Welcome, dear readers, to The Takeout Draft, our recurring feature that combines our love of food, fantasy sports, and arguing on Slack.
Every week, we will select a topic of conversation from the food and drink world. Takeout writers will then field a team via the snake draft format. After five rounds, The Takeout commenteriat will vote on who they believe was victorious in that week’s draft. At the end of 2020, the staffer with the most weekly victories will select a charity of his/her choice that The Takeout will make a donation toward. (The 2019 victor, Kate Bernot, selected the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild National Charity Foundation.)
The previous Takeout Draft: Best pasta shapes was a demonstration of the power of positive thinking. Marnie Shure announced at the top of the draft that she was determined to win, and her ruthless early selections of ravioli and jumbo shells coasted her to an easy victory.
This week’s topic continues on in the spirit of home cooking: Best kitchen tools. We’ll each scramble to assemble a pegboard of the most useful, versatile, and indispensable gadgets to cook anything life throws at us. Only rules: nothing electric, and nothing that could qualify as an appliance. Which of us will emerge victorious, and who will be left with nothing but left-handed melon ballers?
Competing in the Thunderdome this week are members of the Takeout staff: Allison Robicelli, Marnie Shure, and Aimee Levitt. The randomizer has selected a draft order:
Now, let’s whisk it all.
Aimee Levitt: Wow
Congratulations on the last round, Marnie.
Allison Robicelli: What a draft!
Marnie Shure: Thank you! Victory tastes sweet. I don’t even like pasta that much. Hoping to follow it up with another victory!
Allison: Now you lose automatically.
Aimee: That’s what happened last time when you crowed too much.
Marnie: In this Draft, I’m very excited to see if what I think will get scooped up first actually will. Kick it off, Aimee!
Aimee: Oh, boy. The pressure is on.
Marnie: You better believe it
Aimee: My first pick is the cast iron skillet. You can cook almost anything in it, and in a pinch it could also function as a weapon. (Which is what I told my cousin last year when I gave her one for college graduation.)
Marnie: YEP, THERE GOES THE BEST PICK
Allison: I have two, and I cook nearly everything in them.
Marnie: It’s such a good pick that I’d be shocked if it weren’t first. I just reheated my pizza leftovers for lunch, and I’m mad I spent most of my life microwaving them like a sucker.
Aimee: Goodbye soggy crust!
Marnie: It’s amazing!
Allison: You should use an air fryer for reheating pizza, but that’s another story for another day.
Allison: Cast iron skillets have been invaluable to me over the past year now that I live in a house with an electric stove.
They do such a good job of retaining heat that I have fewer problems dealing with the wonky temps from my stove’s burners.
Marnie: And you can use your grandma’s if you season it right. The longevity!
Aimee: If you had a grandma with the foresight to buy one. But I will pass mine on to my nonexistent grandchildren.
Some young person will pick it up at an estate sale and be very excited.
AIMEE LEVITT COOKED FROM THIS SKILLET FOR THE TAKEOUT! OH MY GOD!!!
Allison: That skillet belongs in a museum!
Even if you don’t have an antique one, you’re fine. The Lodge you find in the hardware store is perfect
Neither of my pans have any heritage. They’re still awesome, because I cook in them all the time.
Marnie: My first pick is the rubber spatula, or more accurately, a flexible silicone spatula. I default to these for everything, and I pride myself on being able to scrape a bowl so clean you’d think it came fresh out of the dishwasher.
Aimee: Those are magnificent. I have four for different occasions that require different widths and levels of flexibility and I love them all.
Marnie: It’s the only kitchen item I love getting duplicates of, and in all the fluffy seasonal colors and designs, because I’m always using at least four of them.
Allison: I, too, think I have at least four.
Marnie: And my tiny one gets the most use of all, for that is the peanut butter jar scraper.
but also, the versatility: baking, cooking, cold stuff, hot stuff, over the stove, in a bowl, etc. etc. etc.
