Tell me your most useful and useless kitchen gadgets

KitchenSpot the crap stuff (and pic) in my status symbol kitchen.What kind of swamp do I inhabit? No, I don’t live in Elwood which is now merely stinking canals and is vulnerable to subsidence.I’m talking about the stinking, sticky slimy loathsome depths of depravity that my mind has sunk to meaning that I can’t even take a simple email on face value.My curt reply to his enquiries on the local food blogging scene no doubt left Michael Ruhlman, an opinionated man at the best of times, having some fairly strong views on what sort of twat I am.In my defence, I received his email on April 2 which meant he would have sent it on April 1 and my cortex was filled with April Fool’s pranks.What I like about Ruhlman, the writer of The French Laundry Cookbook, a definitive work on Charcuterie blah blah, is that he is opinionated and a food snob (note I don’t say F–die) to boot.I know prior to its recent release here The Elements of Cooking was already popular among local chefs including Attica’s Ben Shewry. It’s the sort of book which is essential if you are starting out in the kitchen. But it is equally useful for old hands.It finishes off with an A to Z of useful cooking terms but I like best his essays laying the ground work for a proper kitchen and good practice – stock, sauce, seasoning, eggs, heat, tools, good cookbooks (very American-centric for Australia) and finesse.On tools, all you need is a chef’s knife, a large cutting board, a large sauté pan, a flat edged wood spoon and a large non-reactive (Pyrex ideally) bowl.Note he doesn’t say a set of Jamie Oliver Pans, Gordon Ramsay cunting egg slice, Nigella Lawson incontinence pants, Al-Qaeda box knife set, Bill Granger toothbrush or Toby Puttock wooden spoon.This sorts of things definitely should not be on your shopping list when sifting through all the kitchen junk at the Myer or David Jones sale.What amazes me is that Ruhlman doesn’t even mention the wok probably because he is from the Francophile cooking school.He reminds me exactly how much rubbish I have in my kitchen.So how about this? Why don’t we all blog (or leave in comments) the best and worst of the tool in your kitchen by 4 May you time.I’ll then do a round up of the best and worst gadgets.I’ll leave the last words to Ruhlman, who Stephanie also keeps going on about, because they are so good:

“As a rule, any tool that has only one use should be avoided: examples including the shrimp deveiner, cherry pitter, hand crank fruit peeler, special slicers for butter, eggs, avocado, mango et cetera. Also be wary of buying sets of anything: figure what you need, and buy that.A well-outfitted kitchen is defined by its efficiency and by the quality of those tools that make it efficient. The fanciest kitchens with the most beautiful pots, pans and appliances I’ve found to be the least used kitchens and therefore the worst kitchens. I hope the kitchen as a status symbol is a short-lived phenomenon.”

Food Fascist– The copper pan I bought in the David Jones sale. Embarrassed- Probably didn’t need the Auber-WS PID temperature controller that I’m rigging up to the Martini Monster’s rice cooker (thanks for that) for sous vide (boil in a bag) cooking.- I’ve caught a cold from somebody at The Age who apparently doesn’t have a venereal disease.- Last night going to the Emerald Hill Microbrewery (beer natch), The Clarendon (riesling, calamari), Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons (pig), Bistro Guillaume (the best lemon tarte known to humanity. Hendricks Martini), Nobu (saki), Borsch Vodka and Tears (vodka, martini, absinthe) and the Martin Monster’s for yet more booze (5am) was over the top.- John Lethlean you are too noisy. At least the lesbians sitting next to you in Dunkeld said so. Where was Michael Harden’s noise meter?- Bugger. I pitched that idea last week.- Dunkeld sommelier: I still haven’t forgotten the time you stole my Clarines while feeding the cat. But a returned email or phone call would be nice.- Ellie, keep your mouth shut.- A few of us are thinking the food at Attica has the edge on Dunkeld. Sorry.


