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Aug 6, 2005 12:25 PM

Most useless kitchen gadget?

  • p

In the Wall Street Journal Weekend Journal section yesterday, the Catalog Critic was about iced tea makers. The article begins with this question:

"We wondered: is it worth paying $15 to $60 for a contraption that saves the effort of pouring our tea from pot to pitcher and sticking it in the fridge?"

At the risk of seeming prejudiced, since I've never owned an iced tea maker, I'll answer with an emphatic, No, it's not worth it.

A far greater issue than the cost, which is trivial, would be the amount of space one of these things would waste. Because my kitchen is dimensionally challenged, I've decided to forego many utensils and machines that seem interesting but are not essential. But of all the useless gadgets I've ever heard of, an iced tea maker seems to be the absolute most useless.

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  1. w
    Wayne Keyser

    Anything ... ANYTHING ... sold at Bed Bath & More in a designer color with all sorts of sleek lines, plastic-coated handle, etc - what I call "housie-wousie stuff" - I guarantee you it's going to break in a week if it works at all, and be twice as expensive as the restaurant-supply-store version that actually works, and lasts a lifetime.

    1. I'd say the most EXPENSIVE (and wasteful) useless gadget is the dishwasher, all things considered, with garbage disposals close behind.


      16 Replies
      1. re: Gary Soup

        A dishwasher is a godsend! Both for hiding things and for cleaning them when you've got enough of a collection. I believe the dishwasher was invented by a woman.

        As for garbage disposals, I agree - no point in them at all. And to take things further, how about garbage compactors?

        1. re: Sharuf

          "how about garbage compactors?"

          Needless and useless is also what I thought about trash compactors until I built a house on a hillside. Now, I love the blasted thing for all the trips up to the trashcan it saves. One caveat: absolutely NO food goes into it. Paper only, and clean, non-food paper at that. It obligingly squishes boxes, bags and household detritus into one manageable chunk, but you could not have told me this until I lived with it. I'd always thought it belonged in the High-Compression Air-Filter category of useless gadgets.

          1. re: Sherri

            Plus it's really fun to get all drunk and put your empty bottles in them...and get all excited at the loud noise!!!

            Okay, so I know you're not supposed to do that.

        2. re: Gary Soup

          Aren't garbage disposals ecologically beneficial, since it's preferable to send food waste into the sewer system than add to landfills?

          (Assuming you don't have a garden and room to compost.)

          1. re: Pantagruel

            It depends on the sewer system. IN some cases, a landfill would be preferable.

            1. re: Pantagruel

              Actually, the use of garbage disposals has contributed to increased nutrient loads to rivers and streams (along with erosion, runoff of overused fertilizer, etc.). This causes algal blooms and other undesirable effects, like "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico. Keep those nutrients in your little ecosystem by composting!

            2. re: Gary Soup

              I'm flabergasted. How could you possibly find a garbage disposal useless? Do you really want to scrape your pots and plates into the trash? Peel your potatos over the trash? Scoop up nasty bits with your hands and drip across the floor on the way to the trash? I don't get it. I grew up with one, lived in kitchen-hell in my first house without one, and happily installed two in my new one.

              1. re: danna

                Depends on a couple things-how many mouths you're feeding, and the content of your diet. When there were two kids and two adults and a lot of meat being consumed, the disposal paid its way. Now it's just me, and relatively little meat in the house, and I happily carry most of my scraps out to the composter.

                1. re: danna

                  I do all that, as I don't have a garbage disposal where I'm living now. I used to, in my previous abode, and while it was nice to have one, it isn't as hellish to go without, as you make it out to be. But then, I didn't grow up with one, nor with a dishwasher either (only in America are these 'standard' kitchen items).

                  BTW, you can peel potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions etc over a piece of newspaper, then dump that in the trash. I keep a plastic tub lined with a plastic bag that I empty the contents of the sink strainer into (and you'll need a sink strainer if you don't have an undersink disposal). That then gets put in the trash. That way, you don't have to "scoop up nasty bits with your hands and drip across the floor on the way to the trash"

                  1. re: ju

                    Haven't had one since I left my parent's house at eighteen. They're nice and all, but certainly not essential. I use one bowl for all cooking scraps which gets dumped at the end of cooking, another which gets dumped at the end of dishwashing (by hand - never had a dishwasher either.) Not that big a deal, really.

