Friday, June 14, 2013

Top 10 Kitchen Gadgets to Avoid!

I love Top 10 lists!  There is something about them that takes over your brain and makes you think, 'Yes!  I need to know what, 'Top 10 Vacation Destinations are Designed for People Who Like to Square-Dance!'  And after I read it, I look lovingly at my spouse and show them Destination Numero Uno and after receiving a long strange look they remind you that 'we' don't square-dance.  Oh, right. 

Then there are the other, even more popular top 10 lists.  For example: The Top 10 Essentials for Your Golf Bag or The Top 10 Energy Saving Tips or The Top 10 Must-Haves for your Kitchen.  The last one, I would like to focus on.  After reading 'must have' lists, I usually feel a little poor.  As much as I want a Nespresso Pixie, I cant justify the expense right now.  And I have tried using a juicer on multiple occasions, but that's just not for me.  So, for you, dear reader-I decided to take the opposite approach: lets talk about some genres of useless kitchen gadgets that keep getting pushed on the people.  And then useful alternatives you can often find at thrift stores or garage sales-in addition to a local retailer.

10. 'Heavy-Duty' Items

When I say heavy duty, I'm talking in the literal sense of the word.  A good example are those stoneware mixing bowls.  When you mix something, generally, the bowl is acting as a middle-man.  If you struggle to lift it and maneuver it as you need to, its not worth the money!  In industrial/restaurant kitchens, items are heavy-duty, but often light and easy to use with one hand.  Few items require both hands because that can create drops, spills, burns and serious injury. 

Revere Ware Mixing Bowl

What to look for: look for an item you would be willing to trust your 2 year old to play with and your 90 year old grandmother to carry around.  A good solution to the stoneware?  How about those Revere Ware stainless steel mixing bowls (pictured) your grandmother had?  You cant find them anywhere except thrift stores, garage sales and Ebay!  Often for under $10 for a set of three!

 #9: Fondue Pots

Sure I have one, but ask me how often I use it.  I had to dig it out of the high cabinet (aka: last stop before Goodwill) just to take the picture!  Fondue pots are a total waste of money, the reason?  We have little bitty crock-pots now!  The mini-crock is a better dollar spent and functions much better than a fondue pot which rarely comes with a lid and often dries your dip into some disgusting thing resembling old silly putty.

My fondue pot
What to look for: The mini crock-pot that will last you a lifetime and keep your dip covered and nice for the duration of the dip!

#8: Small Cutting Boards

I can't tell you how many times I see these.  Every time, they are smaller than a dinner plate, plastic and look like they barely hold a lime on them.  I don't know why people buy these, but please stop wasting your money!  I'm not here to argue about the sanitation of plastic vs wood cutting boards (although I'm a wood cutting board person ALL THE WAY!).  I am here to argue the weight and function of the cutting board.

First of all, cutting boards should be larger (the size of a place mat) and have some weight to them.  My smallest cutting board weighs 2.5lbs.  Now, any cutting board you use should be placed on a towel on the counter to prevent it from slipping-the health inspector would prefer you to use a dishwasher safe grip mat, but I digress.  A small light cutting board, with the towel, still poses a risk of movement.  The lack of weight to the board makes it easy to counter-balance and forces you to work on a wobbly surface.

Second, a small cutting board poses more vulnerability to injury.  The tight workspace means your hands are closer together, you're cuts have to be incredibly precise otherwise you'll cut yourself.  Having more room to work lets you position your arms and your body at a more comfortable angle allowing you to work more efficiently.  

Third, it takes longer to prep working in a smaller space because you're constantly having to move the cuttings from the board.  You will never develop any fancy knife skills when you spend more time freeing up space as opposed to cutting.

What to look for: don't worry about brand, look for something you will notice weighing your knapsack down.  And as far as plastic or wood?  That is for you to decide.

 #7: Smoothie Makers

Dude, its called a blender.

 #6: Toasters

A toaster is something of the past, I know they look cute and vintage and the POP of the spring makes you reminiscent of childhood, but its ridiculously expensive now and taking up much needed room on your counter.

What to look for: a toaster oven.  These contraptions have been out for a long time and much more dynamic than ol' one-note toaster over there.  In the summer you can use the toaster oven in place of  the oven and save some money on air conditioning, plus, your bagel wont get stuck in the narrow slots and burn!  Toaster ovens also offer a second hand when you decide to make a larger or more involved dinner.  I often multitask by roasting the garlic in the toaster oven while my main course is working in the oven.  Toaster ovens start at around $20. 

#5: Anything you will use to replace your Pyrex

Pyrex goes in the same category as your Revere Ware bowls.  Pyrex are one of the most durable items in my kitchen.  While, many people are disposing of their vintage Pyrex-the rest of us are grabbing it up as though
Vintage Pyrex (left) New Pyrex (right)
it were gold!  The casserole dishes safe for the oven and microwave and generally have glass lids to fit each size.  The newer Pyrex is more limited-it has warnings on the bottom saying not to put it in the oven.  Thus, making the vintage Pyrex even more valuable.

