The surprisingly versatile utensil that can handle (almost) anything.
How We Tested
Compact spatulas—often marketed as cookie spatulas—are bigger than jar scrapers but smaller than standard spatulas. They’re made from a variety of materials, including plastic, silicone, and stainless steel, and can be narrow and elongated or short and squat—but they’re all designed to deftly navigate tight spaces such as crowded baking pans and cookie sheets.
Our previous winner, the OXO Good Grips Cookie Spatula, earned high marks because it easily slid under cookies. Since we last tested, though, we realized that these utensils were useful not only for desserts but also in frying pans. So with new models available, we retested, setting out to find a compact spatula that could handle baked goods as well as skillet fare. We selected seven models priced from $6.77 to $14.44, including our former winner. We tested them on cookies and brownies; although our recipes recommend an aluminum foil sling for easy brownie removal, we realize that many people slice them in the pan. And because people also use these small spatulas when cooking foods in skillets, we used them to make over-easy eggs and pancakes. In each task, we compared them with our winning metal spatula, the Wüsthof Gourmet Slotted Turner/Fish Spatula.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that some compact spatulas excelled where our winning metal spatula struggled—namely, desserts—and that they were great for some skillet tasks. Most of the compact spatulas had a fairly rigid head with minimal “bend,” which allowed us to scrape (and eat) every bit of brownie crust from the pan—a definite plus. The one model with a more flexible head couldn’t remove those brownie remnants. But the most crucial factors in a great compact spatula were material, head dimensions, and handle length.
Plastic and silicone spatulas outperformed metal ones for two reasons: First, plastic and silicone gripped cookies more securely, so we could easily transfer them from baking sheet to cooling rack with no slipping or sliding. With the metal spatulas, all made of stainless steel, we could easily lift cookies but found that they frequently slid around on the spatula heads—and sometimes fell off altogether.
Metal spatulas were generally slicker than plastic and silicone ones—we could tell by just running our hands over them—so it made sense that the cookies slipped off them more readily. But we also learned from our science editor that the fat from the cookies creates a certain lubricity, or slipperiness, on the surface of the spatula. That fat adheres well to plastic and silicone materials because they’re hydrophobic—they repel water but are typically drawn to fat. Metal, however, is hydrophilic—more attracted to water than to fat—and will actually repel the oil, which in our case led to slippery spatulas. We also preferred plastic and silicone spatulas for use in nonstick skillets because they effortlessly slid under eggs and pancakes, while the metal spatulas didn’t slide as smoothly across the skillets’ surfaces.
Spatula head size was another critical factor. We first looked at the length of each spatula’s head. The two spatulas with the shortest heads, each around 2 inches long, couldn’t fully support eggs and pancakes during flipping. Too much length wasn’t good, either; our longest spatula head, at 5 inches, felt unwieldy during brownie removal. Most spatula heads were a satisfactory 3 to 3.5 inches long, which easily held most foods while still being maneuverable in tight spaces.
Spatula head width posed a greater problem, as most of the spatulas we tested were too wide to be truly all-purpose. The ideal width was around 2 inches—narrow enough to squeeze between cookies on a baking sheet and to remove whole, intact brownies from a tightly packed pan without agitating neighboring ones. By comparison, our standard-size Wüsthof Gourmet Slotted Turner/Fish Spatula—about 3 inches wide—felt too big for both cookies and brownies. Smaller was better, but one model was too narrow: This spatula’s head was an ideal 2 inches wide, but it narrowed at the handle and had slanted sides that further decreased its usable surface area, leaving us only about an inch of width to work with; cookies teetered precariously on this narrow strip.
Finally, spatula handles ranged in thickness from 1.4 millimeters to 25.5 millimeters. We preferred a rounded handle that was 16 millimeters or thicker, positioned about 5 inches or farther from the spatula’s front edge. We had to be careful while making eggs and pancakes using shorter spatulas, as our hands were much closer to the pan. In one case this resulted in accidental (and painful) contact with the pan’s edge. Most spatula handles were an acceptable length and were comfortable to hold, but one metal handle was downright awful; it was short, flat, and thin, with uncomfortable edges that were hard to grip.
In the end, our old winner still met all our criteria, but another spatula really wowed us. The KitchenAid Cookie/Pastry Lifter ($8.00) excelled in all tasks thanks to its ideally sized plastic head and its comfortable rounded handle. It breezed through brownie removal, effortlessly transported dozens of cookies, and flipped eggs and pancakes with ease. This compact spatula fit into tight spaces much better than our winning metal spatula, and while it may not replace a standard spatula for tasks such as flipping fish fillets or hefty hamburger patties, its agility and versatility make it a surprisingly useful kitchen tool.
We tested seven compact spatulas priced from $6.77 to $14.44. We used each model to remove 12 thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies from a baking sheet; 12 thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies from a baking sheet; and 16 brownies from an 8-inch square baking pan. We also used them to flip over-easy eggs and pancakes. To test heat resistance, we left each spatula in a nonstick skillet over low heat for 1 minute and rested each spatula on a hot baking sheet for 1 minute immediately after removing the sheet from a 350-degree oven. After each test we washed the spatulas according to manufacturers’ instructions. Prices listed were what we paid online. Test scores were averaged, and the spatulas appear in order of preference.
Cookies: How easy it is to remove cookies from a baking sheet and transfer them to a cooling rack; spatulas rated higher if they easily lifted cookies from the sheet and securely transported them to the rack.
Brownies: How easy it is to lift brownies from a square baking pan and transfer them to a storage container; spatulas rated higher if they could neatly remove one brownie at a time without squishing neighboring brownies and if they could do so easily, with minimal maneuvering and no additional assistance.
Eggs and Pancakes: How easy it is to use the spatula in a small nonstick skillet while cooking over-easy eggs and pancakes; spatulas rated higher if they could quickly and easily slide under eggs and pancakes with minimal resistance and if they could fully support eggs and pancakes during flipping.
Heat Resistance: How well spatulas withstood heat when placed on a hot baking sheet or in a hot skillet; spatulas rated higher if the heat didn’t melt or otherwise mark the handle and if the handle didn’t get uncomfortably warm.
Design: How the spatulas’ material and dimensions impacted performance; spatulas rated higher if they had rigid plastic heads about 2 inches wide by 3.5 inches long, glided smoothly in a skillet, and had a comfortable, rounded grip with a combined offset and handle length of about 6 inches or more.