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11 kitchen gadgets experts say you need right now

From Avocado Huggers to pasta makers, your cooking is about to get better.
Illustration by Lisa Merklin. Times (2019)
Published Aug. 15

When Kelly Arnold led a recent cooking demonstration on barbecue, she had to find a creative way to flavor brisket within the two hours allotted for the class.

Instead of slow-cooking the cut of beef for hours, the chef at Sur La Table’s Test Kitchen in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village decided to cook brisket bites. She let them roast for several hours in the oven, then used a smoke gun to zap a little extra flavor into the finished brisket.

“The smoke gun gave them that distinct barbecue flavor without the grill,” she said.

Arnold, a former pastry chef and food stylist, also uses the Breville Smoking Gun ($99.95 at Sur La Table) to spice up everything from tomato sauce to chocolate. She has added smoky flavors to ice cream, mozzarella cheese, ribs and even yogurt.

The lightweight, handheld device is more flexible than some of the glass-box smokers used for smoky cocktails. Arnold can simply stick the nozzle of the smoking gun under some plastic wrap over a bowl of whatever food she wants to enhance. The tiny, flavored wood chips go directly into the gun.

Chef Ben Iozzo of the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club said the smoking gun is by far his favorite kitchen gadget.

“Originally I bought it for barbecue plates,” he said. “After smoking briskets or chicken for hours and hours, I wanted to have the ‘wow’ factor it deserved when going out to the customer.”

We asked more chefs and home cooks to share their favorite cooking gadgets, devices and appliances.

Roll out

“Making pasta is one of my favorite things to do,” said David Benstock, executive chef and owner of St. Petersburg’s Il Ritorno. He is a big fan of his pastamaker, the Imperia Electric Pasta Machine ($1,481 at imperia-parts.com). It’s the magic behind his fresh squid ink angel hair pasta Capellino Nero, Ramp Tagliatelle and Short Rib Mezzaluna, items on the menu at his downtown spot. He also likes the machine for its versatility in the kitchen. “This machine sheets out pasta but you can also use it to sheet out dough for cookies, biscuits, tuile and flatbreads.”

Imperia Electric Restaurant Pasta Maker. Courtesy of Imperia.

Must-have mix

Food blogger and cook Laura Jolly of politicsandprovisions.com received a standing KitchenAid mixer (prices vary) from her mother last Christmas and has increased her cooking productivity beyond measure. “I use my mixer for almost all my baking and some of my cooking. It is useful for most baking recipes such as cookies, cakes, crusts, icing, meringues, breads and scones. I’ve also started using it for mashed potatoes,” she said. “By adding an additional attachment onto the device you can make homemade pastas and ice cream.” Home these days with a newborn daughter, Jolly said, “The stand mixer allows me to be hands-free with the mixing bowl and mixer. It takes nearly all of the work out of baking. I should have splurged and bought one years ago.”

KitchenAid Classic Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer. Courtesy of KitchenAid

Produce lifesavers

When she’s finished with her cooking demonstrations at Sur La Table, Kelly Arnold really likes the reusable, silicone avocado covers to preserve her leftover fruit (Farberware Avocado Huggers, $7.95 for a set of two from Sur La Table). She likes the Farberware Food Huggers ($9.95 for a set of four from Sur La Table) for extending the life of lemon halves, limes and canned foods. “They create sort of like a second skin and you don’t have to make another slice. You can just use the whole piece,” said Arnold. “One fits on a glass of wine if there are bugs outside.”

Avocado Huggers. SCOTT KEELER | Times

The grill inside

My personal favorite piece of kitchen equipment is my Philips Smoke-Less Infrared Grill with BBQ & Steel-Wire Grids ($299.95 at williams-sonoma.com). I can’t count how many Father’s Days my husband got a new outdoor grill because ours was rusty and decayed. The indoor grill has fulfilled all of my grilling needs. It sits perfectly on my kitchen counter, and I can cook anything from seafood to thick steaks on the two types of grids that came with the grill. The best part? It really doesn’t give off a lot of smoke. I’ve grilled shrimp, scallops, pork chops, vegetables and even fruits, including pineapple, watermelon and peaches. When I’m done, I place the grids in the dishwasher and wipe down the grill. No waiting for the charcoal to cool down or forgetting to turn off the propane. This Labor Day, I’ll be flipping burgers and hot dogs — in my air-conditioned kitchen.

Philips Smoke-Less Infrared Grill. Courtesy of Philips.

