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The Sharpest Tools

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Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: Brette tackles the sharp kitchen tool family: the mandolines, microplanes, and box graters.

Sharp things

Look at the hands of any cook -- a home cook, a line cook, a chef de cuisine -- and you’ll see a story.

You’ll see, maybe, that time that cook made a dinner party for ten, and nicked their hand on the top of the oven when pulling out the final dessert. Or you’ll see that time the cook chopped mountains of onions, and when one little fingertip got in the way. Or, perhaps, you’ll see that time a young home cook staged in a restaurant kitchen, and proceeded to slice through each of her fingers, one at a time.

Cooking, sometimes, can be dangerous. That’s part of what makes it fun.

Knives, sure, are dangerous, thrilling. But they’re not the only sharp things in the drawer -- not the only tools with which to be careful, to be patient.

Enter: the mandolines, microplanes, and box graters.

These handy, handled tools do the jobs that my two awkward, clumsy hands can’t. They grate, they zest, they slice food into paper-thin pieces; they make prepping and garnishing and salad-making into a fun, gleeful exercise. The food that comes out of them is just so, well, perfect. So thin. So small. So not what I’m used to.

And -- if I’m careful, of course -- I’ll need them for my first kitchen.  



Mandolines come in two styles: the classic, French version with straight, serrated, and comb blades (so fancy!), and the hand-held slicers that are simply straight-bladed. 

Can you guess which one I’m leaning towards?

The decision, though, is not that easy. The simple, straight-bladed mandolines can be both dangerous and counter-productive; a v-shaped or diagonal blade allows for cleaner, more precise cuts. Luckily, these exist for a not-too-high price; the Kyocera Adjustable Ceramic Mandoline Slicer, for instance, is $22.45. The fancier, multi-bladed French versions, like the OXO Good Grips V-Blade Mandoline Slicer, is $39.99. And while it may be fun to cut things into waffle-shapes and perfect matchsticks, it’s not really necessary for my first kitchen. Clean, straight, perfect cuts are what I’m looking for.



It seems simple enough: grate through hard cheese, zest, horseradish, ginger, garlic with ease. Have plenty of teeth, straight and sharp. Be safe enough that I don’t grate away my fingertips – and please, don’t be heavy.

But there’s much room for failure with microplanes. Some are so sharp that they grate through to the pith of citrus; some are so dull that it takes real muscle to grate a hunk of cheese. Just like everything in the kitchen, a microplane takes balance. 

What kind do you use, and would you recommend it for my first kitchen?

box grater

Box graters

It’s easy to lump the classic, four-sided box grater into the kitchen essentials category. ‘Four tools in one!’ it screams. ‘Perfect for a first kitchen!’

But the folks over at Cook’s Ilustrated have a point: how often does one use the pinhole-sized bumps and the slicing sides? Does a one-sided coarse grater make more sense? 

For storage, it certainly does; a box grater is a tall, hulking kitchen tool. But as for price, they’re essentially equal: the Rosle Coarse Grater, for example costs $39.99, while the Cuisipro Box Grater with Bonus Ginger Base costs $33.99. With a one-sided paddle, am I missing out on more sharp-edged glory? Will I find myself yearning for the classic four-sided model, its sturdiness, its ease?

What are your most essential sharp kitchen tools, and what would you recommend for my first kitchen?

As usual, I'll be pinning everything I'm coveting to my First Kitchen Pinterest board, so check it out!

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Entertaining, First Kitchen