Unitaskers—a term coined by Alton Brown to describe tools that are good at only one job—get a bad rap, and often deservedly so. In most kitchens, space is at a premium, so who has the countertop to devote to a gadget whose only purpose is to barf up cylindrical omelettes or turn a hot dog into hot dog coins?
But there are dumb unitaskers, and then there are the truly useful ones. The ones that perform a function that no multitasker can, or that save you time on mundane activities on a daily basis. Sure, in a tiny, galley-style New York kitchen, you might not want to give up the space needed for a popcorn maker, but if you've got a bit more room and really love popcorn, well, you just might.
Our team weighed in on some of the specialized tools they actually use—and use with enough frequency to justify their place in just about any serious cook's home.
A Salt Cellar or Salt Pig
There's hardly a recipe I make that doesn't require salt, often added repeatedly throughout the cooking process. Salt needs to be one of the most accessible ingredients in your kitchen, and a big salt cellar or salt pig is just what you need for that—not a shaker, not a grinder, and not a box in a cabinet.
You can read my full case for why everyone should have one, which includes a few other product suggestions, plus some really inexpensive ideas if you don't want to spend much for what is, at its heart, just a container. —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
A Fish-Butchering Knife
I've written about other unitaskers I love before, like a honesuki for cutting up birds and a mandoline. I suppose a deba will have an even more limited appeal to people, as it's a knife designed to cut up fish, and you shouldn't really use it for anything else. I own this Tojiro, and it's a good starter fish-butchering knife (which is why I own it); it makes quick work of small-to-medium-sized fish, although I usually use it on fish that are about 2-3 pounds—porgy, red snapper, black sea bass, et cetera (I have a smaller deba, entirely unnecessary, for smaller fish). Debas are single-beveled blades, which means they only have an angle on one side, which makes their cutting point thinner and consequently sharper than a double-beveled blade. They also have quite heavy blades; the spine of the blade widens significantly as you trace it from the point to the tang, and this added heft makes cutting through bone, whether you're using the heel or the point, much easier. If you cut up whole fish with any regularity and you've never tried a deba, I suggest trying one out! —Sho Spaeth, editor
The Perfect Ruler
I've been baking professionally my entire adult life, but I still use a ruler whenever I pick up a rolling pin. Of course, not just any ruler will do; the ones designed for drafting often start with a small gap that renders them useless for baking. My favorite ruler has measurements that start from the very edge, so you can stand it upright to measure the thickness of any dough.
A Breville One-Touch Tea Maker
Full disclosure: Breville sent this tea maker to me when it first came on the market a couple of years ago. I rolled my eyes, but thought, Maybe Adri, my tea-loving wife, will check it out? Not only did Adri love it, but so do I.
You pack loose-leaf tea or tea bags into a metal cage, fill the pot with water, then hit a couple of buttons. It heats the water to a specified temperature (depending on the type of tea you're brewing), then lowers the tea basket into the water and moves it up and down during the designated steeping period. It then pulls out the spent leaves so you don't accidentally over-steep. Perfect tea at the touch of a button.
