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Do you use the proper tool to cook with?

The WSJ recently reported that some chefs are banning certain utensils in their kitchens -- namely, the tong.

Money quote from the article:
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"But, according to [Chef] Malouf, the ease of handling a pair of tongs for gripping ingredients leads to a slew of bad techniques that can bruise and rip apart your food.

Mr. Malouf isn’t alone. In a New Yorker article, David Chang of the Momofuku group of restaurants in New York flies into a rage at a young chef, who was among other things, “cooking with tongs, which was bad technique, it ripped the food apart, it was how you cooked at T.G.I. Friday’s—he should have been using a spoon or a spatula,” the story says. The passage stirred up a controversy among some cooking fanatics."

Quoted from the WSJ: "Tongs in the Kitchen? No Way" (read it here: http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2010/12/14...)

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I personally don't use tongs, as a my preferred weapon of choice is a pair of oversized chopsticks. But I can't really see how tongs could be so harmful. Sure, a large fork to stab at that steak on the grill might be a "no-no" ... but tongs?

Do you ban certain utensils or tools in your kitchen for fear of ruining your food?

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  1. I don't believe it....these chefs will say anything to get their name in the paper or other media outlets.....

    btw....I never knew any chef that did not use his hands.....do they ban them too....And you can tear food with any utensil at any given time.

    1. How are you going to "rip or bruise" a steak, chicken, hot dogs, pork chops, etc... using tongs?
      When I think about it the tongs are the most used cooking tool in my kitchen.

      (They don't "cook" at TGIF)

      1 Reply
      1. re: monku

        The only problem I see with tongs is with breaded food. Tongs will tear the breading. Anything else I can think of? No problem.

      2. You won't be turning too many steaks in a 1800 degree infrared broiler with a pair of chopsticks before they burn up.

        1. unless you're a pro and can do the same tasks with something more umm thoughtful, I see nothing wrong with tongs if one is gentle.

          1 Reply
          1. re: hill food

            just use gloves. then no need for tongs. ;-)

          2. how silly - tongs are awesome.

            1. I can think of one thing: plastic kitchen tools. One time I bought a Mario Batali plastic spatula/turner. During a busy cooking moment, I left it in the skillet for a moment. It melted into the food, and was extremely hard to remove from the skillet.

              I can understand why chefs wouldn't want their line chef monkeys using tongs. I doubt anyone is saying you shouldn't ever use tongs; they just don't want their hired help butchering the food (e.g., by grabbing big tongfuls of stir-fry and tossing them back into the wok instead of shaking the wok or using a wooden spoon).

              1 Reply
              1. re: sushigirlie

                """"I can understand why chefs wouldn't want their line chef monkeys using tongs""""""

                ooooooooh the irony will carry me through this weekend, i believe!

                ~~~~~~~~~
                tongs are great; i have several types, and they also have different type ends -- metal and silicone-tipped. i am hankering to get some of those ming tsai-type stainless steel chopstick tongs.

                that being said, any tool can be misused, but i think chef is having a hissy fit over a silly thing.

              2. I've met chefs who eschew tongs in favor of spatulas, spoons or meatforks, citing the damage done to a delicate fish filet or breaded cutlet by attempting to flip or turn it with a pair of tongs; a fish turning spatula was always part of my tool kit, and large or smaller service spoons for plating should always be available on the line in professional kitchens. I've also worked with guys,* er, line cooks, who used meat forks to flip food, like cutlets and steak, not by piercing the food and tossing it, but by using a 'should be patented" delicate slide under, tip pan and low flip technique. Tongs are definitely "the" very useful kitchen tool, although not useful for every cooking application or product. Dressing a salad with tongs can definitely lead to lettuce bruising, actually a gloved human hand is a better tool for this; pasta dishes can be tossed and twirled for plating with a two pronged meat fork, large spoons should be used for plating sauces, rather than scraping the sauce from the saute pan onto the plate or food with the tongs, some food products can just be gently tossed by flip frying, to turn, rather than flipped by tongs; I can see the article's point quite clearly. I never worked in a kitchen were tongs were outright banned, but the cooks and chef did not use them for everything little cooking move. Those were the better restaurants, btw. But banning them from a professional kitchen smacks of machismo and elitism, though; you can't deny their proper place and appropriate uses in that arena.