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  2. Vangie, That sounds like a great idea having a trash or treasure party.I may just do that myself.

  3. I’ve just stumbled on this website and it was certainly entertaining reading all your comments – made me chuckle quite a few times.
    I’ve been a kitchen gadget junky myself, having entertained friends quite a lot in my past life some years ago. I haven’t cooked much for quite some time now, and now that I’m packing to move into a smaller place, I’ve discovered so many gadgets that I didn’t think I have, obviously I’ve either not used in a long time or never ever used at all, and some I don’t even know what they’re for. I also found 2, 3 or more of the same – obviously thinking I didn’t have one so bought another, etc. Definitely time to have a big ‘trash or treasure’ party and make some family & friends happy when I give them away.
    Favourites: I’ll definitely keep my rice cooker, fruit/vegies sanitizer, Oscar juicer, and Kitchen Aid appliances.

  4. Reading these articles reminds me that I need to get more vegetable peelers ( I agree with Jak on that one) and a rice cooker. Might pass on the pie maker though…
    Best – a steamer – a saucepan with two levels of steamer on top then a lid. It means after a weekend overindulgence I can put carrots in the water in the bottom and other veges and fish in the other two levels and have an extra healthy dinner.
    Worst – individual mini cake pans I asked my friend to buy me for Christmas (she doesn’t read this blog, well I hope not). There are only two of these so I can’t make a batch easily and they’re too fiddly to butter.

  5. Grocer, all my stains are off white.

    Robyn – not too late. It’ll take me a day or two to round up.

    Michelle,I actually like the spinner and I don’t think it bruises the leaves. I better check.

  6. Best tools: cleaver, parer, sharpening steel, graduated mixing bowls measuring spoons and jugs, ladles (can’t ever have enough of those, all sizes) veggie peeler, the mother of all stock pots, glass chopping board, large, heavy-bottomed sauteuse with cover (can be used as a shallow fryer, paella pan, wok, for risottos and stews), set of 4 basic heavy bottomed saucepans with covers and steamer, free standing mixer (cook everything from scratch, for only two people, but cook in bulk and freeze future meals), loaf pans (for bread and Madeira cake), cookie sheet, rolling pin, a thin, flexible knife-like spatula (for sliding under rolled out pastry), set of ceramic, glazed ramekins (from tiny to large) for French Onion soup, souffles, au gratins, custards, mousses, pies, fridge, freeze, oven, cook top, and many large windows overlooking great scenery.

    Worst tool: an idiotic plastic spin dryer for salad greens. It broke and when it ‘worked’ it bruised the more delicate of salad greens and left more water droplets than my preferred method of gently swabbing leaves with a thick, dry, thirsty old tea cloth (after giving the head of leaves a couple of good shakes like the elderly ladies do in Alpine villages). Can’t heave the piece of crap because I threw it out when it broke and never got another.

  7. Hope I’m not too late – Turkey turners. Just blogged it.

  8. try the gumption – it works for us and ours is off white.

  9. Sticky, I think small can be good to focus the mind and create order. I’m always amazed how small some restaurant kitchens are and they manage very well. I’ve never heard of an egg boiling gauage. What is it? That’s dedication grating your own coconut. What’s it look like?

    Grocer, the real problem is the cat who knocked the fryig pan and took a chip out the edge and that acid – onions and lemon even water if it’s not wiped away – stain. I have a book on how to make one if you are interested. Although as ever, I wasn’t allowed and we had to buy these in.

  10. Ed, I don’t mind the concrete benchtop.
    a bit of a go with some gumption from time to time keeps it looking good.

  11. A small kitchen means I’m a minimalist. For years I survived with a rice cooker, cleaver and a paring knife, a wok, a stockpot, a cast iron fry pan, a dutch oven, a roasting pan and a couple of saucepans. Then I got a Magimix. When I turned 30 I was given a Baby Gaggia espresso machine and later, a bread oven.