A handy knife

Foodie Elaine Goller of Gulfport uses her Alaskan ulu ($43.88 at amazon.com) for mincing garlic and herbs. The crescent-shaped knife comes with a wooden bowl for chopping. Without the bowl, the knife is great for slicing pizza, cheese and even fish. “The knife handle fits so perfectly in the hand,” she said, and it’s easy to roll the knife back and forth for easy chopping. “The bowl side of the chopping board is especially useful in corralling ingredients that tend to roll away, like nuts and seeds,” she said. The blade is especially sharp and really good for chopping onions quickly. “This tool provides precise control over the size, unlike food processors, which either chop inconsistent size pieces, or worse, too fine,” she added. “It takes up very little space and it is easy to clean.”

Alaskan ulu. SCOTT KEELER | Times


Sweet juice

Janet Keeler, cookbook author and journalism instructor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, keeps her Metal Lemon Lime Squeezer and Manual Citrus Press Juicer ($7.98 at Walmart) within reach whenever she’s in the kitchen. “I like this low-tech handheld juicer mostly because it’s low-tech,” said Keeler. “It doesn’t take up room on the counter and nestles nicely into my utensil drawer, which means a lot since that space is usually overflowing with my must-have gadgets. Better still is that it squeezes every last drip from a lime or lemon. I can’t do that by hand.” She uses the juicer in a wide range of recipes from salad dressings to fish entrees. “Fresh citrus is a sure way to brighten so many dishes and drinks, and if I can do that easily, I am all about it.”

Metal Lemon Lime Squeezer and Manual Citrus Press Juicer. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Full steam

Jeff Jensen, public information officer for the city of Treasure Island, uses his aluminum three-tier Asian steamer ($20.42 at hotelrestaurantsupply.com) almost every night. He bought his 30 years ago at an Asian market when he lived in Houston. These days he uses it to steam entire meals at once. “It’s great for fish and vegetable dinners and it’s so easy to clean up,” he said.

Three-tier Asian steamer. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Best zest

Tampa Bay Times food and lifestyle editor Michelle Stark loves her Microplane Premium Zester ($14.95 at Target). Besides being a terrific blade for getting the rinds off oranges, lemons and limes, she uses it when she needs finely grated Parmesan cheese for Italian dishes; nutmeg in baked goods; ginger in Asian foods; and whenever she wants a hint of garlic flavor in a recipe.

Microplane Premium Zester. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Serious blender

Tyson Grant, executive chef and partner at Parkshore Grill on St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive, wouldn’t part with his Vita-Prep commercial blender ($490.95 at vitamix.com). He uses the mixer to whip up vinaigrettes, puree sauces and infuse oils with herbs, chiles and garlic. The high-speed blender “gets everything nice and smooth,” said Tyson, who uses it to create the basil oil balsamic on his heirloom tomato and burrata salad; the Cabernet demi-glace and lemon caper butter on his filet mignon and lobster entree; and the citrus Creole mustard sauce for his iced seafood bowl. “I just used it to make a garlic and lemon vinaigrette that is going on a baby kale salad,” he said.

64 oz Vita-Prep 3 Commercial Blender. Courtesy of Vitamix.

Slice so nice

French-born Stephane Beaucamp, executive chef at the Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, had no hesitation identifying his go-to gizmo for us. He uses his ceramic double-edged mandoline ($26.74 at Casa di Mazzaro in St. Petersburg) for almost every dish he prepares at the resort. Serving what he calls “conscientious cuisine,” Beaucamp prefers the paper-thin size and texture he can get from the mandoline. It slices zucchini, asparagus and radishes for his Goat Cheese Salad. He preps onions for caramelizing and carrots for his seared fresh scallop entree and he shaves prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano for his asparagus toast.

Ceramic double-edged mandoline. SCOTT KEELER | Times

Take the cake

New York chef and cookbook author Sara Moulton, a protege of Julia Child and one of the original hosts of televised cooking shows, always has her cake lifter handy in the kitchen. She may bake cakes, but she primarily uses it in place of a regular sized scraper for picking up whatever she has chopped on her counter. She also brings it with her when she travels to host cooking demonstrations or classes. Hers is a stainless steel, 8-inch Wilton Cake Lifter ($8.59 at Walmart) with a bright yellow, plastic hand grip. It’s perfect for lifting the ingredients in her lettuce-free salad of raw asparagus, mushrooms, finely chopped parsley and pistachio nuts. “You get everything in one scoop,” she said.

Wilton Cake Lifter. SCOTT KEELER | Times

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