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What's your cheap, low-class, won't-usually-tell kitchen favorite?

I've since grown up, but I used to be one of those have-a-garage-sale-quit-your-job-and-move-across-the-country-because-you-feel-like-it types. In my last starting from scratch venture, I was (of course) broke and bought an 10" cast iron skillet for about $5.97 from Family Dollar. That was about five years ago and I still use it nearly every day - in fact, I usually leave it on the stove rather than putting it away just to drag it back out a few hours later.

What's yours? Let's go with a $10 maximum.

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  1. I don't mind telling, so here goes:

    $1.99 Swing-A-Way manual can opener--been with me for at least 10 years
    Rösle spoon (stirring spoon)--plastic, discolored, still performing solidly and it's been with me for over 2 decades and 4 states (probably about 2 bucks when I bought it at Reading China and Glass)
    My 2-buck ice cream scoop from IKEA--works as well as my $16 Zeroll.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nofunlatte

      Yeah! Here, here! We've had "swing-away"s since I was a girl and there's one in my kitchen all the time. One in the camping supplies, too...

    2. I'm a big fan of functional and am anti status and prestige - so a lot of my stuff is cheap, low class but very functional. My fave is now a 4" knife from rural Brasil I bought for less than $1.00. It is carbon steel, now tarnished to hell, but is super easy to keep sharp as a razor. Cuts through tomatoes like water. And a pity because I have all sorts of expensive "high class" knives.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Years - no, decades ago, I bought a cheap largish multi-purpose type knife at the hardware store in Japantown. It's NOT stainless steel, and it sharpens and keeps an edge better than any knife I've ever had. The knife is crappily made. It has a simple wood handle and for years the blade kept falling out of the handle. (The blade has a short stem rather than a full-length tang.) Finally I think there's enough gunk in there to glue the blade in place.

        It's my favorite knife, and if I see any more like it, I will grab them.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          I have a similar "low class" item. About 20 years ago, we were moving into a new house, and I wanted to make some sandwiches. All of our belongings were still in boxes, so, when I went to the supermarket, I was looking for a cheap knife and well as some food. I found a curved serrated tomato knife (I actually didn't think it was as thin as it was because of the deceptive packaging), and paid something like $4 for it. Well, that thing sits in a block right next to my Shuns, Sabatiers, Henkels and Wusthoffs because I use it instead of a knife that could be damaged when I need to slice open chicken packaging, bagged food items, cryovac and an occasional sealed carton. It is stainless steel, so it still looks as good as new.

        2. I've thought about this for at least a couple of minutes now. Even took a tour of the kitchen to see if anything could outshine my strange answer, but I have to say that zip lock bags are my favorites. I use them in all sizes, and store left-overs in them, freeze stuff in them, all kinds of uses. I know. I know. It doesn't sound very "green." I'm stuffing the landfill, some would say, but...! It means far far fewer dishes in the dishwasher, AND all of the downstairs lightbulbs in my house are either fluorescent or LEDs, so I gotta get a few brownie points for that. Yup. I choose my ziplock bags over the marble rolling pin I bought for $4.00 years ago for making puff pastry any day. Hey, I can find puff pastry in my grocer's freezer these days! AND zip lock bags. Well, not in the freezer, but you know... on the shelves. Love 'em!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Caroline1

            I too use zip locks for batteries. I use them for things I want to keep together like a multimeter and instruction manual, lan and telephone connectors and the crimping tool to apply. nuts and bolts for an old bed are in a zip lock and taped to the bed stored in my basement. Er. . . chow related. I buy my spices in pouches and transfer them into small shaker jars . . . the pouches hold more spice than my jars so . . . I tie them off with twist ties and store in a large zip lock in a cupboard. Some of the spices are quite potent but with this system the smells are kept at bay.

          2. I'm not sure about low-class but the Zena Rex/Star peelers are a cheap favourite.of mine.


            My go to knife is a carbon steel Opinel which I got for £6/7, it's sharp enough to use for anything and also cheap enough to use for anything as well!


            Both design classics in my book that I would be lost without.

