Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without—Part 5: Utensils

Let’s face it. Unlike their first cousins, Gadgets, utensils are pretty hard to get excited about, yet equally difficult to do without. We’re talking spoons, here people! Not too sexy, I’ll admit.

Rather, I think items in this category are the unsung heroes—the workhorses, if you will—of our respective kitchens. The kind of things we would only miss if they weren’t there.

So let us now enter the bland world of seriously fundamental kitchen equipment, and sing its praises. I’ll just acknowledge right now that this will be a solo performance, as my friends and fellow reviewers had absolutely zero to say about any favorites in this category.

Utensils.

—Spatulas. You know, for lifting, turning, or otherwise moving food from Point “A” to Point “B.” I believe you will need six of them.

For example, I use two small nylon spatulas, like the OXO Good Grips Nylon Flexible Turner for things like pancakes, a large nylon one for eggs, like the OXO Good Grips Large Nylon Flexible Turner, Black, and one sturdy metal one for wedging out and lifting baked things you want served in one piece, such as lasagna, brownies, or baked mac and cheese. I like the MIU 15-Inch Polished Stainless-Steel Perforated Turner or the OXO Good Grips Brushed Stainless Steel Turner.

Unlike the stiffness required of metal spatula above, in fish turners, you are looking for just the right amount of flexibility. Too little flex and the device will cause delicate filets to break; too much and it will bend and drop the fish before you can get it to your plate. A thin profile, an angled tip, a slightly bent front-end for wedging under delicate food (I prefer the bend to be nearer the end of the spatula than the middle), and a really smooth finish are also musts so the food will slide easily up the face of the spatula. I like this one, the OXO Good Grips Fish Turner.

You will also enjoy using the Littledeer Pan Paddle from Williams-Sonoma for making everything from scrambled eggs to oatmeal.

—Ladles. Try using your hands for this job! Then you will realize how convenient it is to use this one, the All-Clad Stainless Soup Ladle. I use the All-Clad for transporting all manner of liquid-y things from large pots into serving dishes. Everything from beans to gumbo will fit nicely in its bowl. And its rather large 6-ounce capacity will minimize the number of mind-numbing trips from pot to dish and back.

—Skimmers, Spiders. To lift food out of a deep fryer or boiling water, you could use a skimmer, like the OXO Stainless Steel Skimmer or the All-Clad Stainless Skimmer. But for my money, I prefer a spider, like the WMF Profi-Plus Wok Strainer.

A spider uses wires to support the food instead of sheet metal with holes punched in it. That distinction is worth noting if you want to remove food quickly rather than standing around with your first of three scoops of food, waiting for the oil or water to drain while the rest of the food continues to cook. In short, speed is your friend, my friend. That’s why I prefer a spider.

—Cheese knives. Nothing screams “I am not a redneck,” like using the right tool for the job, such as theSwissmar Stainless Steel 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set. You’ll not only discover how easy cheese serving can be, you will finally learn why a butter knife is better for butter and why a steak knife is better for opening junk mail.

—Cooking spoons. I enjoy having two nylon and two metal cooking spoons—one slotted and one solid of each material, as well as a good wooden one. They are handy for food or for inflicting pain without the ugly bruising that can result from riding crops.

For the nylon, I go for the Calphalon Nylon Spoon and it’s matching counterpart, the Calphalon Nylon Slotted Spoon. And metal, you ask? I like the OXO Good Grips Brushed Stainless Steel Slotted Spoon and the OXO Good Grips Brushed Stainless Steel Spoon.

And check out the wooden Littledeer Serving Scoop. Yeah, I know it says “serving,” but I love using it to make beans. So arrest me.

—Cooking fork. Bid burnt and missing fingers adieu. Cooking forks are the “now” thing for pinning down that hot roast whilst giving it a good carving. I like the OXO Steel Fork.

—Basting brushes, basting bulbs. Silicone basting brushes for cooking and baking are a lot easier to use that you might think, and they sure beat picking off all the little hairs that fall out of the natural ones. As an added bonus, they come in pretty colors, and you can toss them into the dishwasher, from which they will emerge in more or less their original condition.

I like the Orka 10-Inch Stainless and Silicone Basting Brush.

For your basting bulb, you want to avoid a metal tube. It burns when full of hot liquid. (Found that out the hard way.) I go with the semi-clear nylon ones, like the Heat Resistant Nylon Baster with Rubber Bulb. Just clean with a small brush and count on having to throw it away at some point. Neither the metal nor the nylon ones last forever.

—Whisks. You will want three types—a large stainless balloon whisk, like the Best Manufacturers Balloon Whip 14-inch, a small stainless French whisk, like the Best Manufacturers 12-inch Standard French Wire Whisk, and a silicone flat or sauce whisk, like the Rosle Silicone Flat Whisk. If you want to get fancy after that with balls and whatnot, that’s your business.

—Potato masher. Which masher is best is a decision most of us make by feel. The goal is to obliterate a large, cooked root vegetable. The tool of choice has to work for you. To that end, you may have to try a couple of styles.

My favorite is the bouncing spring variety, of which the Dreamfarm “Smood” Kitchen Masher is a good example. My husband, on the other hand, prefers the “grate” style, like the Cuisipro Potato Masher. One thing we both agree on though, is that the metal squiggle style is a waste of time.

—Pizza cutters. These handy rolling dealies aren’t just for dissecting meat and veggie topped flat bread, anymore. Sure, try one the next time you need to mince some herbs. You’ll put away your chef’s knife, PDQ! I love this one: OXO Good Grips 4-Inch Pizza Wheel.

—Splatter guards. They won’t catch fire and are better than nothing. That’s about all I can say, as I have yet to find one that blocks grease spatters completely. Try this one, though: OXO Good Grips Splatter Screen with Folding Handle. At least the handle folds for easy storage.

And for the record, I don’t like pasta ladles. For long pasta, I prefer silicone-tipped tongs; for short, I use a spider or skimmer. Your call.

Next time, we will take a trip down the baking aisle. Until then, Happy Eating!