Aimee: Using it to get things that fell between the stove and counter.
Marnie: Yes!! The cast iron skillet is a workhorse, but I truly don’t know if I could make anything at all without these.
Aimee: This reminds me of my early years of my own kitchen when I only used spoons. Then one day I got a rubber spatula and it was such a revelation! And then I destroyed it in the blender.
But you can always get a new one because they are so damned cheap.
Allison: Oh, Aimee. Don’t stick things in blenders.
Aimee: I know that now. I was trying to dismantle a fish head. It was a recipe for my cat.
Marnie: Please write that story for The Takeout
Aimee: It’s already been done.
Allison: My first pick of the draft: fish spatulas. Don’t let yourself be deceived by the name—this is the spatula you use for EVERYTHING
Aimee: This is true. Slender and flexible, yet sturdy enough for flipping things, they are the greyhounds of spatulas.
Allison: It’s slotted, so grease and liquids pass right through. When you’re cooking, unless there is a very specific reason for it, your tools should never destroy the integrity of the food.
Which is easy to do accidentally with other spatulas. Fish spats, though, are perfect. Thin enough to slide under things, shaped perfectly so you have better control of what’s in the pan. Flexible enough that they don’t damage anything.
Marnie: I definitely need this in my life. My nylon spatulas are thicker and hard to slide under stuff to flip it.
Aimee: It totally improved my pancake game and, therefore, my life.
Allison: My number two pick, again something I cannot function without: kitchen tongs. I mean, do I really need to make a case for this? They’re tongs. They’re an extension of your hands. Without tongs, you can’t do much.
Aimee: You also would burn yourself a lot more.
Allison: Sometimes while I’m cooking I can’t find my tongs because someone put them in the wrong place and I totally lose my shit. Especially since I have multiple pairs of tongs.
Marnie: We only bought some once we started grilling, but the tongs migrated inside pretty fast
Allison: You should own at least two fish spats and two pairs of tongs, so you always have something to use if one is in the dishwasher.
Marnie: These days, everything is always either in, or on its way to, or coming out of, the damn dishwasher.
Allison: You should also have tongs of two different lengths. Short ones are the best to use, because you have the most control over what you’re cooking. Long ones are good in instances you need reach, like on the grill, or if you need to keep distance between you and the pan for safety
Marnie: The most annoying to store, though
Allison: Hang them on your oven door
This way they’re always at hand.
Marnie: But cutting down your selection is how I win!
And I’ve got my second pick: a Microplane
It has fundamentally changed certain aspects of how we cook. I don’t have to settle for nutmeg from a shaker anymore. I don’t ever have to think about the powdered Parmesan I grew up with. There’s nothing we can’t make better, for cheaper, with our Microplane!
Allison: EXCELLENT choice. Another thing I use almost daily
Aimee: The only kitchen tool that can double as a pedicure tool!
Allison: Well now you ruined it, Aimee.
Marnie: She’s so right though
Aimee: Take your own advice and buy two.
Marnie: We even have the itty-bitty microplane just for spices. I want to carry it in my pocket like a Swiss army knife
Allison: So microplanes: I use a LOT of lemons in my cooking. Just about everything needs a bit of acid to pop, and lemons are my favorite way to do that.
Now, even though I’m always using the lemons, I don’t always need the lemon zest, and it’s a sin to throw it out. And so, I zest every lemon before I use it. If I don’t need it in my recipe, I add it to a little baggie I keep in the freezer.
Marnie: Will your next two picks be similarly spa-adjacent, Aimee?
Allison: We can make them spa-adjacent if we try hard enough.
Aimee: My next pick is a chef’s knife, which, I guess if you live your life like a cowboy movie, you can use to clean your nails.
Allison: Yup, that’s what I was talking about right there.
Marnie: What would you say you use it the most for, besides everything?
Aimee: Ha! My favorite way to use it is chopping vegetables. It’s so satisfying to rock it back and forth and make the pieces smaller and smaller.
