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Show Your (Cheap) Tools Some Love

We came up with the idea for our package today on kitchen tools the old-fashioned way: through coincidence. Right about the time I decided to write about my new favorite method of cheap coffee making, I got a pitch from freelance writer Scott Reitz about his unconditional cheap-wok love. Two things don't make a trend, so our next logical thought: What other inexpensive tools do foodniks we know live for?

I put the word out, to the entire Post staff, to hundreds of acquaintances, friends and family on Facebook, to all my Tweeple. We got an avalanche of responses. Here are some of the dozens that didn't make our final five:

-- apple peeler/corer/slicer
-- immersion blender
-- Pampered Chef food chopper
-- cherry pitter
-- can opener
-- Ronco slicer
-- rotary cheese grater
-- chef's knife
-- round rubber garlic peeler
-- foil-covered brick (for panini)
-- Microplane grater
-- French press coffee maker
-- spoons to squeeze citrus, knives to crush garlic, forks to mash potatoes and whisk eggs
-- plastic pot scraper
-- Ikea scissors
-- hand whisk
-- Japanese mandoline
-- zip-top plastic bags
-- food mill
-- four-sided box grater
-- cast-iron skillet for smashing nuts
-- lime squeezer
-- simple wooden citrus fruit reamer

Your turn: What are your favorites? Write your own ode to the cheap tool you use instead of something more expensive. Bonus points if it's in verse, and a prize to our favorite. To get you inspired, here's one from Nancy Szokan, our colleague in the Health section, who wrote this paean (and can crank out a Gilbert & Sullivan-esque libretto like nobody's business):

o garlic roll
o garlic roll!
when paring knives
have took their toll
and cut my fingers
so i get blubbery
i'm just relieved
you're round and rubbery

-- Joe Yonan

By Joe Yonan  |  June 2, 2009; 9:00 PM ET
Categories:  Shopping  | Tags: Joe Yonan, gadgets  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Zeke's Coffee, by the Bag or Cup
Next: Tales of the Testers: I'm a Sardinista, Too


I use my large, heavy glass citrus juicer almost every day. The heavy glass gets every drop of juice out of the lime. I also use my ceramic knife almost daily - taken care of correctly it doesn't get dull and, best of all, you can slice/chp lettuce and it doesn't get brown.

Posted by: jackdmom | June 3, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Plain White Paper Towel. I microwave on it, serve and eat on it, let veggies dry on it (then let it air dry and use it again), fold it up to use as a coaster on humid days. There are probaly more uses...

Posted by: joodee | June 3, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

12-in. carbon steel fry pan: Not a glamor pan like a KitchenAid, but much cheaper and a better performer, I think. Sloping sides, angled handle, great heat retention, and darkens and seasons like a cast iron pan. It fries foods to golden brown, stir-fries like a well-seasoned wok, sautes' like nobody's business, and holds heat beautifully for simmering. The only drawback is you really can't do acetic foods like tomatoes or wine-based sauces (although I confess I have done the latter with no ill-effect). My stainless steel pan is gathering dust. This is my lovable workhorse.

Gary Thomas
Arlington VA

Posted by: voaguy | June 3, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

No verse, but the tools I use most often are my tongs. How I'd cook without them, I don't know.

Posted by: ntilzha | June 3, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Our Zyliss Garlic Press. We use garlic in just about everything (vampires beware!). You can press the garlic without removing the papery covering and it's easy to clean.

Posted by: Daytonian | June 3, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Like Daytonian, our most used cheap tool is used with garlic. When you have a son who says, "There is nothing that can't be improved by adding garlic" (he doesn't bake desserts), you use a lot of garlic. Our favorite is the rubber tube used to remove the hard shell of a garlic clove. Cleaning is simpler than with any press (just tap it in the compost pail) and minced garlic is more useful in the recipes I use than the mashed garlic you get from a press.

Posted by: RickG5 | June 3, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I wrote a poem about this: THE POTATO MASHER by Martha Horne

A sturdy tool, mashing
potatoes in my mother’s hand
as I watch.