            1. My bench scraper is a fave tool that cost $9.99. Great for baking/ kneading but also useful for transferring large amounts of chopped onion etc. from cutting board to pot. I guess it's not "low class" cuz it has the Sur La Table logo etched into the wooden handle! I also love my "Le Creuset" silicone pinch bowls (4 for $10.00) and use them daily for mise en place. Alas, the only LC product I own. (Hangs head....) adam

              1. I have a bamboo thing which works like tongs. It is a very simple grasping tool to get toast out of a toaster. I use it all the time, but with my toaster oven. I have no idea where it came from, but it can't have been expensive. I also use a special pair of tongs with my non-stick pan and stove top gril which work very well. I am sure they weren't very expensive either.

                5 Replies
                1. re: sueatmo

                  I believe they're actually called "toast tongs" and I use mine all the time. I've given them to our daughters also.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Love the toast tongs! Use mine almost every day.

                    1. re: flourgirl

                      Me, too! I bought my bamboo toast tongs in Chinatown at least fifteen years ago for less than $1. At one point, they came apart but Crazy Glue fixed them up just fine. By far, the cheapest, most used item in my kitchen.

                      2nd cheap & anonymous item: my no-name tongs used daily, also ancient, also indispensable.

                      1. re: fauchon

                        Re no-name-tongs, do you mean just the plain, metal ones where the locking mechanism is just that metal things that slides back and forth? (Great technical description, huh?) 'Cause I love those better than all my others. I can lock/close them just by turning them open end down so it's one-handed which is, er, handy.

                2. I use one of those little metal sewing rulers when I'm feeling a need to be particularly accurate. It is particularly useful when rolling out dough, as that is something I don't do that often.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I always have one in the kitchen too. It is used more for cooking than it ever was used for sewing!

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      For me, the easiest way to get dough to the exact and uniform thickness that I want is to roll it out between two pieces of wood (or whatever). I have sets of two wooden dowels I bought at a hobby store in 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch thickness. I never thought of using a ruler...

                        1. re: flourgirl

                          That's why God didn't homogenize anything. '-)

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        I also use my metal ruler as an edge to cut parchment paper to fit in various sized baking pans. Very useful!

                      2. Super-duper cheap, but I don't mind telling. Those wooden pot lids in various sizes. When I buy pots, I also buy the matching steel lid and also a glass lid, but it's those cheap wooden lids that I use all the time.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: tanuki soup

                          Bzzzst! Those lids don't count: they're cheap but HIGH class.

                          1. re: tanuki soup

                            I've never seen these--where do you find them? Very cool, regardless of cachet. ;)

                            1. re: kattyeyes

                              Well, I live in Japan, where you can find them at pretty much any shop that sells pots and pans. The smaller ones cost a couple of bucks. The really big ones are up to two feet in diameter or so and cost maybe ten or fifteen bucks. In the US, I think you could probably get them at an Asian cookware shop.

                              The picture doesn't show it clearly, but the lids are made of two pieces of wood. The handle is attached to the disk without any nails, screws, or glue. They are held together by a tight dovetail joint.

                              The reason I like these lids so well is that they are perfectly flat on the bottom, so you can easily slide them to the side a bit to vent the pot.

                              1. re: tanuki soup

                                That's exactly what I want to weigh down my sauerkraut.

                          2. I have a rubber mallet that I use for meat pounding. It came from the hardware store. Like it better than the made-for-meat-pounding one.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: c oliver

                              I couldn't really think of anything that hasn't been mentioned, but your post reminded me that I use an ugly, heavy mug with some bank's logo on it to pound meat. Since it was an advertising premium, it cost zero.

                              My second choice under $10, per OP's ceiling, isn't a device or tool, but probably an $8- or $9-bottle of wine. Not "low-class", but definitely modest. However, when it's at least drinkable--or under the guidance of a knowledgable vendor, surprisingly better--it can elevate a dish better than any implement could.

                              P.S. Edited to add: I meant as an ingredient in the dish...NOT an accompaniment.

                              1. re: Normandie

                                Total LOL - I assumed you meant as an accompnament. Too funny.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  This is why I felt I had better edit my post to make it clear the modest bottle of wine is purchased (and used, LOL) as an ingredient.

                                  I don't believe the world is ready for me cooking with high BTU gas burners while imbibing. Or....maybe the world couldn't care less, but my little town's volunteer fire department doesn't deserve it. :-)

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Me too - I love that thing. Just read where one chef keeps hedge clippers from the hardware store in her kitchen. May have to add that one, too!

