With the rise of social media over the last decade or so, I’ve seen a 500% increase in kitchen “tools” hitting the market. From a $150.00 “multi-function” pan that only lets you make one item at a time to countertop ovens that cost more than the security deposit I’ve paid for most of my condos, while limiting to a single cooking method, to the rise of the silicon coatings on everything… While these tools are often beautifully designed and the technology in some is impressive, the truth is 90% of them you simply do not need to cook the majority of dishes you will prepare throughout your life.
Even I have fallen prey to this more than I care to admit… At this very moment, I have a whole set of knives that I RARELY use, for the simple reason that they’re too expensive and fussy. They’re beautiful knives, carbon steel, wood handles with polished steel inlay. However, they MUST be cleaned very quickly after every use, and often times when I’m in the kitchen, I’m doing multiple things like discussing database migrations, replying to support tickets, testing a recipe. (I know, I know, slow down and smell things, but as a single career gal, I’m always on the move!) I admit that sometimes it takes me a moment to finish the cleanup. 😉
Many find it shocking to learn that most chef’s kitchens aren’t packed with fancy tools or gadgets. In truth, the most heavily-used tool in my kitchen over the last 10 years was a BPA-free rectangle ice container I purchased at the flea market in Tallahassee, FL while shopping with my mom. It’s a wonderful tool to use for defrosting in the fridge, filling bags for the freezer, or small-batch sous vide cooking. It resists stains, repels oils, is dishwasher and microwave safe, AND the narrow profile allows me to use vertical space that we often can’t… The best $7.00 I’ve ever spent!
Another shock to a great many people is my 2nd most used tool, which is a mini silicone whisk I’ve purchased from Dollar General of all places, and they cost a whopping $1.25 cents each and come in multiple colors. What I love about them is that they are actually metal whisks coated in food-grade silicone. So it doesn’t matter if I’m mixing up thick liquids, like honey for example — the whisk has enough strength to blend it while being easy to bend back into shape if it’s bent. It works wonderfully well in all pan types from non-stick to cast iron… And best of all, these are inexpensive enough that you’ll actually use them, and not only on special occasions. The truth is, I find myself reaching for these whisks more than my “pro chef-designed” whisks. (Pause to gasp while clutching pearls here.)
I don’t by any means wish to imply that all kitchen tools are useless gadgets destined for the back of your closet, only to see the light of day when you bring out the holiday decorations. In fact, if the tool inspires you to get into the kitchen and explore the many, many, many flavors, smells, and textures the world of food has to offer, then I ENCOURAGE YOU TO BUY IT. I would rather have you feeling confident in the kitchen than worrying about being “extra”. However, I do encourage you to do your research on the subject. Find a low-cost version that may not have all the bells and whistles. Allow yourself to explore without breaking the bank. I am slightly ashamed to admit I’ve wasted a small fortune on expensive gadgets only to realize that I absolutely hate them and everything about them.
You can also often find great tools at your local thrift store. This was one of the main places my mom would find new things for the kitchen while buying new school clothes for all us kids. When buying items from thrift stores, I do keep a few personal rules in the back of my mind. I don’t buy tools that are porous. For example, I would NEVER buy wooden tools because I would never feel 100% safe that I “cleaned it”. I also NEVER buy any items made of clay that appear homemade because the clay could hold countless um, unknown wonders. (You also could never be sure that any glazes used are food safe!)
If you are a blogger, food stylist, or even a new startup restaurant, the thrift store is a wonderful place to find unique one-off plates and silverware for marketing and social media content. And I’ve even found some really amazing cookbooks to expand my skills in other cuisines.