We here in the Food section like to cook. No surprise there, but it means we’re in a continuous state of equipment acquisition. You can just imagine what that can do to a kitchen.
Or we suspect you don’t have to wonder about it at all, because you, too, might be experiencing symptoms of Failure to Launch It Syndrome. The palette-shaped pasta-measurer that came free with something so long ago we can’t remember. A mini whisk whose performance can’t hold a candle to a table fork. Things that might be a little worse for wear, but are of too little consequence to post on Freecycle.
With spirits firmly switched on spring-cleaning mode, we each found enough items to build a bonfire pile — with the exception of Post food critic Tom Sietsema, who, apart from a gift collection of corkscrews, edits his kitchen tools so vigilantly that nary a stray cocktail spreader remains.
Is there a story behind every peeler? Perhaps, but we’re sharing tales of 10 items with greater vexing power.
If any cooking gadget deserves to be called “sexy,” it’s this sleek, fish-shaped grilling basket. As lightweight as a tennis racket and as durable as a cricket bat, the tool just feels good in your hand; when you hold it, you have the sudden urge to paddle the nearest person, which probably violates at least one local health code.
As a practical piece of grilling equipment, however, the tool is mostly eye candy: great to look at but pretty much useless for everything but a whole fish that happens to fit inside the basket. Sure, I could use it for those delicate fillets that may crumble and tumble through my grill grates, but I’d rather lose an ounce or two of fish than wash one more large and unwieldy instrument in my tiny galley kitchen. And, by the way, you know how many whole fish I’ve grilled in this basket since I received it more than 10 years ago as a gift? Zero.
— Tim Carman
There once was a pan — a beautiful Analon 13-inch nonstick braising pan — that I used for almost everything. With rounded sides and a three-inch depth, it was truly the most versatile one in my kitchen.
I braised, roasted and fried in this wonder of a pan. I reached for it almost reflexively, forsaking others in its favor. But my devotion took its toll. Night after night, I cleaned the pan carefully and gently. Over time, the nonstick coating wore away. No amount of oil would keep food from sticking to the pan, nor could the pan be seasoned.
Sadly, I had to break with it and when I did, I discovered I had a wonderful wok that I could stir-fry in with ease, beautiful cast-iron braising pots that did their jobs admirably and a roasting pan that worked just fine. They aren’t the same as my one-pot wonder, but they all have one trait I’m hooked on: They can be cleaned.
— Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
The ravioli recipe I was making was clear: If I wanted the recipe to come out right, I was going to need this pastry cutter. So I plunked down $15 for it and came home anticipating the perfect, magazine-photo-quality pasta I was going to turn out.
Instead, this device mangled the pasta to the point that I couldn’t drop the ravioli in the water because the filling would leak out. Then I found a different implement that made the cuts quickly, efficiently and consistently: a chef’s knife. I didn’t get the fancy wavy edge that was intended. But the filling stayed in the ravioli.
— Jim Webster, multiplatform editor
They seemed like such solid, multipurpose utensils, the 11 or 19 metal skewers in my kitchen junk drawer. Cake testers. Chicken-cavity closers. Party on a stick.
The devil’s knitting needles is more like it. Kebab chunks spin on the ones with rounded shafts. The flat ones are too long, forcing a dismount of ingredients that squishes tomatoes and separates onion layers. Even though they’re all in one place, I never can come up with the right number for a cookout. As a twist-tied gang, they work themselves to the top of the heap and keep the drawer from closing. And every time I go fishing for so much as a spatula, the business end of a skewer finds that tender junction where fingernail meets flesh.
Hello bamboo skewers, in a package, in with the Glad and Reynolds wraps.
Exile of the stabbers inspired further elimination; see the list below. So long goofballs, castoffs, handouts, also-rans. The drawer and I are both operating more effectively.
Also in the pile: a pie server with push-off lever; decorative wine stoppers; specialized vegetable peelers; a 1970s-era cheese plane; silicone pinch bowls; tomato corer; collapsible silicone tablespoon/teaspoon; a butter-measuring knife (?); the head of a wooden meat tenderizer; an egg separator; a rusted pastry brush; short, spring-loaded tongs with perforated pincers; a flat whisk minus its digital-thermometer guts.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
Not long out of college and trying to expand my cooking horizons at the first apartment I could truly call my own, I wanted a taste of home. I settled on my mom’s recipe for chicken cacciatore. My cobbled-together set of hand-me-down skillets didn’t have anything with a lid or deep enough for the long braise, so my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I set off on a shopping expedition that took us to the local mall.