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I use a rubber mallet for meat, as well (and all other such kitchen duties: breaking up cookies or crackers into crumbs when I don't want to bother with the food processor, smashing hard candies for baking projects, etc.). I got mine at a 99-cent store, so yeah, def. cheap.

                                    I use plain wood chopsticks for various cooking tasks, and they're certainly very cheap.

                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                      I find a rubber mallet and a Ziploc bag produces better crushed ice than a blender.

                                      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                        I have a retro ice-o-mat that does a great job of crushing ice - much better than the blender. Although I can see the attraction of the mallet/plastic bag too. One could work out a lot of frustrations that way... ;P

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Carpenters use a claw hammer to drive nails. I use a claw hammer to crack stone crab claws. And it is almost worn out. I guess I have spoiled myself.

                                  2. I have a set of 8 little silver forks about 3" long with 'u' shaped prongs on one end that are sharp as fish hooks, and little ornaments as the handle: a donkey head, a sombrero, a cactus,etc, all different. I bought them for $2 when I hitchhiked to Acapulco 38 years ago. The low class part is when I carry one in my breast pocket to cocktail parties and nobody eats the last shrimps or bacon-wrapped scallops because all the toothpicks are gone, and I have my own fork. And no, I have nothing to do with the toothpick shortage. Usually.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      BYOF! Too funny. Do you choose which one you bring by your mood? :) And good thing it's your breast pocket so you don't have to deal with, "Is that a fork in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" HA HA!

                                      I don't have a very cool tool to share...but something handy and cheap (it was free!) is the rubber grippy jar-opener thingy with the logo of an insurance company on it.

                                      1. re: kattyeyes

                                        I use rubber gloves when washing dishes. I use one of those as my "rubber grippy jar-opener thingy."

                                      2. re: Veggo

                                        LOL! This reminded me of a colleague in graduate school who would show up to parties with his own bowl and spoon (he used it for absolutely every meal/snack).

                                        Now that I think of it, he also brought old plastic bags that he would toss the leftovers into to take home. He would also bring some books, in case the party slowed and he got a chance to get some reading in. I think he eventually had to drop out due to illness after trying to survive on day-old bread from a local bakery for months on end.

                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          NO Freaking Way! I have those too! I think I got them from a roomate about 20 years ago...who may have been to Mexico... A boot is another one. I always thought, I should use them for something! OOPS! This was supposed to be a reply to Veggo's Silver Forks.

                                          1. re: pletty

                                            Way. do you still have the white box and cotton padding? And they are silver from Taxco, just too small to have the hallmark on them, and need to be polished with every use. They are fun and get a lot of compliments.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Definately no box here. In fact I just went searching for them and all I found in the back of a drawer were two... one sitting figure with a sombrero, and a standing up guy who you see from the back view?... but i remember the cactus and the boot...now where are they?

                                              1. re: pletty

                                                I have my standing up guy, and a lariat, a clay pot, a serape,and a map of Mexico. I polished the set of 8 today; good as new after 38 years.

                                        2. Ooooh! I know! I do have something besides that ugly mug!

                                          Waxed dental floss for tying and trussing. However much that costs. I prefer it to string. Make sure it's of the waxed persuasion, though.

                                          1. I have several of the ones already mentioned. In addition I keep a dollar store pair of needle nose pliers in the kitchen - handy for fish bones, chicken feathers, pulling a needle through when closing up a stuffed bird.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: meatn3

                                              That's a great suggestion, meatn3. Thank you! I can think of quite a few times they would have come in handy in the kitchen, had I thought of them.

                                            2. I have a straight pin--the kind used in sewing--that I "store" in a wine cork. I use to it poke holes in eggs before boiling and for cleaning out the steam nozzle on my espresso machine.

                                              1. My $4.97 non-stick pan from IKEA is about 1000% better for cooking eggs than skillets that cost triple digits.

                                                1. George Foreman grill

                                                  Scissors from the 99¢ Only Stores

                                                  1. foodpoisoned -

                                                    Sounds like you had a lot of fun on the way to "growing up." :)

                                                    I don't know that I have an answer for my single favorite, "low-class" cheap kitchen item. I have a really well stocked kitchen, and I've found the vast majority of it at either garage sales or those discount stores like Home Goods and Marshall's. So I have lots of great stuff, much of which I purchased for under ten dollars.

