This entry describes the kind of spatulas used as food “scrapers.” For other meanings of the word “spatula”, see the main entry on spatulas.
Lumped in with this entry are the kind of scraping spatulas made from wood.
A rubber spatula has a handle to hold it with, and a (usually) mostly rectangular, flat end attached sometimes referred to as the “blade” for lack of a better word (“scrapy bit” doesn’t always surviving an editor’s pen.) The handle may be made of metal, wood or rubber: the business end of it may be made from rubber, plastic or silicone. Usually, the more flexible they are, the better.
They are used for scraping and (in a pinch) stirring. They are good for cleaning out jars of things such as mayonnaise and peanut butter (though one with a narrow blade will probably fit and work better than the regular-sized ones.) They help you to make sure you have got all of a semi-liquid food item out of a dish or bowl (for instance, when you are transferring a cake batter from a mixing bowl to the baking pan.) They won’t scratch the surfaces of bowls, dishes and pans.
One bottom corner of the blade may be flat (for getting into corners of square cooking vessels such as cake pans); the other may be rounded, which is good for scraping bowls. Some are slightly rounded on both bottom corners.
Don’t expect rubber spatulas to last forever; treat them as an item you’ll replace every few years. However, though time has yet to weigh in on the new silicon ones (as of 2006), fans say that they are already outliving the rubber-bladed ones which had a definite life-span. Most rubber ones split or end up with melted tips at one point, so that they’re not useful. They get a melted edge when in a moment of unguarded optimism you grab one to scrape something out of a hot pot.
Not all rubber and plastic ones are overly heat proof. Unless you know for sure it’s heat resistant, don’t use a rubber spatula for stirring food while it’s cooking. Newer ones may be heat-safe from 175 to 290 C (350 to 550 F), which is much better than the ones still hanging around unused in drawers from the 1970s and 1980s. Some brands, such as Le Creuset (made of “medical grade silicone”), say they are even good up to 425 C (800 F.) Still, you may not wish to push your luck and let it rest in a frying pan. Of course, hardly any of them actually have printed right on them what temperature they are good up to, so you’re stuffed if someone else in your house opened the packaging and threw it away.
Ideally, when buying one, aim for one that is heat resistant to the higher end of the range. Don’t take it for granted that they all have the same heat resistance.
Some sauces (such as tomato sauce) or even tinned condensed vegetable soup can stain white plastic tipped spatulas, leaving them kind of orange. However, with repeated use, and repeated trips through a dishwasher, the stain often disappears over time.
There are one-piece and two-piece ones — the two-piece ones have the handle is inserted into the plastic blade. Sometimes, if the plastic blade portion is clear on yours, you may see bits of grime building up inside the well where the handle plugs into the blade. Some models let you pull the handle out to clean it. For others, a run through a very hot dishwasher should kill off most harmful things. If the thought still bothers you, look for one-piece spatulas — some of the silicone ones are now one-piece.
Wooden ones are good for pushing stuff around in very hot frying pans, and won’t scrape your non-stick surfaces. They also stain easily.
Never, ever, stick a rubber spatula in the blender while the blade in the blender is running. You will end up with a chewed-looking spatula and bits of rubber in your food. (Also never put a wooden spatula in a running blender, either, for similar reasons.)