Corn shucker #2
Photo by Donna

A few weeks ago I ran a post on baked buttered corn, a popular dish that requires three-quarters of the corn to be more or less juiced. I use the above corn cutter, costs about ten bucks.  It only does one thing, and that one thing, I can do with a knife or a knife and a blender, I resist letting any unitasker into my kitchen, and yet, I love this corn cutter. It's really easy to use and the result is perfect for what I want in my baked corn.  I'd buy another if someone borrowed this one and never gave it back.  But it made me curious.

A while back I went on a brief I-use-my-egg-separators-to-bake-pies rant, about useless kitchen gadgets.

What are some of your UNUSUAL favorite tools or gadgets.  Not the obvious tools like a good knife or a spoon, but the more uncommon of your cherished tools, unitaskers or not.  And why?  For instance, I know Cory cherishes his mini offset spatual, Michael Symon never wants to be without his plastic bench scraper, Keller wants a very specific pepper grinder (one with a fine grind).  Would love to know specific brands and where to find if it's unusual or difficult to find.

And especially would like to know store-bought gadgets like the above corn cutter that are actually useful.

If you don't have one, I would imagine that's a good sign!

Update 10/30: Thanks everyone for the awesome comments and ideas.  For some reason, Typepad took away the box where you can leave a comment.  I'm trying to figure this out. Comment should be open.  Sorry for the annoyance!

Update, mere moments later: The perp has returned the comment box! Comments welcome!


133 Wonderful responses to “Question to Chefs and Cooks:
Favorite Uncommon Tools”

  • Denise dS

    The $5 Brix Jar Key ( pops a vacuum seal on almost any shaped lid. It’s been six years and I still marvel at the day it wandered into my life. (At the same time, I had to look in my utensil drawer to see if it had a name…who knew it had a whole Danish engineering group behind it?) And though it doesn’t qualify as a one-hit-wonder, I use my Chinese bamboo-handled strainer…probably also $5…for all manner of non-sanctioned cooking-related activities.

  • David

    a microplane zester. fast, reliable, easy on the hands, very clean zester.

  • Sean

    I second the cherry pitter! Ever tried to pit any more than three cherries or olives without it? If so, that’s when you decide to make something else.

    Also, the pastry cutter/blender for incorporating cold fat into doughs. No better tool for the job. No other job for the tool.

  • Jay Fanelli

    I’ve almost completely abandoned using full-sized whisks for most whisking. It’s just too much whisk for one- and two- person-sized dishes. Instead, I use the whisk attachment from a hand mixer. It’s the perfect size for whisking in a small bowl, pot, or pan.

  • Pete

    I have an old lardoire (larding knife) and larding needle that I use to lace lean joints with beautiful strips of pork fat.

  • Localbite

    My favorite multi-tasker is a wooden spatula (actually it might be bamboo) i use instead of almost any other wooden spoons,metal and rubber spats. I think it came in a sushi set I was given as a gift.

  • Darcie

    I have a tool that I think is supposed to be a melon ball tool, but it is a ring, not a scoop. It is horrible for its intended purpose but it works great to remove seeds from cucumber halves, cantaloupes, pears etc. I’ve almost thrown it out a few times, but it works so well for that application that I just can’t get rid of it.

  • Churchyard

    My (absurdly expensive) Champion juicer. I’ll second Carolyn on the shrimp deveiner, too.

  • Richard

    My tea strainer. It’s perfect for skimming stock, and it’s so fine that is does a pretty decent job of skimming fat as well. It also works really well to strain small quantities of sauces and liquids.

  • jscirish27

    Two: My cake tester. Perfect for determining the temps of meat and fish. My immersion blender. Not sure if these are gadgety enough but I use them almost daily.

  • Vicious

    my old school cast iron lemon juicer. it gets every drop out of the lemons by turning them inside out and without seeds. yes i could use a fork or knife but this makes very quick work and assures i dont have to pick out seeds or get the juice all over my hands in the attempt.

  • Ninette

    Great post. I can’t live without my Chinese spider, once hard to find but I think they sell fancy stainless steel ones at William Sonoma. I also have a tool that has a ladle handle but a fine mesh strainer on the other end, which is incredibly helpful in skimming soups and all other things. Finally, I have this mini-spatula made of silicone wiht a metal handle. I use it to clean out batter out of bowls as well as for spatula-stuff and other things. I don’t know why, but the mini-spatula is one of my favorite kitchen tools.

  • Brent

    Kuhn Rikon makes a jar opener that works, and that has save my hands and sanity on more than one occasion.

