meat with the back of a spoon or with your hands, saving the clean brush for use during cooking.