Also called a whip, a whisk is standard kitchen equipment in most cook’s kitchens. Despite how common and familiar the wire whisk is, most cooks do not realize that there are several different types of whisks. You’ve probably seen whisks in slightly different shapes and simply thought that these were manufacturing varieties. In reality, however, the shapes do make a bit of a difference in the suitability of the different types of whisks for different stirring or whipping tasks.
Three Main Types of Whisks
The three basic types of whisks are the balloon whisk, the French whisk, and the flat whisk.
The classic whisk has a bulbous shape and is made from curved stainless steel wires that bend into loops and then come together into a long handle. These wires help beat air into liquid ingredients such as eggs or cream, and are used to stir sauces or salad dressings.
The balloon whisk has thin wires that form a wide rounded balloon or bulb shape on the business end. These whisks are best suited for beating a large amount of air into egg whites, heavy cream, or other thin liquid.
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Since the wires are flexible and the shape is bulbous, the balloon whisk is not well-suited for stirring sauces or heavy batters. The large bulbous end can be too large for small jobs. Most cooks have thinner versions of balloon whisks or “skinny balloons” in their kitchen.
French Whisk or “Whip”
The French whisk, also called a straight whisk, has thicker wires that form a much less bulbous shape than the balloon whisk. This is the primary difference between the French whisk and a more familiar thin balloon whisk. The wires are straighter and stiffer, and there may be less of them than a bulbous balloon whisk.
A French whisk is good for stirring and smoothing sauces and they can be used for stirring heavy batters. They will not beat air into egg whites or cream as quickly as a balloon whisk, requiring more work. French whisks come in a variety of lengths.
The flat whisk, as the name implies, has wires that are arranged in a flat shape. Usually, the wires also have a slight lateral curve so that the arrangement is somewhat like a spoon shape. This whisk is also called a roux whisk.
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If you’ve ever made a simple bechamel with a rounded whisk, you will understand the usefulness of this flat shape. After the flour or “roux” is cooked to the proper degree, you must whisk in the liquid very quickly to form a smooth sauce. If your pan has typical straight sides and only slightly rounded corners, you will have a hard time scraping any flours from the corners of the pan with a rounded whisk. A flat whisk makes this job easier. At the same time, the flat shape can allow you to scrape the bottoms of the pan, for deglazing or removing any stuck-on mixture.
There are other types of whisks that fall in between the above designs. Sometimes called “standard whisks” are whisks that are similar to a traditional French whisk but with thinner wires. There are also spring coil whisks and various other iterations. There have been plastic whisks for many years and now. Whisks made of silicone have also become common.
Ball whisks are whisks with straight wires that simply terminate and do not curve back into the handle. At the end of each wire is a little ball.
There are also balloon whisks with aerator balls inside them. These are similar to any balloon whisk except trapped within the coiled wires is a wire ball with a solid ball inside it, which is supposed to help incorporate air faster.
Which Whisks Should I Own?
With so many whisk varieties on the market, it can be difficult to choose which ones to own. For most cooks, two basic whisks should suffice. If you have a stand mixer, such as the ever-popular Kitchen-Aid, it will likely have a whisk attachment for large volume whipping jobs. Even so, you will probably want to have a balloon whisk for quickly whipping smaller amounts of egg whites or cream, or just for beating eggs, etc. Also, a balloon whisk may be useful for finishing the whipping job after using a mixer (it is often possible to take off the whip attachment and use it by hand to finish the job). Choose the balloon whisk that is the right size and shape for you, but avoid models with too few wires. Look for whisks with at least 10 wire. Also, consider the shape and comfort of the handle. Some whisks have very thin handles made of wrapped wire. A beefier round handles, whether metal or perhaps silicone, may be best.
For making emulsified pan sauces, gravies, béchamel, pastry creams, etc., a flat whisk will be best. Make sure your flat whisk does not have wires that are too thin and flexible. Since you will be using this whisk overheat, make sure it is nice and long to avoid burning your hand while whisking.
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