Benriner Mandolin

Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

My number one pick for a great inexpensive gift to give a cook is a Japenese mandolin, aka a Benriner (the brandname). This is a tool virtually all cooks own, used for all manner of slicing, julienning and brunoising. Gnarly sweet potatoes become gorgeous chips. Under 20 bucks—can’t beat it.

My most used small appliance is the hand blender, or immersion blender, a fabulous tool for pureeing soups and sauces, making vinaigrettes and mayos. Wouldn’t want to be without one. (The above link is to an inexpensive CuisinArt blender, here’s the KitchenAid version nearly 3 times as expensive but some feel it’s worth it.)

If you’re really in to cooking, these round cutters come in handy for all kinds of baking, cooking, plating needs.

I recently bought this fat separator and love it—simple ideas work best.

As Michael Symon said to me while we were working on his book, the microplane was a game changer for his cooking, allowing him to finish dishes with a hit of citrus zest at the last minute.  Works with cheeses too, some whole spices, adding fresh garlic at the last minute.

The scale is one of my most important kitchen tools.  I use it several times a week.  This scale is small, efficient and economicalThis little one, for measuring spices and other light ingredients comes in handy too.  Though if you are a culinary instructor, your students will call it your drug dealer scale.

The Silpat, the Silicone Baking Mat is a great all purpose surface for baking. Love them.

I remember a story of an instructor who at at the home of the former president of the Culinary Institute of America, Ferdiand Metz, in Germany.  The story stuck with me because the senior Mr. Metz personally steeled each guest’s steak knife before passing it down and serving the meat.  That’s serious.  For the serious steak eaters, Wusthof steak knives (OK, not inexpensive but wanted to throw them in).

And for the wine drinkers out there, a lovely decantor is a great gift.  Yes, you also need a strainer funnel (if you don’t, then you probably don’t need to decant, yes?).  I also like the wine areator—I swear I can taste the difference, but maybe I just like the sound.

Now, will I take my own advice and get my own shopping done NOW?! Or will I wait till the last minute and stress myself out?

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77 Wonderful responses to “Kitchen Tools I Love—Inexpensive Gift Ideas”

  • Comal Caliente

    great ideas. I got a mandoline and a microplane for my birthday in august and they have definitely been heavily used, especially the microplane, I end up using citrus in a lot of my cooking and love adding that pop to finish off a meal.

    Silpats are great, only have used them, but really need to get some of my own. I’m going to take the plunge and get a good kitchen scale soon. I must admit I haven’t read Ratio yet, but i use the app and I really agree with the method, ready to take that next step in my culinary venture.

  • Heather

    This year I asked for silicone-tipped tongs and English muffin rings – and a coupon book from our 12-year-old future chef for more of his lasagna.

    I have Silpats – but I still prefer parchment paper. I hate washing Silpats.

    Stick blenders never last long around here – I buy myself one and insist that it will only be used in the kitchen…and within a week it’s out in the soap shop. They never last long out there, either. O_o

    • NancyB

      Heather–I know what you mean about the blender & soap. BUT…if you can instill proper useage you can keep it alive. Use it only in spurts less than a minute, then let it rest for another minute or so. Keep doing that. Believe me it doesn’t affect the soap adversely & it doesn’t burn out the blender.

  • Adri

    Love your suggestions! I have most of the things on this list :-) I’m thinking of getting my friend an immersion blender for christmas and the one you suggested — Cuisinart — has terrible reviews on Amazon! What has your experience been? I have one that I got from Williams – Sonoma years ago and it has worked fine, but it is stainless, not plastic, and maybe has better construction than the newer versions. Thoughts? Thanks!!

    • Nancy

      FWIW, after killing a few immersion blenders, I’ve had a Braun for several years that has taken a licking and kept on ticking.

        • george

          Will vouch for the Braun, but have 2 Bamixes, one vintage ~20yrs old, and a newer one found at a bargain, blades are interchangeable, stainless shaft, so that tomato sauces don’t stain the plastic.

  • claudia @ ceF

    pardus hates the microplane for zesting and prefers his knife. i’ve tried to explain to him the virtues but he scoffs… of course his knife skills are incredible – but still…

  • rich sims

    Hello MR, i agree with heather, silpats are pain to wash. Parchment paper for me is easier to work with. Your blogs are smart, poignant and sometimes funny.

  • My Kitchen in the Rockies

    I think that I am all set besides the mandoline. I have bought several and always returned them, because they were just not right. I will put the one you recommended on my wish list. Hopefully it will work out. Thanks!

  • Lexi

    LOVE LOVE LOVE that mandolin. I have had it for years, and just (finally) found the julienne blades that came with it. And I couldn’t live without my kitchen scale.
    Might have to put an immersion blender on the list, though…

  • Allen

    My imersion blender is like an extension of my arm, I use it three times a day, hummus, mayo, dressing, soup… And it’s so damn easy to clean, love it.

