You know the deal: Alton hates single-purpose kitchen gadgets. So I read him a list of unitaskers that I thought might make the cut. Here's what did—and what didn't—meet the maestro's approval, along with his color commentary:
Ice Cream Maker
• I don't have a lot of reasons for a regular ice cream maker. Good continuous-churn models are expensive, $800 to $1000. Frozen core models are messy—you have to store them in the freezer, and you're always losing parts. I don't have any great need for that.
If I didn't have access to liquid nitrogen, maybe I would. Maybe I could use one for something other than ice cream that I haven't thought up yet. Nay
• There is absolutely no reason for a garlic press to exist. It is utterly completely magnificently useless. Nay
Electric Knife Sharpener
• If I had any knives I hated that bad, sure. No. There's not a good one made. I like my knives and use them too much to use a sharpener—maybe I'd use it on garden tools. Nay
• I use a melon baller. Melon ballers have some good uses besides the obvious melon balling, like dosing out small sizes of doughs or candies. I probably reach for one every month, the two-ended model. I prefer a "disher," a spring-loaded version. [Ed. note: Alton used a disher to measure his famous buttermilk waffle batter. Mere mortals call them "ice cream scoops"—is that wrong?] Yea
• Rice cookers are good. I like them and use them. If a tool is used almost ubiquitously by a culture—such as the rice cooker in Japan and parts of China—there's going to be a good reason for it. It's extraordinarily good at doing, yes, one thing but one thing you need to do right. I especially like the fuzzy-logic models which gauge when it's ready and switch to warming. Rice isn't easy.
But I wouldn't call that a unitasker. You can use a rice cooker to make steamed puddings and custards, make oatmeal in them over night. You have to ask, "What else cooks like rice?" Odds are, you can cook that in a rice cooker. Yea
• Absolutely. Whoever invented that deserves a Nobel Prize. It's so great for sauces, fast emulsions. I still make salad dressings in a cocktail shaker, but I would definitely reach for a stick blender otherwise. Most of them are much too ornate, though. You don't need multiple speeds. You need on and off. If you need that much control, get a blender. Yea
• Useless. Why should I get that when I can get a box fan, bungie cords and cellulose furnace filters from the hardware store. I used it twice on Good Eats for herbs and all kinds of jerky. Nay
• What's that? Oh, you mean blenders with stickers on them? I believe in having a really good blender. I have a Vitamix blender, which I believe to be the finest on the planet. I suspect people who would buy a "margarita machine" have already been drinking heavily. Nay
Alton Brown is celebrating his 10th year of Good Eats, commemorating that with a live taping in Atlanta this week and the launch of his
cookbook all-around kitchen sourcebook Good Eats: The Early Years, covering recipes and tips from the first 80 or so episodes. Those pics up top are in the book—along with about a million other crazy ones.
Taste Test is our weeklong tribute to the leaps that occur when technology meets cuisine, spanning everything from the historic breakthroughs that made food tastier and safer to the Earl-Grey-friendly replicators we impatiently await in the future.