5 Tools That Our Test Kitchen Chefs Use Every Dang Day

February 17, 2017

Meet our Test Kitchen.

Do not let its placid, pristine exterior fool you.

This kitchen has seen things. Deep frying, dumpling parties, Mario Batali, approximately five-thousand sugar cookie tests...

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And behind it all is our Test Kitchen team, who bravely cooks their way through all of the Food52 madness.

Meet Josh Cohen & Allison Bruns Buford, our Test Kitchen Chef and Manager, respectively. Photo by James Ransom

We don't trust anyone behind a stove like we trust them, and in turn, we trust the tools they trust. When we consider taking on a new kitchen gadget or piece of cookware in the Shop it goes right into the hands of our Test Kitchen Chef Josh Cohen, so he—along with the other chefs, editors, and our Creative Director Kristen Miglore—can test it, break it in, and tell us what they really think.

We wouldn't dare add a product that they haven't endorsed wholeheartedly. These winners are designs that the Food52 Test Kitchen not only approved but ones they now can't live without.

1. Miyabi Birchwood Japanese Knives

Picking a knife is like picking your wand at Ollivander's (as in, it really chooses you!).

According to Josh, his knife is the most valuable tool he owns: "I spend more time with my knife than I do with my fiancé (sadly)." When he started at Food52, Josh brought his personal knife to the office.

Cue the arrival of the Miyabi Birchwood knives. Our Shop buying team was wooed by their buttery handles and their blades' hypnotizing, whirly texture. But would they pass the Test Kitchen test? To Josh they went.

To make quick work of a long story, Josh doesn't use his personal knife anymore—he switched over to the Miyabi. This was "an important moment," as he puts it, to eschew a longstanding relationship for something new. But these Japanese stunners are comfortable in hand, not overly hefty, and hold a sharp edge for a very long time with minimal sharpening.

Josh doesn't use his personal knife anymore—he switched over to the Miyabi.

Now, Josh swears by them. Those finely chopped cilantro stems in his Marinated Mushrooms Sichuan-Style, the thick planks of parsnips, seared and glazed: all thanks to his knife skills and a Miyabi.

2. Smithey Cast Iron Skillets

A new kid on the block, but already in regular rotation, is the Smithey Cast Iron Skillet. A modern take on the cast iron-making traditions of yesteryear, each skillet is cast by hand and finished with an exceptionally smooth interior.

Our Test Kitchen can't get enough of this workhorse, especially because it's a little lighter than traditional cast iron. It's pre-seasoned so it's ready to rock as soon as it's out of the box, and can tackle just about anything, frittatas to fish. Our stylists don't even have to transfer the finished dish onto a serving platter for its shot in the photo studio: The skillets are handsome enough to be in the spotlight.

Case in point: Just recently, Kristen used the Smithey to get a deep, burnished sear on J. Kenji López-Alt's Butter-Basted, Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Steaks Recipe and shot it right in two Smitheys. Handsome steaks, handsome pans.

3. Flour Sack Tea Towels

Our Test Kitchen has stacks and stacks of flour sack towels on hand (there's actually an entire large drawerful). They're actually, really, we-promise absorbent, sucking up spills and splatters like a vacuum.

I use at least 10 of these a day.
Our Test Kitchen Chef Josh

But their versatility is what gives them staying power alongside our chefs: They lay them out on the countertops as a makeshift drying rack, drape them over bowls of rising dough or soaking beans, and even use them to cover racks of cooling baked goods in an attempt to keep our sneaky paws off of them.

4. Double Oven Mitt

A professional chef may have trouble admitting any allegiance to an oven mitt. An oven mitt screams Leave it to Beaver casseroles, not professional kitchen. The pro line cook drinks out of a plastic quart container and uses side towels as oven mitts—keeping plenty on hand to quickly pick up screaming hot pans, hoping they've got enough of their hand covered (and hoping they don't have to hold that pan very long).

Once Josh was able to set aside his pride and his side towels, he was won over by our double oven mitt—it hangs over the oven door so it's always reachable, and it keeps you totally protected from those hot, hot pots. (Never mind the fact that you basically get to hug your food. Your food deserves love, too.) If a side towel is wet, you can risk a serious burn. No such danger with our food-hugger.

Josh would also like you to know that he now drinks out of a regular glass, and not a plastic quart container.

5. Staub Stovetop Rice Cooker

Sure, our cute (sqwee!) rice cooker from Staub turns out fluffy, non-goopy, non-watered down rice and grains every time. But our Test Kitchen thinks outside the cooker, too. Its small size makes it the perfect vessel to quickly boil up water—for a handful of eggs, to make a tea-infused brine, or bubble up a cold remedy. It can also reheat leftovers (oven-safe!) and sauces that have stiffened up after a sit in the fridge.

Ok, cookie monster *isn't* one of our test kitchen chefs. But wouldn't that be cool if he was?! Photo by James Ransom
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Linda Noble Brown
    Linda Noble Brown
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    Shem Aronofsky
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    Amanda Sims
Olivia Bloom

Written by: Olivia Bloom

Has a soft spot for string cheese.


Linda N. February 27, 2017
Silicone baking mats. How did I ever survive without them?
Shem A. February 19, 2017
Wait? You had Cookie Monster?! How was this NOT an entire article on it's own! Good article. I think it's interesting how we all have our own necessities in the kitchen. I agree, a great knife, functional potholders, pots and pans you can be hard on but still look fantastic and hold up to everything I do to them, but then I would hit two things I use and find way more important for how I cook.

One would be Breville's Fast Slow Pro. This machine transformed my cooking. Being a pressure cooker, slow cooker, and rice cooker all in one make this my must have. You haven't had truly amazing stocks until you've done them in a pressure cooker.

Lastly, as much as I would agree the towels are essential in a kitchen, if I could only pick five things I would have to say my Hedley & Bennett apron. If I could only have one I would want the apron more than a towel. Plus I could always dry my hand on my apron if I had to!
Amanda S. February 20, 2017
Oh, it was!