Alice Henneman, MS, RD, UNL Extension in Lancaster County
- Related article: 6 Tools to Simplify Holiday Cooking (and everyday!)
Making meals is a little like making magic. You toss some ingredients together and voila ... they change into muffins or a mixed vegetable medley!
Some days you may wish your magic wand was speedier. That it didn't take quite so long to clean, peel, chop and mix fresh vegetables for a salad. Or measure, mix, beat, blend and cook a casserole.
In search of faster kitchen magic, several Internet discussion groups of dietitians, home economists, chefs and other food professionals were asked their favorite time-saving kitchen tools. The response was overwhelming! Here are 30+ tools to quicken your kitchen performance.
Tools of the Trade
Tool 1: Garlic Peeler
The type mentioned most frequently is a rubber tube you place the garlic in, roll it a couple of times and the skin comes off. An added benefit: No more garlic smell on your hands!
Tool 2: Anything Dishwasher Safe
Check for the magic time-saving words "dishwasher safe" before purchasing any item! Don't buy anything you have to wash by hand until you check to see if there's a comparable dishwasher-safe item from another company.
Using the dishwasher saves time and helps assure kitchen items are thoroughly and safely cleaned. Plus, sticking your utensils in the dishwasher gets them out of sight immediately!
Tool 3: Flexible Plastic Cutting Board
Flexible plastic cutting boards are favorites with several people. After cutting vegetables, fruits or herbs, you can lift them up and pour the contents into whatever bowl or pan you're using. They're also dishwasher safe!
Tool 4: Own More Than One Cutting Board
Avoid cross-contamination when cutting different types of foods for the same meal by owning several cutting boards. This is especially important if you're cutting raw meats, poultry or seafood and then need to cut ready-to-eat foods. With more than one cutting board you can avoid spending extra time washing your board before cutting the next item.
Plastic or other non-porous cutting boards are easier to safely clean as they can be run through the dishwasher.
Tool 5: Pump-Spray or Mist-Spray Bottle for Oil
Fill this nonaerosol sprayer with your favorite oil and use for flavoring vegetables, coating pans and grills or spraying directly on bread. NOTE: Buy a container specifically advertised for use with oil.
Tool 6: A Good Quality, Sharp Chef's Knife
This tool is a must in many cooks' kitchens. Use a chef's knife to quickly chop, cut, slice, dice and mince fresh produce. You can do some procedures faster with a chef's knife than with your food processor. It's important to keep your knife sharp. Check what type of sharpening procedure or device the manufacturer of your knives recommends.
Tool 7: Food Processor and Blender
A food processor can make quick work of slicing, dicing, shredding, grating and chopping -- especially for large quantities of food. For smaller quantities, hand-held kitchen tools such as a chef's knife or a grater sometimes are faster.
A blender makes quick work of pureeing ingredients, such as for soups, and is terrific for making smoothies! Buy a heavy-duty blender if you want to crush ice. Some people like an immersion blender for pureeing soups in the pot or frothing hot chocolate.
Tool 8: Lots of Colanders
If you tend to wash and/or drain a lot of foods for meals, an extra colander or two may save you time and help prevent cross-contamination.
Tool 9: Kitchen Shears
Sturdy, sharp kitchen shears can perform many tasks, from cutting herbs, bacon and pizza to trimming dough to deboning chicken and cutting poultry joints. Many are labeled dishwasher safe and will separate for more thorough cleaning. As with any sharp item, use caution. If you wash shears in your dishwasher, place them in a location where they won't bump against other items or cut someone on removal.
Tool 10: Apple Corer/Wedger
Use this tool to quickly core and separate apples and pears into wedges. You also can buy just an apple corer.
Tool 11: An Assortment of Whisks
A whisk can be your quick and clever companion in many food adventures. Match the size and shape of your whisk to the task. An article from "Bon Appetit's" Web site (www.epicurious.com) recommends a "big, rigid whisk" for foods in large pots; a "medium whisk for soups, sauces, creams and custards;" and a "small whisk" (about 10 inches long) for "salad dressings, sauces and folding flour into batter."
Some whisks are longer and narrower -- others are like big balloons. Use the "ballooning-est" ones when you want to beat a lot of air into a mix, such as whipped cream or meringue. Choose whisks with thin and flexible wires for whipping air into batters, and thicker, more rigid wires for thicker mixtures such as brownies.
Choose whisks that have the area sealed where the wires go into the handle. This helps assure your whisk stays clean. These whisks may be more expensive, but will probably last longer and cost less over time. Look for "dishwasher safe" whisks to save time and to help assure your whisks are thoroughly and safely washed.
Tool 12: 1- and 2-Quart Microwave-Safe Glass Batter Bowls/Mixing Cups
Use these multi-talented tools to measure; mix (batters, sauces and toppings); cook foods in the microwave; and reheat foods you want to pour, such as soups. Many come with plastic covers so you can use them for storage, too!
Tool 13: A Good Quality Vegetable Peeler
Quickly and evenly remove the outer skin from fruits and vegetables with a sharp, durable vegetable peeler. Many have a sharp, rounded edge at the end to pop out the "eyes" of potatoes.
Tool 14: A Digital Timer
Help keep your kitchen tasks under control with this battery-operated device. Time the exact seconds, minutes or hours needed for a cooking process. Many come with a flip-out stand and a magnetic backing, so you always can keep them handy. Some can be clipped to your belt if you need to leave the kitchen. Others come with a string to hang around your neck.
Tool 15: Kitchen Tools With Erogonomic Rubber-Type Handles
Many cooks find these special-handled tools easier on their hands, particularly if they use a certain tool, such as a vegetable peeler, for extended periods.
One cook specifically mentioned a hinged, 2-piece grater that doesn't "get away." You can hook this grater over a bowl or plant it firmly on your counter.
