Food52 Life

Too Many Cooks: What's your Favorite Kitchen Gadget?

March 23, 2012

You'll be hearing from the staff at FOOD52 every week in Too Many Cooks, our group column in which we pool our answers to questions about food, cooking, life, and more.

The New York Times Dining section ran a piece this week about those kitchen gadgets that you buy thinking they'll make your life easier -- oyster knife, bread machine, milk frother -- but that end up gathering dust in a cabinet.

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But sometimes more is more, even if those pickle tongs take up too much space in your cutlery drawer. Here are our favorite kitchen utensils -- the ones we won't give up in favor of a simpler life. It's funny how so many of our answers are about tools that are just so "satisfying" to use!

You might be able to guess mine -- meat pounder. So handy for crushing garlic, pitting olives (even cherries if you don't have Nozlee's beloved cherry pitter), bruising herbs, pulverizing nuts, and, oh, pounding meat flat.

I love my avocado slicer. I could easily do the same job with a paring knife, but the thrill of watching and feeling that web of thin wire tines slip through the flesh of the avocado never gets old. Plus, every time it's a personal challenge to see how little avocado I can manage to leave behind.

Kristen (pictured above with her salad spinner!):
My salad spinner: the blasted thing takes up approximately 1/10th of my tiny kitchen, but it's worth it. Picture me (pre-salad spinner but finally fed up with damp salad), standing on my fire escape, flinging a towelful of wet leaves in a circle like a windmill, like my chef friend told me to do. Then picture me getting a salad spinner.

I have this squash scraper that looks kind of like an ice cream scoop. It must have been a family hand-me-down when I moved from CA. It's only meant for winter squash, so I only use it for a few months every year. It seemed silly at first because I could just use a spoon to do the same task but the way it scoops the seeds and stringy flesh away is so satisfying. So clean and precise!

I think it would be my Typhoon Professional Cook's Torch. I bought it for $5 at a yard sale down the block and have used it for creme bruleés of course, but also for finishing off frittatas, caramelizing sugar on bananas, making asiago cheese crackers, even toasting marshmallows for S'Mores. Why can I not live without it? Well, honestly I could live without it just fine but if you're wearing your wife's yellow-print Marimekko sunflower apron I think it's critical to man it up as much as possible by always having an blowtorch at the ready!

Two years ago at the end of cherry season, I found a gorgeous all-metal cherry pitter at a thrift store. All throughout the cold season, its shiny handles were a promise of the pies, tarts, jams, and more that I was sure I'd make come warm weather. Of course summer came and went with only one cobbler -- 99% of the time, cherries are too good not to eat on their own. But the soft smoosh and pop of the pitter on the pound-plus of cherries was a joy, and the tool isn't going anywhere. After all, who knows what will happen next summer?

I'm going to say a cheese slicer. You might think a knife will do the trick, but nothing can beat the satisfyingly thin curl of cheese rising smoothly away from the block of cheddar in one momentary gesture.

Reversible citrus juicer. Something so satisfying about taking an oversized knuckle to half a lemon and pressing it to a pulp. Or squeezing fresh OJ manually just because you can.

The first thing that comes to mind is my mandoline. It's not a necessary tool, as I could simply use a knife, but I couldn't do without it, particularly when it comes to slicing and roasting fennel (I love making crispy fennel - it usually doesn't make it from the baking sheet to my plate).

