For years, I resisted buying a cherry pitter, instead dutifully poking out each pit using an old plastic bottle and a chopstick, tools I already had on hand for other uses. I came of culinary age in the Alton Brown era, learning to cook from the Food Network and outfitting my kitchen to the mental soundtrack of Brown railing against “unitaskers,” devices with only a single purpose.
As a budding food writer, I gave away an endless parade of highly specific inventions that I’d received in conference swag bags ― avocado slicers, lettuce shears, strawberry hullers and so on. I guffawed at Sqirl chef Jessica Koslow’s suggestion that to make the best toast, I needed a butter wheel. But I also shunned things I grew up watching my parents use, chopping endless cloves of garlic as I stubbornly refused to purchase a garlic press. Eventually, I gave in, but pressed my garlic furtively, in shame ― even as it saved time chopping and spared me from the lingering smell of garlic long into the evening.
Last year, early in the pandemic, I ended up with two kids and a subscription to a stone fruit CSA. Each week, I picked up pounds of plump, sweet Washington cherries. My toddlers, not yet old enough to swiftly remove the pits with their tongues and spit them out, whined as they waited. Plip, plop, one by one, I pitted the cherries, juice spurting about like the “before” segment of an infomercial as the girls fought over the slow trickle of fruit. I gave in and bought a cherry pitter, one of the best decisions I have ever made.
These things can truly have a measurable effect on your happiness. Consider the difference between my first time shucking oysters ― which involved a screwdriver and, very nearly, a trip to the emergency room ― and today, when I regularly pick up a dozen for at-home happy hour, making quick work of them with my shucking knife.
I understand Brown’s stance on unitaskers, but it papers over how real home cooks value their time and effort. Just because I can easily use a knife to carve a mango into a rose doesn’t mean someone else who eats many more mangoes wants to do that (or is physically able to). For them, there is a mango slicer. I make rice for my family and love letting it simmer on the stove as I cook the rest of the dinner, but my mom just wants her rice to be ready, so my equally practical sister-in-law introduced her to the microwave rice cooker ― which she now swears by.
The deification of television chefs, and the acceptance of their word as a singular correct opinion, comes at the expense of shaping a kitchen around how the person using it prefers to cook. A chef on TV can decide what works best in their own kitchen, but they don’t know yours. Bring on the butter wheels, evict Alton’s voice from your brain and buy these tools ― or whichever ones make your life easier and tastier.
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This simple tool fits easily in a drawer, comes apart for washing and makes quick enough work of cherries that I can stay ahead of the complaints from hungry preschoolers. It employs OXO’s standard hefty handles, making it easy enough that my older daughter can now help out by pitting cherries for her sister, and I’ve fallen deeply enough in love with the convenience that I added it to my kitchen-packing list for a recent family trip.
Forget everything you know about using garlic presses: The small tool saves you tons of peeling and chopping time and cleans up in seconds. Give the inside a small spritz of nonstick spray or oil, toss in a whole clove or two (peel included!) and press. The peel stays behind and slides right out, and the garlic doesn’t stick to the press. Chefs pooh-pooh garlic presses because they crush the garlic rather than mincing it, but as a home cook who uses large quantities of the fiddly allium, the time I save is worth any minor loss of flavor. The press linked here strikes a balance between the super-cheap versions that do a fine job but are less comfortable to hold, and the overly complicated versions that cost twice as much.
When I wrote a book about seafood, I dutifully went out and purchased all the seafood unitaskers that I saw other people describe as “must-haves.” But you can get by just fine without a fish spatula (though I use mine for plenty of non-fish things, now that I have it), and a mallet is ideal for cracking crab and lobster (though what I actually use is a big wooden muddling tool employed as a mallet). However, I did not need to buy an oyster knife ― I already had them, as there is no safe, acceptable way around an oyster knife, should you ever plan to shuck oysters. Certain styles are better for different shucking methods and the size and shape of the oysters, but this simple version works well for most anything and looks nicer than many basic models.