Tool 16: Egg/Mushroom Slicer
If you use hard-cooked eggs in salads, etc., you might like one of the small egg slicers with closely spaced wires for making perfect slices. Look for one described as strong enough to also slice mushrooms.
Tool 17: A Set of "Scoop" Measuring Cups
For items such as sugar, oatmeal, rice, etc., quickly scoop the amount you need. Some scoop-type cups are a cross between a scoop and a regular measuring cup -- they have a long handle attached to a cup base.
NOTE: You wouldn't "scoop" flour for most recipes. To avoid packing, it's usually advisable to measure flour by spooning it lightly into your measuring cup.
Regardless of your preferred type of measuring cup, you may wish to own at least two sets to save clean-up time between different uses.
Tool 18: Cookie Dropper
If you bake lots of cookies, use this tool to make more uniform cookies in less time than you can by dropping dough from a spoon. Cookie droppers look like mini ice cream scoops where you push a lever on the handle to push out dough into muffin pans.
Tool 19: Funnels
Kitchen funnels are helpful for transferring bulk items into smaller containers. One cook ground a week's worth of coffee, put it in a jar and stored it in the cupboard. The rest of the beans went in the freezer. If you transfer ground coffee to a smaller coffee container, a funnel is handy. It's also great for filling sugar shakers from a larger package of sugar.
Tool 20: Detergent Dispenser With A Brush On It
Save an extra step by dispensing soap as you scrub. Some dispensers may work better for you than others. See if you can buy one at a store where the staff tried the product.
Tool 21: Salad Spinner
If you're washing lettuce, spinach leaves, etc., this tool is a must. Simply toss in your washed greens and "spin" them dry. These products work in various ways. Some have knobs you turn. Others operate through a push-down mechanism. Check around to find one with the features you like.
Tool 22: Long-Handled Bottle Brush
This cleaning tool is great for cleaning in the crevices of jars and bottles. It also works well if you're trying to get your brush in close around the inside bottom edges of pots and pans.
Tool 23: Multi-Functional Baking Dishes and Mixing Bowls
Save cupboard space and cleaning time by purchasing baking dishes suitable for baking, microwaving and storing food. Likewise, purchase microwave/oven safe mixing bowls suitable for storage and attractive enough to set on the table!
Some baking and mixing dishes come with their own covers, making them especially handy for storing foods. Be sure to follow the directions that come with these dishes and bowls to prevent breakage.
Tool 24: Non-Stick Skillet With Sloping Sides
This utensil helps you cook with a very small amount of oil, and clean-up is quick! The sloping sides make it easy to turn and remove food. To protect the nonstick surface, use spatulas, stirring spoons, etc. made for use with this type of coating.
Tool 25: Heat Resistant Spoon-Shaped Spatulas
Mix, scrape and stir again at the stove with this one utensil. Once you try these, you may want them in several sizes.
Tool 26: Jar Opener
If your only jar opener is a flat piece of rubber or you don't have an opener at all, check out the kitchen gadget section at your favorite store. Some of the latest models let you stick the jar lid between two prongs and twist. If you're tired of holding jars under hot water, hitting lids on the counter or giving up and reaching for a different food, this may be the tool for you.
Tool 27: Cheese Slicer
If you eat a lot of cheese sandwiches, this tool makes quick work of slicing a block of cheese. These are especially handy if you make toasted cheese sandwiches; all the cheese is the same width and melts at the same rate.
Tool 28: Small, Narrow, Long-Handled Rubber Spatula
Use this kitchen utensil to scrape out the last bit of food from the nooks and crannies of jars.
Tool 29: Multi-Tiered Food Storage Shelves
A handy way to store your spices for quick and easy access is to purchase the small stair-step type storage shelves. Many have three levels for storing spices and other small containers. Some will expand to fit various cupboard widths. Larger sizes may be available for storing bigger containers such as cans, olive oil, etc.
Tool 30: Food Clips
Plastic clips that snap shut and look sort of like hair barrettes are great for fastening opened bags. Keep a bunch handy in your kitchen for quickly closing bags of frozen vegetables, nuts, etc.
One student with a very small budget recommended using little binder clips instead of buying more expensive chip clips. When she opens a bag of something that needs resealing, she folds over the bag and clips it shut with a binder clip.
Additional time-saving kitchen tools mentioned that you may wish to check out include:
- Rice cooker
- Slow Cooker - e.g.,"Crock Pot" -- Check the publications on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website for information on "Slow Cooker Safety."
- Large pasta pot with colander insert
- Vegetable steamer
- Mortar and pestle
- Salad shooter
- Hand-cranked potato peeler
- Universal measuring cup for liquids and solids
- Toaster oven
- Small electric food processor/chopper
- Small hand-operated food processor/chopper
- Parchment paper
- Pressure saucepan
- Electric knife
- Food thermometers (helps you save guessing time trying to decide when food is done!)
- Gravy separator/pitcher
- Coffee grinder for grinding seeds, nuts, grains.
And, keep in mind this suggestion from one person: "My most effective ‘helper' at the moment though is my daughter. Involving family members in food preparation has multiple benefits, including time!"
And For Your Last Trick...
With these time-saving kitchen tools, you can perform one final magic trick: DISAPPEAR from the kitchen sooner!!!
Special Thanks To:
A tremendous and heartfelt "thank-you" to the 40+ people from these Internet discussion groups -- American Dietetic Association; Society for Nutrition Education; Public Health Nutrition Discussion and Information Group; and Food and Nutrition Specialists -- who offered their suggestions for time-saving kitchen tools. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of everyone in taking time to share their recommendations. I sincerely hope I have woven your many ideas together into a tapestry we can all use and enjoy!