I met my first pair of tweezers in a restaurant filled with foams and gels and rotary evaporators. My official title was chef de partie, but it would be more accurate to say that I was head of the ice program. I spent hours working out of the freezer, making perfect coins of cabbage ice, thin sheets of buttermilk ice, and who could forget the innovative shards of water ice. It was everything people make fun of when they decry "tweezer food." It's been a long time since I worked in a restaurant like that, and yet tweezers are still one of my most important cooking tools. I use them for everything, even at home, and I believe you should, too.
I know how people feel about kitchen tweezers. They make you think of a very specific restaurant; the kind that serves goat-blood ash and pickled sea buckthorn. A place where the servers whisper about a guest's hired "date," before obsequiously pouring them a wine made from fermented foraged lovage. Although I've eaten some very good ash, I understand the hesitation to endorse any part of something that seems so affected.
Tongs stand in stark contrast to that. They're the everyman's tool. They're big, they're riveted, and they give you something to anxiously clack as you hover over a bunch of hamburgers on the grill. But they're also more limited than most cooks are willing to admit.
I should know, because I started out in a world filled with tongs. It was a land where ranch was a mother sauce and servers would flock to half-eaten plates of awesome-blossoms in the dirty dish pit. The tongs were usually slung over oven door handles, slapping the sticky kitchen floor every time the oven was opened. I moved through the ranks of salad girl and egg cook, in and out of kelly green pubs with Irish-sounding names. I expertly slid sheet trays of potato skins out from under the salamander and yanked steaks from the depths of the deep fryer, all with my well-worn tongs.
Like most cooks, I was a big believer in the utility of tongs, but then I accidentally fell into my first fancy kitchen job and was immediately stripped of them. First I was introduced to the fish spatula, and learned that my salmon filets always fell apart because the tongs were ripping them up. Then I was told that the two seconds of time I was saving by moving a hot sizzle platter with tongs, instead of finding a dry towel, was not worth the risk of dropping it and spending the rest of service in shame. I was also informed that deep frying steak was not advisable. I was easily converted. I bought some tweezers.
Today, aside from flipping heavy roasts or pulling ramekins from a water bath, I can picture a life without tongs (if you can't, you should probably read Serious Eats' in-depth tongs review to find the very best). Just about anything tongs can do, tweezers can do better. First, it helps to know that there are two types of tweezers that I find most useful in the kitchen: shorter and lighter ones, ideal for plating and picking up small items, and longer, heavier ones that can handle some heft.
Both kinds are much more responsive than tongs, allowing you pick up hot items with the same precision as using your hands; reaching into a boiling pot of water for a taste of pasta stops feeling like you're playing a rigged round of the claw crane game.
Tweezers also work much better with smaller items than tongs ever could. I can't imagine any other way of flipping tiny bay scallops. With tweezers, they easily about-face in place like lined up toy soldiers. With the help of their ridged tips, tweezers have better performance at gripping slick or round objects—as a former ice-program head, I speak from experience.
Unlike tongs, it's easy to always have a pair of tweezers at your side at all times, since they fit right in an apron pocket, which means they're always at the ready to pluck out rogue eggshells or the last olive from a jar. No pocket? Their compact size makes them a much better fit in a crock next to the rubber spatulas or sharing a cubby in the cutlery drawer with spoons.
Sturdier, long tweezers have the strength of tongs coupled with the same precision and tight grip of a tool you might find in an ER. They allow you to turn over a thick ribeye with ease and even garnish it with some fragile herbs immediately after, if you're in the mood. If you don't mind getting a little close to the heat, long tweezers are the perfect utensil for carefully flipping vegetables or hot dogs on a grill without letting any slip through the grate. Their simple design means that there aren't any grooves or pockets for food and gunk to get trapped, so cleanup is a cinch.
Tweezers are also accomplished multitaskers. They're the perfect stand-in for a pasta fork if you want that classic twirl of spaghetti on your plate. In a pinch, you can even use them in place of chopsticks the next time you dig into some stir fry at home. I probably shouldn't admit this, but I've used my tweezers to reach into the kitchen sink and quickly unclog a stubborn drain. And if nothing else, you can always grab a pair of kitchen tweezers, some Apple wireless headphones, and a fidget spinner, and dress up as a douchebag for Halloween.
Seriously, though, my kitchen is filled with artifacts of my former restaurant life. I own two Vita-Preps, a Pacojet, a Robot Coupe, two immersion circulators, and more half-sheet trays than any person needs. Everything is collecting dust, but my tweezers get action daily. In the morning, I use my little offset tweezers to pull the seeds out of the lemon wedge for my Assam tea. My longer tweezers are in use every time I cook, flipping dainty asparagus stems with as much ease as breaded chicken thighs, without losing a crumb.
Home cooks have embraced other restaurant gizmos (just look at the obsession with sous vide cooking), so it's surprising to me that tweezers inspire rage rather than interest. You don't use a circulator because it's faster; you use it because you're a different kind of home cook. And why are cooking chopsticks okay, but tweezers aren't? They main difference is one has its prongs attached with a string and the other has them welded together.
Perhaps I should have left my tweezers behind when I walked away from my life as a premier ice-program manager, but I believe tweezers are meant for a life much richer than finishing a plate with sheep sorrel, or wood sorrel, or (if the chef was truly inspired) red-veined sorrel. If you do decide to pick up a pair of fine-tip tweezers, just be warned: in the wrong hands this kitchen tool can quickly transform into a prison-yard shiv. Although, it could be useful if you find yourself in a brawl against a gang of tong-bearing neanderthals.