Essential Tools

9 Kitchen Tools Chefs Don't Ever *Actually* Use

We asked the pros, and boy, did they have opinions.

February 14, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Unless you live in a sprawling mansion somewhere (invite me over, please), chances are your kitchen real estate is super valuable. Before you purchase any new gadgets or tools or pretty trinkets, you have to ask yourself: Does this spark joy? Or really—will this tool help spark more joy in my cooking/dish-doing process?

We’re all for single-use tools here at Food52. Some of us are weirdly loyal to a particular item for personal or practical reasons—that’s cool! But when the single-use items start to stack up, that’s when a purge may become necessary. And in the spirit of the still-new year and turning over a new leaf and all that, winnowing out your kitchen is one doable, super satisfying task you can actually achieve.

I talked to a few chefs (and took a trip down memory lane to my own time in Manhattan kitchens) to round up a few kitchen tools they never use.


Lots and lots of different knives

In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain famously wrote that you only need ONE chef’s knife: you can use the tip for detailed work, the heel for big chopping jobs. Similarly, Seattle chef Eric Rivera (former director of culinary operations of Chicago’s Alinea)’s No. 1 kitchen tool is a Bob Kramer's chef knife. “It does everything and replaces about 90 percent of specialized kitchen tools,” he wrote me.

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Top Comment:
“I have a professional chef for 40 years and agree with the tools part but it’s about time to put the myth about shrooms and water to bed. They will not absorb water. To prove this weigh a pound of mushrooms then put them in a bath for as long as you like, drain and weigh again. The only added weight will be the small amount of water still on the outside of the mushroom. And please “chef” does not mean good cook it simply denotes the head of a station. ”
— Chefmango
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Most chefs I know have at least two to three knives, if only because knives are super cool and, to some extent, a status symbol amongst chefs. I recommend having three basic knives: one big one as the workhorse, one small paring-sized one for intricate work, and a serrated one for bread and tomatoes. Instead of buying one big knife set with a bunch of in-between knives you probably won’t ever use, cut down on the quantity and invest in quality. Or at least learn how to sharpen the ones you have.


Garlic press

This thing is such a pain to clean! That alone should disqualify it. Donate yours to Goodwill and grate your garlic over a Microplane instead—same results, less mess.


Oven mitts

Peek inside a kitchen or bakery, and it’s almost guaranteed you won’t see oven mitts. Instead, chefs use omnipresent, all-purpose kitchen towels (the same ones they use to keep their station clean, mop their brow, etc.), to shuttle hot things in and out of stoves and ovens. Towels are much more pliable than oven mitts—which are essentially awkward mittens—and let you get a better grip on hot pans. (This double oven mitt might be the exception.) Caution: Make sure said towels are DRY, otherwise you’re in for a nasty scorch.


(Most) spatulas

If you’re like me, you have three to four spatulas, all of which essentially serve the same function: flip pancakes, push around roasted vegetables, etc. However, from a chef’s perspective, there is one spatula to rule them all: the wide, flat flexible metal one sometimes referred to as a “fish spat.” It gives you the leverage to really get under things for a flip, but is also lightweight and flexible and decidedly not clunky.

Rivera is also partial to his small offset spatula, which he uses to transfer food, turn things in pans, and more. “It’s very versatile,” he told me. Bonus: It makes an excellent cake froster.


Pasta spoon

What is the point of these? Seriously? I always learned growing up that if you’re making spaghetti, thou must useth the pasta spoon. But really all they do is scrape along the bottom, and get gunk caught in their claws and little holes. One cool thing they can do, however, is measure a single-serving of spaghetti—which is kind of a neat trick. But for actual pasta-making, stick to tongs, wooden spoons, or even a straight-up fork.


Any sort of “slicer”

This is one that came up with every chef I spoke to. It goes for any and all specialized slicers: avocado slicer, egg slicer, apple slicer, banana slicer, etc. Just ditch ‘em and use it as an excuse to practice your knife skills!


