Some kitchen gadgets are useful and beloved; the humble egg slicer, for example, and the Y-shaped peeler. Some, however, are useless, or worse than useless: they cause extra work or unfortunate flavors to develop in the dish. Below are five kitchen gadgets you should extirpate from your kitchen drawers right after reading.
1. The Garlic Press
Every stock photo of a garlic press shows perfectly minced garlic falling neatly out of the press. What actually happens when you use a garlic press is this: the juice runs out of the garlic all over whatever receptacle you've used for garlic and you're left with fibrous, unappealing flakes of garlic cellulose. When you try to sauté it in olive oil, the juice sizzles out immediately and the flakes, no longer plump and juicy, burn almost as quickly, lending a bitter cast to your dish from the get-go. Then you have the joy of spending ten minutes trying to clean the device with a pick so you don't stink up the gadget drawer.
What to do instead: Buy a proper chef's knife and learn to mince garlic. With practice, you should be able to reduce two cloves of garlic into mince in under thirty seconds; twenty, if you're skilled with a knife. If you absolutely must have garlic paste, use a mortar, pestle, pinch of salt and thirty seconds of elbow grease.
2. The Bagel Slicer
Lovingly known as the "bagel guillotine" in offices all over the place, this device contains a plastic sheath, into which you are supposed to insert a bagel, and a V-shaped slicer with a handle. You plunge the slicer into the bagel, remove it and your bagel is sliced, in theory anyway. The bagel slicer often doesn't fit the fat, bready bagels common on the West Coast, crushes the bagels (splitting the sides) and more than half the time does not split the bagel the whole way through, resulting in an unattractive tear where the bottom of the bagel resided.
What to do instead: Buy a serrated knife. Start slowly at the top and use gentle sawing motions until the teeth sink in, then saw the bagel in half. It isn't any more dangerous than the protruding, serrated arrowhead of the bagel slicer.
3. The Flour Sifter
This isn't an aspersion on all flour sifters, just the cup models with the spring-loaded handle that spins blades located beneath the false bottom of the device. You put your dry ingredients in, then spend a minute or so jerking the handle (and making an annoying clacking sound), just to find out that the blades are stuck, or it's humid and the flour has stuck, or you have filled it too full and powdered the kitchen. Worse, because it is taller than it is wide, it doesn't combine ingredients efficiently, which is at least half the point of sifting multiple ingredients together in the first place. It, too, is impossible to clean quickly, and disgusting brown wads of dried flour end up in the un-get-attable places.
What to do instead: Buy a handled mesh strainer of the fineness required. It's not very much more expensive, it can serve more than one purpose (line it with cheesecloth and you've got a ghetto chinois for straining sauces and stocks) and there are no unreachable parts to accumulate crud. Because strainers are wider than they are tall, it's possible to combine disparate ingredients together with just a dozen or so smacks against the heel of a hand.
4. The Salad Dressing Bottle
It seems like every person who shows some interest in cooking ends up with a house full of gadgets like this one after not very many holidays. This is a glass screw-top bottle with a lid containing a long, usually curved blade that can be spun from the top. It claims to emulsify dressings more efficiently. What it does is move the heaviest ingredients together while leaving the oil in huge globs on top, while causing hand cramps through trying to attain the appropriate velocity using a tiny handle.
What do to instead: Take a cue from your local bartender. When a customer orders a drink with ingredients of different viscosities that need to be combined, the bartender shakes the drink. The same principle can be applied to salad dressings: put the non-oil ingredients in a small cup (snack-size disposable plastic cups work great), lid tightly, and shake vigorously for one minute. Add the oil and shake even more vigorously for one or two minutes, and the dressing shouldn't break for hours.
5. The Round Metal Skewers
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Skewers are skewers, you'd think; sure, some are made of bamboo and some of metal, but other than that, they're intended to keep meat and vegetables in line while being grilled or broiled. Round metal skewers, however, fail at their one purpose for existing: meat spins freely on them and tends to slip off. Some meat and vegetables, subjected to the centripetal stress of being spun, will split rather than see their holes enlarged. Grilling with these is nearly impossible, because flipping the skewer doesn't flip the meat.
What to do instead: If you must have round skewers, use bamboo instead. The grain of the bamboo provides enough friction for most meats and vegetables not to spin as freely. Just make sure you soak them for half an hour in water before grilling, or they'll burn to cinders and inject ash into your food. If metal skewers are the order of the day, try flat skewers, the kind that look like tiny swords. Meat can't turn on them, and if you're trying to pack ground meat on (for koobideh, for example) you will need the flatness to help you.