                My favorite quote from the article, and the main point, I believe, is, "“When people use tongs, they lose that connection between the food and yourself. They are no longer mindfully thinking about every step in handling the food.” That's really it, the mindful thinking/cooking connection thing. Tongs make sautéing or grilling steps easy, but not with necessarily better results or for ascribing to a higher degree of tool handling skills and professionalism. It's all in the skill of the cook, though, I've seen some pretty mangled and dropped food items when tongs weren't used. Practice, practice...

                That said, tongs are not banned from my kitchen, hang proudly from my oven door handle and I will continue to flip my steaks or pork chops with them, hot dogs also.

                *I've seen some pretty food abusing women in kitchens too.

                7 Replies
                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  bushwickgirl,

                  I totally agree with you that there needs to be a connection -- a rapport, if you will -- between chef and food, but what I don't understand is how Chef Malouf or Chang believe that there is nothing inherently unique about tongues that deprives a chef of that connection and experience with the food she is preparing.

                  I think every tool or cooking utensil has its place in the kitchen and in the pantheon of cooking tools I certainly think that tongs deserves a seat at the table.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    "has its place in the kitchen and in the pantheon of cooking tools" tongs certainly included.
                    ipse, you wrote "tongues," that's a funny slip, btw.

                    There is nothing about using tongs or the ability or mechanics of the actual tool itself that diminishes the cooking connection; but tongs in professional kitchens tend to be the first tool grabbed, the easy way, the be-all end-all of utensils, and they are sometimes not the most appropriate tool for the job.

                    In banning tongs from their kitchens, Malouf and Chang, or any other chef who aspires to that edict, are being somewhat silly in an attempt to raise the bar, and are just in professional denial. Perhaps a more practical technique would be to teach their line cooks which tool to use for what and when, which is probably more work than just banning tongs.

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      As typos go, I first wrote, "I first started using thongs when I met my husband" but was able to edit. TMI if I hadn't...;-)

                      I wonder why they haven't been able to create gloves that you can use and still have a good grip and not burn yourself. I'd love to be able to get my hand in there with no utensil--total control.

                      1. re: chowser

                        I believe there is a silicon type material used for oven mitts like that, it's just sort of a bulky material.

                        1. re: chowser

                          For handling hot meat, like pulled pork, I've seen (on TV) people using industrial strength rubber gloves. These can be bought with various degrees of insulation.

                          1. re: paulj

                            I'm such a butter fingers I'd probably do more damage with those than a pair of tongs.

                          2. re: chowser

                            That's a very amusing typo, chowser, I almost spit out my coffee reading it, but I'm glad you had the change to edit it.;-)

                            Well, there are gloves, silicon, and those Ove-Glove type things, but the problem is they don't allow for fine motor skills, they are mostly too bulky; you can't really plate food with them on, especially if it requires a delicate placing or dribble or smear of sauce, or some the the other techniques you see on Iron Chef/Top Chef. Besides, they get dirty; they are more for removing hot pans from the oven. So put the glove on, take the glove off, back and forth....I have met chefs who do use their hands to flip food, but that's an acquired skill, and it requires a certain degree of masochism.

                            My motto: use the appropriate utensil, and the one you're most comfortable using to get the job done the best way you can.

                    2. I'm right with you on the chopsticks. The other day I was (carefully) roasting some mushrooms and just couldn't move them around comfortably with standard tools and utensils. I was bummed for a moment until I remembered the unused chopsticks.

                      I certainly wouldn't use tongs for fish or braised veg/fruit, but it seems fine for most other things. Anyway, I don't see a point in "banning" something. Use whatever gets the job done.

                      1. I started using tongs when I met my husband about 20 years ago because he had some. I wondered how I'd lived so long w/out something so useful. Any utensil can be used incorrectly but that's not the reason to get rid of them. I don't know how I'd flip searing meat, if I didn't have tongs. Chopsitcks don't give the pressure needed to release the meat. And, how would I stir my pasta as easily.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: chowser

                          >>>>> I don't know how I'd flip searing meat, if I didn't have tongs. Chopsitcks don't give the pressure needed to release the meat.

                          If you can't flip meat with chopsticks, then you're flipping too early.

                          >>>>>> And, how would I stir my pasta as easily.