                  2. re: danna

                    I cannot imagine living without one, conditioning I guess. I've not lived without one since the late 50's. In my neighborhood's covenants and restrictions disposers are required to be installed in every home. The intenr is to cut down on vermin infestation. Ironically or because of it vermin are not a problem but the deer, racoons, possums, rabbits, coyote etc. are more of a hassle. This is a city neighborhood too.

                    1. re: Candy
                      Das Ubergeek

                      Ah, CC&Rs, the bane of condominium and co-op ownership.

                      I had a friend who lived in a condominium in Sherman Oaks whose CC&Rs specified that "noxious foods may not be prepared in the kitchen". So he made kai kiew warn (green Thai curry with chicken) and xoi sau rieng (sticky rice with durian) outside on his patio. In the 105 degree heat.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        Great story. Bet the other condo owners didn't forsee someone would then cook these "noxious foods" outside, where their odour would disseminate even more effectively :)
                        I've been thinking of frying salted preserved fish("hum yui") and belachan (dried fermented shrimp paste) on my deck .......

                      2. re: Candy

                        Garborators are BAD for the environment however convenient they are in the kitchen. I recently moved to an area that , believe it or not, has curbside composting! You have a sealed green box that you put all your compostables in (includes paper towels, kleenex, veggies, meat, etc etc) and it is picked up once per week. You can get "ripe" composting back for your garden any time you want it delivered. This is the future and we should all lobby our municipal gov'ts for similar service.

                        FYI - We also have a small bin we can keep in the kitchen. We put it on the counter when we are chopping and put our bits directly into it as well as the paper towels used to clean up the drips :-)

                        1. re: Candy

                          This machine looks interesting and I wish I had one but it's bit too pricey for me right now.


                      3. re: Gary Soup

                        No frigging way! I don't think my husband and I would ever fight again if we had a dishwasher. "It's your turn." "No, I did it last time, remember?" When I got to my parents' for dinner, I love doing dishes because they have a dishwasher - it's just so amazing to see cleanup go so fast!

                      4. I vote for the dishwasher (which is my house is a dish rack) because of the sheer expense and waste of space.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: snackish

                          I have to agree: I came from a large family, and was the primary dishwasher for many years (asbestos hands to prove it, courtesy of familial insistence on using scalding water to wash things), and have reached the age of 44 without ever operating one by myself (I have stacked items into those of friends at their request, IIRC). The only time I might use one is when I entertain, but I could not use one because I have gold-rimmed china, sterling flatware and crystal, all of which ought be washed by hand. And when entertaining less formally, it's either paper or easy-to-clean stuff.

                          Then again, I was raised with the clean-as-you-go method and do it out of habit; I suspect if you don't do that, a dishwasher might seem temptingly handy.

                          1. re: Karl S.

                            My bone china and sterling flatware go in the dishwasher. Do not use the heated drying cycle and don't touch the china until it comes to room temp. Remove the sterling and dub it dry while the china cools. I do not put stemware in the DW because the stems are too long and it would knock them off. I do occasionally and I do mean only occasionally put Waterford bareware in the DW. Usually when there is a crowd and they are cluttering up needed counterspace. The water in S. Indiana is very hard and the minerals in the water will etch the glass ware. I learned this the hard way. It is actually better to wash china in the dishwasher because there is less chance of breaking it in a porcelain sink when your hands are wet and soapy and you are tired and don't want to face a kitchen stacked with dirty plates in the AM. No matter how many guests my kitchen is 99% nready to go in the AM. In my next home I hope to design a kitchen where I can have 2 dishwashers one to run and the other to load.

                          2. re: snackish

                            i usually agree, but every so often, when i have several guests, i wish i had one.

                          3. No Contest
                            The Electric can opener

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Phu Bai

                              Until I heard about the iced tea makers, the electric can opener was also my choice.

                              1. re: Phu Bai

                                ...except for someone whose hands are afflicted with arthritis.

                                1. re: Sam D.

                                  I just started having arthritis in my right hand, at age 43. I suspect almost 20 years of mousing have had deleterious effects.

                                  I am on the way to electric can opener. But what ever shall I do about a corkscrew?