                                                    But if I had to single out a favorite, I guess I'd have to say the ginormous stainless steel bowl I bought at a garage sale for a buck. I already had a graduated set, which sits inside this one quite nicely. But I use the ginormous one all the time when I'm cooking for lots of company. Don't know what I'd do without it. It's also great for holding very large quantities of popped corn on movie nights.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: flourgirl

                                                      I have one of those bowls also. Mine was free (too long a story). When I'm grinding meat I always use it. By periodically giving the bowl a bit of a turn, the meat is pretty evenly mixed by the time I'm through grinding. Big salads that can be mixed and then turned into a small, more decorative bowl for serving.

                                                    2. I have a set of 4 fondue forks with wooden handles, which I bought way back in the sixties when people were actually making fondue.

                                                      I use them frequently, almost daily - for testing done-ness, for fishing things out of the toaster oven, for flipping chops, for getting pickles out of jars, etc.

                                                      1. I save chopsticks from Chinese carryout and use them to mix my sourdough starter; I also bought a set of 3 unseasoned cast iron skillets from Boscov's for $9 ... for all three. After daily use, those skillets are seasoned to perfection and I use them to cook almost every single meal.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Ambimom

                                                          I save some chopsticks for when we do car trips. Makes a nice stir-stick for cocktails in our motel room.

                                                        2. I have a set of eight Ginsu-type steak knives (the ones with the tiny serrated edge) that I bought for $6 and use all the time for odd things like opening plastic bags, cutting twine and other places I don't want to use my good knives.

                                                          However, they're also the ONLY thing I use on tomatoes. I don't care if my good Henckels just got back from being professionally sharpened -- those little-toothed blades grip and tear right through the skin every time. I love them.

                                                          1. i have a cheapo grocery store nonstick pan that i use exclusively for 1-egg fried indian omelets. i think it cost me $5.99 and it is just the perfect size and easy to flip. i keep this cheap, ugly, embarrassing item amongst baking dishes in a closed cupboard while i display my pretty pans on the rack. but i love it.

                                                            1. I would like to point out that in many circles these days, "cheap and low-class" is the new cool. For a lot of people, adjusting to a new way of life was more than a temporary blip on their economic radar and they HAVE to find ways to keep the bills down. So I would add that one of my new "cheap and low-class" favorites are the many items I now purchase at my local supermarket that are sold under their in-house label. I only buy those things that have proved themselves to me, but it has not only saved us a lot of money, I spend a lot less time cutting out coupons. And I can more easily justify spending the extra money where it counts, like eggs and milk free of hormones and anti-biotics.

                                                              1. I have 2 very cool old sharp tined forks from goodness knows where... they get used ALL the time, cost maybe $5 each.
                                                                And I use a fragment of anti-rug-slip rubber stuff for my jar opener grippy thingy. I also use this stuff if I have a cutting board that is wobbly on the counter.

                                                                1. Often a gadget designed for one purpose isn't that well designed, and can only be used for that one purpose...that it can't do very well....and so I usually find my own tool, or get something that has multiple use.

                                                                  A pair of wooden chopsticks for everything, but especially for arranging the apples quarters when making Tarte Tatin the Cast-iron-stove-top-first way.

                                                                  A recent favorite tool is the small aluminum foil pound cake/banana bread-type container. After it's washed and dried and squeezed into a sharp point on one end, it is the perfect tool for me to pour cooled, just roasted coffee beans into the thick-walled glass milk bottles. It's just the right sturdiness and yet can be shaped easily... better and cheaper than the recent invention of the soft rubber container that also pours.

                                                                  For something needing a larger opening, I use a 10 inch round silicon cake pan that can accommodate the wide area of transfer but then is soft enough to also fold and make into a funnel.

                                                                  1. Three things I use almost every day:

                                                                    - 1/2 qt. Revere Ware sauce pan I got at a thrift store, or maybe a yard sale, and that was a long time ago. I've recently found out that these are collector's items but I find that hard to believe. I still have All-Clad for things where heat control and distribution matters, but for boiling water for a hard boiled egg, nothing beats this.