                          Chopsticks, imo, are the perfect tool for cooking pasta and all types of noodles.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Or I have really bad chopstick skills. Really, I'm about the only asian person I know who can't do it. Maybe it's the type of chopsticks we have (ivory). I also have to measure rice when I cook it and have no idea how to use the knuckle method.

                            1. re: chowser

                              Ivory -- I think that might be your problem.

                              Get a good pair of wood (or even bamboo) chopsticks and you'll experience a revletory cooking experience -- from grilling to scrambled eggs to pasta to even whipping egg whites.

                              Save the nice ivory for guests -- and if you want to be sadistic about it -- serve them some slippery shrimp with those nice polished ivory chopsticks.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                LOL, that might be a reason to invite guests over--serve slippery shrimp and boiled peanuts. The ivory ones were free and I have cartons of them (defunct restaurant). Yeah, my mom had the wood ones, and extra long wood ones, too, but I love my tongs.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  Staying offtopic for a moment - I've gotten into the habit of packing a pair of our wood or bamboo chopsticks when we go out for dim sum, because all of those places use the big slippery imitation ivory ones, exactly wrong for the application.

                                  Back to tongs: with my hands as semi-crippled as they are (almost 20 years of drawing with a mouse!) tongs give me both the reach and the control I need to grasp and turn almost any food. I know enough not to grab a breaded item in the middle; if it's a chop, I can grab it horizontally, by the sides, and turn it that way. I do think I have the judgement to know when to use a spatula instead, and I'd hope the same of any line cook.

                          2. re: chowser

                            Meat releases from the pan when it's ready. If you have to pull it off the pan, wait for another minute or so and it will release on it's own.

                          3. I can see the point, as you can mess up a fish fillet or tear the skin on braised chicken fairly easily with tongs, but banning is just plain silly.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                              I also think that if a professional chef of any stripe doesn't know that you're not supposed to handle fish or anything delicate with tongs, I'd wonder if they were fit to actually be IN the kitchen at that level. It's one thing to like using tongs for certain tasks, but another if you end up using it for every single task without thought. That means you've stopped thinking about what you're doing and are just doing everything robotically, which I think David Chang was probably trying to say, but it came out kind of douchey. :o)

                              1. re: yfunk3

                                now there's an adjective I need to use more.

                                1. re: yfunk3

                                  I would hope that even at-home chefs would know this. There are things that tongs simply don't work for, and that is fine. But, banning them is snotty and arbitrary. Make sure your people know how to use them correctly and what items to use them on. It's a two minute lesson to your chefs/sous at the beginning of the night.

                              2. The only tool I ban in my kitchen are those deplorable garlic presses that squeeze the life out of those poor cloves. LOL

                                As for tongs...they have their place. I use them often, but am smart with what I do use them on.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Novelli

                                  yes the garlic press, pain in the neck to clean, doesn't really do the job and after a few months inevitably snaps. had one once in my first apartment, seemed like such a good idea at the time...

                                2. When some idiot cook claims that the use of any tool (e.g., tongs) lessens the connection with the food, I start to hyperventilate. When did we give professional cooks the status to make such ludicrous pronouncements? If you don't like tongs, buddy, don't use them, but please spare me your inane drivel.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. If i didn't have tongs in my kitchen, I couldn't reach for half the things in my cupboards! I use the silicon tipped ones as they grip better.

                                    Not sure how I would turn steaks in the broiler without tongs....

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: cosmogrrl

                                      I have the same issue, and use tongs to solve that problem.

                                    2. I just made lunch for myself....two sliders with cheese. One I made carefully, flipped with a spatula....the other I just grabbed with a pair of tongs...it didn't break.....First one was carefully placed on the bun....The second, I again grabbed with the tongs......I closed my eyes and spun the plate around three times and ate the first bite of both with my eyes still closed.....

                                      They both tasted exactly the same. One made correctly and one not.

                                      1. I think that tongs can be very appropriate. I use them to turn meat. I have a very wide pair with silicon on the ends to prevent the tongs from piercing the meat. I grab the meat down the center which grips the entire piece, rather than the edge. I have never had any issues with meat that way (wouldn't do breaded meat this way.) If you use the tool correctly, it won't mess up your food.

                                        I can see that grabbing the edge of the meat and dangling it carelessly around could tear the meat though. If you don't do that, it isn't a problem though.