photo: Samuel Hansen
What do iced-tea makers, shrimp de-veiners and pasta measurers all have in common? For most home cooks, they are a waste of money and kitchen cabinet space.
Although home cooks get the impression that having lots of single-use culinary tools will expand their repertoire and make cooking fun, professional cooks generally look for tools that multitask. (The best-buy equipment recommendations many offered up last week, including a single chef’s knife and versatile food processor, speak to that.) Personal chef Anne Smith of “bake, Blanche or broil” packs her travel bag with just a handful of tools, among them knives, a microplane, flexible cutting boards and a hand-held can opener. “You can prepare most anything with these tools,” she says.
Once you get into more esoteric or single-use items, there are two big risks. One, that you won’t use the item frequently enough to warrant its purchase price. A $100 bread-maker used twice adds $50 apiece to your loaves of homemade bread. The second risk is that, for smaller gadgets, you’ll forget altogether that you have them. Frugal Foodie is guilty of this one. When Mr. Foodie saw this week’s column topic, he dug through the kitchen drawers and came up with a dough crimper, a pasta measurer, a microwaveable case to make soft-boiled eggs, a cherry pitter, and a glass plate that placed in a pot of water alerts the cook when it boils. None have been used since at least 2009, although we’ve certainly cooked foods that could have warranted pulling out said items.
Before you buy, ask yourself if you’ll use an item enough to warrant its price tag. Also make sure that there isn’t another way to make do with the items you already have. A lot of single-use tools “don’t do as good a job as a regular appliance or pan, along with a little bit of your kitchen skill, might do,” says holistic nutritionist Bernadette Armiento of Shining Life Nutrition. In lieu of a garlic peeler, for example, you could simply whack the clove with the flat of a knife. And you don’t really need separate peelers for asparagus, carrots and potatoes.
Here are three other gadgets chefs say to purchase with caution:
$30 and up
It’s not the cost of the device that turned off many of the chefs we talked to — it’s the cleanup. Sure, an immersion blender can save you the time of hauling out, using and cleaning your full-size blender. But you might spend more time cleaning the kitchen. “It’s almost impossible to blend soup without spraying bouillabaisse around your whole kitchen,” says home cook Cindy Alvarez. “Even Alton Brown has to cover his with a makeshift Frisbee-with-a-hole-in-it cover!”
$20 and up
“If you buy a cheap one just to try, I’ll bet that within a month it will be gathering dust,” says Rachelle Strauss of “Little Green Blog.” “The cheap ones take more time to assemble and clean after use than they do to get the juice out!” Lower-priced juicers are rarely powerful enough to extract much juice, either — leaving lots of nutrients behind in the pulp, she says. To get quality, you need to pay upwards of $200 for a decent model, which also requires some dedication to juicing that a high-speed blender couldn’t handle.
Ice Cream Maker
$30 and up
Buying one of these $50 machines is Frugal Foodie’s big regret — the amount of freezer space the bowls take up is substantial, and making a decent batch of custard-style ice cream (rather than the milk-only versions in the included recipe booklet) requires a higher cost in time and ingredients. Unless you’re making ice cream on a weekly basis, try one of many non-machine methods.
Do you have a kitchen gadget you regret buying? Let us know in the comments.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.