Eight unsung kitchen tools every home cook should own: ‘You’ll wonder how you lived without them’

<span>‘The kitchen utensils we automatically reach for are as idiosyncratic as our thumbprints.’</span><span>Photograph: lucentius/Getty Images</span>
‘The kitchen utensils we automatically reach for are as idiosyncratic as our thumbprints.’Photograph: lucentius/Getty Images

Most of us have our go-to kitchen gadgets: the occasionally battered tools with the familiar feel that give us the confidence we might otherwise lack. My choux pastry never quite reached the same glossy consistency without the ancient enamel saucepan and “special” wooden spoon combination I had used over 20 years of making croquembouches.

The kitchen utensils we automatically reach for are as idiosyncratic as our thumbprints. A friend once gave me a replacement for my beloved old choux pastry spoon: an “indispensable” alternative stirring implement known as a spurtle. I kept my old spoon and used the spurtle to prop open the door.

So proceed with caution when perusing the list below. It includes some very un-fancy items that don’t really qualify as gadgets; the unsung heroes of my kitchen cutlery drawer, but they are no less beloved for that. Remember the old adage: one person’s favourite wooden spoon is another person’s spurtle.

Related: Why the flies flurrying around your fruit bowl are not fruit flies – and how to get rid of them

Meat thermometer

There are incredible digital Bluetooth options that will set off an alarm on your phone or Apple Watch as well as good old-fashioned stab-it-and-see versions (my preferred option). There are any number of temperature guides out there. Decide on your optimal degree of doneness and go from there. My optimal temperature is 62C for medium-rare beef (keeping in mind the meat will continue cooking for a short time after being removed from the oven) and 70C for hot chocolate.

Peugeot pepper mill

Forget about those designer glass and metal grinders that turn blunt and rusty as soon as their warranty expires. Or those appallingly unsustainable one-use plastic grinders in the supermarket spice section. Peugeot (yes, the car manufacturer) make the best pepper grinders in the world as voted by the New York Times Wirecutter in 2022. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, engineered for easy use and with six size settings. Whether you like your pepper grounds fine or chunky, this is the perfect present for foodies and possibly the only Peugeot they will ever own. Mine is the 22cm version in natural wood (recommended retail price is A$114 but you can find it on sale) and there is a battery-operated version for those who have difficulty twisting with their hands.

Garlic crusher

Garlic lovers will tell you there is no comparison between crushed garlic in a jar and freshly crushed garlic. They will also tell you the worst thing about crushing your own garlic is peeling the cloves. Zyliss has come to their rescue with a device that turns unpeeled garlic cloves into pure crushed garlic, leaving the flattened skins behind to be flicked directly into the compost caddy. Don’t ask me how they manage to work this magic. I think it must be the combination of tiny extrusion holes and scary “teeth”. I also love the cunningly concealed plastic “hairbrush” that can be placed into the holes to clear them of any debris. An absolute winner.

Plastic spatula

Forget your newfangled silicone spatulas with aerodynamically designed curves. Give me an old-school moulded plastic spatula: the kind with a razor sharp edge. They don’t seem to make them any more. I have teams of undercover spatula seekers raiding op-shops around the globe on my behalf.

Champagne sealer

I’ve made something of a life’s work of studying champagne sealer design. Those who know me best have been known to question why I would ever need one, not because I don’t like champagne but because I like it too much. For those lovers of the sparkling who, like me, are trying to cut down on their alcohol intake, a good champagne sealer will safeguard those bubbles for up to three days. My favourite is a plastic freebie that came with a duty-free bottle of champagne. It has a single “lever” that you pull down to seal it.

Mini tongs (and wooden tongs)

Not the standard metal tongs you use to turn your roast vegetables but the mini-me version that gives you way more control. I use them as salad servers in preference to the classic fork-and-spoon combination, and scatter them liberally over antipasto platters.

The other tongs I discovered way back in 2015 are wooden toast tongs. I was introduced to them in a gift shop in France, a country that came late to the concept of a toaster thanks to the steady stream of fresh baguettes baked throughout the day. Stale bread was almost unheard of: even as recently as a year ago, I had to ask my Parisian Airbnb host to supply me with a toaster.

My dream toast tongs come with a built-in magnet that lets you attach them to the range hood or the toaster to reduce the risk of them going walkabout. Once you discover them you will wonder how you lived without them.

Soda maker

It’s both unfashionable and bad for one’s health to dislike the taste of water. If, like me, you prefer the feel and slightly metallic taste of sparkling water, a soda maker is an indispensable piece of kitchen equipment that is now even more sustainable with the introduction of dishwasher-safe bottles that don’t need to be replaced at regular intervals.