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