If you’re looking for cooking tools to use with non-stick pans, you’ve basically got three choices: wood, nylon or silicone.
I’m not wild on wood because it always turns black on me. Now, some readers who are partial to wood implements have sent me links to articles showing that the wood isn’t really harboring any more bacteria than any other substance (and possibly less). But the bottom line for me is that in the heat and humidity of the tropics, wooden implements turn black and I can never get rid of it, even with bleach water. And that just looks unsanitary so I stopped using wooden implements.
If you like wood, great. But for me, that leaves nylon and silicone. So which one is better?
One of those great answers: it depends. Silicone has greater heat resistance but less rigidity.
Nylon will melt around 400° F. while silicone is heat resistant to about 600° F. (individual brands vary to some extent). If you’re like me, you’re wondering if food or pans really get to be over 400° F. — I mean, boiling water is just 212° F, right?
I can say that while most food doesn’t get over 400° F., pans do. And if you lean a nylon spoon against the side of a hot pan, the handle may melt. A nylon scraper or spatula can even melt a bit on the leading edge where it’s in contact with the pan. Trust me, it’s happened to me more than once. Of course, I don’t have photos as it happened long in the past and I’m not about to buy and then destroy items just to take a photo.
But it’s rare that a pan gets over 600 ° F. — I’ve never had a silicone utensil show signs of melting and a quick Google search didn’t turn up any stories of other people having problems with them melting.
So, does that mean that you should just buy silicone for everything? Well, no. While silicone is great for scrapers, spatula-spoons and other things that are fairly thick, a thin piece of is sort of floppy. And so to make a spatula (pancake-turner type of spatula, not a scraper-type spatula), manufacturers actually coat a metal blade with a thin layer of silicone.
Now, it needs to be a thin layer so that the turner will slip under the item in the pan. But because it’s thin, it wears quickly. And then one day — surprisingly soon with some items — you’ve got metal peeking out and scraping your pans. It’s even more frustrating when you’re in a remote anchorage and there’s no way to buy a different one in the near future.
So for pancake turners, I stick with nylon and am just very careful not to leave them in contact with the pan any longer than absolutely necessary. For everything else, I buy silicone. (Many silicone implements have a metal or wood core but it’s only a problem when it’s just a thin coating of silicone on an edge that gets a lot of wear.)