Product Review: Ladles and Skimmers

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Bowls and handles
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Specialty Ladles: Fantes
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The main function of a ladle—and no tool does it better—is to transfer liquid, in measured portions if desired, from one container to another. Whether you're moving soup from pot to bowl, punch from bowl to glass, or pancake batter from mixing bowl to pan, there's no easier way to ensure that everyone at the table gets the same sized serving.





Rosle stainless-steel portion ladle Pedrini Micro ladle KitchenAid silicone ladle
with spout

The main attributes to consider when choosing ladles are:

  • size and shape of bowl
  • length, feel, and angle of handle
  • material
  • function

Because prices of these useful tools range from just a few dollars to not much more than that, we recommend having more than one on hand. We're referring to the commercially available tools of the trade, as opposed to the more decorative utensils you might use to serve at table. We realize that your sterling soup ladle is worth more than "just a few dollars".

In addition to the traditional half-globe, general-purpose configurations commonly thought of as soup ladles, there are mini ladles designed primarily for measuring; batter ladles with flat bottoms, which spend more time on a countertop than in a pot or mixing bowl; glass and plastic punch servers; and skimming ladles used to remove fat and other undesired elements from the surface of soup or gravy. We detail fat skimmers and spider skimmers below, after discussing the other main ladle considerations.

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Bowls and handles

Ladles are available with bowl capacities from 1—12 ounces. The most common is 4 ounces, with a bowl diameter of 3 1/4". This is ideal for batter for one pancake, one omelettes's worth of beaten egg, or for doling out soup. Handle lengths range from 6" to 13", but are typically around 10-11", well-suited to working with most pots in the 4—8 qt. range.

A ladle with smaller overall dimensions will facilitate working in a smaller pot that you might use for sauces and gravy. For larger stockpots, a bowl capacity closer to 6 ounces and a handle of 12" or longer is more appropriate. Ladle bowls with pouring spouts minimize spillage, and while there are models with a spout on both sides of the bowl, most spouts are positioned on the left side, which favor right-handed users.

A handle angled between 20—40 degrees from vertical makes for easier transfer of contents than does one with no offset or contour. Three types of grips predominate—flat, round, and contoured. Some users find flat handles to be the least comfortable, but their design allows good leverage when turning, which is helpful for larger bowl capacities. Be wary of flat-handled ladles that are narrow at the top; these can be the most difficult to use. Round and contoured handles are usually more comfortable, with contoured handles offering the best grip. Many handles have either hook-shaped ends or holes at the top to allow for hanging on standard pot racks.

All-Clad 14" x 6 oz
flat handle
Rosle, round handled Oxo steel, contoured handle

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Acrylic, nylon, silicone and other plastics have revolutionized the kitchen gadget world over the past two generations. These materials won't scratch cookware (including non-stick), and some of the soft-grip handles on these tools remain non-slip even with wet hands. Many cooks are reluctant to give up their metal utensils in favor of plastic ones that might stain easily and could melt in a few seconds if placed too close to a heat source. While the newer plastics are relatively heat-resistant, contact with a burner or flame can still destroy the utensil, so you'll have to be vigilant when placing your plastic ladle on your spoon dish between the stove's burners. Also, most of the plastic ladles today are black, and will tend to hide stains better than white utensils.

Nylon general purpose ladle Silicone soup ladle Acrylic punch ladle


The metal models are almost always made of stainless steel. Stainless is a poor heat conductor, so the utensil won’t get as hot as it would if it were aluminum or silver. Some manufacturers specify the grade of steel used to make their tools, with a fraction that represents the percentages of chromium and nickel—18/10 and 18/8—in the steel alloy. Stainless steel often has a smoother, more corrosion-resistant finish than regular steel, and while the distinction between stainless and regular steel is important, the smaller differences among 18/10, 18/8, and so called "surgical stainless steel" are far less meaningful in this context.