Allison: Cooking without a chef’s knife is like cooking without food.
Aimee: I was very excited when I learned you could press the flat edge against a clove of garlic to crush it and pop the skin off.
Marnie: SO satisfying
Aimee: Saves so much time, too!
Marnie: Only downside is that many types can’t be dishwashed
Aimee: That’s fine. It’s relatively small. It’s flat. It’s easy to wash.
Allison: When I was a kid my mom and grandmother did all their chopping with tiny knives, like for steak. I thought the chef’s knives were for special occasions only.
Aimee: But now every day you get to cook is a special occasion!
Allison: I started using them as an adult and my whole life changed
Aimee: I got mine as a Hanukkah present one year. It made me so happy. Before that, I used a steak knife, and it worked, but it was sad.
Marnie: Yeah, it’s funny how long we can go without finding ourselves the best tools!
Aimee: Well, the thing is, a really good knife is a huge expense if you’re trying to live on $25K a year.
And you think, well, I’ve got my steak knife, why do I need to spend $200 on a better knife for?
But then Wusthof has a sale, and your life begins!
Allison: You only need to buy one knife!
Aimee: My next pick is also one of those expensive adult tools: a Dutch oven. The first one I had was all cast iron, and I didn’t season it properly and I ruined it. But then a friend gave me a La Creuset pot, and it was one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten.
You can use that thing everywhere. On the stove, in the oven, in the fridge for storage.
Marnie: Great place to proof some dough
Aimee: And then bake the bread.
I had a roommate once who had the whole Le Creuset set, and I didn’t know much about food or cooking at the time, so all I thought was, those are really heavy and I could use one in self-defense. But now I know.
Marnie: Le Crueset and stand mixers are two things whose expense has never quite made sense to me, but you just put it out of your mind and enjoy using the dang thing
Like....isn’t a stand mixer just a motor? Isn’t Le Creuset just a painted skillet??
They’re fabulous tools, but why so expensive?!
Aimee: It’s enameled.
Marnie: Forgive me
Aimee: And you can get it in any color you want! Which is really what matters. Although I have another enameled Dutch oven that is not Le Creuset and I love it just as much.
The big pot that food doesn’t get stuck in it is the thing.
Marnie: For sure
Well, damn, that’s a great pick, and it’s going to be hard to follow it up.
But I’ll have to say....a whisk!
Aimee: Another good one!
Do you have lots of sizes?
Allison: Whisks are so much fun!
Marnie: I’ve recently fallen back in love with my whisk after making those damn fluffy milks from Instagram. I only have one, but oh, would I like a few more.
Even though I have a whisk attachment on the stand mixer, sometimes I whisk by hand for the fun of it. More than any other tool, you’re transforming the ingredient by using a whisk, and that feels powerful
Very annoying to store with other tools, though. My whisk keeps getting all bent out of shape by the pushy cherry pitter
Aimee: But it’s magical! You can whip cream all by yourself!
I’m still working up the arm muscles for egg whites.
Marnie: Same here. What a journey
But it’s a kitchen tool that doubles as exercise equipment, and that’s gotta count for something
Allison: My shoulders are such shit from years of whisking
And also from getting hit by car
And falling down the stairs once
But other than that, I’m fine!
Marnie: Fine enough to think of a tremendous third pick?
Allison: Yup! Next pick: baking sheets. Plain-ass, heavy gauge aluminum baking sheets.
Technically, the ones I use at home are “half sheets.” I’ve been cooking professionally for so long, I can’t even remember my life without them.
Marnie: Do you use rimmed or non-rimmed
Allison: Rimmed. You don’t need a non-rimmed baking sheet. Home stores make you believe you need 1,000 different tools in the kitchen. That you need 20 different types of baking pans for different things. NO. You need standard, aluminum half-sheets
Marnie: I like having the extra space on the un-rimmed sheet, but damn it all if I don’t send everything spilling constantly. Biggest downside of my precious baking sheets: the neverending irritation of trying to wash them
It sends soap and water absolutely everywhere
And I always line my baking sheets with parchment or foil. I don’t have time for cleanup. Even if stuff leaks beneath the lining, it’s easier to clean up.