People have no problem dropping a few hundred (or even a few thousand) bucks on automated coffee makers; why shouldn't tea drinkers get their own dedicated, ridiculously-priced machine? —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
The Whirley Pop
The Whirley Pop is the fastest, most convenient way to make popcorn, popping out cups of the stuff in under a minute, with virtually no un-popped kernels. It also produces fluffier popcorn than any other stovetop method (air poppers might have it beat in that department), and it's excellent for distributing toppings. You can read more about my love of the Whirley Pop right here. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
An Electric Kettle
Electric kettles can be found in homes all over the world, but they are not the most common in the US. I learned about the convenience of having one when I lived in a college dorm, where the only heating appliances allowed were kettles, coffee makers, and microwave ovens. It's perfect for someone who just wants to press a button for boiling water instead of monitoring a pot on the stove. For the real nerds, there are fancy models that allow the user to dial in the temperature to the specific degree. I use my basic kettle that only goes between “off” and “boil” almost daily. Making tea, pour-over coffee, instant ramen, and instant oatmeal have become brainless tasks no matter how sleepy (or hungover) I am. —Maggie Lee, UX Designer
A Garlic Press
As Daniel has demonstrated, a garlic press is not the very best way to mince garlic if great flavor and minimal pungency are what you're after, but it's also not the demon that some folks have made it out to be. When I'm cooking with garlic, I'm pulling out the press nine times out of 10, because even though it's slightly fussy to clean, it's still faster and easier to use than chopping fresh garlic on a board. My favorite garlic press comes with a store-on-board cleaning tool, which makes it even more convenient. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
A Spaetzle Maker
A spaetzle maker is the perfect unitasker: Nobody has—to my knowledge—found a use for it other than making spaetzle, and there is also no other tool that's really suited to the purpose. Sometimes I look at it hanging on my pegboard and think it's a cheese grater, but it would be useless at grating cheese because the holes don't have cutting edges. Like a waffle iron, much of the appeal of the spaetzle maker is not the end product (although the end product is perfect), but the fun of actually using the tool: batter goes in, spaetzle magically comes out. —John Mattia, video editor
A Pasta Machine
Fresh pasta is incredible, and, unless your rolling-pin skills are in the 99th percentile, there's no real way to get pasta dough thin enough without a fresh-pasta machine. I own and occasionally use a KitchenAid stand mixer attachment, but I honestly find a clamp-on manual countertop model to be almost as easy to use (and far cheaper). —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
A Butter Warmer
Did I buy this because I thought it was cute? Absolutely. (Especially in yellow!) But since treating myself to this tiny pot, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how handy it is. As advertised, it does an excellent job warming butter. I don’t have a microwave (sore subject), but I do love to bake, which often involves melting butter or warming small quantities of ingredients. This butter warmer is the perfect stand-in. It’s nice and heavy, which is perfect for temperature control and slow warming, especially if I happen to wander away from the stove. The little spout makes it easy to pour out of, and the wide bottom makes cleaning it out with a spatula a breeze. I also use it to warm up single portions of soup, oatmeal, or sauces! —Jina Stanfill, social media editor
A Nylon Omelette Fork
I know. It looks stupid. It seems like a waste. Why not just use a regular fork? I'll tell you why: A proper French omelette is most easily made in a nonstick pan, and doing it right requires constant and vigorous agitation with a fork. Do that with a regular metal fork, and your nonstick pan won't be long for this world. Even omelette master Jacques Pépin has gone on record saying that he uses metal forks in nonstick pans only because he gets his pans replaced so frequently. The nylon fork and spatula set from Calphalon has a stiff fork that works perfectly for agitating those eggs into creamy, tender curds, while babying your pan's surface like a newborn infant. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
Wood Pulp Proofing Basket
The “classic” vessel for proofing loaves of rustic breads is a rattan or willow banneton (also known as a “brotform”). These spiral wooden baskets serve to cradle the dough (inverted, to retain its rounded shape) while it proofs while also allowing it to breathe, so that it doesn’t get stuck to the basket as water migrates from the inside of the dough to the crust. (The spiral, banded pattern you see on many loaves is the fingerprint left behind from the banneton.) I used wooden bannetons for years, but I found their ability to release the loaf when it was ready to bake wasn't consistent, particularly in the case of high-hydration doughs. There’s nothing worse than spending days working on a loaf only to mangle it while you're trying to get it free from a proofing basket.