                                                                    - A one cup metal measuring cup, also from a thrift store. The kind with straight sides and marks at each quarter cup. Not sure what kind of metal this is. Maybe aluminum It's all beat up and dented. I have a 2-cup one also. I use it for measuring all kinds of dry ingredients like rice and oatmeal.

                                                                    - An old fashioned jar opener from the 1950s probably.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: taos

                                                                      My favorite "don't tell" kitchen items are 2 old, stainless steel, sharp tines forks I got out of the metal recycling dumster in my town. I also have a couple of cast iron frying pans from the same source. You can't beat the price!
                                                                      Half of the kitchen utensils in my kitchen have come from garage and estate sales. Several others have come used, from flea markets. I'll buy new if I can't find a used one or I can only find cheap, flimsy items. After a trip through the dishwasher, I'm not worried about using these things "harboring germs"!

                                                                    2. I have a bouquet of cheap (under a dollar) bamboo spatulas that I use for practically every meal. I bought them many many years ago at an asian market and have yet to wear one out. They won't damage a pan and do just fine in the dishwasher. A big plus is that they came in a left handed version, weirds out people who cook in my kitchen, they can't figure out why the angle is wrong.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Scrapironchef

                                                                        I have two bamboo rice paddles that were really cheap and I use them all the time for things like tossing salads, etc.

                                                                      2. A cast-iron potato masher that was a wedding gift to my grandmother in 1911 and cost $.09, according to the family lore. It's brilliant and works better than any new one I've used.

                                                                        1. I scoffed my husband's needle nose plyers. Those babies are great for deboning fish. Makes it effortless. Have purchased them for friends with some wooden planks as a hostess gift; they laugh at me. Two weeks later, I am sure to get an email saying how great they really are.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: itryalot

                                                                            Needle nose are good for pulling those annoying pin feathers out of kosher chicken legs too. I keep a clean pair in my gadget drawer.

                                                                          2. shhh dont tell haha all my friends know though MIRACLE blade I have a set that is over 15 years old that I cut frozen veggies pkgs when I need greens I cut my chickens in half though the bone with no effort and I am NOTORIOUSLY weak I cut up my turkey in half each year in seconds ( half goes in a stew pot for the bones after I pick it dry ) I cut anything tomatoes bread and it never crushes gives teeny slices and the serated blades are still sharp hilairous and goes through my dishwasher My husband has the pricey
                                                                            kind and his are dull compared

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: gulfcoastgal

                                                                              A leftover paver from our patio redo that I wrap in foil and use as a panini press or to flatten butterflied Cornish hens in a pan.

                                                                            2. Lime squeezer. $1 at an open-air mercado in Mier (or was it Miguel Aleman?), Mexico 20 years or so ago. Cast aluminum. Indestructible. Irreplaceable.

                                                                              Tortilla press. Also cast aluminum. Bought it here for $9.95, but it would have been a couple of bucks if purchased in its place of origin.

                                                                              Victorinox paring knife. $5. It's nimbler than the stuff made in Solingen.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                Yeah, I'm kicking myself for not buying lemon and lime squeezers in Rio. About a buck Ditto re tortilla press; $12. And I have a Virctoniox knife also. How compatible we are :)

                                                                              2. Plastic clothespins from the dollar store. I use them to close any kind of bag, to clip recipes to the refrigerator, etc.

                                                                                1. I don't know if this is low-class, but the Debbie Meyer Green Bags are truly amazing, and we use them all the time.They truly double if not often triple the life of vegetables I keep in the fridge. It is almost frightening how long zucchini will stay fresh in them. They can be re-used for a while, and then eventually replaced as they start to get too worn...

                                                                                  1. Most of my knives were free ... they're cheaper Wusthoffs that were GWPs from my grocery store. I'm quite fond of one of the paring knives--it has a curved blade that's perfect for slicing scallions and doesn't send the rounds rolling away across the cutting board and counter.

                                                                                    I acquired my wooden cutting boards in the same manner ...

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: foiegras

                                                                                      I miss Reynolds colored plastic wrap! I've always used it for seasonal baking and other purposes. Since I used the last of my green and pink on Christmas cookies, I have looked repeatedly at different stores for colored wrap and it's apparently discontinued - only clear Saran wrap is available. I got on the Reynolds website and apparently they've discontinued manufacturing of plastic wrap. Hopefully Saran will step in and take up the slack.