Our bottom line advice: No one needs a full set of either nylon or stainless steel cooking tools. We're not big fans of sets of anything (pots and pans, knives—buy those individually), but those already-stocked crocks of utensils are overkill. Here are our opinions on plastic vs. metal.
• If you use nonstick cookware, enamel-coated dutch ovens, or cast-iron skillets, you need utensils that won't scratch it. We usually reach for a wooden spoon in these cases, but it's helpful to have a spatula or bigger spoon in a forgiving material.
• Nylon utensils are flexible. We find they scrape corners better, and if you cook a lot of fish, you probably want a flexible fish spatula.
• They're hard to clean. Eggs, cream sauces, and rice tend to stick to them, and we often end up using a fingernail to scrape them off (a scrub brush doesn't always work on ours).
• They're plastic. They can be ugly, and they can melt.
Stainless Steel: PROS
• Thinner and sturdier, which makes them better for sliding under cookies or lifting a heavy piece of meat.
• Easier to clean than plastic.
• Better for scraping pans, if necessary. We find a wooden spoon is great for deglazing, but if we're, say, tossing a pan of roasted vegetables and want to scrape bits off of the bottom, a metal spatula helps.
Stainless Steel: CONS
• Sometimes the sound of metal scraping metal makes our skin crawl (are we alone?).
• Usually more expensive.
As annoying as it can be to clean our nylon tools, we use them much more often, along with wooden spoons. Here's what we'd buy if we were starting from scratch:
• One metal spatula
• One nylon spatula
• One nylon slotted spoon
• Two pairs of tongs (one nylon-tipped, one metal)
• Wooden spoons
What would you add? Which tools do you prefer?