Enter the Flourside wood pulp banneton. It's made from what is essentially highly compressed paper, molded to mimic the spiral pattern of a classic banneton (they also come in other patterns, such as a waffle-weave). Try as I might, I have yet to find a dough that my wood pulp bannetons cannot handle with ease, so I now recommend them to everyone, beginners and experts alike. (I’m obviously not the only one who knows how good they are, because they are often sold out. Get your name on Flourside’s mailing list, so you’ll be the first to know when they're in stock again.) —Andrew Janjigian, contributor
A Yoshihiro Fish Scaler
This Japanese-style scaler is cheap, sturdy, and efficient. Scales slough off as you rub it across whole fish (which, by the way, I strongly recommend doing in the sink under running water, assuming you don't want to get scales all over your kitchen). If you buy your fish ready to cook, there's no need to own one, but if you fish at all, or don't quite trust your fishmonger (I don't) and prefer to get your fish au naturel, a scaler should be in your toolkit. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
A Boiled Egg Cooker
I’ll admit: when my middle sister proudly showed me her new seven-egg boiler taking up space on our parents’ kitchen counter, my big-brotherly nose turned up more than a bit. I, after all, am a Serious Eater, for whom even the humble boiled egg merits a serious production. Jury-rigging a steamer out of pans and fine-mesh strainers to steamboil the eggs just so? That’s me. Firing up the cast iron to pan-fry freshly sliced sourdough to go with them? Yep! But having struggled through the malaise of undiagnosed COVID-19 to cook for a household, and finding myself way too often caught between a hangry partner and writing deadlines, I’ve acquired a new appreciation for the expeditious. Now, some of you may object (as my partner did: “You have an Instant Pot for that!” which, in fact, I do), but my attention is fixed squarely on that bit of counter real estate just behind the cutting board. It’s the perfect place to set up an egg boiler, with rotating sextets of perfectly hard- or soft-boiled eggs on 24-hour hunger prevention watch. All I need now is something to shell the eggs, dice them, and add just the right amount of Cambodian tumeric. —George Stern, contributor
A Sushi Mat (Tatami)
A sushi mat (tatami in Japanese) is the only way to successfully make maki rolls, which means that if you ever host sushi parties, you'll need to have a few on hand. They consist of thin bamboo sticks knitted together with thread, so they're very flexible in one direction but rigid in the other. This makes forming tight, even rolls a simple task. They're dirt-cheap, and honestly, I've never really noticed a major difference between brands, so get whichever one strikes your fancy. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
A Vacuum Sealer
Full disclosure: Zwilling sent this food vacuum storage device to me to try when it was released. I quickly fell in love with it after I noticed how much space it ended up saving me.
My current kitchen space is tight and the refrigerator always runs out of storage space, but this food vacuum storage tool turned out to be a blessing in many ways. Even the main vacuum-sealing device is small enough to tuck away in a kitchen drawer, and it’s easily charged via USB (I’ve only charged it once in six months). The device comes with its own system of food-safe glass and plastic containers as well as ziptop bags. The containers are rectangular, which makes it much more efficient to stack and save space in the refrigerator, while the bags can be laid down flat and frozen before being stacked. I’ve sous-vide food in the bags and also left batches of chicken in marinade in the freezer for those moments when I just need to pull out something quickly for dinner and don’t have the time to prep. I hope down the road they consider making glass storage jars for things like spices, baking soda, etc. —Nik Sharma, contributor
A Taco Shell Mold
I've owned this taco shell mold for nearly 10 years now, and I can count the number of times I've used it on my fingers, but I wouldn't give it up for all the extra drawer space in the world. If you ever plan on hosting a hard-shell-taco party—and, if my trend predictions are right, hard-shell tacos are going to make a major comeback in the next couple of years—having a mold to shape those freshly fried shells is essential. I like this single-shell model because I can use it to fry in my wok; the multi-shell models require a deeper vessel or a dedicated deep fryer, and the oven-baked versions don't come out as delicious. Frying many shells can get a little tedious this way, but you get good and fast with practice. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
A Cavatelli Maker
One of my favorite yard sale finds ever is my hand-cranked cavatelli maker, which I got for ten bucks a few years ago. Cavatelli means “little cavities,” referring to the hollow inside the ribbed, elongated curls of eggless, semolina-based dough. It's an under-appreciated style of pasta, probably because it’s usually made fresh, and hand-shaped fresh pastas of its type are a chore to make. Our very own Sasha Marx probably makes cavatelli by hand all the time, but he’s got years of experience under his belt. For the rest of us, there’s the cavatelli maker: You just feed a rope of dough into one end of the machine while turning the crank, and out pop perfectly-formed cavatelli. My yard sale find was clearly an antique, but it continues to work perfectly, and the design does not appear to have changed since it was first invented in the early 20th century. —Andrew Janjigian, contributor
A Pizza Wheel
A regular knife does a poor job of cutting pizza, especially large, cheesy New York–style or pan pizzas. A large mezzaluna-style cutter does a better job, but even I find it hard to store them. A rolling pizza wheel zips through crust, cheese, and toppings, and can be thrown into a drawer for easy storage. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
A Waiter's Corkscrew
I've owned many models of corkscrew over the years, but a good old folding waiter's corkscrew is still my favorite for ease of use, ease of storage, and longevity. A good one will have a two-level lever system to make pulling out even tough corks a snap, along with a beer bottle opener and a foil cutter.
