Which is better when it comes to cooking utensils for nonstick pans -- nylon or silicone? Is there really a difference?

Silicone or Nylon Cooking Tools?

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.)

Which is better when it comes to cooking utensils for nonstick pans -- nylon or silicone?  Is there really a difference?

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  • The Sea and Sailors
    Posted at 01 July 2014 Reply


  • Take to the sea
    Posted at 01 July 2014 Reply

    I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately as I prepare to update my cooking gadgets – glad for the article!

  • cOgnaut
    Posted at 28 January 2016 Reply

    Thanks for writing this! I don’t own a boat but was curious about nylon X silicon.

  • Cindy
    Posted at 10 March 2016 Reply

    Just be careful of the cheap ‘dollar store’ utensils that can be toxic with high levels of bromine.

  • peggy
    Posted at 10 March 2016 Reply

    You are right that both have a place in the galley! I do not use or put wooden utensils on any of our vessels for the same reason as you. (Plus they often are left to “soak” by our charterers and get ruined. Cheap, but a logistic challenge to make sure inventory is complete on all boats.) The silicone is great on cast iron or other pans you don’t want to scrap — but the flexibility when stirring something hot in a shallow pan is very dangerous. I have been burned making a roux and having the flex of my silicone spatula flip and splatter my arm in many places with what is lovingly referred to as “Cajun Napalm” (google it — its a real thing). If you get splattered with this hot oil/flour mix, it sticks and burns like heck. I have the scars to prove it! The same might be true while frying anything in an oil or even flipping bacon over.

    We have had great success with stainless steel utensils and nylon for our charterer boats, but I keep my silicone at home for my cast iron pots and pans. The stainless on board keeps the charterers from using nylon on our grills, too. All of our pots and pans are all stainless steel — so no worries with scratching the bottoms. They are also very easy to clean. We haven’t had even one rust — so far.

    I highly recommend stainless steel pots and pans. They have withstood the test of time.
    We get the stainless steel pot and pan sets from Walmart, believe it or not. They come with excellent utensils and glass tops that with knobs that unscrew, have no gasket, edged in stainless steel– easy to clean and built strong. We bought our last sets over 5 years ago for $40 each. Incredibly worth it. Tested them at home first, and love them so much I got rid of my pots and pans that couldn’t go in the dishwasher (kept my cast iron, of course).

    The only down fall is the handles on the frying pan are long — but I but some of you are clever enough to bend or cut them so they store more easily. We don’t live aboard, so the space is not an issue for us — yet!

  • Diane Caffyn
    Posted at 26 December 2016 Reply

    Are they safe with heat around food? Once heated, does the nylon put any chemicals into your food as plastic does?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 26 December 2016 Reply

      My understanding is that as long as they are used with temps that don’t melt them, there are no bad chemicals. But if they get to the melting point, they can put chemicals into food.

  • Lionel
    Posted at 02 December 2017 Reply

    I shallow fry my whole wooden spatula , it all goes a uniform black and looks like a tool made from ebony., that way it looks good and I get to use my preference of wood while not wasting resources having to keep replacing it.

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