Rice cooker

I myself am a convert to the rice cooker, which cooks all types of rice perfectly with nary a burnt bottom. But when I moved cross-country into a tiny studio apartment, I had to ditch it. Instead, I just learned how to actually cook rice well.

I remember the sous chef at Maialino, where I once worked as a prep cook, telling me that he couldn’t cook rice when he started at the restaurant. So he just made himself cook rice dozens and dozens of times, until he had an instinct for when it was ready. (I personally use a timer, but this is something to aspire to.) Do I still eff up my rice sometimes? You bet your burnt bottom, I do! But it’s made me a much better rice preparer now that I can’t rely on a nifty machine to do it for me.


Any sort of vegetable brushes

“Never in my life will I brush a potato,” said Rachel Pearce, a chef in Charleston, South Carolina, who has worked at legendary spots F.I.G. and The Ordinary, among others. Instead of brushes, just give vegetables a good shower under running water and a nudge with a towel, if need be, to cleanse any vegetables of dirt. The one exception? Mushrooms. No, you don’t need a mushroom brush (though they’re so cute!): Just don’t soak them, since they’ll absorb the water and get mushy. Instead, use a moist towel or paper towel to gently wipe off dirt.


Citrus reamer/juicer

This is one that every chef I talked to voted off the island. Because unless you’re juicing tons of oranges for a mimosa party, it’s honestly not worth the hassle—or the counter space. Instead, use a fork or even a pair of tongs to juice lemons, limes, or any citrus.


All of this is not to say that chefs never use single-use kitchen tools. Sutherland always has an oyster knife on hand, and Pearce is a sucker for cute oven mitts (samesies!). Rivera is partial to his bench scraper, which he uses to keep his cooking area clean for efficient movement. Maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at your own kitchen drawers and see what sparks joy—and what is ready for the decluttering chopping block.

Do you agree with these tools? Let us know below!

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A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.

29 Comments

Nancy March 13, 2019
As an Asian American who grew up eating rice, I am definitely not giving up that rice cooker. I eat rice every day and the time it saves me is invaluable. Yes, you can make rice on the stove top but only makes sense if you're making it for a specific dish once a week. And I also live in a tiny Manhattan apartment.
 
Louise C. March 2, 2019
I use a salad spinner just about every day of my life. If there is ANYTHING that sounds stupid and frivilous, it's a salad spinner. Everyone's needs are different. I like to have a parer, chef's, santoku, flexible boning, and serrated knives. I don't feel any of these is superfluous. As for rice - I could not make it for love nor money. Bear in mind I can glove bone a turkey with a paring knife but my rice came out like joint compound. Further befuddling is that I have always been able to make an excellent risotto. The only appliance in which I have ever been able to make rice is the Instant Pot. Brown short grained rice is my favorite and it comes amazing in the IP. #youllprymycherrypitteroutofmycolddeadhands
 
Victoria H. February 18, 2019
Sorry, but a sushi chef is absolutely going to need a rice cooker, and will give up dishwasher space in a small home/apartment just to keep it. Great list otherwise. Being the wife of a chef, I still want my ceramic serrated knife and my lemon press. It looks cute on my bar. #ChefWifeProblems
 
Mike February 16, 2019
Sorry guys, big miss and a tad patronizing. Hello serrated bread knives, hello paring knives, which I use to pare. Love my oven mittens and my garlic press.

I understand you may live in a small apartment, I don’t
 
Rob W. February 15, 2019
'I have a really tiny apartment, so rice cookers are dumb, and btw, they just mask your ignorance.' This article was seriously witless. I LOVE my Zojirushi and use it all the time. Sorry you live in a shoe box.
 
