Skip single-use gadgets: Learn creative uses for everyday kitchen tools instead

"I have railed against uni-taskers for 20 years,” Brown opined back in 2015

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published October 12, 2019 5:52PM (EDT)

Kitchen Tools (Salon/ Ilana Lidagoster)
Kitchen Tools (Salon/ Ilana Lidagoster)

The sale of kitchen tools is a multi-million industry. But you do not need every gadget that is marketed to you at upscale stores like Sur La Table or Williams and Sonoma. Even if you have a disposable income, you do not need single-use tools. Your parents and grandparents before you operated a kitchen without them, and so can you.

Perhaps the most famous advocate against single-use kitchen tools is the celebrity chef Alton Brown, who has used has platform to urge consumers to think before they add uni-taskers to their shopping carts.

"I have railed against uni-taskers for 20 years," Brown opined back in 2015. "I've come around to liking them as strategic gifts for people you don't like."

To me, the most egregious example of such a gadget is the avocado masher. But here is something to chew on: My grandmother, who is from Mexico, taught me how to make guacamole the traditional way — with a fork. My grandfather, who is from the South and made lots of mashed potatoes in his day, experimented with using a potato masher to mash avocados when tasked with helping my grandmother make the family recipe one day. I doubted the madness at first, but it actually turns out to be more efficient — and also helps creates a smoother consistency.

I spent the week polling the Salon staff about their favorite multi-use kitchen tools. Among other things, you will find out why you can pass on that garlic press, and you will learn a creative new use for your muffin tin.

Hanh Nguyen, Senior Culture Editor

Brown has drilled into my head that kitchen implements should not be uni-taskers — except for the fire extinguisher. Therefore, when I inherited an egg slicer, I was determined to find other uses for it. Like an egg, the object to be sliced must have just the right balance in texture: tender enough for the wires to cut through (no skirt steak or saltwater taffy), yet firm enough to retain its basic shape (squishy dinner rolls just gum up the works).

To my delight, I've used them on peeled kiwis and well-roasted beets — get rid of the tougher root section — which makes them salad-ready. I have also used them on Asian-style fish meatballs and cut-up blocks of firm tofu, but do not really see the benefit of having thin slices of those. I an sure steamed veggies would work as well, but those might require more prep than its worth to fit inside an egg-sized slicer.

Jillian Kestenbaum, Partnership and Engagement Coordinator 

My mom taught me this kitchen hack. Whenever I'd use a garlic press, I felt like so much of the clove was wasted upon compression. Plus, the skin of the garlic can create a barrier which preventing the flesh from exiting. Garlic presses are also annoying to clean, with a lot of picking and scraping involved.

The solution? I use the microplane of my cheese grater. This tool works best on large cloves. It makes mincing a lot garlic a breeze, and the cleanup is super quick.

Pro tip: To prevent the smell sticking to my hands and injury — accidentally grating your fingertips is not fun — I wear rubber gloves.

Amanda Marcotte, Senior Politics Writer

I have a 4-inch round cookie cutter, and the one thing I have never used it for is making cookies. Or even biscuits, which require a smaller cutter. Instead, I use the 4-inch cutter to make two things: veggie burgers and pitas. With veggie burgers, first you make the mix. Then you systematically shape each burger on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper by filling the cookie cutter.

More interestingly, I got sick of trying to eyeball the size of pita breads by rolling them in my hand. One day, I just rolled out all the pita bread dough and started using the 4-inch cutter. I ended up with slightly small but perfectly even pita breads to throw on the griddle. And truly, the smaller the pita, the more pita you can eat.

Ashlie Stevens, Culture Writer

I love the look of simple cocktail served in an old-fashioned glass over one large ice cube. There are obviously special trays you can buy to mold ice, but I am cheap and realized that a muffin tin (or a mini-muffin tin for that matter) is a totally workable alternative. Just fill the slots about 3/4 full with water. If you want to get a little fancy, add thinly sliced citrus or a sprig of rosemary or mint to the cube.

Erin Keane, Editor in Chief

My ice cream scoop stays in use throughout the fall and winter as my go-to tool for cleaning out winter squash before roasting. The scoop's sharp front, made for cutting through the surface of freezer-hard ice cream, is also very effective at cutting through the fibrous stringy bits around the seeds, making the cleaning part of prep a breeze.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, Director of Community

As an imprecise, improvisational cook, I tend to splatter ingredients around the kitchen counter until I end up with dishes that look more "Nailed It!" than "GBBO." And for anyone with similarly Jackson Pollack like culinary tendencies, the single item that will keep your macarons remotely uniform and help you gauge when a reduction has actually reduced is not a kitchen tool at all. It is a plain old metal ruler.

I forget where I first learned of the power of the metal ruler, though I assume it was Martha Stewart. All I know is that I can make a great pie crust — but I will never instinctively be able to eyeball the size of one — that I forget whether my cake pans are 8 or 9 inches, and that if I have to put more than one thing on a baking sheet, I will need an assist in spacing them apart. I do not need to figure any of that out either; that is what the ruler is for. And if you are a bit of a mess like me, a trusty metal measurer also makes a fine emergency bench scraper for your scone dough debris.

Nicole Karlis, Staff Writer

I bake my banana bread in a cake pan. Because I am a new baker, I did not have a bread pan when I decided late one night that I wanted to make banana bread.  However, I had a cake pan. Since I did not want to make a late-night trip to the store, I ended up making it with a cake pan. The end product was excellent. I eventually bought a bread pan, but I actually prefer my cake pan because it takes less time to bake — and it turns out more moist, in my opinion. You do not need both types of pans.

D. Watkins, Editor at Large

I use the same frying pan every day, even though it is faded and bent out of shape. When tilted, it perfectly evens out my egg whites, causing them to form into a circle as the excess fluid evens out the side. The broken pan makes flipping and folding extra easy. My wife, who brought a zillion new pots and pans when we got married, tries to throw it out because she doesn't see eye-to-eye with me. But I will die with that pan. You don't need a perfect pan.

Ilana Lidagoster, Assistant Art Editor

When preparing food for Shabbat, my family uses a rolling pin in a slightly more . . . brutal manner than one would normally associate with this kitchen tool. One of our favorite foods to make is pretzel-chicken, which is chicken breast coated in egg-wash, rolled in pretzel crumbs and then baked or fried. However, we have found that using a food processor or a blender makes the pretzel too powdery, resulting in a finished produce that is dry and not crispy enough.

So what do we do? We go at the bag of pretzels with a rolling pin; first beating the bag to get it started, then pouring the contents into a tin and continuing to roll and crush the pretzels until they are the right size. It is a role in the kitchen my sisters and I trade off on, as it becomes physically draining after a while. It sure builds arm strength, though.

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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