Is It Safe to Cook Raw Meat with a Wooden Spoon?

From ground chicken to beef, find out if you should be swapping your wooden spoon for another utensil.

My mom gifted me a set of wooden cooking utensils that still are the first ones my fingers search for when cooking. A straight-edged paddle of a spoon in particular is my go-to tool for its heft to break up ground meat—something my silicone equivalent just can't do as well. But I recently wondered, is it safe to cook raw meat with a wooden spoon? Find out if you should use a wooden spoon, plus how to care for them so they last and more.

Benefits & Drawbacks of Cooking with Wooden Spoons

A wooden spoon is one of those indispensable tools for its versatility in the kitchen. It doesn't scratch your pots or mar the nonstick finish of treated pans, but it can work the fond off the bottom of a deglazed pan easily. Wooden spoons don't impart any flavor to the food you're cooking, in the way that you might find a metallic implement can leave a metallic taste.

Working with acidic ingredients isn't a problem with wooden spoons as they're not reactive, and they certainly get the job done when heating up pickle brine or lemon curd. If you've ever accidentally left a wooden spoon in a pot set to simmer or stirred risotto, then you can appreciate the heat-resistance of wooden spoons. What's in the pot is getting hot but not the spoon in your hand. Speaking of hands, wooden spoons feel good to grip too—it's a small thing, but in cooking, details matter and can set apart our favorite cooking tools from the ones that collect dust in the drawer.

"I like the aesthetics of wooden utensils. They make the kitchen feel cozier so it doesn't feel sterile or commercial," says Charles Hunter III, a personal chef and workshop host on the Magnolia app. "If you treat them well, oil them and don't abuse them, they can last a while."

Unlike stainless-steel, nylon, silicone or plastic cooking utensils, wood works differently. Wood is porous, which is both beneficial and a drawback. While wood is softer than a stainless-steel equivalent, its porousness means wooden spoons can absorb the color of what's cooking, especially if the ingredients tend to stain (homemade marinara comes to mind). Plus, it means the wood can absorb the aroma or flavor as well.

Is It Safe to Cook Raw Meat with a Wooden Spoon?

Whether you're sautéing ground beef or turkey, you can use a wooden spoon when cooking raw meat. While wood's porous nature isn't cause for alarm when thinking of bacteria, it does require some attention. Properly cleaning and caring for wooden spoons is essential to avoid any potential cross-contamination.

a photo of a person cooking raw chicken in a pot with a wooden spoon
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How to Clean & Care for Wooden Spoons

To clean wooden spoons well, wash them with hot water and mild dish soap. Letting them air-dry fully on their own is a critical step—instead of drying with a dish towel, which could spread the bacteria that air-drying helps mitigate. It takes about 24 hours to properly air-dry wooden spoons. Set them in a utensil holder or drying rack, handle-down so the wide rounded bowl of the spoon is up and air can circulate well around it.

While washing your spoons is sufficient, you can also sanitize them. After washing your spoons, soak a clean microfiber cloth in distilled white vinegar. Wipe down the spoons, including the handles, and let them sit for at least five minutes. Rinse the spoons, then wash again with the aforementioned steps. This sanitizing process can also be followed if you need to clean your wooden cutting board.

The porous quality in wood can also make it susceptible to cracking if it dries out, which can lead to cracks and gaps that might unwittingly harbor bacteria. The best way to prevent wooden spoons from drying out and becoming brittle is to hand-wash them only as the high temperatures of dishwashers are destructive to wood over time. Once you see any sort of jagged edge or crack, it's best to toss and restock.

Another way to preserve your wooden spoons is to oil them. Similar to wooden cutting boards that are rubbed with mineral oil, the same principle applies to spoons too, since frequent use and washing strips the wood of its natural oil and makes spoons dull and dry. Just a drop of mineral oil on a paper towel to rub and coat the wooden spoon will do fine, says Fez Mnguni of Staub. In terms of frequency, he recommends, "When you see that it is about dry, then that would be the time to use the mineral oil on the wooden spoon."

Best Wood for Wooden Spoons

When shopping for wooden spoons, look for olive wood (made from olive trees) and maple or other hardwoods, as their grains are tighter and less prone to cracking. Mandy Cook of Boos Blocks says they use hard rock maple for several reasons: it's colorless, odorless and doesn't absorb odors or flavors.

The Bottom Line

You can cook raw meat with a wooden spoon. To prevent cross-contamination, it's important to clean and sanitize your spoons. Rubbing mineral oil on the spoons can preserve their usability in the kitchen, so you can cook with them for years to come.

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