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Manufacturers have designed two types of skimming utensils to accomplish tasks for which regular soup ladles are inadequate. Fat skimmers, the more ladle-like of the two, have a relatively large, slightly concave bowl—between 3.5" and 5"—with holes large enough to allow liquid to drain through. These skimming ladles are most often used to skim fat or other undesired debris that rises to the top of soup stock, but they're also handy for removing and draining ravioli and dumplings from boiled water, broth, or hot oil, and with enough gentleness to keep even thin-skinned wontons intact. A slotted spoon doesn't do the job as well, and draining those foods in a colander is asking for trouble, as they can easily tear open. Don't confuse these skimming ladles with fat separators, a different tool for a different process.

Even better for removing larger portions of food from a pot full of liquid are spider skimmers, which have shallow, round wire-mesh baskets at the end of long, less angled handle. While they won't remove fat from soup stock the way a skimming ladle will, spiders are the ideal tools for removing tortellini, meatballs, French fries and blanched vegetables from a pot or fryer without danger of the food sticking to the utensil. Basket diameters are usually in the 5"—7" range, and many of the spiders have bamboo handles, which are strong, light, comfortable alternatives to metal handles.

There are also pasta ladles and spaghetti forks (or spaghetti spoons, as they're often called), designed specifically for removing cooked linguini, angel hair and other strand pasta from a pot. These have wide teeth spaced around the perimeter of an oval-shaped bowl with draining holes, and a long handle to reach the bottom of a large pot.

Other special purpose ladles that might be worth considering are flat-bottomed, stand-up batter ladles, porcelain gravy spooners, and glass and acrylic punch bowl servers.

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kitchenCritical Recommends:

Calphalon makes some of the better, more popular cookware available today. Many of the nearly three-dozen utensils they make are heat-resistant nylon (to 400 F), with soft-touch silicone handle grips, including this nylon ladle (pictured left). It's well-balanced, with a comfortable 13.5" handle, and a 3.2 oz. bowl. Calphalon's stainless model has a larger, 9.6 oz. bowl, but the handle length and shape is similar. Both of Calphalon’s ladles have measurement markers in the bowls, and come with a lifetime warranty.








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Oxo has three differently styled ladles in its kitchen utensil catalog, two of which we recommend. The GoodGrips nylon ladle (left), at $6, has a comfortable, non-slip handle. It's long at 14", and is best-suited for use with larger pots. Below right is Oxo's 12" brushed stainless steel model for $10.










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The German company WMF makes high-quality kitchenware, and offers several lines of kitchen tools. WMF takes ladles seriously, as a visit to its website makes clear. The Black Line and Profi Plus lines of tools have superb ladles, each with well-designed bowls and comfortable handles. The Practico set of ladles contains 3 ladles, a fish slicer, a meat fork, and a rack. The Black Line and Practico ladles are sold in Europe. carries most of the WMF line in the United States.

WMF Profi Plus
11 3/4" soup ladle
WMF Black Line
skimming ladle
WMF Practico ladle set

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Another German company, Rosle, offers ten different, high-quality stainless steel ladles in several styles, each available in a variety of sizes. Some have a flat handle with a hook at the top for hanging, others have a round handle topped with a loop. Balanced and well-proportioned, most are available with drip-free pouring rims for righties and lefties. Pictured below are three of Rosle's models called, (left to right) Ladle with Pouring Rim; Sauce Ladle; and Portioning Ladle. Rosle's other kitchen utensils, including skimmers, are often among the most highly recommended kitchen gear.











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Specialty Ladles

Usually thought of as tools to transfer and serve food, ladles can also be useful for measuring, often followed by transferring, while cooking.

Below are two stainless steel sets of three measuring ladles sold by Fantes. The set of mini ladles on the left has capacities of .5, 1, and 1.5 ounces. On the right are batter ladles, with flat bottoms for standing, and with right-handed pouring spouts. The Fantes batter ladle capacities are 1.5, 2.5, and 5 ounces.











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Manufacturers Links

The following links will take you to a manufacturer's website when one exists. In other cases, the links will take you to a relevant web page.

Manufacturers of Recommended Models:


Others worth considering:

Generally, we like the nylon and silicone ladles and spoons made by KitchenAid and Cuisinart, and the stainless utensil line from All-Clad. We also have links for Pedrini kitchen tools, and a shopping page for the Mario Batali ravioli skimmer.

Mario Batali ravioli skimmer

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Updated: February 21, 2010