    Now I also have some small gadgets like a Vacu-vin, egg boiling gauge, silicon funnel that folds flat, a ricer & recently a cheap-arsed mandolin for my Vietnamese and Thai cooking.

    Mr Stickyfingers moved in with knives, a blender and small tat, but the only thing I rarely use is a bench mounting coconut grater, for making fiery coconut Sambol. It was a wonderful gift from friends in Sri Lanka and I’ll never part with it.

  12. Sue,Just this once you’ll get away with the plastic steamer. I have two plastic (ready to be chucked)) and two wood chopping boards and really want one for meat juice. I set my heart on this one but the consignment never turned up –

    AOF, similar sentiments on the miniature wave. We had a non-status espresso that did a decent enough job until it broke which sent me on the quest for the difficult shiny one. We have a toaster with a stupid warming rack we never use. I don’t mind it as our oven isn’t too good for that sort of thing. Really I prefer an open fire and boys’ buttocks but beggers can’t be choosers.

    Grocer, thankyou.

  13. see the piemaker in action here!

  14. I’ve been pipped at the post but my vote goes to the corkscrew/bottle opener, first equal with a decent knife (medium size, am sure it has a name and a brand but I stood at a cooks shop and felt the weight, held and generally fondled it til I worked out the right one for me). I also love my 20 yo cast iron (famous french brand) dutch oven and fry pan. An expensive purchase for a poor student (with someone’s staff discount on top of a sale price) but never regretted it. I also love the basic, no status, electric espresso machine. Use it every day for my not-so-short-not-too-long black on waking.

    I don’t own a microwave. Will refuse to til my death I reckon. When my partner moved in we put it in a usable spot in the shed. It’s been used once in 2 years, to thaw some cat meat.

    My juicer cost $12 at a garage sale a dozen or so years ago and I have had my moneys worth. Partner has a citrus juicer taking up precious bench top space but he uses it every day. I am trying to talk him out of having a toaster.

  15. Good: Global knives. Electric scales. Microwave vegetable steamer(sorry). Stock pot. Tongs.
    Chopping board that has meat juice ditch.

    Bad: Pineapple peeler. Colander that spans the sink. Cartoon shot glasses.

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  17. Kylie, the experiments start soon. Would you like to eat something from one?

    Neil, I don’t do the volume that you do but use my wobbly pitter when I’m making clafoutis which usually turns out looking like plastic vomit. I’ve given up using it for olives which I slice with ye olde knife.

    Davy, okay, you’ve rumbled my best gadget too although stelvins are slowly making it redundant.

    Old Foodie, i have some of those hidden away from last Easter when I made a cocoa nib praline. They should probably go now in my gadget amnesty.

  18. I have a bunny-shaped mould for making chocolate (or marshmallow?) Easter eggs for kids. My ‘kids’ are now 30 and 32 years old. I never used the bunny mould even when they were 5 and 7. It is not even a pretty copper mould, it is plastic. I am not, actually, a hoarder. What can I say? I’ll go and find it out straight away and ditch it.

  19. Most useful: Based on most used item, then easily my corkscrew/bottle opener! But them I’m an alcoholic so no surprise there.

    Most useless: Bench mounted pasta maker…just forlornly hangs there, gathering dust and petulantly taking out the odd passing hip.

  20. Ruhlman is plain wrong about cherry pitters, ours gets a good workout every year, we’d be lost without it; I’d like to see him de-pip 10kg cherries without one, suppose one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If that is all the equipment he needs, Ruhlman must be some kind of ascetic, prone to visions of Bourdain’s tool kit. How does he rice potatoes, does he never eat spatzle? What, no grater or mandoline! Just because a tool isn’t used every day, it isn’t useless. Btw Ed, you must be in line for an OA or perhaps knighthood for services to the hospitality industry. That was one punishing schedule.

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  22. When is the great Sous Vide Rice Cooker Experiment happening, Ed?

