Cooking isn’t just about the food. Without the proper tools and gadgets, you’ll never be able to make a successful braise, salad, or steak. You need the right gear and, for better or worse, you have nearly unlimited options. Many useful tools will serve you well for years, but an equal number don’t even deserve a second glance. Since most of us don’t have limitless storage space or disposable income, careful selections are crucial. We’re sharing five pointless tools and five of our favorites to help you stock your kitchen the right way.
1. Garlic peeler
This kitchen tool looks sort of a like a beverage cozy that’s too small to fit around a can. They’re made of some sort of flexible material, often silicone. The idea is to add a few garlic cloves, apply pressure, and roll them around to remove the skin. The slightly tacky material grips the peels and separates them from the stuff you want to use. While most of these products work, you can remove garlic skins using some kitchen tools that serve way more than one purpose. Also, the skins often get stuck inside garlic peelers. If you’re using more than about two cloves for a recipe, you’ll have to stop partway through to wash out the inside.
Any recipe calling for minced, crushed, or chopped garlic is a perfect opportunity to use a standard method with a chef’s knife. Just place the flat side of the knife against the unpeeled clove on a cutting board, then use the heel of your hand to give it a firm whack. It’ll crush the clove and split the skin, making for easy removal. Check out this video on BBC Good Food for a demonstration. If your particular recipe requires intact cloves, grab a paring knife and use to remove the peel. Starting from the root end of the garlic clove, pinch the very edge between the knife and the fleshy part of your thumb, and then peel away the skin. Repeat until the clove is clean.
In the rare instance you need to peel one or more heads of garlic, there’s a clever trick that’s also kind of fun. Separate all the cloves, and toss them into a bowl. Invert a second bowl of equal size, and place it on top of the one with the garlic to form a dome. Pinch the lips together, and vigorously shake the garlic inside for about 10 seconds. Saveur demonstrated how to do it. The friction will separate the skins from the garlic, so you just have to pick out the cloves.
2. Nutmeg grater
Nutmeg graters come in a number of different forms, but the most common is probably the model shaped like a half cone. Most are enclosed, which is meant to easily capture the grated spice for easy measuring. The biggest problem with these tiny tools is they’re really only effective for nutmeg. The jagged, raised edges of the grating surface are too abrasive to use for citrus fruits, meaning your zest will come with a fair amount of the bitter, white pith. Yuck. Because nutmeg graters are so tiny, they’re also impractical for larger foods.
Almost any other type of fine grater will work for nutmeg. Even a box grater has a fine side that will do the trick. Save your money and leave this single-use tool at the store.
3. Electric kettle
Think of these once-popular appliances as the tea kettle for the modern age. Instead of placing the vessel on the stove, it comes with a heating unit located at the base. Some require a cord while others rely on batteries. The biggest claim is they’re fastest way to bring water to a bubble. Though they may save some time from boiling a small amount of water in the microwave or on the stove, it’s not enough to warrant buying a whole new gadget just for this purpose. They also don’t offer any advantages for bringing a pot of pasta water to a boil because they don’t hold that much liquid.
4. Specific slicers
Apples, bananas, eggs, avocados, pineapples, and strawberries. What do they all have in common? Each has its own slicer designed to make cutting the food easier and more uniform. If you were to buy every ingredient’s specific cutting tool, you’d have enough kitchen gadgets to fill multiple drawers. Once again, these tools are only good for a single job, and they don’t always do it well. Say you need thinly sliced apples for a salad. If you use your apple cutter, you then have to go back and use a knife to slice each of those wedges into about four more pieces to get the right size. You’re better off using a knife from the start.
5. Egg separator
Usually, this tool looks like some sort of bizarre slotted spoon. Some poor folks have been tricked into shelling out a few more bucks for fancier versions that are cute or just plain gross. Egg separators do what they’re supposed to do, but nothing else. They’re also one more dish to do. You can easily separate yolks from whites using your hands or the egg shells themselves. Wash your hands, and cleanup is done.
Best kitchen tools and gadgets
1. Chef’s knife
For pros and novices alike, a good chef’s knife is the single most important tool in your kitchen. Many people get tricked into buying fancy sets with tons of different cutlery, but most of the tasks you’ll be doing at home can be accomplished with this one item. You can break down a chicken, crush garlic, chop vegetables, even fillet a small fish.
When choosing an all-purpose knife, every person is slightly different. Instead of buying one from the baking aisle in the grocery store, consider visiting a kitchen appliance specialist. They’ll often let you handle the knife to get a better feel. This helps you figure out what weight and length you like. A good one will cost a lot more than the flimsy ones at the supermarket, but they’ll last significantly longer.
2. Fine zester
Since we’ve determined a nutmeg grater is useless, you’ll want to invest in something capable of turning the spice into a powder while providing a number of other uses. A fine, handheld grater or rasp is exactly what you need. Microplane is probably the most recognizable name for these tools, though you’ll find plenty of offerings from other brands if you look around. Go for one of the thin models with small, closely spaced holes. This style perfect for citrus zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, chocolate, hard cheeses, and anything else you can think of. They’re also incredibly easy to clean, and many can be tossed in the dishwasher.
3. Spring-loaded tongs
Looking to the pros is one of the best ways to figure out what tools are most necessary for a home kitchen. Fancy equipment is kept to a minimum, but you’ll see plenty of spoons, skillets, and tongs. Lots and lots of tongs. They’re the best tool for flipping meats as they cook, serving salads, and stirring pasta as it boils. Some chefs actually prefer using tongs to transfer noodles to the sauce rather than draining in a colander since it won’t fully remove all the starchy water, the secret ingredient for a cohesive pasta dish.
The best models for home use come with a sort of plunger at the end. When you pull the pluger, the tongs lock together so they take up less space inside your utensil drawer.
4. Cast-iron skillet
These heavy duty pans are more or less the original nonstick skillet. Back in the day, cooks had to build up a slick surface through lots of cooking. Fortunately, today’s cast-iron skillets com pre-seasoned, so you can use them straight from the store without worrying about sticking. Even finicky eggs turn out beautifully in one of these pans.
Since cast-iron skillets are so heavy, they retain heat better than almost any other pan. This makes them perfect for getting a hefty sear on a steak, and it’s also the reason many choose it for making fried chicken. Cast-iron skillets are even a perfect vessel for baking goodies like cornbread and cobblers.
5. Vegetable peeler
Even those who can wield a pocket knife like a pro can’t come close to the precision a good peeler delivers. Because there’s minimal risk of cutting yourself, you can also whizz through a pile of potatoes in no time. In addition to the standard job, this tool can create pretty shavings of cheese and chocolate, or turn vegetables into ribbons for an impressive salad.
Though you’ll find a few different models, a Y-peeler is your best bet. Serious Eats explained this design is easiest to hold, good for using in either hand, and usually the least expensive.
One important note: Never peel any fruit or vegetable directly over a garbage can. Occasionally, the peeler will catch a bump and send the produce flying out of your hand. If it lands in a pile of eggshells and used paper towels, you’ll have to start all over.