Seldom used
unlike paring knives needed
for most meals.

The potato masher, patient
ready to be of service

Homely, awkward
hard to fit in the drawer
with garlic presses and tea strainers
its masher tines protruding
large wooden handle
now faded grey.

Sturdy still
well attached
never in seventy years
did it need repair
never failed to do its job
when asked.

No buttons to push or
tiny print directions
hard to understand and
easily lost.

No gizmos to make mashing easy,
not advertised as: “instant”

No warranty: “cash-back”
“guaranteed for life.”

Martha B. Horne, MEd, LCSW-C

Posted by: mhorne9008 | June 3, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Heat-proof silicone plastic spatula. Fabulous for scrambled eggs and omelets!

Posted by: kithope | June 3, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I swear by my set of 3-1/2 inch glass bowls. These are great for setting up spices, herbs, oils before you begin cooking (mis en place). The bowls are especially useful for complicated recipes or those that require precise timing. Also double as votive candle holders and you can group them as a centerpiece with a single floating flower in each.

Posted by: everhart14 | June 3, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

I can't live without my slow cooker. I make everything from soup, to chili, to potroast, to stews, to vegetarian dishes using legumes, beans, etc., to rice and tapioca puddings, to french toast breakfast souffle!! There's nothing like coming home from a hard day's work and smelling a delicious home cooked meal waiting for you. As close to a personal chef as I can afford!

Posted by: chocoguy0 | June 3, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

My beautifully seasoned big cast iron pan, with a domed lid, found in an antique store for $12. If had to give up all my cookware except for one piece, this is the one I'd keep.

Posted by: rmashaw | June 3, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I keep a Paper Clip box (the one with the magnetic hole in the top) full of large paper clips in my utensil drawer.

When I'm working with a bag of something that needs to be resealed, I just reach in and grab a clip.

It fits nicely back into small boxes and creates a great seal for pantry items that only use a little out of the bag.

Greatest thing - They're economical, and I don't care if they get tossed out! :)

Posted by: SadieBitsNPieces | June 3, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I love my XO rubber bottom mixing bowls. I always used to lose my grip when mixing and the bowls would spin around on my counter frequently making a mess but with the slightly sticky rubber bottoms these bowls don't go anywhere.

I also love my little food chopper add on for my Oster blender for chopping onions.

Finally, I have some color coded cheap plastic cutting boards: green for veggies, blue for fish, orange for chicken and red for beef and pork. It makes me feel better knowing the meat germs never touch my veggies.

Posted by: wendlandj | June 3, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

My glass jars.

Some are small and saved from mustard, they're ideal for mixing salad dressing and transporting condiments to the office.

My cheap-o Mason jars are great for using up spare produce, which I ferment/pickle in salt. I also store homemade kombucha in them.

Posted by: estark01 | June 3, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

I use a nutcracker to open screw tops.

Posted by: KathleenReedy | June 3, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Definitely my cast iron skillet. Cheap compared to other pans, nonstick now that it's well-seasoned, adds flavor (and iron!) to my food, good for sauteeing and baking, and frequently used - in conjunction with a couple cans of beans - to press tofu into delicious chewy firmness.

Posted by: lizlemon | June 3, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I place washed salad greens in a clean pillow case, go outside, and holding the ends of the case in my hand, I make windmill motions with my arm. The water flys out of the pillow case by centrepetal force, the same way a salad spinner works. I save the money I would have spent on a salad spinner and the space where I would have stored it.

Posted by: teachesyoungchefs | June 3, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

My favorite kitchen tool is my Pampered Chef chopper. It's faster than using a knife and it keeps the food from flying all over the cutting board. Plus when you need to cut things into really small pieces it makes the job so much easier.

Posted by: packernanny | June 3, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Without you, my delicate, yet durable friend,
I'd be at a loss
whether I'm tying a bouquet garni
or straining a brown sauce

I leave you in the cold overnight
when it's labne I need
and. yet, to my citron presses
you'll admit not one seed.