In one of the department stores, I chose a deep, 11-inch Farberware skillet. (Ever notice how many recipes call for a 12-inch skillet?) It wasn’t too expensive. It even had the glass lid I wanted.
In seven years and two kitchens since then, that skillet has been my workaday cookware. Sadly, the nonstick coating is not so nonstick anymore. The bottom is warped, and my cast-iron skillet has moved in on the veteran’s territory. It pains me to say it, but it’s got to go.
— Becky Krystal
Regardless of where you stand on the Great Garlic Press Debate — an Elizabeth David hater or a Cook’s Illustrated apologist — you have to agree on one thing: a cheap press just mutilates cloves. The metal used for my old garlic press was essentially Erector Set grade. It was flimsy, but even worse, its poor design virtually guaranteed that all cloves would be pulverized into a pulpy mass, half of which would remain in the little metal hopper, awaiting you to scrape out the sticky lump with an index finger. Whatever benefits I gained from this instrument — better flavor, uniform consistency — were hard to reconcile with the sheer number of atomized cloves sacrificed to the garbage. Just as bad, whenever I used the tool, I felt as if I were trying to break rocks with a potato masher. My hands always ached after employing this weapon of mass destruction.
Also in the pile: a cheap knife sharpener that seemed to always do the exact opposite.
— Tim Carman
It’s 10 inches across and seven inches tall, not including its pop-up plunger that I wish I’d been clever enough to figure out on my own how to lock down. All the time and effort I saved spinning instead of rolling my lettuce in towels and then letting the leaves air-dry, I would spend cleaning and drying the spinner instead. Even more irritating was storing the thing. Its size made it difficult to stow in my kitchen cabinets, so the spinner migrated downstairs to the room where beloved yet rarely used pans and appliances occupy one wall, and items slated for disposal are on another. You know which side the spinner’s been on.
— Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
I used to always like cutting large, pitted Sicilian olives to make perfect rings that I would toss on top of pasta. Then my supermarket replaced the pitted olives with whole olives, otherwise the same, but somehow not. It didn’t seem like it would be hard to find a device that would extract the pits for me. The first one I bought couldn’t handle olives the size I was buying. So I found a bigger one. It did little but smash the olive, at which point I had to peel the smushed flesh off the pit.
Not what I was looking for. There were other failures before I found this instrument of torture, which would often push about half the fruit out with the pit, then quarter whatever was left, and often pinch a finger in the process. It was the best of the lot, and it has been sitting in the back of a drawer, unused, for about 10 years.
— Jim Webster, multiplatform editor
Another early culinary acquisition of mine: a nonstick wok. I only later learned that well-seasoned carbon steel was the way to go. The wok went to the kitchen cabinet in the sky some time back, but for some reason I held on to its large, domed lid. I was so sure that I had discarded it that I didn’t even consider that it could still be sitting in my supplementary storage area (a.k.a. the basement). But there it was one day, shiny and never used. What possible use could I still have for it — fruit bowl? Alien-signal-blocking hat? Perhaps it’s to remind me that I really ought to get a new wok. And the cycle will start over again.
Also in the pile: Spare waffle iron (you need both square and round ones, no?); a clouded plastic pitcher that was part of a housewarming gift basket from my parents’ dear next-door neighbor.
— Becky Krystal
My friendship with Pam: over. I was no longer charmed by those aerosol cans of cooking spray: not the olive oil, not the butter flavored, not the original. I was moving on to Misto. So intriguing: Pour in my favorite olive oil, pump the canister and press the button, and out would come a fine spray to grease a cake pan, baking sheet, whatever. And did I mention stylish? The brushed-metal shell was a far cry from Pam’s dowdy exterior.
Then, slowly, things turned sour. The sleek cover got sticky. The spray nozzle got gummy. The oil got stale. The device got an acrid, funky smell that no soap could banish. I held out as long as I could, but the end was inevitable.
My old BFF is back again. Pam, I mist you.
Also in the spring-cleaning pile: “theater” popcorn maker; pasta measurer; wooden mold for something, possibly butter; two pie vents; Italian cheese grater; orphaned blender jar assembly, minus its base; faux-copper gelatin mold; potato baker; egg separator.
— Jane Touzalin
Everything we collected is still in our office. What should we do with it? Join today’s Free Range chat at noon to discuss the fate of our castoffs: live.washingtonpost.com.