  • Lydia

    I have the best immersion blender ever. Kitchen Aid with whisk and food processor attachments- it’s amazing and very powerful. I bought my mother one for last Christmas.
    I would like a mandolin, but I’m scared of cutting myself.
    I have those round cutters left over from my go at baking school, but I never use them. How do you use them so often?

    • Mantonat

      I have the same one – got it as a gift, so the price was not an issue for me. The wand blender itself is incredible and very easy to clean. The wisk works well but is a little on the cheap side and feels like it might fall apart if I use it too much. The food processor broke after a couple of uses – it just couldn’t handle making bread crumbs. Overall a great tool – they should just stop making the food processor.

  • Paul

    Hey Michael … Permanent stuff builds up. Why not do one more gift suggestion piece and that’s consumables. I, for example, love to give good friends a nice sized piece of vacuum-sealed Vacche Rosse Parm. What recommendations do you and the readers have.

    • Comal Caliente

      Hi Paul,

      I recently did a test run of my own jar of pickles back in september and just opened it a couple of weeks ago. I’m thinking that gathering some winter veggies and pickling in nice jars would make a great idea.

      Just last week I gave my boyfriend’s father a jar filled with pickled serranos (he likes spicy stuff).

      My brother loves pickled beets, so I’m definitely trying this next and giving him some nicely wrapped jars as a gift. getting nice ceramic spice jars and making your own spice mixes to give as gifts work well.

      I think you have the right idea though, I would always appreciate a gift of a good cheese.

    • Allen

      Hi Paul, a nice consumable gift is aged eggnogg. I made a huge batch this year, check out Mr. Ruhlmans post and recipe on Chow.com, excellent beverage gift.

    • Katherine Deumling

      I agree about the edible gifts. Meyer Lemon card in a little jars is easy and delicious; dark chocolate bark with toasted nuts, dried fruits. . . ; mixed pickled veggies; caramel corn–if homemade can be awfully good. Jams too!

      • Comal Caliente

        Hi Katherine,

        just wondering what a meyer lemon card is? Is this similar to preserved meyer lemon? I heard that if you cut up meyer lemons, rub sea salt on them and let them sit in a jar with some meyer lemon juice, you got a pretty good gift as well. I’ve been wanting to do this for personal use since I love lemons so much!

        • Allen

          Hi Comal, I think Katherine meant lemon curd, easy to find a recipe for that. I’ve also made preserved lemons from the book Charcuterie with lemons I picked in St. Helena, Ca. They’re great, next time I will try and brine them with peppers. Would sure like to be on Katherines Xmas gift list.

  • Todd Klimek

    Can the Benriner (or mandolines in general) be used to make bacon slices off of a pork belly?

  • The Expatresse

    [dancing] I have all of these! I have all of these! Okay, maybe slightly different versions, but I do. And I agree: they are tools I use with regularity.

    • SauceRobert

      I do as well… so I guess the real question here is, “What do you get for someone who already has everything?”

  • Matthew

    Todd Klimek
    Can the Benriner (or mandolines in general) be used to make bacon slices off of a pork belly?

    I think that would be hard to do. The pork belly would have to be either very cold or very cured to be hard enough. Could be wrong, though. Still, a sharp, long knife seems like so much less work than the mandoline.

  • Michael Fong

    So these Japanese mandolines are just as good as those really expensive stand-up ones? I don’t have a mandoline, and I’d like to get one. If these are <$20, that's not bad at all!

    • SauceRobert

      IMO the japanese mandolines are far better the the french style mandolines! you will find these far more often in a professional kitchen than you would a french style. and its not just because they are cheaper!

      btw… make sure you get the narrow kind, the wider ones work but they have 2 blade adjustment screws on them and they are very hard to get an even slice on.

  • Mitchal

    So I was about to order the Benriner upon seeing a previous post because I’m rather tired of my other mandoline. Anyways, I was wondering if you find the smaller Benriner sufficient for most applications. Oh yeah, that dainty price tag is stellar isn’t it?

  • RibDog

    I have had a Benriner for almost thirty years now. My brother was the banquet chef at Hotel Nikko in Chicago back in the early 80s. One of the japanese chefs in the top floor japanese restaurant there gave a Benriner to my brother but he already had one so he passed it on to me. I still use the original slicing blade on this unit and have never needed to replace or resharpen it. Excellent recommendation!

  • stephen

    Ruhlman,

    I have the Smartstick blender you link to above and it is by far my favorite kitchen gadget…always works when I need it to and will blend up a royal for quiche at a moments notice. Next is my numero 10 Lodge cast iron skillet with matching bacon press and my course Microplane grater. All three are required for a proper grilled cheese sandwich. Im still holding out for a OXO mandoline for Christmas this year…I haven’t been a total dick this year, so hopefully Santa will have pitty and leave me one. First use, HOMEMADE SWEET POTATO FRENCH FRIES!

  • Andy Coan

    C’mon, Michael, you know you had to buy a new Benriner for the photo because you threw that “guard” away the first day. :)

    After nearly losing a piece while fileting a wet and slippery fish, I bought myself a pair of kevlar gloves from an industrial supply website. Now I can use the slicer with abandon.

