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 colour commentary:
Ice Cream Maker • I don't have a lot of reasons for a regular ice cream maker. Good continuous-churn models are expensive, $US800 to $US1000. 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
Garlic Press • 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 to use them too much to use a sharpener—maybe I'd use it on garden tools. Nay
Melon Baller • 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: Mere mortals call this an ice cream scoop, perhaps erroneously.]Yea
Rice Cooker • Rice cookers are good. I like them and use them. If a tool 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
Stick Blender • 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
Dehydrator • 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
Margarita Machine • 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 week-long 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.