When choosing your bar tools, it is important that you understand the intricacies of the materials so you know what you’re in for. For muddlers, four materials are currently used - wood, bamboo, plastic, and stainless steel. Each of these materials has its own merit but as a busy bartender, your best choice would be one that would give you the best value.
Types of Muddler
Let us look at the popular materials used for muddlers that is used by bartenders in modern bars.
Wooden muddlers are the most primitive of the muddlers but are also the most effective which is why it is still the go-to muddler of most bartenders.
Firstly, wooden bartenders are made from naturally available materials and without the addition of lacquer, it is very reliable and can last for years. Secondly, wooden muddler is more comfortable on the hand, unlike the cold feel of the stainless steel and the slippery finish of the plastic muddlers.
On the downside, some commercially-made muddlers have fillers that get chipped or cracked with use. When the wooden muddler is not well-made, the wood may turn fuzzy with time, leaving some fuzz on the hand that might mix with the other ingredients of the cocktails.
Bamboo is an alternative material for hardwood which is becoming harder to source nowadays. Bamboo is a lot lighter than wood so you will need more pressure when muddling. Most of the bamboo muddlers are pressed together to get the required size of at least 1.5 inches to allow for the carving and molding.
The downside of bamboo muddlers is that it is more prone to cracking and splintering. The glue used to press the parts together may not be of food grade quality or if the laminates that the company uses are safe for use in food. These are some of the concerns of customers who have bought a bamboo muddler.
Another worthy of note as a muddler are the stainless steel ones. There are pure stainless steel muddlers while there are also some that use a combination of composite plastic or silicone, usually on the end of the handle and on the muddling end. It also comes in different designs - some with slight tapering at the middle while some have a straight handle. Still others have a silicone handle to minimize slipping for a better grip. The mixing tip is usually toothed so it can push down the ingredients like: herbs, citrus fruits more firmly.
The downsides of stainless steel muddlers are the grip and the cold feel of the metal on the hand. For muddlers with composite plastic or silicone parts, the point where the stainless steel meets the composite plastic or silicone may hold some ingredients between the gaps. When the muddler is not cleaned properly, the decayed ingredients might give a weird taste to the cocktails.
You have to be more careful with it especially when using glass when mixing. Your best bet when using purely stainless steel muddlers is to use the tin of the cocktail shaker. Stainless steel muddlers are prone to rusting. The silicone end of some muddlers can also chip or erode over time and is prone to molds.
Plastic muddlers are usually made of polycarbonate or ABS which are all composite plastic. Because they can have unlimited forms when molded, these muddlers have more intricate heads. The head can be flat, masher type and the more common one resembles the teeth of a meat tenderizer which earned it its name. They are also more ergonomic and can have a variety of texture, from smooth to slightly rough to improve grip. They are usually weighted, making it more comfortable and safe to use.
However, the teeth present the most problem for the plastic muddler since the deep grooves can be hard to clean or sometimes cause too much bruising to herbs ingredients. The uneven head prevents the muddler from touching the bottom of the glass, resulting in uneven muddling.
The use of polycarbonate does not sit well with some customers since it carries a Proposition 65 Warning. The Proposition 65 also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 aims to inform Californians of possible exposure to chemicals that may cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm. If the product has a Proposition 65 warning then the company producing it is aware that it is exposing its customers to one or more of the listed chemicals.
Tips When Choosing Is a wood or metal muddler better?
When choosing a muddler we narrowed our choice between the wood and the metal muddler since they are more reliable. Here are some tips to consider on how to choose and how to maintain it.
When buying a wooden muddler, go for handcrafted ones. They may be pricier than commercially-made muddlers but the longer use makes up for the price. Choose one that is not lacquered as the lacquer tends to peel off with use and mix with the cocktails. Get one that is made of harwood and not laminated or pressed together. This tends to be heavier than laminated and pressed ones. A good and solid wood muddler can also be used to crush ice using a Lewis bag.
Wooden muddler is harder to maintain than a metal muddler since you need occasional oiling to keep it in great condition. Give it an occasional sanding to keep it smooth then finish with food-grade oil like linseed oil, walnut oil, or tung oil. No mineral oils should be used on muddlers and other wooden tools used for food since it usually refers to a petroleum derivative. There are food-safe mineral oils but it is better to use oils from plant sources. Let the oil dry well for a few days. Wash with soap and warm water before using it again to remove traces of oil. When you put it into storage, be sure to oil it well so it does not crack over time.
Choose a pure stainless steel muddler since the gap between the stainless steel and the composite plastic might harbor decayed ingredients. Get one that is generously weighted so you don’t have to use unnecessary force when mixing your ingredients like: herbs, citrus fruits. Find a more solidly made muddler so there are no gaps or holes that may allow some ingredients to get into it. If it is a solid metal, it can also be used to crush ice, though you can have misgivings to pounding it to the ice.
Maintaining a metal muddler is easier when it is solid metal. Just dry it properly between use after washing with delicate dishwashing soap. Hand washing the muddler is preferred since automatic dishwashing detergent is usually harsher with its high pH and chlorine bleach content. For the same reason, it is also best to hand wash wooden muddlers.
Given a chance to choose, we recommend a wooden muddler, especially a handmade or handcrafted muddler over the metal one. Aside from its natural feel on the hand, it gains more value over time. The only thing you have to consider is maintaining it well. For more tips in choosing the right muddler, read more here. If you’re working on a home bar, check out some alternatives to muddlers if you don’t have one.