My Cooking Kit, Part 4— More Specialized and Obscure Tools
A little about me: I cook a lot, mostly dinner at home for my family and friends but sometimes for massive parties of upwards of 200 people. I’ve been doing sous vide cooking since 2010. I run a food blog called Unselling Convenience (also @unsellingconvenience on Instagram if you’d rather follow along there), which is mostly an inspiration board and memory database of things I’ve enjoyed cooking and probably want to cook again. I believe that shortcuts are great, but not at the expense of quality. I administer the Everyday Sous Vide and Instant Pot Love groups on Facebook.
I enjoy inspiring other people to cook and giving advice. Also, I love gadgets, and I’ve tried out a LOT of stuff. I have strong opinions. This post series is about things I use in the kitchen plus a few things I don’t and why, and I hope it’s informative and fun for you. Unless otherwise specified, everything listed here is something I’ve used myself. If you buy something from one of the links, I probably get a small commission which won’t even come close to defraying the amount of money I’ve spent on these things over the years but which will make me happy anyway.
This is part of a series, if you’re looking for a specific chapter:
- My Cooking Kit, Part 1 — Cookware & Bakeware
- My Cooking Kit, Part 2 — Knives
- My Cooking Kit, Part 3 — Basic General Tools
- My Cooking Kit, Part 4 — More Specialized and Obscure Tools
- My Cooking Kit, Part 5 — Devices & Electrics
or see my other food writings at https://counter.kitchen.
The previous part covered more general tools, and here I get into more obscure ones and unitaskers.
A note about brands. There is a LOT of crap out there, and I’m generally not fond of buying things from the gibberish brands that will be gone in 3 months and have no product support. I usually much prefer to buy from companies that will stand behind their products and still make the things I like in 5–10 years when I decide I need another one, or when I recommend one to someone, even if it’s comparatively more expensive. Most of the brands I’ve mentioned here have excellent support if something goes wrong, but an extra special callout is deserving for OXO, which has hands down the absolute best customer service of any company I have ever dealt with. That said, I will sometimes buy from the throwaway brands if it’s something unlikely to need service. In some of these cases I’m resigned to just throwing it away if it breaks, but I also don’t like the waste that generates and I try to avoid it.
Most of the items I use on a regular basis are still made, but some of them don’t exist anymore. Where that is the case, I’ve tried to find what looks like a reasonable alternative, but in those cases it may not be something that I’ve personally used, and I’ll note that.
Anything listed with a * is my best guess at a decent option, not necessarily something I’ve specifically used.
I love to hear from people if you try things I recommend, whether your experience was good or bad, but I especially want to know if something I suggested didn’t work out for you for some reason.
There are two major decisions to make when buying a rolling pin — shape and material.
There are three primary shapes — cylindrical, tapered (also called a French rolling pin), and cylindrical with handles. I prefer cylindrical or tapered, but you may find that you prefer the comfort of handles. Flat cylindrical pins will roll out more evenly with less effort, but tapered pins are more maneuverable and give you more control.
Wooden rolling pins will absorb fats somewhat, grab doughs a bit more, and give the pins a bit more character. They are not very temperature sensitive and are usually heavier than metal rolling pins.
Stainless steel rolling pins may slip more on very firm or cold doughs, but are generally more solid than wood pins and are comfortable to use. They can be chilled in the fridge to keep doughs colder while rolling, though that effect usually doesn’t last too long, they’ll come back up to room temperature pretty quickly.
I keep a variety of funnels around in difference sizes. Narrower funnels are useful for free-flowing liquids. These plastic OXO funnels are also great. For spices, rice, and thicker liquids, you’ll want a wider funnel*. If you do any canning, you’ll want a canning funnel*.
Parchment paper is invaluable for baking, and has a number of other uses (I use it often for freezing fruits). It comes in rolls, or you can get it pre-cut in various shapes. My most-used ones are half-sheet pan*, cake/cast iron rounds (these are 10", they come in a variety of sizes), and square foot dehydrator sheets. It is also recommended for baking cookies, as it will absorb some of the moisture and transmit heat better than silicone.
Silpats are useful for when you need a non-stick liner for a baking pan, where you don’t want it to absorb moisture (which parchment paper will do). The half-sheet pan size is probably the one I use most commonly, but they’re available in a number of other sizes.
I’ve tried a number of different tools for getting corn off the cob. Sure, you can do it with a knife and a cutting board, or over a bundt pan to contain the mess, but my favorite is this Chef’n corn cob stripper. It’s compact, easy to clean, sharp, and gets most of the corn off well, though the effectiveness may depend on the size of your local corn cobs. In the summer I like to put raw corn in my salads, and this is an easy way to do that directly over the bowl. It takes a bit of skill to not make a mess, but not much.
