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 real estate to devote to a gadget whose only purpose is to barf up cylindrical omelettes?
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 do so with enough frequency to justify their place in just about any serious cook's home.
A Salt Cellar or Salt Pig
Emile Henry Salt Pig
ZERO Japan Bee House Saltbox 16 oz Ocean Blue
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, senior culinary director
A Very Expensive, But Very Nice Tea Maker
Breville One-Touch Tea Maker
Full disclosure: Breville sent this tea maker to me when it first came out. 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
An Electric Milk Frother
Smeg Pastel Green Milk Frother
I use my electric milk frother every day to make myself an afternoon latte pick-me-up. I love that I can pour milk in and press a button and it'll heat it to the perfect temperature. I also enjoy making hot chocolate in it, but do recommend putting the milk in first and hot cocoa mix in second or the mix tends to jam the whisk. And while it's not our winner, I've used this Smeg milk frother for years and find it both stylish and functional. — Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, senior commerce editor
Alternatively, A Handheld Milk Frother
I love Golde and I love-love this frother. It's just gentle enough and so delightfully portable. 12/10 would froth outside the household with this guy. — Tess Koman, senior editorial director
A Whirley Pop!
Whirley Pop Popper Kit
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
A (Sharp) Pizza Cutter
OXO Good Grips Large 4-Inch Pizza Wheel and Cutter
I would argue that pizza cutters are one of the best unitaskers you can have in your kitchen, and you'll have a hard time convicing me otherwise; sure, you could just use a chef's knife, but a pizza cutter rolls through pizza like softened butter. Our winning, rocking style pizza cutter, is currently out of stock (noooooo). BUT! Our runner-up, roller-style pizza cutter from OXO is a fine alternative, rolling across many a pies' hills, valleys, and curved crusts with ease. — Grace Kelly, associate commerce editor
A Garlic Press
OXO Good Grips Soft-Handled 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. — Kenji
A Salad Spinner for Greens and Herbs
Oxo Good Grips Salad Spinner
I'm sorry if this is boring, but the uni-tasker I rely on the most in my kitchen is 100% my salad spinner. I use it almost daily to spin greens, herbs, and will even use the inner basket as a colander when I'm washing other fruits and vegetables. If you live in a small space, like a tiny New York City apartment, OXO has started making small salad spinners that don't take up as much space as their full-size one. I've had mine for a long time and still love it—invest in one and it will be with you for years! — Genevieve Yam, culinary editor
A Truly Stylish Soda Maker
Aarke Carbonator III Premium Sparkling & Seltzer Water Maker
While a soda maker can only, you know, make sparkling water, that's exactly why I love it—and what I use it for daily. I have the aarke (in matte black) and like how it looks on my countertop. However, our tried-and-true winners from our soda maker review are also fantastic (and cheaper). — Riddley
A Pasta Machine (Yay, Fresh Pasta!)
Marcato Design Atlas 150 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
Wood Pulp Proofing Baskets
Flourside Wood Pulp Proofing Baskets
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 Fish Scaler
Yoshihiro Urokotori 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
An Egg Cooker
Nostalgia EC7AQ Retro Premium 7 Capacity Electric Large Hard-Boiled Egg Cooker, Aqua
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 being sick recently, 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 turmeric. — George Stern, contributor
A Sushi Mat (Tatami)
Happy Sales Bamboo Sushi Mats
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
An Espresso Grinder
Baratza Sette 270 Conical Burr Grinder
Okay, I know—my home coffee bar is getting out of hand, and I now have two different grinders set up for daily use. But while my filter grinder (the Fellow Ode Gen 2, which I reviewed here) is great for drip, pourover, and French press, I use the Baratza Sette 270 as a dedicated espresso grinder. Espresso requires extreme precision and the ability to make microadjustments to your grind, and, let's face it, standard burr coffee grinders just can't cut it. And while the Sette 270 can go coarser, I find the grind quality just isn't as good in the drip range as other grinders that are specifically designed for it. Everything in my kitchen has at least two duties it can tackle, but my espresso grinder is primed to execute a single task—one that no other tool can manage. — Jesse Raub, commerce writer
A Vacuum Sealer Set
ZWILLING Fresh & Save Vacuum Sealer Machine 6-pc Starter Set
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 Mold
Norpro Taco Press
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
A Cavatelli Maker
Fante's Cavatelli Maker Machine
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. Former senior culinary editor 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
A Waiter’s Corkscrew
True 2603 Truetap Double-Hinged Waiter's-Friend 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
A Ginger Grater
Kyocera Advanced 6.5-inch Ceramic 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
Stainless Steel Funnels
HAUSPROFI Stainless Steel Funnel Set, 3pcs
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
The Ideal Kitchen Ruler
Art Alternatives Flexible Steel 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.
Rulers are also great for keeping me on track when I cut rectangular cookies, crackers, and strips of Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough for a lattice-top pie. — Stella Parks, editor emeritus
No. 1 Piggy 8.5-Inch White Piggy Otoshibuta
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
An Oyster Knife
R. Murphy UJ Ramelson Duxbury 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
Mini-but-Mighty Bag Sealers
ORIA Mini 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. One of the items I grabbed while there was a cheap little bag resealer similar to this.
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
A Fluted Pastry Wheel
Happy Sales Pastry Wheel
Whether I'm making a lattice-top pie, a batch of homemade Biscoff, or fresh ravioli, it's amazing how much a fluted pastry wheel can spruce up simple strips of dough. — Stella
An Oven Thermometer
Rubbermaid Stainless Steel Instant Read 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
Are kitchen unitaskers worth it?
This depends on the unitasker at hand and things like the amount of storage space you have available. Many unitaskers, like garlic presses and pizza cutters, really excel at their given tasks and are hard to replace. In that way, we do think some kitchen unitaskers can be worth well it.