Balloon, ball, spiral, cage, coil. No, this isn't "I Spy" at the circus. We're talking about different types of whisks and which is best for which type of cooking or baking project.
But first, some whisk history! A recipe from The Best of Shaker Cooking , possibly dating back to the 18th century, asks the baker to "cut a handful of peach twigs, which are filled with sap at the season of the year. Clip the ends and bruise them and beat cake batter with them. This will impart a delicate peach flavor to the cake." I guess that's one way to do it!
America didn't really know much about wire whisks until Julia Child came along. She featured one during the pilot of her television show "The French Chef," using it to prepare an omelet.
“Before Julia, we used that little egg beater — the one that you wind up — or a fork to beat egg whites,” writes famed chef Alice Waters in an article in The New York Times.
By the way, Julia Child called her tool a "whip," which has a certain ring to it.
You might be surprised by the variety of specialized whisks (or whips!) available. Here's how to find the right ones for your kitchen.
Pick Your Material
The most popular style, these are usually (but not always) made up of metal loops of varying sizes and thicknesses. Some wire whisks are more flexible, others are sturdier.
Made with firm but flexible pieces of wood (usually birch), these are best for light whipping, mainly for baking.
These are wire whisks coated with heatproof silicone. They are a great choice for non-stick pans because they won't scratch the protective coating, and their non-stick surface can make cleanup easier.
Pick Your Style
A go-to whisk. The "balloon" is made from a series of flexible wires (usually eight or more) which join at an end that is attached to a handle. Sizes range from teeny tiny to almost cartoonishly large.
You can use this super-versatile whisk for tasks like beating air into egg whites for meringues or into cream for whipped cream, or for lightly mixing together dry ingredients in lieu of sifting.
Another great all-purpose whisk, it is constructed like a balloon whisk but is longer and narrower.
French whisks with flexible wires are best for liquids, while sturdier ones are ideal for thicker sauces or custard-type mixtures. The whisk's narrow shape helps it get into the edges of skillets, so it is great for mixing sauces or combining ingredients in a deep pan.
Also known as a roux whisk, it looks like a balloon or French whisk that has been squished flat. It's amazing for stirring ingredients in shallow pans such skillets. Reach for one if you're making a roux or a pan sauce.
This unique-looking whisk has a rounded loop, around which another wire is coiled. Its flexible and slightly angled head helps ensure even mixing while preventing scorching. Use it when you're prepping sauces, blending liquid into a roux or making vinaigrette.
This one looks more like a retro lighting fixture than a kitchen tool. Instead of loops, it has a series of wires that starburst out from a handle, each with a ball bearing on the end. It's easier to clean than a whisk with loops, and its fans say it is better and quicker. Try it for whipping egg whites.
This one has the profile of a balloon whisk but (stay with me) it is a single wire spiraled into a round shape. Instead of moving it in circles you pump it up and down. Not to confuse things, but sometimes this is also called a spiral whisk, too. It's great for lifting sauces or thick mixtures from the bottom of a pan.
This unusual whisk looks like a balloon whisk that has been stuffed with a small ball-shaped wire "cage" consisting of more looped wires. Inside the cage is a ball bearing for weight. The added muscle of that inner "cage" allows for thorough blending of thick mixtures, creating a smooth, silky texture. Your whipped cream will never be more luxurious.
This looks like a balloon whisk you click into the head of your stand mixer. It's super helpful when you need to do vigorous whisking for meringues or whipped cream frosting . But don't use it for batter or dough — these heavy mixtures might warp the wires.