How to choose the best pastry brush for your kitchen
Pastry brush, basting brush or food brush, whatever you call them, professional kitchens nationwide swear by this indispensable tool. From brushing egg wash on a delicate brioche dough to slathering maple bourbon BBQ sauce onto grilled chicken, brushes can do the job more effectively than any other tool. However, there isn’t an all-purpose pastry brush. Depending on the tasks and the foods involved the type and style of food brush that works best will differ.
Our Ultimate Pastry Brush Buying Guide will explain all the details you need to know, to pick the right brush (or brushes) for your kitchen.
Why your kitchen (no matter the size) needs a pastry brush or two or three
A pastry brush is a small brush used to apply an ingredient, liquid of some sort, onto the surface of another food. A brush is the ultimate kitchen tool for applying layers of complete coverage.
In baking, a pastry brush can used to add egg washes to pastries, melted butter on layers of phyllo, glazes onto fresh fruit tarts, decorate cookies and cakes, grease baking pans and for sealing edges of pies, turnovers, dumplings and other pastries.
In cooking, a brush can be used for greasing pans, basting meats in their own juices, adding sauces to grilling foods, food plating and even removing excess sauce or seasonings.
CHEF NOTE: Use separate brushes for each brushing task in your kitchen. It reduces the risk of cross-contamination and ensures you are using the right brush to achieve the best results. Never use the same brush you use for basting meats to also brush pastries.
Pastry Brush Bristles Materials
The traditional choice for pastry brushes, sterilized hog bristles are soft, allowing pastry chefs and home bakers to brush delicate pastries without crushing or puncturing the surface (and therefore deflating). Boar bristles can handle any liquid, however, they need proper care and cannot be put in the dishwasher. Boar bristle brushes, over time, can shed bristles, so it’s imperative to watch.
Boar bristles are naturally water-resistant. Therefore, they're the perfect choice for brushing on fats and oils. Available in white/light and brown/dark versions – both are the same functionally but colour is a personal preference. Some operators, bakers in particular, prefer darker coloured bristles because it’s easier to see when a brush starts to shed bristles and quickly switch to a new brush.
Stiffer and stronger than natural, nylon bristles are best for less delicate jobs. The nylon bristles can handle many types of liquid and can pull in large quantities of liquid, like natural bristles. Nylon bristles do not shed like natural bristles.
Brushes with silicone bristles are typically used for basting as the bristles are extremely flexible and can handle high heat applications including grilling, roasting and BBQ. Great for spreading thick sauces but can’t provide the delicate touch (and precision) of natural bristles.
Another material used for brush bristles, but less common than the other three, is Teflon. The bristles can handle high- heat like silicone with the rigidity of nylon that won’t melt or degrade. Can be used for buttering and basting but use cautiously on delicate pastries. This style of brush bristles in a round shape is also great for cleaning out food equipment with many grooves like waffle irons.
Pastry Brush Bristle Length
Average length for pastry brush bristles is 2” (5 cm). Overall, the shorter the bristles the more precision but will cover less area at a time. Conversely, longer bristles are less precise and therefore work best for covering larger areas when precision isn’t required. Another benefit of longer bristles is the ability to reach crevices – getting melted jelly glazes around and between fruits or pastries with many nooks and crannies.
Pastry Brush Bristle Attachment and Density
How the bristles are set into the handle affects how strongly they are attached and therefore increases strength and reduces the chances of shedding bristles. What the bristles are set in, in most cases epoxy, determines how well the brush can be cleaned and will not harbour bacteria.
In some cases, the bristles can be directly fused into the handle, however, this is only done with synthetic bristles and plastic handles.
Bristle density is how many bristles are within a specific amount of space – think of it as the population. More bristles mean more liquid can be absorbed at a time and therefore reduce the number of times the brush needs to be dipped back into the liquid to reload. However, too many bristles tightly packed together interferes with proper cleaning. It’s harder for soap and water to get up into the bristles near the handle to remove the food residues to properly wash and sanitize the brushes.
The ring around the bristles where the bristles and the handle meet. Ferrules can be metal, composite or plastic. Metal (stainless steel) ferrules are more resistant to heat than plastic or composite, but composite (plastic) is easier to clean.
Pastry Brush Handle Materials
Handles made of wood are the traditional choice for pastry brushes. They offer a comfortable, sure grip and are attractive. Classically paired with natural bristles but can be found with either metal or plastic ferrules. Wood handled pastry and basting brushes are not dishwasher safe and therefore need to be handwashed.
Pastry brushes with plastic handles are durable, strong and easy to clean – some are dishwasher safe. Brushes with plastic handles can have natural, nylon or silicone bristles. In some cases, bristles can be molded into the handle reduces the risk of bacterial growth.
Certainly not as common for professional kitchens due to reduced grip safety when working with fats and oils, metal (typically stainless steel) is extremely durable, dishwasher safe and heat safe. However, this handle is only paired with silicone bristles.
The length of the handle makes a difference in how the pastry or basting brush performs. Short handles bring you closer and therefore offer more control and precision. Longer handles are perfect for high heat situations like basting roasts or grilling meats as the distance from the heat source.
Hooks are a feature found on basting brushes. Molded hooks, on plastic handles, allow the user to hook the brush onto the side of the container therefore protecting the bristles from damage sitting at odd angles on the bottom of the container and away from heat if using a warm sauce or glaze.
Notches or holes on the end of pastry and basting brush handles allow the brushes to be hung up for storage therefore reducing damage to the bristles but also for proper drying.
Pastry Brush Shapes
Round pastry brushes are best for fine detailed brushing tasks, cake and pastry decorating and plating. The round handle offers a steady grip like holding a writing utensil giving the user precision and control of every movement.
As width increases so does the brushes' ability to cover larger areas and will hold more liquids. However, as width increases precision decreases. Depending on your list of brushing and basting tasks, a variety of brushes with various widths will ensure the right combination of precision and coverage time.
A type of flat brush, angled head brushes provide a few convenient features. When the brush is laid on the counter the bristles face up at an angle and therefore don’t touch the countertop and make a mess. This same angle forces the liquids back into the bristles and therefore prevents drips. Long handles with angled heads provide the user some added control while staying safely away from the heat.
How to properly care for cooking and baking brushes
Cleaning – brushes that require hand washing1. Wash immediately after each use. If washing immediately isn’t possible, at least soak in water until you can wash it.
2. Under running hot water, gently massage dish detergent into the bristles and work the water and soap all the way up to the handle.
3. Rinse out all the soap.
5. Shake out any excess liquid and air dry. Either flat or hung up.
Storing and Using• Check your brush before each use. You are looking to see if bristles are shedding or if any part of the brush is damaged.
• After drying and between uses, brushes should be stored hung up or lying flat to maintain the shape of the bristles. This reduces the chance of damaging the bristles but also keeps them aligned and straight allowing for consistent spreading and brushing.
Brushing up on all the types and styles of pastry and basting brushes (and yes, we do mean to be punny) will ensure you have the right brush for each application – saving you time, keeping your food and staff safe while serving perfectly finished baked goods and dishes.