Rustic or required?

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Kitchen gadgets can pile up. Just ask anyone who got an Instant Pot, air fryer, immersion blender, or juicer last Christmas. Single-use tools and fancy new machines all promise to make cooking more fun, but they also make opening your kitchen cabinets a legitimate hazard.

Your tangled utensil drawer could easily be whittled down to the most practical items, and at the top of that list we'd put a wooden spoon. Sure, they give your cooking experience a rustic air with a side of nostalgia—wooden spoons are the first type of spoon to ever exist, after all—but their handiness is what makes the humble spoon essential in our book.

This simplest of kitchen tools is often forgotten. From metal to silicone, you'll find a myriad of colors and materials covering the utensil aisles of William Sonoma and Sur La Table. Each has their purpose, but just because technology has evolved doesn't mean the original should be overlooked.

Why Should You Use a Wooden Spoon?

"Wooden spoons are hardy, heat-tolerant tools that are great for thicker recipes that require a little muscle," says Test Kitchen professional Ivy Odom. "They can scrape bits off the bottom of a pan without breaking, but they're also soft enough not to scratch the pot. Plus, they don't conduct heat, so there's no need to worry about a hot handle."

Wooden spoons work with almost everything. They're well suited for all types of cookware, from nonstick pans to cast-iron skillets, and can be employed for canning, cooking, baking, and anything in between. A recipe may call for a wooden spoon specifically if you're preparing something that's sensitive to sudden temperature changes, like candy, since wooden spoons are insulated. Odom cautions that you may want to reach for another utensil when a step requires a light hand, like folding in whipped cream or whipping egg whites. Otherwise, you can stir, braise, and serve away.

Do Wooden Spoons Retain Flavor?

If they're cleaned properly, wooden spoons should not retain flavor (or bacteria), says Odom. But that doesn't mean it's not fun to have wooden spoons solely for special dishes. "My Mama has a tea spoon that is only used for tea," she says. "Other people might have a spaghetti sauce spoon. You may want to use a darker wood for tomato-based sauces to prevent staining. Really, it's all about personal preference."

How Do You Care for a Wooden Spoon?

Wooden spoons shouldn't be put in the dishwasher or soaked in water. Too much water exposure can leave your spoon susceptible to splintering or cracking. Most need oiling down to keep them from drying out, like a cast-iron skillet. This protects the wood. Odom prefers coconut oil or food-grade mineral oil for the task.

This story originally appeared on southernliving.com