A blog post over at Get Rich Slowly asks readers which cooking utensils/equipment they couldn’t live without. “In the kitchen: When less is more” posits that plenty of the things marketed as necessities end up as just so much culinary clutter.
“How much do you need to have a working kitchen?” asks writer Lisa Aberle.
My comment on the post became pretty lengthy – so lengthy, in fact, that I realized I feel pretty strongly about the subject. While I understand that foodies and gadgeteers love their avocado slicers and their cheese straighteners*, I’d like to point out that:
- More isn’t necessarily better, and
- Specialization is the last refuge of marketers.
Let me be clear: While I don’t quite understand the need for super-specific kitchenware, I will defend to the death your right to acquire it – but only if you do it intentionally.
A friend whose marriage was ending found all sorts of left-behind doodads: special knives, a garlic press, numerous graters, an all-in-one measuring spoon, a wine bottle re-capper and other stuff I can’t recall. His wife didn’t care enough to pack them up when she left, even though some of them probably cost a bundle. (Think: Friends with Pampered Chef parties.)
Were these implements ever implemented? Some, maybe. Some was still unopened.
Needs vs. wants
While some home cooks swear by the need for numerous specialized knives and cookware, some professional chefs say that a couple of good-quality blades and a few basic pots will do the job.
Housewares catalogs are like porn for foodies. I get it. But do you need everything you have? Do you use everything you have?
Here’s what we use most often:
- Cast-iron frying pan. Found it in the “free” box at a yard sale (all it needed was a little steel wool and some seasoning). DF also has several of these, in different sizes.
- Strainer. I inherited this from my daughter, who got it at a dollar store. Useful for gravy, soup stock, lentils, yogurt or whatever else needs straining.
- Warming tray. DF has no idea how he got this thing and can’t remember ever plugging it in. Now we use it all the time, to culture yogurt and proof bread dough.
- Iced tea pitcher. It’s a plastic thing that I got from my sister when she moved in with her fiance more than 30 years ago.
- Slow cooker. DF’s gets all the use because it’s a larger model suitable for roasting meat. We also use it for making stew, chili and soup stock. My much smaller slow cooker was a hand-me-down from my daughter, who received a nicer model as a wedding gift.
- Stainless steel cookware. I bought a set from Macy’s back in 2004, on sale and with a discounted gift card. The pans will probably outlive us both.
- Cookie sheets. The kind with air in between the two layers – we use them not just for cookies but also for homemade breads and rolls. These came from a yard sale for a quarter apiece.
- Pressure canner. We canned some salmon caught by my nephews, a bunch of on-sale chickens and the carrots that we grew last summer. This was actually bought new and cost more than $100, but we’re interested in preserving some shelf-stable protein and home-grown produce in case there’s a disruption in the food supply.
- Canning jars. For jam, for carrots, for chicken and turkey – I got a couple of dozen quart-sized jars from the Freecycle Network and more than 100 pints and half-pints plus a bunch of jar centers for $10 at a yard sale. Since I give away jam at Christmas, I scout thrift stores for replacements.
Kitchen stuff doesn’t have to cost a lot. Check thrift stores, yard sales and, yes, Freecycle. Join the Swagbucks rewards program and earn Amazon gift cards; that’s how I “bought” my candy thermometer, which gets used every week for yogurt-making.
The money you save in such ways could be saved for the purchase of some specialized tool that you can’t find in a cheaper venue. But don’t just buy and buy and buy, thinking that surely the next gadget is the one that will fix your life. That’s how we end up with drawers full of stuff that rarely if ever gets used.
How often will you use that crème brulee torch?
If a friend has a device you think you want, ask if you can borrow it or if you can come over and do some cooking with her. You might find that the food processor is a pain in the neck to clean and thus you’d just as soon chop onions by hand.
During a long-ago visit my mother saw me using a fork to cut shortening into flour for a pie crust. That’s how she’d taught me to make pie. Yet she offered to buy me a pastry blender because she said she’d found the tool easier to use than a fork.
I declined, with thanks. Years later I found one in the free box at a yard sale and took it home. However, I found it a bit clunky to use and a real trial to wash (all that shortening gets jammed between the blades). So I donated it to a thrift store and have been using a fork on my pie crusts ever since.
Again: It’s your money, and if you want to spend it all on nutmeg graters and crème brulee torches then that’s your privilege. Just don’t let a housewares store – or a friend who’s selling Pampered Chef – decide for you what you absolutely need. That would be like asking the barber if you need a trim.
*There’s no such thing. It’s a reference to an old comedy routine by the late George Carlin.