Graters / Microplanes / Slicers
My favored brands are OXO, Kyocera, and Microplane, but there are a lot of other good options out there. This OXO grater set is a pretty good option, the included tray is nice for containing a reasonably large amount of lemon zest or cheese. I don’t often use the slicer or julienne blades in this set — I prefer this Kyocera ceramic adjustable slicer and this Kyocera julienne slicer for those tasks. I typically use a coarse grater for soft cheese, a fine grater for lemon zest, and a ribbon grater for parmesan and chocolate.
SAFETY WARNING: a mandoline/slicer is one of the most dangerous things in the kitchen. Be VERY careful when using one. If it cuts you, it will slice off a piece of skin laterally that will bleed a lot and take a long time to heal and be very painful. Use a guard if you have one. If not, you can use a cut resistant glove. On that note, Rapid Seal wound gel works like magic to stop the bleeding on small cuts.
For grating ginger and other hard roots (like fresh wasabi), this Kyocera ceramic grating plate does a great job. It comes in a few sizes, but I don’t see any reason not to get the larger one.
Yes, you can chop nuts with a chef’s knife, but I’ve always found it to be more tedious and messy than I’d like. this Progressive Nut Chopper does a nice job at making small to medium amounts of uniformly chopped nuts.
I am not a big fan of garlic presses, but this garlic twist does a very good job and chops rather than crushes, to produce very little juice that can burn. Yes, you can do this with a knife. Yes, I like this anyway. It does require a fair amount of hand strength.
Corkscrews come in a number of different designs, but by far the best tool I’ve used is this double-hinged waiter’s corkscrew*. I haven’t used this specific brand, but the ones I purchased at the Stew Leonard’s wine shop look identical. This design works much better and faster for me than the winged ones, even though they do look cool. If you do not have the hand/arm strength to use a manual one, you might want an electric corkscrew*.
I’m not super particular about pastry brushes, but it’s nice to have a few on hand. I use them mostly for egg washes for breads and cookies, and spreading oil evenly on a hot griddle. I like the OXO silicone pastry brush, they come in large and small. They also have a bristle brush, if you prefer.
When I’m juicing a large amount of citrus, I like to use an electric juicer (one of my old KitchenAid food processors had a citrus attachment and I keep it around just for that), but for a few lemons or limes it’s overkill to bring that out. I like this Chef’n squeezer. It comes in lemon, lime, and orange sizes, but I just got the lemon one and sometimes blaspheme it by squeezing other things in it. I prefer these squeezers over the common reamer design, but I think that’s a personal preference.
A potato ricer is incredibly useful for making fluffy mashed potatoes, and also for squeezing liquid out of things like cooked spinach and lemon rinds in syrup. I like this Norpro commercial ricer because it has holes on both sides and comes apart easily for cleaning in the dishwasher.
I like these Zeroll color coded food scoops. They come in a variety of sizes for portion sizing, mashed potatoes, cookies, cupcakes, and the like. I think they’re a little fragile for harder ice creams, so…
Ice Cream Scoops
I prefer the original Zeroll ice cream scoop for making ball scoops — the conductive handle does a better job of carrying heat to melt the ice cream a little bit. They also come in different sizes if you like larger or smaller.
For cutting through very hard ice cream or portioning out slabs rather than balls, this OXO ice cream spade works well.
I transfer small amounts of olive oil, rice bran oil, and grapeseed oil to these nice Tablecraft pour bottles. Olive oil and rice bran oil don’t really leave residues, and just using it circulates it enough that it doesn’t go rancid even though the top isn’t sealed. I just refill them when they’re empty, which is usually around every 1–3 weeks. Grapeseed oil does build up a residue over time, and once a year or so I transfer it to another bottle and do a deep clean on that one. Baking soda works wonders for getting off grease residues.
For making even slices of a mozzarella ball, a larger mozzarella slicer is handy.
I like using an apple slicer, but I’ve never found one I’m truly happy with. The plastic ones break a lot. Many metal ones aren’t made well and fall apart. I’ve never found one that has a blade that’s sufficiently offset enough that it reliably cuts all the way through the apple before the frame hits the board. This PrepWorks slicer isn’t bad, and has a pusher to finish cutting, but I’d still prefer if I could go all the way through with one push. It makes 16 slices, which is both nice and also a little more difficult to use. The OXO slicer isn’t bad, and makes 8 slices.
