Guide to Essential Kitchen Hand Tools, Part 3

Each week J. Kenji Lopez-Alt will drop by with a list of tools you might want to stock your kitchen with—if you haven't already. Kenji also writes The Food Lab column here no SE. You can fan The Food Lab on Facebook for play-by-plays on his future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.—The Mgmt.


Here are the last five items you need to round out your hand tool collection. If you've read through the first and second guides and have got all the items on the list, you've officially got a well-stocked kitchen. That's assuming you've got pots, pans, tools, and all those other fun things we'll be covering in the future.

1. Portion Scoops

20100504-equipment-hand-frother-scoop.jpgRecommendation: the OXO Good Grips Cookie Scoops (Price varies by size)

A good portion scoop does more than just make perfect scoops of ice cream. Have you ever tried putting an equal amount of muffin batter into each slot in the tin? Tough, isn't it? And what about ensuring that all of your chocolate cookies are exactly the same size so that they spread and cook evenly?

A set of portion scoops in a few different sizes (I recommend owning at least a 1 tablespoon and a 3 tablespoon scoop) makes measuring of all sticky, doughy items a snap. Look for models that feature a metal bail to help releaase food from inside the scoop. Those with squeezy handles like the OXO Good Grips Cookie Scoop last longer than those with a thumb lever, which tend to jump their gears.

2. A Y-peeler

20100504-equipment-hand-peeler.jpgRecommendation: theKuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peelers ($10.95 for 3).

I seriously debated putting this item in the knife guide coming up, but sticking something that comes in pretty plastic colors amongst the real knives seemed wrong.

Not that it isn't every bit as useful. A regular vegetable peeler has a blade aligned with the handle, requiring you to hold vegetables and peeler at an awkward angle, and limiting your precision. With a Y-peeler, you hold the peeler like a pencil, giving you far more accuracy in your peeling. The result is prettier vegetables, faster prep (once you get used to using it), and less waste.

The Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler ($10.95 for 3) comes in assorted colors, has a potato-eye remover built-in, is cheap and sturdy, and very sharp. I bought a set of half a dozen in 2002 and still have four of them in perfect working order (the other two were lost, not broken or worn out).

3. a Mortar and Pestle

20100504-equipment-hand-mortar.jpgRecommendation: the SCI/Scandicraft Marble Mortar and Pestle. ($15.95).

While an electric spice grinder is great for large batches of spices —say a few tablespoons at a time‐who really uses a few tablespoons of spices at a time? It's much better too keep your spices whole (to help them retain flavor), and grind them in small batches as you need them. That's where a mortar and pestle comes in.

My favorite mortar and pestle is a ceramic number from Japan with a solid oak pestle. But seeing as it was a hand-me-down from my late grandmother* I have no idea where you can get one now. Sorry.

*who, incidentally is now buried in a Newman's Own Salsa jar—no joke!

My second favorite mortar and pestle is a cheap marble version. The SCI/Scandicraft Marble Mortar and Pestle. ($15.95) makes short work of small batches of spices, reducing them to a fine powder in seconds. Make sure to use a circular grinding motion, not an up and down pound, no matter what the temptation.

4. Milk Frother

20100504-equipment-hand-frother.jpgRecommendation: the Aerolatte Deluxe Edition Milk Frother with Stand ($29.95).

A milk frother? Seriously?


Asides from the obvious advantages it gives you in frothing milk for your cappuccino or caffe au lait (I'm not a coffee drinker), It's excellent every time you need a small burst of blending or whisking power without wanting to pull out the hand blender or full size blender.

A single serving of lemonade? Squeeze the lemon, add the sugar and water, give it a whirl, and the sugar will be dissolved in seconds. I use it for homogenizing creamy soups that may have started to separate just before serving them. Small batches of vinaigrettes are a snap to emulsify, and chocolate milk has never been easier. It's also great for beating the eggs to make an extra-light omelet for one or two.

The Aerolatte Deluxe Edition Milk Frother with Stand ($29.95) is the cadillac of milk frothers, with a powerful motor, good styling, and a stand to keep it at hand. But to be honest, I use a $1.99 model from IKEA (cleverly named "PRODUKT") that does just fine on all but the most heavy duty of light tasks.

5. A Wine Key

20100504-equipment-hand-wine ke.jpgRecommendations: the Waiter's Friend Corkscrew from Screwpull ($14.95).

Regular corkscrews or $100 rabbit-shaped models will get your cork out, and fast. But with a little practice, a waiter's wine key will open wine bottles (and beers) just as fast, take up less space, and make you look infinitely cooler. The key is to use it as a lever. If you are pulling on it hard, you're doing it wrong!

I keep a few in my cutlery drawer (like pens and razors, they tend to wander off on their own from time to time), as well as one in my wine kit.

Really, all but the absolute cheapest models (which tend to bend out of shape) will do a good job, but I prefer the kind with a joint on the lever arm, like the Waiter's Friend Corkscrew from Screwpull ($14.95), which allows you to take the cork out in two phases, and minimizes the chance of any in-bottle breakage.