    Let me know if you’d like to borrow my Pancake Factory (TM) machine next…

  23. Duncan, years ago I bought a small ravioli mould which cam with a miniature rolling pin. I tried to use it without success. I wish I had the courage just to use one of those Asian cleavers, a wok and a steamer and nothing more.

    Surly, Sabatier nice. You trump me there – my Sabatiers are only 20cm and 9.5cm respectively. Once in Barcelona I bought a 40 cm knife. It broke while I was trying to clean ice out the freezer. Coming to think of it my other stainless steel 20cm Sabatier has a huge hole in it from when I lost my plyers and accidentally cut through two electrical wires with it and electrocuted myself.

    Cuiousbutton, Sounds like you are far more sensible than me. The kitchen looks like heaven but the concrete top is impractical. i have to close my eyes once a week and pretend I’m really oiling up Naomi Campbell.

  24. Hmmm, I have a very small kitchen and a habit of moving continent so I don’t have many extraneous kitchen objects: in fact I probably have rather less than what is even necessary (e.g. only 2 knives, 1 chopping board and 1 saucepan). However, one of my favourite gadgets has to be my rice cooker – which I actually allow to take up surface space. And your kitchen looks like it’d be heaven to cook in, I hope it is.

  25. Most useful: Sabatier Lion 30cm Knife, no contest

    Most useless: Fish kettle, when there is only two of you and you don’t entertain often it’s not going to get a lot of use.

  26. Oooh this is a tough one for me, as I’m a bit of a hoarder of trinkets. But you know, in all honesty even the things I use once per decade feel okay. Ummmmm… long barbecue tongs with silicon tips have proved pointless. Rummages through cupboards… ahah! My ravioli attachment for my manual pasta maker. It’s a bugger to use, so deserves the neglect it gets.

    I still don’t have a microwave. Nor a jaffle maker. I love my yoghurt machine. I think the best purchase was my Braun Combimax, with two bowls at different speed-ranges. Fantastic machine. And I love my cleaver… for many years it was almost the only cutting implement I used.

  27. Grocer, sorry thouhgt PIE adorer was a brand name – no wonder I couldn’t find much under Google. Look forward to seeing the machine pics. I suppose you are right on starting out. The prawn peeler/deveiner is ludicrous. What’s wrong with fingers and a small paring knife? Jak’s obsessed with vegetable peelers and cheese slices – we have two. Although my “hack” for using the cheese slice on hard butter straight from the fridge was featured on Lifehacker over two years ago and still remains my highest ever day of traffic which makes cheese slicers cool.

    I bought a plastic microwave rice cooker which is even more useless because it’s too tall to fit in. Another item for the mission. The micro is only a recent addition since Jak started using a heat pack for a sore neck – it’s main use. What I can’t believe is that my mother back in England – who is/was a very good cook – now microwaves scrambled eggs which is probably the reason I’ve been avoiding a visit for the past four years. Our best buy in a recent sale was a small non-stick Kenwood pouring pan which gets over the washing-up problem from a direct gas flame. The only problem with the pan is that the handle is too heavy and it tips if I’m not careful. I wonder what these people are thinking sometimes.

  28. unable to post pictures. sorry

  29. Ezy Aussie Prawn Peeler

    detail, including how to order your personalised ones found here

  30. I have a mini whisk which is incredibly useful. I resisted buying it, thinking a fork would do the trick, but I do get a lot of use out of it. I didn’t really need it to be an expensive Nigella Lawson one…but what can I say, I like what she does. Other incredibly useful things I have are bowls of varying sizes, (including a large, bright blue one that’s big enough to knead bread dough in but can fit in the microwave for melting butter) and a smallish, very sharp serrated knife. I don’t have a rice cooker or a free standing mixer or a breadmaker and don’t really want any of them, much as they are exulted regularly…

    Useless- a microwave omelette dish and a microwave dish for cooking potatoes. Given to me by a well meaning Nana. Used the omelette dish once, turned out rubbery but watery. Should have known…

  31. I know that I may be un-Ruhlman like in having a “set” of both knives (housewarming when we bought our home) and saucepans (wedding gift), but I think they are an excellent way to get started on some decent equipment, so long as you are careful with the set -particularly when the set costs the same as 2 of the items in it, and you’re just starting out.

