Cooking Utensils: Spotlight on Tongs

What's the most practical tool in your kitchen? A spoon? Unlikely. A knife? Close, but don't forget, those durable kitchen utensils that can handle so many tasks: tongs.

"I can't live without tongs!" says chef and culinary educator Erica Wides, of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. "A chef's tongs are an extension of their arm — we use them for all kinds of things."

From handling hot items to extending your reach, tongs have a multitude of uses. Here is just a sampling:

  • Removing hot items like baking sheets or pans from the oven
  • Lifting pots with hot handles
  • Turning food in pots or on the grill or cooktop
  • Handling meats without piercing
  • Transferring hot items to serving plates or bowls

Additionally, the Food & Drug Administration model food code prohibits restaurant staff from handling ready-to-eat foods with bare hands. Tongs and gloves help you stay in compliance.

Choosing Tongs

With all these uses, you want to make sure you have the right tongs to meet your needs. After all, they may look similar, but not all tongs are created equal. Select these workhorse food prep utensils carefully to ensure functionality and durability.

  • Length: Most chefs prefer 8- to 10-inch tongs. "Longer tongs are useful when pulling items out of a deep stove, but the trade-off is you lose leverage," says chef-turned-consultant Michael Horst of St. Louis. "And with the weight of many items in the kitchen, longer tongs often bend under pressure and do not last as long as shorter ones. My favorite is the standard heavy-gauge 8-inch tong."
    Pro tip: Keep a set or two of longer tongs available for deep oven access, and use shorter tongs for all the other cooking tasks.
  • Grip: Some tongs come with coated handles, which can help avoid pinches and burns, and provide better ergonomics. Choose the tongs that fit best in your hand and match your ability to provide special care (see below).
  • Strength: Solid construction and metal are required support when lifting heavy and awkwardly shaped items. "Flimsy tongs fall apart," says Francois De Melogue, executive chef at Figue Mediterranean in La Quinta, Calif.
    Pro tip: Pay special attention to the spring mechanism. Of course, it needs to be heavy-duty, but you also want tongs that open and close easily so you don't have to use two hands to open them — that wastes time.
  • Replacement Costs: Most chefs expect tongs to last at least a year — another reason why strength is important. Choosing less expensive models may save cash now, but if you have to replace them regularly, it may be a false economy.

Standard multipurpose tongs are the most popular and cost efficient. But there are specialty tongs for everything from asparagus to spaghetti. You might also consider a slotted tong, which provides grabbing and draining abilities at the same time.

Maintaining Tongs

It doesn't take much to keep your tongs in good working order. During a shift, they should be treated like knives: wiped down frequently and sanitized as necessary. You don't want greasy tongs — they're more likely to slip out of your hand.

"If you buy a good-quality stainless steel tong, they can be run through a dishwasher with ease," says Horst. Review manufacturers' care instructions carefully, and learn your area's food service regulations to make sure you care for tongs and other cooking utensils appropriately.

Armed with this information, you're ready to select the best tongs to add to your inventory of must-have kitchen utensils.

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