And for scrubbing, a bottle of Barkeeper’s Friend will help you out more than soap.
Marnie: Nooooo it’s so much better doing the hot-pan technique! Worth the extra cleanup!
Marnie: If you preheat the pan in the oven, then pour the oil-tossed veg onto it, they sizzle and get a nice char on them
Allison: You can still do the hot pan technique with a foil-lined pan!
Another trick: if you don’t have a heating coil on the bottom of your oven, you can put your sheet tray straight on it. You’ll get high conduction heat straight to your veg. Hotter than if you put it on an oven rack.
Next pick: BIG-ASS BOWL
Allison: You need at least one in the kitchen. I think I’ve got six. One is a “nice” ceramic one I picked up at Goodwill, and the rest are all commercial-grade.
Aimee: Wash a baby, knead some bread, soak your feet, it’s all good!
Marnie: Just wash in between those applications
Allison: Nah, I’ll soak my feet in it WHILE there’s a baby in there.
My smallest “big bowl” can make a cake batter. My biggest “big bowl” can hold a salad for 20. I think it’s like two feet wide?
Marnie: Beyond that: popcorn. Massive amounts of popcorn
And cheap! Cheaper than a Microplane.
Aimee: The only problem is finding enough room to store it.
Allison: That is true. At my place, I have a pot rack.. I stack all the bowls in eat other and store it on top
In my old place, I’d keep them in the oven.
Marnie: That’s where the cast iron skillet lives
Allison: And the place before that, on top of the cabinets.
Marnie: My next pick might sound niche, but is every bit as versatile as a big-ass bowl: a bench scraper
Aimee: Aaaaaagggggh, I was going to pick that one!
Marnie: Ha! Great minds!
Aimee: It is so damned useful!
Allison: I don’t use this as much as everything else in my kitchen, but it does have a plae.
Marnie: It’s like $5-10, and I was skeptical when my husband brought one home, like he got some weird impulse buy at the Williams Sonoma register. But I’ve never loved anything more
Aimee: It’s so great for getting bread dough off the countertops, and for cutting things in half, and carrying things.
Marnie: The idea of rolling out dough isn’t nearly so daunting anymore. And yes, the portioning is incredible, with its little ruler on the side. And I can get every last bit of chopped garlic off a cutting board without dulling my knife blades
Aimee: Yours has a ruler???
I did not know such luxuries existed.
Allison: Like a knife, a bench scraper is something you need to eventually get a feel for. Once you get it down, it becomes indispensable.
Marnie: It’s so fun to use. Love that little guy. But I could gush all day
Aimee: My bench scraper was what inspired me to pitch this draft.
Marnie: Aimee’s got back-to-back picks to make up for her stolen bench scraper selection
Aimee: Don’t pretend you’re being generous for letting the draft go on as it should.
I’m not bitter at all!
Allison: I think you guys love bench scrapers more than I do.
Aimee: My next pick is the wooden spatula. I bought it on impulse at Sur La Table one day because it was on sale, but it is so useful! I use it to stir things, and it’s great for scraping food off the bottom of a pot.
Allison: It’s the only thing to use for tomato sauces!
Marnie: That was going to be MY last pick!
Aimee: We could have traded.
Allison: Now you two can just resent each other for the rest of your lives.
Aimee: Things are going to be awkward if we ever get back to the office.
I like the flatness because you scrape everything evenly.
Marnie: And you never have to worry about your finishes with a wooden tool
Allison: Remember that wooden spatula we bought Marnie for her birthday? With Baby Yoda on it?
Marnie: Nothing on earth is better than that wooden spatula. But that’s your fault entirely!