  • Carrie Oliver

    I thought my husband’s apple corer was a silly gadget until I noticed it inspired my starch & salt loving daughter to eat apples.

  • Adrienne

    Dough Whisk! In addition to being really pretty, it is SO good at mixing together no-knead style, high moisture doughs without getting sticky goo all over your hands (and counters and cupboards and hair), and the dough doesn’t clump up in the middle like a traditional whisk would or in the belly of the spoon – it just MIXES. Wonderful.

    Mine is from King Arthur:

  • Dan

    Does a $5, 18oz (I think that’s the weight) rubber mallet from Home Depot count?

    I like it for making schnitzels and sundry flattened cutlets or any other pounded food objects.

    Other than that, I’d have to say I’d die without my WMF flat whisks. Especially, since I’m in Indy now. These people never even heard of a flat whisk. My girlfriend grew up in a baking-heavy, Baptist household, and SHE never heard of a flat whisk until I meandered into her life. I once asked if they had any in the Beyond section of Bed and Bath, and the little helper person looked at me as though I’d just asked for crate of Sudafed and an instruction book on cooking meth.

  • carri

    For the whole 16 years of bakery life I have had one pan I could not live without and is never far from my grasp, Meant to be a small ‘cookie sheet’, it is a 9×13 rectangle of thin aluminum that would bake horrible cookies, but can slide a cheesecake of it’s bottom with the greatest of ease…pity the new dishwasher that misplaces ‘mr. slidey pan’!

  • Michel

    I make my own bread, and used to have a plastic scraper for getting the dough out of the bowl. I’ve lost it in a move, so now use a promotional American Card to do the same thing.
    Works like a charm, and I know if I ever lose it that I just need to wait a week or so and I’ll get another one in a pile of junk mail.

  • MIchael

    Kyocera makes a wonderfully sharp ceramic blade mandoline. While only about 5 inches wide and non adjustable it has some limitations. On the otherside it never gets dull, and is sharp on both sides so it cuts on the up and down swing. I used one in a restaurant kitchen for over a year and it never got dull, and every slice was exactly the same.

    Cherry pitter! I’ve never seen one in a store, but it’s priceless come cherry season. Works on olives and small stonefruit as well.

    Spatzle maker. I don’t care if you only make spatzle once a year, this gadget is worth it. This simple device makes the task of making those little dumplings a realativly clean, easy, and quick one, especially if your making a ten cup batch at a restaurant. Once again something i’ve not seen in stores, but on e-bay at very reasonable prices.

  • The Italian Dish

    I have an olive spoon that I use to remove seeds and pulp from tomatoes that I want to stuff. Because it’s so narrow and long, it’s the only thing that works amazingly well to get down into each section of the tomato. And I love to stuff tomatoes and roast them. I would be lost without this now!

  • Badger

    I have a specific peeler that I love — the Chef’n Palm Peeler. I have a lot of trouble with my hands and when cooking, I want to save any grip I still have for knife work. I had a terrible time peeling potatoes, carrots, cukes, etc. until I found this thing. It slips over your finger like a ring and rests in the palm of your hand. You basically just wave your hand over the veggie you want to peel and it’s done! Couldn’t live without it. I think I bought mine at Sur La Table but I’ve seen them all over the place, so shouldn’t be hard to find.

  • Schlake

    I have a very old wooden handled knife with a carbon steel blade. The blade is black from years of neglect. I’m not sure what kind of knife it is, the blade doesn’t easily fit into any common category of knife blades. It’s mostly long and straight. I’d call it a bread knife, but it isn’t serrated.

    As a child, back in the 70s, my parents used it to cut watermelon. That what I still use it for today. Sometimes I use it to cut kitchen twine, but really, it’s the watermelon knife.

  • mary lynn

    My very most favorite unitasker is a bean slicer and stringer made by Krisk. A friend gave it to me about 30 years ago and you can still find them at cooking stores. Great for French style green beans.

  • Alice

    I fell in love with my tomato corer this summer after growing my first tomatoes in my very own garden. I had gone to my fiance’s mother’s china cabinet and picked out a beautiful bowl in which to keep the freshly harvested and washed, imperfect, but amazingly tasty Heirloom tomatoes. The corer came out of the drawer and lived beside the bowl; always at the ready to plunge into a tomato for a quick snack. I also use it to make “strawberries a la Monica”- a title I jokingly use to describe my friend’s concoction where she removes the hull of the strawberry, fills the center with Bailey’s and seals them with chocolate. I can’t explain why I think the tomato corer is such a nifty gadget, but I do!