This might be the only unitasker that I not only own, but in fact own multiple copies of. Adri and I have a drawer section full of corkscrews. Why? Well, how much time have you wasted seeking out the one communal corkscrew at a party or barbecue? That's why. —Kenji Lopez-Alt, culinary consultant
A Porcelain or Ceramic Ginger Grater
Grating ginger is a minor pain in the ass—rub it on a Microplane, and the grater's holes quickly become clogged with the ginger's long, tough fibers, making the tool increasingly less effective and more difficult to clean. A porcelain or ceramic grater, on the other hand, has tiny little pointy teeth that do a miraculous job of rapidly reducing the ginger to a purée, while separating out those annoying fibers. When you're all done, it's a lot easier to clean, too.
I love this ceramic grater from Kyocera, which has a moat around the grating surface to catch all the ginger purée and its juices, plus a rubberized base that helps it stick firmly to your countertop. They claim it's good for grating nutmeg and cheese as well, but personally, I use a Microplane or box grater for those. —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
A Salad Spinner
It should go without saying that you should wash your vegetables before eating them raw—a surprising number of cases of food poisoning come from tainted uncooked vegetables. But once washed, of course, they're dripping wet, which can ruin salads, make minced herbs clump, et cetera. A salad spinner is the fastest, most efficient way to dry your greens off and get them ready for serving. Plus, the strainer basket works as a built-in colander, which means you can wash your greens right in the spinner itself. This model from Zyliss came out on top in our rigorous equipment tests. —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
A Stainless Steel Funnel
I used to keep a single plastic funnel that came with a canning kit for all the times I needed to filter or transfer liquids. As you might imagine, this didn’t always work out well. The bore of the funnel was too wide and sometimes, when filtering, the cheesecloth fell through. I finally purchased a set of funnels that came with a set of brushes to clean them, as well as a set of reusable filters. In addition, since I now have a set of filters that can sit with ease over a bottle or jar, it's less messy, as the air flow remains unobstructed. Clean up is easy with the brush, and it goes straight into the dishwasher after I’m done. While it really only has one use-case, I can imagine that it’d be a good Tin Man Halloween costume for my dog. —Nik Sharma, contributor
I can't remember how I first got my rubber otoshibuta, but for the longest time, I had no idea what it was. Eventually, some Serious Eats readers helped identify it for me, and I've used it a ton ever since.
An otoshibuta is, in essence, a lid; the original ones are made of wood. But it's not just any lid: it's submergible. That means you can set an otoshibuta directly on the surface of the food you're cooking, which is handy for simmered foods and pickles that require keeping everything covered in liquid. Since they're not made of metal and fit a variety of diameters, they're also really handy as bowl covers when you're reheating food in the microwave. —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
An Oyster Knife
An oyster is a stubborn bivalve, and opening one isn't easy. The thing is, you really do need to use an oyster knife, which is specially designed to wedge into the oyster's hinge, pop it open, and cut its strong adductor muscle.