Atop these demands, I ask your forgiveness,
if you please, for
it only recently occurred to me
that you also preserve cheese.

Posted by: suburbanhome | June 3, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I love my silicone basting brush. No more brush strands getting into my BBQ sauce.

Posted by: surlygrrl | June 3, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I absolutely love the Vidalia Chop Wizard. Yes, it's one of those As Seen on TV items, but it is wonderful. I used to put off cooking certain recipes because I hate to chop vegetables (so time consuming!), but with the Chop Wizard, it's easy and quick. Especially great for onions and red/green peppers.

Posted by: lovetocook | June 3, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

My wife gave me a Jack LaLanne power juicer ($100 last year) for my birthday. It's great, but I RARELY use it—it’s a pain to clean and you almost never need a quart of juice. Best juicer ever is an ordinary dinner fork. Cut the lemon, lime, or orange in half, hold in one hand, plunge the tines of the fork into the center and squeeze. Toggle the fruit up and down on the tines. Juice of half a lemon (1 T) in 3 seconds. If you don't have a dinner fork you are obviously still taking your meals in a high chair.

Posted by: drrisk | June 3, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Just wanted to add that hands make wonderful egg separators.

Posted by: mizburd | June 3, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

1. rubber band. used a thousand different ways to hold things together in the kitchen.
2. old paper bags from the grocery. Cut up and drain fried things on them.
3. a plastic thingy that is used to core and cut a pineapple. There simply is no other way to effortlessly cut a fresh pineapple into one long swirly spiral of juicy fresh fruit with no muss, no fuss. What is wrong with you people that it is not in your top ten?
4. chopsticks. Use them to poke things and fish things out of the toaster.
5. Little McDonald's milk containers that come with a Happy Meal. Use them for every darned thing you can think of - to store that last little bit of dishwashing liquid, your own mixture of soy sauce and flavorings, your own salad dressing,... I could go on and on. So cheap and easy to keep around; I write on mine with a Sharpie and use them over and over.

Posted by: KathyWi | June 3, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Things I can't live without after working in a restaurant in college and then learning how to cook at home:

Tongs with silicone tips - you can't beat this for stir fries, wilting spinach, or anything that involves tossing over heat.

Plastic scraper for scooping up chopped items from the cutting board. Once you get used to using one, you wonder how you ever got along without it!

Children's small plastic bowls - perfect for mise en place (forget glass!). And I don't even have kids!

Posted by: Zimmy2 | June 3, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

My favorite daily use item is a small microwavable saucepan from Pampered Chef (Small Micro-Cooker). I use it to microwave soups and leftovers, thaw chicken, etc. I don't need to cover a bowl with plastic wrap and I don't burn my hands. The plastic saucepan has a lid that snaps into place, a pouring spout on each side, and steam vents in the lid. Washes up in a breeze! And it's only $8!

Posted by: dottie_b | June 3, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

If you need a good, sturdy fork for heavy-duty cooking chores like working with heavy batter, go on eBay and look for a silver-plated dinner fork issued by the U.S. Navy during WWII. My mother couldn't resist uh, liberating, two of these when my dad left the service in 1947. I misplaced her original pair, but have since found them from time to time on eBay. (The Navy made different styles of flatware - these are big, heavy, and basic! No design except a smal ridge near the neck, but will say USN.) EBay has one now for $12.99. It says "dated 1877," but I think that's more like a model number, not the date. The other USN forks listed are not the right ones.

Posted by: dottie_b | June 3, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

1st - That coffee lovers perfect mate: I agree. But there are 2 of us. So fresh ground beans go into that old fashioned plastic Melita filter and glass pot and wait for the water to boil. MEANWHILE, we put 2 individual cups about 1/4 full with soy milk into the microwave for 1 minute. By the time the coffee sifts throught the paper filter, the milk is hot and - oh my gosh - what a taste! Who needs Starbucks at $4 to $5 a cup first thing in the am?.
And we're steak knife users as well - for just about everything, EXCEPT bread. We buy whole loaves, refrigerate and slice as needed. So the bread knife in its smart little plastic sheath is a godsend. Ours came from IKEA at like-for-nothing in cost. A bread knife is a must - if you really savor thick, grainy, yummy toasted bread in the morning!