    So to diss either of these doesn’t take into account the practicalities of getting started in a kitchen – in which case I am un-Ruhlman like; although I agree with him in that you are better off having one decent pan than a set of shyte.

    Pie maker picture will be posted shortly.

    I no longer have the shrimp deveiner (will have another look) but am quite confident it was turfed. It’s not even a knife, it’s plastic.

    As for the pie adorer – you’ve met him!

  32. Plum, glad to hear more good stories about Attica. You could always try the plane which has really quant sick bags – I stole one.

    Grocer, that sounds like you have a set of knoves and pans which I don’t think Ruhlman approves of. I’m with you on the juicer. It’s been taking up cupboard space for maybe four years. Probably time to give it to the local mission. I’ve got the pitter which I do use sometimes but I didn’t even know a shrinp deveiner existing. Can you post a pic – does it look very different from an ordinary knife?

    Ellie, no offense.

    Gobbler, I find those useful too although I went through a two year phase of not making pasta but now have the mojo for it. Knives are my big one – carbon steel which I find easier to sharpen but Jak leaves to rust. I still like my Ikea stsutus kitchen 4 years on although I should have paid attention to everybody who said conceret worktops are impractical.

    Pinky, at least they look nice.

    Sarah, I’d love a Japanese knife but it would be ruined in our house. I didn’t even know pie makers even existed and Grocer – you actually use one. Wow!

    Naomi, but how many knives? I generally use my big chef’s knife and small paring knife and just wipe them down between. I don’t like the shape of eggs poached in those things.

    Grocer, I think I’d like to see a picture of the PIE adorer as well as the deveiner just to prove they really exist.

  33. funnily enough we have a pie maker – bought as a first christmas present to the beloved – a UK PIE adorer, and it is still being used!
    We had a festival of the pie last weekend in fact…

  34. Most Useful: having more than 1 knife. Helps me avoid compulsively washing up after every item preparation.

    Most Useless: I agree with grocer re the juicer. Haven’t used it in about 3 years! But so far the most useless has been the non-stick pan insert for poaching eggs. Haven’t used it once.

  35. Most Useful? My super-sharp Santoku knife, bought in Kappabashi Kitchen Town, Tokyo, and my KitchenAid Freestanding Mixer

    Most Useless: Sunbeam pie maker

  36. The set of 6 porcelain coeur a la creme moulds. Totally useless for any other purpose, but they do look cute on the shelf.

  37. My most treasured is my mixing machine(note I didn’t mention tha brand) for making bread.
    Followed by my trusty old pasta machine.
    Next for sentimental reason, is a battered chefs knife given as a going away present with the words ‘Blow Me!’inscribed on the blade, dont ask.

    As to the kitchen as status symbol I agree with Rhulman, I hope it passes quickly but I have my doubts.
    Years ago we did a big reno complete with flashy kitchen & it shitted me from day one. These days our kitchen looks like something out of Steptoe & Son but by crikey it works!

  38. hmmmm.
    most prized are my furi knives and scanpans

    waste of money is probably the juicer – it is such a pain to clean that whenever I think to use it i think better of it.

    * I have an olive/cherry pitter (see it has more than once use) and I use it
    * we had a shrimp peeler/deveiner but the prawns get mangled using it so it’s been turfed!
    * someone left an egg separator at my house after a tupperware party!

    shut up ellie? there has to be a story in that!

  39. Ate at Attica the other night and it was simply amazing. And Ripponlea is a sight closer than Dunkeld. Until someone offers me a helicopter junket that is ….