Dana E. February 18, 2019
I think you missed the point of the article. If it's not for you and you don't need the advice, that's awesome! I think the point is that a lot of people are sucked in by pretty gadgets that they don't necessarily need. A lot of these gadgets don't get used much and end up in a drawer or a landfill. If you use yours though, that's great. I like her advocating for simplifying a kitchen, but that's just me :)
 
Steve February 15, 2019
I could pare my knife collection down easily. For me, small and med (6 and 8 I believe) chefs' knives, paring knife, carving knife, boning knife, and serrated knife are all used pretty consistently. Fish spatula gets a workout, but I have a clunkier rubber spatula for nonstick surfaces. The garlic press I'm getting less and less fond of, always smells, even after cleaning, and yes, the Microplane does the job. The useless pasta spoon went the way of 8-track players a few decades ago. Tongs for long and a spider for short. Vegetable brush? Please. I am fond of our egg slicer and our citrus juicer (you know, the ones that come in yellow, orange, and green). And the bench scraper - a must have. Use it all the time.
 
Roger B. February 14, 2019
Re Bourdain knife opinion, I would add a boning knife. I don’t use it much, but I’m glad to have it when I need it. The blade on a chefs knife is too big and inflexible. I use an old fashion lemon squeezer since my hands don5 work so well anymore. I also have a thing about fancy cookware. All the kitchens I’ve been in (truthfully not that many) used cheap aluminum and cheap non stick. When they get too beat up, they get tossed and replaced. No expensive all clad, no Le Crueset type, very little copper or cast iron. If you need to work fast and repetitively, and use your pan as a tool and not a vessel you can’t have anything heavy or unwieldy, especially if you’re working more than one burner. I wonder what others think of cookware.
 
Deedledum February 14, 2019
I am sooo done with things 'sparking joy'!
 
tia February 14, 2019
You can have my rice cooker when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands. (Or when you give me one of those super nice Zojirushi ones to replace it!) It's all about what tools you actually use.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. February 15, 2019
Word I actually miss my rice cooker constantly.
 
Rob W. February 15, 2019
Amen Tia, seriously the top of the line Z is worth getting a 2nd job.
 
HalfPint February 14, 2019
I disagree with most of this list. Love my garlic press and I don't find it that hard to clean. Ditto the wooden citrus reamer. My rice cooker (a cute little Zojirushi) is a work horse in my house and gets used almost every day (and yes, I can cook rice on the stovetop like a champion. It's how I first learned to cook rice.). I have many spatulas of an assorted variety. Cannot live without the silicon spatulas, especially when I want that last bit of whatever scraped from the bowl. I don't like using metal spatulas on the pans because of the damage that they can do. So I have a flexible and plastic (silicon?) spatula that sees use every morning as my husband prepares his eggs. We had 2 but the other one has gone walkabout.

I will agree about the spaghetti spoon. What the H is the point of this thing? It came into the kitchen from my husband's bachelor days and he still uses it on occasion, but give me pair of tongs for spaghetti every time.
 
Smaug February 14, 2019
I agree- the point most people miss is that professional chefs are not doing anything like what home chefs are doing. Differences of mission aside (and they are huge) there is a world of difference between a kitchen where a crowd of people are turning out multiple dishes one after another as fast as they can manage-maybe a bit faster- and a room where one or two people are making a single meal.
 
Smaug February 16, 2019
I like my spaghetti spoon because it has a face cut into it and is kind of cute- I use it occasionally for serving, largely out of a sense of duty, but mostly it's just a sentry that keeps bandicoots out of the kitchen.
 
Chris February 16, 2019
a couple years ago i bought a utensil carousel in order to replace some of my battered spoons and spatulas with some cheap silicone ones. i didn't notice that there was a spaghetti spoon included...the other day, just for craps and giggles i decided to try it and i think i've invented a new game: how many noodles can a spaghetti spoon actually pick up?
 
