Whisks: Which and Why

by Elizabeth Skipper | February 19th, 2014 | Ask the Chef

whiskI own two balloon whisks — one large and one smaller.  I have seen other varieties of whisks, spiral and flat.  Are they necessary tools for my kitchen?  I’m not sure when either would be more useful but could add them to my repertoire if they have value.

Are you sure what you have are balloon whisks? I suspect what you have are French whisks, also called sauce whisks, which are used to mix ingredients without the incorporation of too much air. That’s what is found in most kitchens.

Whisks come in different shapes and sizes. The handles, the number and thickness of the wires, and the flexibility of the wires are the main variables. The materials can also vary – there are now non-stick whisks, whisks whose wires don’t meet at the end (they’re straight and have little metal balls on the end), and the handles can be metal, wood, plastic, silicone, or rubber. Handles can be long or short, thick or thin. There are even wooden whisks made of flexible wood like birch. All these things factor into whether a particular whisk will be comfortable and effective at the task at hand.

Balloon whisks are special purpose whisks with a pronounced bulbous head, used to whisk air into egg whites and heavy cream. They’re too large to fit into most saucepans, won’t reach into the corners of a saucepan, and aren’t necessarily sufficiently sturdy enough to mix sauces or batters. They’re especially efficient when whisking egg whites in the classic copper bowl; the French swear that’s the way to achieve the fluffiest, most voluminous egg white foams.

Flat whisks – which look just like the name implies – are used for making rouxs and pan sauces in low-sided vessels like skillets and sauté pans. They’re good for getting into the corners and scraping up the fond on the bottom of the pan.

Spiral whisks consist of a coil of wire wrapped around a loop, and the head is angled. Some people swear by them for making sauces; I don’t find the business end sufficiently large to be effective. And my French whisks perform the same function, so I see no need for this tool in my kitchen.

Then there are coil whisks. They have somewhat the same shape as a balloon whisk, i.e., a rounded end, but the coil is made of one continuous length of wire shaped into a spiral. Confusingly, they’re also sometimes called spiral whisks. The way a cook uses them is different, though. Instead of the circular motion used with other whisks, this one is held in place and pumped up and down. Never having used one routinely, I find them weird and unnatural. You might think differently.

Like ball-headed whisks, cage whisks are outside the norm. They have a large rounded head inside of which is a small wire cage filled with a ball bearing. It’s supposed to be good for blending thick mixtures, but I don’t like mixing anything too thick with a whisk, so this one hasn’t found a home in my kitchen, either. It’s also a bear to clean, and who needs that annoyance?

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