Posted by: johnwbowyer | June 3, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

I use my mellon baller to scoop the seeds from cucumber halves as well as taking the core from pear helves. Works great.

Posted by: espangler1 | June 3, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Silicone coated tongs for serving vegetables-works particularly well with asparagus and green beans.

A sturdy fork to cut in shortening when making pastry crust, biscuits or crumb topping.

Posted by: violaplayer | June 3, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

I moved overseas to a country where kitchens are miniscule and many of my precious kitchen tools are unavailable. It's made me miss my cheap old well-seasoned cast iron frying pan more than anything else.

One thing I have picked up here though came out of desperation: I shattered the carafe of my coffee machine and was in danger of missing my morning coffee. I simply pulled the drip cone out of the machine and stuck it directly on my mug. It fit pretty well and makes a decent cup like the ceramic Japanese one, but this one has a metal filter. The cheapest solution is the one you already have.

Posted by: seokso | June 3, 2009 9:28 PM | Report abuse

I admit that my favorite kitchen too is my hand. It is the best folder of ingredients and by far, the finest bowl scraper, bar none. I have a slew of gadgets that I love to use but, even in a vacation home with the barest necessities, I still have my hand and not just one either. Yes, I only use a clean hand in food prep. I'm obsessive about cleanliness.

Posted by: WiniAtlas | June 3, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

I don't need a prize, so I'm not going to strive for gadget haiku or limerick. Instead, I'll just put it out there. I wuv my silicone rubber scrapers (can't bring myself to call them spatulas), the meat grinder my great-grandmother used for chopped liver and which still works, a good one-piece potato masher that doesn't bend under pressure and makes great egg salad also, and my newest discovery: ceramic-blade knives. I treated myself to two last year. They are wicked sharp and enable me to cut VERY thin slices of food. You know who makes them? Kyocera!

Posted by: bucinka8 | June 3, 2009 11:59 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised, being so late off the mark, that I'm still first with my fave. It could be my well-designed, takes-up-no-room-and-works-perfectly Braun three-in-one small processor/immersible blender/hand mixer--an infinitely useful thing, or, as an all day coffee drinker, it could be my indispensible french press, but the winner in my kitchen is: my $3.98 Williams-Sonoma (is that an oxymoron?) vegetable parer. It's the very best of class--shaped like the small, handled metal number that always got lost in my mother's utensil drawer, but in a variety of bright colors that don't--and, most importantly--with a great blade that enables smooth going, with long curls of peel, whether potatoes, cucumbers or even chocolate! And, it makes a great stocking stuffer.

Posted by: rweiner12 | June 4, 2009 4:57 AM | Report abuse

I love my pyrex 8 cup liquid measuring cup. It's big enough to measure large volumes of liquids. I use it as a mixing bowl, especially for batters that will be poured. It's great for microwaving vegetables and for liquids that need a little warming before adding to a recipe. It's the first thing I pull out when I'm ready to cook!

Posted by: AmyH3 | June 4, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

suburbanhome, the verse did it -- you're my prize winner. Can you email us at with your contact info so we can get you your prize? Thanks all for the great odes!

Posted by: Joe Yonan | June 4, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

The one thing I can't live without is my cast iron skillet. I got it for Christmas while I was in undergrad and ever since I have used it for everything. I do have other pots and pans, but for the most part I stick with my cast iron skillet.

Posted by: nntrent | June 4, 2009 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I love my silicone basting brush. No more brush strands getting into my BBQ sauce.
Word up, surlygrrl!

I forgot to mention my trusty pizza cutter and kitchen scissors for cutting fresh tortillas and won ton wrappers, as well as making a chiffonade out of basil leaves. I believe in multipurpose gadgets.

Posted by: bucinka8 | June 4, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

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