SandraH February 19, 2019
I agree too. I can get so much more juice using my citrus reamer than trying to squeeze with my hands. Too hard for me to squeeze much I find. And I love my garlic press, an IKEA purchase many years ago and not difficult to clean. I like more than three knives but I agree - buy the best quality you can and the ones that feel good in your hand. Have never used a spaghetti spoon, love tongs and a spider. I appreciate reading what a professional chef uses and getting a peek into their world, always fun, but that also means you’re the boss of your own kitchen and should use what tools feel good and works for you.
 
judy February 14, 2019
Well, I don't use most of those tools either. I have not used my tongs for juicing citrus. I still use my reamer or a fork. Work the best. I do have one of those hand crank kitchen choppers. Hand because I have more control than with an electric one. It beautifully chops to consistent size whatever I put in it. I need to do a minimum of 2 cups of whatever. but an onion, a few cloves of garlic, some celery and a 1/2 green pepper all go into the hopper with the 3 blade cutter. And about 10 twirls of the handle and I have very nicely evenly chopped pieces. They may not be diced into squares. But they are beautifully uniform in size and saute up very well. I have a badly injured dominant arm. So chopping is a chore that I simply shy away from. and this works great. The find grate is also a time-saver. I like to freeze ginger into 2 inch pieces. Grates ginger beautifully, and I don't have wanted ginger sitting in my fridge, I just freeze what I don';t use.
 
Chris February 14, 2019
over the years, i've accumulated a bunch of tools and utensils i never use. sometimes it was because i had it in my mind that i "needed" this or that, other times it was in the clearance bin or something. but for some reason, articles like these seem to assume we all live in a new york closet where every millimeter of space has to be deserved, but that's just not so. i live in a small house and space is never the driver for me writing a tool or utensil off my list (you should see my workshop, garage and toolboxes).

anyway, it must be the bartender in me but i love my lemon/lime squeezer. beats the pants off a fork and it allows me to squeeze with one hand.
 
Doug W. February 14, 2019
Nice article, Catherine! But the real cliff hanger is...who was that sous chef at Maialino??
 
Pami February 14, 2019
You had me till the last one... I use my small wooden citrus reamer every single day.
 
judy February 14, 2019
Yep, use mine several times a week as well.
 
Corduval February 14, 2019
The wooden citrus reamer is the only thing that doesn't hurt my arthritis. I have a painful time "squeezing" anything!
 
Chefmango February 14, 2019
I have a professional chef for 40 years and agree with the tools part but it’s about time to put the myth about shrooms and water to bed. They will not absorb water. To prove this weigh a pound of mushrooms then put them in a bath for as long as you like, drain and weigh again. The only added weight will be the small amount of water still on the outside of the mushroom. And please “chef” does not mean good cook it simply denotes the head of a station.
 
Doug W. February 14, 2019
Hey Chefmango....if you dunked my shipment of porcini or matsutakes in water for as long as you liked in my kitchen you’d probably not be moving to another station for a while.
 
Ethyl February 14, 2019
Cooks Illustrated, the NYT, Alton Brown and others debunked this one years ago, thank you! Mushrooms naturally live in wet areas, if they absorbed water like people think they would rot in their natural environment. They specifically evolved to NOT absorb water!
 
Read February 14, 2019
Yeah, I really thought we were done with this one. Harold McGee did the experiments 30 years ago showing this was wrong. Chefs are exceptionally hidebound about the things they learned early, so @Doug W. is probably not alone in having silly kitchen rules, but it's hideboundness, not reality. And in the context of the article it's particularly dumb—those mushroom brushes came into existence because people thought they daren't get their mushrooms wet.

But no scrubbing potatoes? Chef Pearce must a) only buy potatoes grown in sand, or b) only serve potatoes peeled, or c) serve dirty potatoes.
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. February 15, 2019
Interesting! It's something that was hammered into me again and again -- I'll have to do my own experiment to see :)
 
Smaug February 16, 2019
If the mushroom caps are open the gills can soak up considerable water- for most of us that means mostly portabellas, but I would be leery of soaking a morel, or a lot of the more exotic types. As far as your basic button mushrooms and criminis, I don't think I've ever heard anyone claim that they absorb water to any great extent, just that the surface gets slimy- which it does; might be a consideration if you're serving them raw.