If you want to make pasta sheets or cut strips, a pasta roller is useful. I also use one for rolling out very thin wheat tortillas.
There is a kitchenaid pasta roller attachment that is great, but it’s narrower than I’d like. Marcato Atlas is the gold standard for home machines, available in 150mm and 180mm, with and without a motor. I wish I could find an even wider one.
There is also a pasta extruder* for making shapes, as well as a kitchenaid mixer attachment*. I’ve used these a little, but not much. Some mixer attachments can stress the motor, so caution is advised.
Dough Blade/Bench Scraper
The OXO bench scraper is nice, I don’t see any reason to get a different one. It’s handy for dividing and moving doughs. They’re useful for transferring food from a cutting board, but I tend to use flexible cutting boards for that instead.
This is a serrated spoon similar to a grapefruit spoon, but larger. I think it was originally sold as a squash spoon for scraping the seeds out, but it’s also very handy for melons. I can’t find anything like this currently for sale, but this culinary scoop is a pretty good substitute. It only has ridges on one side which is both annoying and nice — it means that you have to scrape the pulp in only one direction and not both, but it also has a smooth edge for clean scraping in the other direction. This might be more or less frustrating if you’re left handed.
Ok, this is my favorite thing that no longer exists. It’s a small Chef’n bean slicer with a little serrated groove you can use for quickly snipping the stem off of green beans, my least favorite kitchen prep task. (Yes, I know the trick for snapping them off with a butter knife. This is still faster and more fun.) It also has blades in the end for making French cut beans, that I have literally never used. I’ve also used little silicone gardening cutter tips* (these, but not this exact brand) for trimming beans, and that works pretty well.
I’ve tried a few different wavy cutters for making pickle slices and cutting potatoes, and this crinkle cutter knife is the best one I’ve found. Most of the ones I’ve tried have waves that are far too shallow (and it’s really really difficult to tell from looking at a picture), but this has some satisfying depth to it. This crinkle vegetable cutter has very nice deep grooves, but the blade is relatively short.
This is also my new favorite way to cut watermelon and semi-firm cheeses.
Ice Cube Trays
I like silicone ice cube trays — they are the most space-efficient of any I’ve found. Also handy for freezing small quantities of herbs in oil, yogurt starters, juices, etc… They are also available in larger sizes.
Canvas Ice Bag w/ Wooden Mallet
I have a blender that will crush ice, but it makes more ice fluff than shards, and it melts pretty quickly. For cocktails and crushed ice beds for oysters, I like to use a canvas Lewis ice bag and a wooden mallet. With a little practice, it can make pretty uniform ice shards at a reasonable size. I drilled a hole in the mallet handle and ran some paracord through it for hanging.
At a minimum for making cocktails, you’ll want a shaker and a strainer. The Boston two-part shaker* is commonly recommended by my bartender friends over other designs for ease of use and cleaning. Cocktail strainers come in a huge variety of styles, I like this compact OXO steel strainer. If you want to make layered cocktails, you’ll want a cocktail spoon*. For crushing herbs and fruits, you might want a muddler*, but I usually use the end of a stainless rolling pin instead. A Lewis bag and mallet is my favorite way to make pleasantly crushed ice cubes, my blender tends to make a fine ice powder instead. For measuring small amounts for cocktails, I usually use the same OXO steel small measuring cups I use for everything else.
Cheap squeeze bottles are plentiful and easy to find, and a lot of them leak and the little red caps don’t come in standard sizes so they’re impossible to replace if you lose them. I’ve mostly switched to these nice OXO squeeze bottles, which are more expensive but solve all of those problems.
If you’re making homemade pizzas, you’ll want something to move pizzas around, into and out of the oven. This is just a preference, but I like to use a wooden peel* for building my pies, and a thinner aluminum one for removing them from the pizza steel (it does a cleaner job of separation if the bottom happens to stick at all). They come in different sizes, make sure you get one that’s big enough for the pies you want to make.
The traditional tool for pizza cutting is a pizza wheel. Most of the ones I have seem to be discontinued. While there are some whimsical options, you probably want to just get a basic one*. This large pizza cutter also works pretty well, but it’s a big thing to store.
Yes, you can use a paring knife for this, but this twist strawberry huller works well. I like it and it’s fun to use. There are other scoop designs that I have not found to work as well. This tomato corer also works very well, but I use it most often for carving out the ends of cucumbers for pickling.