                                  1. re: snackish

                                    "But what ever shall I do about a corkscrew?"

                                    If you can grip with one hand, try a table top model or the "Rabbit" (or one of the knockoffs), amazing easy on the hands.

                                    1. re: snackish

                                      if ever you needed an excuse to buy one of those counter mounted quick pull wine bottle openers...


                                      1. re: withalonge

                                        Oster has an electric wine cork puller for about $20. A winelover acquaintaince with carpel tunnel swears by it. The foil cutter is quite nice too.

                                2. egg timer (sand or clock)
                                  oil spray pump
                                  spoon rests
                                  shrimp deveiner
                                  cookbook holder
                                  a set of twelve different sizes of melon ballers
                                  electric knife (cuts like my hedge trimmer)
                                  cherry/olive pitter combo
                                  not that i am not guilty of owning some of this nonsense

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: byrd

                                    I am in complete agreement with everything you mentioned - except the cherry/olive pitter. How else do you pit cherries and olives whole? I bought one on a whim and I found I actually use it with some regularity. Then again, I do love olives and cherries.


                                    1. re: byrd

                                      I happen to love my cookbook holder. it keeps the page open for me to the recipe I need, plus it holds the book upright so I can easily see the recipe while I'm cooking/baking, and the shield keeps the book clean.

                                      but everyone's different I guess.

                                      1. re: wurstle

                                        I like mine too and the only thing I am sorry about is that I got one of those molded all in one piece so that if I need to turn a page I have to lift it out and put it back in. There was a more expensive model and I've not seen it again that had a wooden base and the shield could flip forward and another feature was that it could be adjusted for books of different thickneses.

                                        I have found my cherry/olive pitter pretty handy at times too.

                                        1. re: Candy
                                          Das Ubergeek

                                          I like my cherry/olive pitter quite a lot, actually. I was going to post that those little quick-chop gadgets (you know, you put the plastic shield over garlic or nuts or whatever and smack a plunger, which causes blades to come down and chop whatever it is) were the most useless kitchen gadgets of all time, but then a few years ago I had an inspiration.

                                          My little sister-in-law (then 5, now 9) always wants to be in the kitchen when I'm cooking, and I wanted to engage her, since the earlier they start the more likely they'll grow into Chowhounds. I was making marinara sauce one day, went into the drawer to get the "stinky" cutting-board that I use for fish, garlic, onions, leeks, etc., and saw the quick-chop.

                                          I put the board on the low table for her, put some garlic underneath, showed her how to hold it, and let her go to town. When she was done I did the same with the tomatoes. She had a blast, proudly announced that she'd helped me with dinner, and her fingers were safe.

                                          Nowadays, I'm teaching her how to properly use knives, under heavy supervision, so the quick-chop will go back to its useless mode until I need to give another little chowpup something to do.

                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                            I unashamedly love my mini food chopper. I actually have two, since I discovered that nothing chops garlic, ginger and shallot faster than that. I use one for smelly stuff and one for nuts or other 'non smelly' items.

                                            And the olive pitter?? Fabulous!! Unpitted kalamata olives are way cheaper than the pitted, and often the best ones I find are unpitted. Without that little gadget I would be miserable. And for the brief time of year when fresh cherries are in season, it's the best.

                                            1. re: cooknKate

                                              I cracked mine the first time I used it, guess I was a little heavy handed. I threw it away, think it was a Liefheit. PITA to clean.

                                              1. re: personalcheffie

                                                Yup.....I agree with the cleaning, but find that letting it soak in a sink of hot soapy water is the best way.

                                                1. re: cooknKate

                                                  I think the Pampered Chef one you can open up and stick in the dishwasher. Problem is, I only use mine for glasses and plates because I only can fill it up every three or four days. Things that will sit there that long, especially tools, I use quite a few times a day, so I end up handwashing all my bowls, microplanes, measuring cups, etc.

                                          2. re: Candy

                                            that's the cookbook holder I have - it's adjustable for different size books and the front flips down to turn the page. Williams Sonoma has one for $30 similar to what I have and there are a bunch on at varying prices.

                                        2. re: byrd

                                          I always thought the electric knife was a stupid thing, but I finally got one and now I'm really sold on it for making thin slices of turkey, roast beef, and cutting biscotti into slices after the first baking without having them crumble.