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jeanette J Harris
    Jeanette J Harris
  • Carol Eastes
    Carol Eastes
  • Anonymous
  • Karen P. Dabbour
    Karen P. Dabbour
  • TheWimpyVegetarian
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Jeanette J. December 29, 2019
it would be awesome to have links for these awesome tools!
Carol E. July 2, 2019
Cooking is one thing. But sometimes you can't cook it if you can't get the bloody packing open. (Lookin' at you, Trader Joe's) So though it's sorta boring, the kitchen tool I would have starved to death without is my trusty pair of kitchen shears. Plus they open little screw-tops: wine, vinegar, maple syrup. They snip chives & other herbs. Trim fat off meat. Then come apart to wash. Not very expensive at Targé & worth their weight in truffles.
Anonymous December 8, 2016
"Gadgets" makes these items sound entirely superfluous. I prefer to call them "tools" and every endeavor requires the right tools! Yes, some get used more than others, and I do own quite a few - but I love them and use them constantly. One of my newest favorites that is always in use is my Avocado Keeper. I rarely use an entire avocado, and the Evriholder Avo Saver Avocado means I don't have to mess with plastic wrap and less browning, too. I love my Oxo Omelet Spatula as I make omelets with every leftover veggie imaginable, a couple times a week. I love and use my William Bounds Nutmeg mill. I love my Roselle Garlic Press, and my Swissmar Stainless Steel Pepper Funnel keeps the peppercorns from bouncing all over the floor when I refill my pepper mill. Hey, most of us love to cook on this site, right? Are these in the same ball park as my Le Crueset Dutch oven, Kitchen Aid Mixer, Wustoff knives, or Cuisinart? Of course not. But these TOOLS make my life easier, the job done better, and adds to my joy! They have made great stocking stuffers along the way, too!
Karen P. March 26, 2012
Ah, I so agree cdilaura. You nailed it on the head. A day doesn't go by that I don't use my microplane either!!!! It's great for Parmesan cheese too. I have 2 sizes also. The larger whole one is quite evil if your not super-duper careful though. I have taken off a hunk of skin more than once.
Also it is an affordable piece of equipment I might add. Wash it by hand, keep it in its cover when not being used and it will last a very long time. I've had mine for 2 to 3 years and its still SHARP!!
TheWimpyVegetarian March 26, 2012
Immersion blender! Mostly because I love soup, so I use it ALL the time.
Karen P. March 26, 2012
I must agree with you also ChezSuzanne!! I have had one for years, but alas I am ashamed to admit it was in a drawer and forgotten. I rediscovered it recently and it also is one of my favorite tools now.
TheWimpyVegetarian March 26, 2012
I had a similar experience! and now i use it constantly it seems. soooo much easier than the food processor!
Burnt O. March 29, 2012
Agree 150%. I use that thing DAILY for smoothies, soups, and with the mini prep bowl - garlic, herbs, salad dressings, marinades, you name it. Most used hand held appliance I own.
thurston March 26, 2012
krups coffee/spice grinder! makes short work of prepping dry rubs, spice blends, even small amounts of parmesan cheese. and i'd have to agree with the salad spinner nod. given the amount of amazing greens i get from my local csa, the salad spinner gets spun numerous times a week!
Patrisha March 25, 2012
It has to be my trusty ole' mortar & pestle...keeps me grounded and there is nothing like grinding your own seeds & herbs.
LucyS March 25, 2012
They call it a Cuisinart 'smart stick' - it attaches to a mini bowl-shaped blender, whisk, and blending stick. I use it all. the. time. And it works really smoothly. Perfect for small kitcheners.
sfmiller March 27, 2012
I have one of these, too, and love it. I didn't think I'd use the mini-food-processor attachment much, but I ended up using it more than I do my 11-cup FP. It's great for chopping small quantities nuts or other things you don't want to reduce to a paste and for making a cup or so of salsa, pesto, etc. And much easier to clean than a full-sized FP.
midnitechef March 25, 2012
Cheese, lots of cheese.
Milk for coffee and the kids (I don't drink it much, maybe with a warm cookie)
peanut butter
seasonal veggies
mward March 25, 2012
My favorite is my Kyocera adjustible mandoline slicer. I've never been able to get my OXO mandolin to work properly, but this inexpensive tool allows you to slice 4 different thicknesses. It's especially great for salad vegetables like cucumber, fennel, radishes, carrots, etc., but also for vegetable soups and slicing onions.
pierino March 25, 2012
Another KitchenAid user here, and I own two. I had to make two cheese cakes this week and today I'll be using the grinder attachment for sausage. Runner up would be the KitchenAid mid-sized food processor which I use all the time for smaller jobs.
But I wouldn't mind owning those snail tongs mentioned in the Times article. I sometimes go to antinque stores in search of old kitchen tools. But last time I walked out with a 60's Underwood typewriter instead.
sunday L. March 25, 2012
I have a cheese slicer that some guy from Sweden gave me on a date about 20 years ago. I haven't seen him since, but the slicer is still going strong. It slices cheese like a dream, but can also be put to use as a chocolate curler, pie server, and spatula, among other things.
slothrop March 25, 2012
OK, in addition to the KitchenAid that I rhapsodized about, a simple gadget that I just used today, and which my kids just love to watch (for the 3 seconds it takes) is my pineapple corer. So quick and easy!

Another gadget that I bought on a whim, as it was on sale for next to nothing, was a bean frencher. I figured I might use it on occasion, but now I rarely make green beans without using it.
ChefSalt March 25, 2012
The peeler!!
Louisa March 25, 2012
My flat whisk. I didn't even know it existed until someone gave me one last year. I use it constantly--so great for sauces and anytime you need to stir into the corners of your pot.
Second is bench scraper.
BavarianCook March 24, 2012
I'm with calendar girl: my egg slicer. I use that thing every day! I eat toast with a perfectly sliced hardboiled egg every day for lunch at work. So good! The egg slicer gives me just the perfect amount of slices and in the right thickness.
Nozlee S. March 24, 2012
Bench scraper! Microplane! Meat grinder! Kitchen scale! I couldn't live without them, either. And now I'm half-convinced I need a slap chop...
Burnt O. March 29, 2012
You do NOT need a slap chop! But everything else you just mentioned - absolutely.
Jennifer A. March 24, 2012
A no frills pressure cooker changed my life. It puts so many long-cooking favorites (beans, legumes, brown rice . . .) within reach any night of the week.
SKK March 24, 2012
mrslarkin - I checked out the Slap Chop Rap - love it! "Slap your troubles away" My current favorite is my kitchen scale. I way everything. So much more satisfying than weighing myself.
Panfusine March 24, 2012
My table top stone grinder (its a teensy portable version of a chocolate concher), Absolutely indispensable for making batter for Indian Dosa & Idlis