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Feature Sat Feb 27 2010

Tools You Can't Use

Crate and Barrel's website sells 236 of them. Williams-Sonoma offers just as many. I'm not talking about artisan-made hand soap: I'm talking about kitchen gadgets and tools--sifters, slicers, juicers, spatulas. The products that are supposed to make your cooking and baking easier. And while some of these things can be absolute lifesavers, sometimes they are wastes of money and time. The Drive-Thru staff presents their opinions of the unnecessary, the overrated, and the useless items in their kitchen collections for your benefit. We're trying to save you.

I made the first move and said that the most overrated kitchen item I have experience with is the Kitchenaid Mixer--the centerpiece of any wedding registry, the holy grail of kitchen counters--and think that my handheld version, bought at a Wisconsin WalMart over 10 years ago, can kick its pricey cousin's ass in the bread (yes, bread!), cakes and cookies department.

This opinion wreaked havoc in the Drive-Thru staff, with many replies in support of the Kitchenaid Mixer--one male staffer claimed that he "[would] make sweet love to that thing if there were an attachment for it" (my response here, tee hee).

The staff files the following items under the "Don't Bother" category:

"I do a pretty good job of avoiding uni-taskers, so my kitchen doesn't have too many unnecessary gadgets. That said, the one kitchen purchase I regret might be the Boos Block cutting board. I bought it at a massive discount, so in that regard, it wasn't a bad purchase. However, the thing is so heavy I hardly ever use it for fear of having to wash it afterward and I don't love its need for constant oiling (and its tendency to split even when oiled). The cheap Korean pine cutting board I bought later was a much better option, although not a perfect solution (it gets nicked too easily and it's getting a little warpy). I'm still looking for a good, one-piece wooden cutting board that thrives in the relentlessly dry Chicago climate." -Yu


"Perhaps an Indian sandwich toaster isn't your typical unnecessary kitchen gadget. First, it's actually quite useful, at least to the Bombay street vendor who was toasting my sandwich. He had pressed two slices of white bread together against slices of cucumber, boiled potato, raw onion, boiled beet, tomato, and plenty of cilantro chutney. The whole treat went into the sandwich toaster, a flat box with two square sides that pivot closed with two long, stick-like handles. I brought back a few of these sandwich toasters, enamored with the work they produced.

Once home, I failed to make enough Bombay street sandwiches to make the toasters worthy of being more than unusual souvenirs." -Chris


"I saw something last year around the holidays that made me roll my eyes. A stuffing cage. A metal, egg-shaped cage that you would put your stuffing into before sticking it in the cavity of the turkey. It's entire purpose was so you didn't have to scrape the stuffing out of the bird. Seriously?

And I also purchased a plastic avocado slicer that is supposed to slice the avocado into perfect pieces and lift it out of the peel at the same time. It mostly just creates avo-mush if the fruit is too soft and if the fruit is too hard it doesn't cut at all. Not my best purchase." -Cinnamon


"The only thing that I can think of that I have and never use is an egg separator. Using the shell works just fine. Fortunately, I 'inherited' it rather than bought one. " -Cliff


"We have a mango slicer. It's a mono-tasker (vs. multitasker) that isn't even very good at its one job. It's easier to peel the mango and carve around the pit than get the slicer to first cut through the mango's thick skin and then be on the correct alignment to make it around the pit." -Andrew


"I'm going with the stackable bamboo steamers, which we bought on a whim in Chinatown. I realize they've been used for centuries, but frankly they seemed used to me after the second or third time we steamed with them. I haven't steamed with them since, opting instead for a stainless steel basket. I'm just a modern gal, I guess, but I don't like to waste: I'm happy to offer my bamboo steamers to the first person who says they're willing to pick them up. I'll even throw in a set of four Asian soup spoons that came with our wok (well, I may keep one, which comes in handy as a flour scoop.)" -Mandy


"I bought an herb slicer (kind of like a pizza slicer, but it has three smaller blades) a few years ago and never use it.

A) it doesn't cut through everything very well and B) I always end up using scissors or a knife instead." -Kaitlin


"My most unnecessary gadget is one that was gifted to me. I love most things Oxo, but the mango splitter is a waste of drawer space. It's negligibly faster than using a knife to do the same job, and balancing a mango under the splitter can be precarious because mangoes don't stand on flat surfaces like apples. Moreover, the splitter usually leads to a lot of waste because of variable mango sizes and shapes. Especially if it's a ripe mango, I can use almost any kind of knife to cut close to the seed. I also like to score the sides of a split mango, so even if I use the Oxo gadget, I still need a knife. The splitter does have comfy handles though." -Sharon


"I bought this really awful OXO corn zipper that doesn't work. And now have the trick of turning a small bowl upside down into a large bowl and just cut the kernels from the corn." -Whitney


"I bought a special potato container that I'm not thrilled with. This is a ceramic pot with a lid (about the size of a Crock Pot) that has air holes around the bottom. Supposedly your potatoes won't rot as easily in this device, but it doesn't work for me--I'm guessing my kitchen is too warm overall for long-term potato storage." -Jill


"I finally got rid of the unused garlic peeler someone gave me years ago during my last move. The most underutilized item in my kitchen currently is a silicone pastry brush. I generally just use my (clean) hands for any task it might be suited for - like spreading olive oil on pizza dough or adding egg wash to breads." -Gemma

Lee / February 27, 2010 3:46 PM

I would take issue with your Kitchenaid Mixer nomination. If you do more than just mixing, then it's a pretty incredible machine when you get some of the attachments. The pasta attachment is awesome as is the ice cream maker bowl, and we've used both of these pretty regularly. You're essentially buying a good motor with pretty flexible functionality.

Marc Felion / March 1, 2010 1:32 AM

I love my Kitchen Aid but I also have a hand mixer for mash potatoes on the stovetop.

And the silicone pastry brush is indispensable for brushing BBQ sauce on hot foods.

All the other things are just junk though.

printdude / March 1, 2010 8:48 AM

I received an Avocado Spoon last year. It a weirdly shaped utensil that you are to use for scraping and mashing avocado. It it utterly useless to me when I already have a spoon, an ordinary spoon, that does exactly the same thing.

oh_soledad / March 1, 2010 11:53 AM

Three Words: Hot Chocolate Maker. (It was a gift from my mother-in-law.)

Angeline / March 1, 2010 3:13 PM

1. DUH silicone brush for basting hot things while in the HOT OVEN.

2. DOUBLE-DUH Kitchenaid mixer for kneading bread when you just don't have the time nor the muscle!

Dan Morrison / March 2, 2010 12:59 PM

"they seemed used to me after the second or third time we steamed with them"

Shocking that something would be used after it's used. That's the single dumbest criticism of a product I've ever seen on the internet.

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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