Allison: SPATCHY SPATCH
Aimee: My last pick is the kitchen scale. I no longer have to use measuring cups the way I used to, which saves so many things to wash, and I also feel competent just pouring flour and sugar out of their containers into the mixing bowl.
Allison: I almost picked this!
Marnie: Ahhhh yes. It makes such a radical difference in the final result, too
Aimee: It really does.
Allison: I like baking some things by weight, and some by volume. The latter is mostly because I really love old cookbooks, and since antiquity mostly everything has been done by volume.
My top reason for using a scale is portioning. It’s the best way to divide dough into portions.
Aimee: But you can kind of guess equivalents now, like 130 grams of flour is the same as one cup.
Marnie: God bless the internet
Aimee: I really should just tape the equivalent measurements to the inside of my cabinet.
Allison: For some baking, I prefer scales. Most baking, actually. I don’t use them as much, though, since I know most people still use volume measurements, and I write recipes for them. I don’t want to write recipes that go completely sideways if they’re 20 grams off.
This could change if everyone owned a scale, which they should.
Would it be cheating for my last pick to be “batteries for scale” since I always forget to buy them?
Marnie: Lol, yes, but also, same here!
Okay, my last pick is going to be kind of a weird curveball, and I’m hoping the readers will understand my need to swing wildly for the fences: My WhirleyPop
Allison: I don’t even know what this is
Aimee: Me neither.
A stovetop crank popcorn popper? Ever seen it?
Allison: NO! I use an air popper, which I love. My only unitasking appliance.
Marnie: Here’s what it looks like
Aimee: Yes! I didn’t know what they were called.
Marnie: It’s a single-use gadget, it’s good at exactly one thing, and it’s a little annoying to clean and to store. But it’s SO GOOD at its one thing that I MUST include it. I’m deeply in love
My favorite Christmas gift! It gets almost every kernel popped. It’s amazing.And the cranking is so meditative
Allison: This looks like so much fun to use!
Marnie: It is, especially if you keep time to a song. And the feeling when it starts popping will make you giddy.
Again, I hope the readers don’t think I’m crazy, but at least I know where my heart lies
Aimee: They don’t have to live in your kitchen, so they have no right to judge (even though they will anyway).
Allison: Alright, for my final pick: a big, sturdy bamboo cutting board. Or wooden, if that’s your thing. I use it for... well, everything.
Marnie: Ooo, why bamboo?
Allison: How do I even make the case for this? It’s like making the case for a chair or a bed. If you have a kitchen, you need it.
I like bamboo because it’s a sustainable material, and it’s easier to wash. I have plastic boards for meat, but they’re much smaller. I’ll usually put them on top of my bamboo one with a wet paper towel underneath (so they don’t slip). If any raw meat juice gets on the bamboo board, you can easily wash and disinfect it. Wood isn’t great at getting wet and bleached.
I’ve switched to bamboo for my “wooden” utensils, too.
Marnie: I get stressed letting wet stuff or citrus sit out on the wooden boards for any length of time
And I never know the frequency with which I should be treating the board with oil or anything
Allison: Bamboo is much more foolproof. I don’t get snobby about kitchen equipment. People should be able to get what they can afford, and do more with less. If you don’t have the sort of lifestyle where you can nurture a wooden board or a fermentation crock, then just don’t do it.
The point of cooking equipment is for you to cook. Not to give you anxiety. Look at poor cast iron skillets—everyone has made them seem like fine china! People are scared of using them, like they’re nuclear reactors.
Meanwhile, they’re the sturdiest, most versatile pan you can own. In a worst case scenario, they should be the ONLY pan you own. Same with a bamboo cutting board.
It’s a board. It’s not complicated. It shouldn’t be because, well, it’s a goddamn board.
Marnie: “It’s a goddamn board” is an excellent note to conclude on. Best of luck in the vote, colleagues!
Who won this week’s Takeout Draft? Vote in the comments, or head to our poll on Twitter.