Also, for those looking for a 'green' option.  The idea of Pyrex not being a plastic item is very appealing to many people (myself included).  I use my Pyrex much more than any plastic ware and have eliminated almost all of it.  I only have about 7-8 pieces of Pyrex that I'm constantly using.

What to look for: Vintage Pyrex WITH a lid.  Also, beware of price gougers!  Look first within your family!  It was formerly a popular gifting item-so family members may have some they are willing to unload for free!  That's how I got mine!

#4: Odd Shaped Cookware

I don't see them as often as I used to, but anything that is to be used on your stove that has an odd shape.  Square skillets, oblong skillets.  These don't allow for even cooking and usually mess up your food.  As nice as the square skillet seemed to be for pancakes-they always were burnt and undercooked.

What to look for: if you are looking to expand your skillet space, try an electric griddle.  They are the easiest thing to cook on and clean up.  They take very little room to store and are portable and lightweight!  I often see them on sale for around $20!  We use ours for french toast, pancakes, homemade tortillas, fajitas, etc.  Also nice in the summer to prevent all the heat from using the stove!

#3: Kitchen Knife Blocks (and other cheap kitchen knives)

You need very few knives to accomplish a majority of your cooking.  And if you need a very small number (3), then why waste money housing and fussing with a bad array?  The most important knife you need is a chef's knife.  I cook every day and I use my chef's knife for 95% of everything I do.  I wash it multiple times as day and I never put it in the drawer-its always out.  You will not find a quality chef's knife in a $20 block.  These are cheap and lightweight.  You are wanting something heavier.  People are going to preach to you about getting a Wusthof (approx $100) or something to that effect.

What to look for: I like Katherine Flynn's approach-it appeases the cheap-skate in me-go for the most expensive knife you can afford.  Be sure to test a few out to see which feels the best in your hand.  This is something you will use more than any counter-top appliance you own-keep that in mind when gauging where its value lies.  And then, have it sharpened regularly.  After the first time you get it sharpened-you'll understand why people say that.

#2: Plastic:

Plastic Measuring Cups
How much plastic do you have in your kitchen?  How often do you cook with it?  Do you ever stop to think why industrial/restaurant kitchens are not allowed to use much plastic?

Sure, the stainless steel can be more expensive, but I assure you I have spent much more on plastic junk for my kitchen than the stainless steel.  Most of the stainless I have found at thrift stores!  But why stainless?

First of all, its generally less bulky.  In order to hold-up the edges of the plastic bowls and measuring cups have to be thicker-making it larger to hold, but with minimal weight to it.  I'm not saying my stainless is heavy, but there is a comfortable weight to it that ensures I'm less likely to drop it.

Second, plastic looks cheap.  It easily scuffs, melts, stains, chips, cracks or mismatches.  It gets dirty and never really feels clean.

Third, plastic has a shorter lifespan.  Plastic is more likely to break and be thrown away than stainless.  Stainless is so easy to find second-hand because it will never go away.  It always looks the same and can be passed along.  You're not going to pass on a piece of stainless because it doesn't match the 'decor'.  So, while stainless is being more 'green' its also has more of a lasting style.
Stainless Measuring Spoons

  What to look for: second hand stainless accessories: whisks, measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixing bowls (preferably Revere Ware), serving spoons.  These types of items also make great gifts!  My mother is always surprising me with stainless kitchenware-as she knows the lifelong value of using them.

#1: One-Trick Ponies & 'As Seen on TV' Garbage:

We all know that person who shops QVC and cooks with their 'latest and greatest' for a month until they get sick of it and it either ends up in the attic, re-gifted, or in the next garage sale.  Not sure what I'm talking about? Go to your local Goodwill and shop in the kitchen section.  How many bread makers are there?  Pizza cookers? Quesadilla makers?  Why did someone spend in the neighborhood of $100 for a bread maker, when they have an oven?  Your quesadilla maker is a stove or that electric griddle I suggested earlier.  Watch how these people market these items and think long and hard about what they're doing.  Is that something you could cook on everyday?  Can you cook your staple recipes with it? 

What to look for:  If the item can only accomplish one thing-walk away.  Examples: pizza makers, garlic peelers, egg cookers, etc.  If that is all it can make-save your money.  Pizza can be cooked in the oven, smash the garlic with the side of a knife to peel it and use your smallest Pyrex to cook your egg in the microwave if you need to cheat.

Did I miss anything?  Leave your comments below!

*This list was compiled with the help of a couple co-workers! Thanks Ladies!


  1. Good list! Can you elaborate on the Katherine Flynn approach to knife storage? I found a universal knife block at b^3 that had a bunch of plastic sticks in it. It will hold pretty much any size knife and cost around $20. Keeps my good knives out of the drawer and the edge is still protected.

    1. The block is great! Anything that keeps your knives from being knocked around (ie: thrown in a drawer) is a good option. The block you have sounds like a wonderful storage solution for increasing the life of your knives!


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