  • luis

    Great gadgets… have them all cause I like gadgets. Just got one of the cleavers I am expecting tonite. Of the gadgets displayed above I have each and everyone and I use them all. These are everyday items for any cook.

  • Carol

    Michael, the stick blender makes the most amazing milkshakes. Just put ice cream, chocolate sauce to taste and a little milk in a wide mouth canning jar and let her rip.

  • Darlene

    Love love love my fat separator! Mine has a strainer on top and a spout, as well as plug to prevent the fat from enter the spout until you’re ready to pour. The only downside is it’s plastic. I would much prefer glass so I can stick it in the dishwasher.

  • Chef Jack

    ahh.. looking at the mandolin brings back memories. especially when the time i took off a piece of my thum—.. ahemm.. anyways.. yes great idea!

  • Gerry

    Michael – any update to last year’s post on Sous Vide equipment? Not inexpensive, I know! But my personal Santa is feeling generous this year. Do you still recommend the Sous Vide Supreme or is there now better equipment available for the home cook? Thanks, Gerry

  • Allen

    off the topic, but a nice vacation in the Fl. Keys I had a geat Cuban coffee and Cuban sandwich I split with my wife for $8, made by 3 lovely hard working ladies at small busy The Cuban Queen, worth the wait and very memorable. A must have.

  • John E

    This time last year I bought a Benriner as recommended by James Peterson in his book Cooking. A friend gave me an Oxo for Christmas which is a nice piece of equipment but goes unused. The Benriner is the go-to. (I did slice off the tip of my ring finger with it-took weeks to heal!) Kevlar gloves! great idea!

    • luis

      That’s just it….. the mandolines are very dangerous. I have an oxo and I have rules before I use it. Specifically NO alchool of any kind while using this contraption.
      Other rules are … better and cheaper to throw away 20% of the vegg than ANY percent of my fingertip.
      However the butcher shop gloves or even the Kevlar ones would do wonders for my confidence while using this finger guillotine.

  • Randy Shore

    I have a Breville cordless immersion blender that has worked surprisingly well. I was skeptical, but it is powerful and sits there in its charging stnad ready at all times.

  • Amy Ciarlo

    Thanks for all the great kitchen gear tips. I’m looking to buy a food processor and was wondering if you have any recommendations? Thank you!

      • Gerry

        If this refers to the Sous Vide equipment, sorry I can’t find the previous post, and search only points me to a year-old post & a side comment in the Corned Beef recipe from last March. Sorry to be a pain but if there is a better option than the one you recommended a year ago, I’d be grateful to hear about it. Gerry

  • Metaxa

    It is the electrical whir of small appliances and the clink of the gadget drawer that attracts Zombies.

  • Bob

    The version of the Cuisinart stick blender that I bought at my local Costco had a mini-prep attachment (one blade) and a whisk attachment. Works great!

  • Ann

    Michael,

    Did you read the user reviews on Amazon before recommending this slicer? A LOT of people thought it was flimsy and unsafe, and the guard is crummy. I ordered one on your recommendation before reading the reviews. I just hope they’re wrong. But, I’ll be extra careful when using this.

  • ruhlman

    you mean the benriner? it’s awesome. BUT: important to get the narrow one, the one with only a single adjustable screw. did you get the wide one?

  • Margaret

    Those steak knives are a tad on the expensive side…do you have any recommendations for something a bit more affordable?

    • george

      You could go with the Gourmet or stamped Wustof steak knives same shape blade, not quite the same quality, but quite a bit cheaper

  • luis

    On gadgets… I just got the ultimate blender…is a “Total Blender” from “Blendtec”. This was not cheap. But the thing will make soup, icecream, smoothies, and juices and there is no wasted pulp. It liquefies everything including the peel and seeds as in pineapple and grapes etc…. not out of the box yet but…ohh and I can now make flour out of damm near anything such as rice and all types of grain. This is gonna put the artisinal into my breadmaking now.
    Fun,….fun…..
    Of course the thought of buying fresh veggies and fruits and not wasting the good pulp as I used to with the juicer… is what drove me to getting this thing. but it wasn’t cheap….three something…

  • luis

    Next on my wish list will be a new type of microwave I recently saw advertised. Uses inverter technology which basically means that when I set the power level to say 50% the microwave is ON the selected time span and doesn’t cycle off and on. Basically another magic breakthrough in technology. Folks will be cooking in this type of microwave for sure. Then browning under the conventional broiler.

  • Roberto Navarro

    I personally favor the Braun handmixer, particularly the ones with the 300-400 Watt motors. My last one just died on me after about 6 years.

  • John E

    One comment on the immersion blender discussion: I have had three and the main difference was the design of the blade guard – if it has holes – not good, fibrous foods get stuck in the holes. The Viking is OK as is the Bamix.

  • Georgia Pellegrini

    I definitely agree with you about the mandolin, it seriously cuts prep time down to like nothing, just be careful of your fingers…Oh, I could tell you stories… But I will spare you.