You can pit cherries pretty easily with a chopstick and optionally a 2–liter bottle, but I find that it gets tedious if I have a lot of them, and that method works a lot better on sour cherries where the pits aren’t adhered to the fruit as well. For pitting a lot of sweet cherries, this OXO quick release pitter is the nicest one I’ve found.
My pepper grinder of choice is the Unicorn. It produces a uniform grind in a decent volume, and is easy to fill. It also comes in a 9" tall model that doesn’t seem to be available at the moment, the only difference is how often you need to refill it. I also like this Sur La Table ratchet mill, which is easy to use for spreading pepper over a large sheet pan.
A few people I know have a Pepper Cannon and like it, but I don’t need to spend that much money on a pepper grinder. (Update: I have tried the Pepper Cannon, and it’s very nicely designed, totally solid construction, maybe a little too solid. It actually is very easy to fill and change the grind, but these are things I do fairly infrequently. As far as pepper output, I tested it by visually matching the pepper grind size to my Unicorn, which I keep relatively coarse. The Unicorn with one full turn produced 0.5g of pepper. The Pepper Cannon with one full turn produced 0.6g of pepper. I guess that’s technically 20% more, but it really is a nearly identical amount. The Unicorn is easier to turn, but that may be because it’s older. I can’t recommend spending this much money unless you really love pepper, need 75 different possible grind sizes, or hate plastic.)
I use a few different kinds of salt regularly. My primary salt is Diamond Crystal, which I keep in a salt pig. The semi-covered bowl is supposed to manage humidity but I’m not sure it does much for that vs. an open bowl, but it does protect it somewhat from splashes. This is mostly used for pinching, but I also like that the one I have is low enough that I can keep a tablespoon measuring spoon there for when I want to scoop it. Not all of the designs have that. This RSVP salt pig* is pretty close to the one I have, but there are many variations and you should get one that makes you happy. I also keep some fleur de sel in a separate salt pig for finishing. If you live someplace with very high humidity, you might want a covered salt jar. I don’t have anything particular to recommend about that, though this Chef’n covered salt cellar looks like a nice design.
For very fine salt (e.g.: on popcorn), I keep some rock salt in a pepper grinder. I also use pickling salt for fermentation and a few different kinds of sea salt, as well as Maldon’s flake salt, in small jars.
I can’t really decide if this is a tool or a pan or an ingredient, but I’ll include it here anyway. You can heat up the salt block in an oven or grill and then cook directly on the surface. It’s fun and tasty, and I don’t use it very often.
Pastry Bags + Tips
If you do any sort of decorating, you’ll want a pastry bag and tips. For most colored icing uses, you’ll want disposable bags because you’re probably dealing with a lot of different colors at the same time. If you want to change the tips out in the middle, you’ll want a few couplers. Tips are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, this is a nice set*, or just a round assortment*, or you can buy them individually. For pastry cream or just a few colors, reusable bags* are nice too. You’ll need to cut them to fit your tips, so you might want to get more than one. For pastry, you might want larger tips*.
I have no idea who made this set of interlocking steel trays for 3-part breading. There are many similar ones. If I had to pick one now, I’d probably get this Tovolo 4-piece set*.
Poultry lacer / stuffing cage / roasting rack
This Cuisipro roasting rack is fantastic for larger roasts because it splits in the middle with a removable pin. I like this spiral poultry lacer for turkeys, ducks, and geese, though I don’t usually use it for chickens (I don’t often stuff them). It doesn’t seem to be currently available, if you find one, buy it.
I like these Fire Wire flexible grilling skewers. They are easy to fill, fit around other things on the grill, and pretty easy to maneuver.
I don’t love the idea of microwaving plastic, and glass is unwieldy. Silicone is a good middle ground. I mostly use the microwave only for reheating food and sometimes melting butter or chocolate (which I usually do in a glass bowl). For reheating food, I have a few large silicone steamers that I regularly use in the microwave, and they do a great job of helping the food heat evenly and not dry out. The ones I have seem to be discontinued, this Cuisinart Steam Case* is the closest thing I can find (use it without the tray for reheating). For smaller quantities, this Norpro silicone steamer is nice.
Fat Separator/Batter dispenser
For making gravies and pan sauces, I like this OXO fat separator. The batter dispenser is similar, but has a thicker spout and no strainer top. Depending on the consistency of your pancake batter and/or drippings, you might be able to use these interchangeably. The Swing-a-Way separator is also nice. Either way — I prefer the design with a release at the bottom to the one with a spout connected to the bottom, which always seemed to collect some fat in the spout when I tried them.
That’s it for Part 4! Continue to Part 5— Devices & Electrics