These knives come in a variety of designs, some with longer blades, some with shorter, some straight, some curved. My personal favorite is the Duxbury oyster knife made by R. Murphy Knives, but you may find another one that's more comfortable and effective for you. And if you need a primer on how to shuck an oyster, we've got you covered with a guide and video. —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
A Bag Sealer
I took a trip to Japan in January 2017, and, while there, I wandered into one of their dollar stores. Japanese dollar stores are waaaaaay better than their American counterparts—like health care and toilets, they're one of those things that are just done better there. One of the items I grabbed while there was a cheap little bag resealer.
It has a wire heating element that gets just hot enough to fuse the opening in a bag of potato chips, frozen vegetables, or crackers, and I can't believe how much I love using it. I know what you're all saying: What's wrong with a rubber band? But rubber bands break, and...I don't know, they're just not as good. What can I say? I like hermetically sealing things. —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
A Milk Frother
Many of the milk frothers out there do a poor job of emulating the thick, creamy foam produced by a good espresso machine's steaming wand, over-aerating the milk to the point where it gets a sudsy texture. However, I've always been very pleased with Nespresso's frother.
The Nespresso whisks the milk just like a lot of other frothers, but manages to get much closer to the ideal cappuccino-foam consistency I'm looking for. Plus, it has a nonstick interior that makes it easy to clean, and a hot/cold setting so you can choose between hot drinks and iced ones. (Pro tip: If your milk doesn't froth, it's the milk that's the problem, not the machine.) —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
This isn’t the first time I’ve raved about my small-but-mighty milk frother. It’s been a game-changer for me during the pandemic, especially since I’ve been living in suburbia and can’t get to my favorite coffee shops as quickly or as easily during the work week. The device does an excellent job of frothing milk for an at-home latte or cappuccino. While my go-to choice is this handheld one from IKEA (solely because that’s where I first bought it and I haven’t found the need to try another one since), our recommended option is well worth your consideration. But if you’re looking for something small and cheap to up your coffee game, the handheld tool definitely gets the job done. All of this is to say, get your hands on a milk frother, no matter how big or small! —Yasmine Maggio, assistant editor
Another vote for the milk frother! A few months after work from home began, I realized I needed to shake up my morning cup of coffee routine. Pre-pandemic, I would often treat myself to a cappuccino on my way to the office. Now at home, I’m a devoted pour-over coffee drinker with a splash of half and half and a touch of turbinado sugar. But after drinking that for days on end, I found myself longing for a milk frother, which lets me whip up a café au lait or latté with ease. —Kristina Razon, associate editor
A Drying Mat and Rack
A lot of dish racks are overcomplicated, oversized behemoths that claim precious counter space and never give it up. They're really not necessary. A good dish mat, combined with a small rack, is more than adequate for most after-meal cleanup.
This mat is made from absorbent microfibers that dry quickly after being dripped on, while the rack can hold dishes, cutting boards, and trays vertically for efficient drying. The best part is that the mat can be folded up and stashed away, and the rack can easily slide into a cabinet, meaning you don't have to relinquish that counter space forever. —Daniel Gritzer, culinary director
A Fluted Pastry Wheel
A Half-Inch Piping Tip and Disposable Pastry Bags
Forget trying to wrangle a zip-top bag with the corner snipped off. Even if you don't do a ton of fancy baking, a half-inch piping tip and a disposable pastry bag will seriously step up your pastry game and improve life in the kitchen tremendously when you're making filled cookies, profiteroles, birthday cakes, and more. —Stella Parks, editor emeritus
An Oven Thermometer
If you've ever noticed that a recipe's suggested bake time never quite applies to you, chances are your oven's out of whack. It's a matter of not just timing, but consistency, too. When ovens run too hot, cookies burn, cakes turn gummy along the bottom, and flaky pastries melt too fast, losing their delicate layers. In cool ovens, cookies turn out thin and pale, cakes develop a wet crumb, and flaky pastries melt too slowly, producing a mealy crust. With a reliable oven thermometer, you can rule out these problems from the start. —Stella Parks, editor emeritus