Shelling out for new kitchen tools is one of those righteous (read: expensive) acts of self-care that can only feasibly be carried out on rare occasions. Why? Because buying brand new cooking appliances and gadgets, from humble salad spinners and skillets to bigger-ticket items like high-performance blenders and fancy knife sets, will cost you.
However, having an in-shape arsenal of cooking tools is a key part of making meals efficiently and as delicious as possible. Ever eaten scrambled eggs that were cooked on a rusty-slash-crumbling-apart nonstick pan? Not fun. The truth is that you shouldn’t always be having to toss and re-purchase your kitchen products. A bit of wear and tear is more than expected from everyone, regardless of your level of culinary expertise.
The secret to saving your gadgets—and, ahem, the contents of your wallet—for as long as possible is treating your tools with respect on a daily basis. There are a number of mistakes chefs see home cooks consistently making in the kitchen that are prematurely ruining their precious pans, knives, and more, and most of them are totally avoidable. Here, chefs weigh in on what mistakes you might be making that shortening the lifespan of your tool drawer as well as the easy ways to fix them.
7 major kitchen tool mistakes chefs want you to avoid
1. You put your stainless steel tools in the dishwasher
“Washing stainless steel tools in a dishwasher ruins your stainless steel utensils, as they are often not heat-tempered,” says John Li Greci, Sous Chef at YO1 Health Resort. As a rule of thumb, avoid dishwashing knives, pots and pans, vacuum-insulated mugs, and other pieces of bakeware and cookware. And if you spent a lot on that blender of food processor (or any other appliance), the high temperature and aggressive movement that can happen inside the dishwasher is just not worth it. Check the manual of all of your gadgets before you wash them in the dishwasher, and when in doubt, hand wash.
2. You aren’t waiting for your tools to dry
Last year during the Bread Baking phase of quarantine, we learned how important it is to let the loaf cool completely before digging in. A similar rule applies to your kitchen tools after you wash them. “A common mistake that I see that leads to kitchen tools getting ruined is putting them away and storing them while they are wet. This leads to wooden cutting boards getting warped, serving tools and gadgets growing mildew, and cast iron pans getting rusted,” says Chef Jill Devlin, the director of Little Kitchen Academy in Los Angeles.
Don’t rush the process! Devlin recommends allowing all your tools to fully dry before you put them away. “Wooden utensils and cutting boards should be hand-washed quickly and allowed to dry fully, which will really help extend their lifespan,” she says. “I apply a small amount of mineral oil to my wooden cutting boards to keep them in the best condition for years,” she adds.
3. You don’t remember the last time you changed your sponge
“Common cleaning mistakes that I witness start with the actual cleaning tools,” says Devlin. “Replace sponges and washcloths often. Especially if the sponge smells like mildew, you cannot rinse that off. Use a fresh sponge.”
She has a solid point: Cleaning with a dirty sponge or brush doesn’t exactly qualify as cleaning. “Stock the kitchen with fresh sponges and towels, and designate certain ones for drying clean hands and clean dishes. Then keep these separate from the towels that you use to wipe the dirty counter top or scrub food off of dishes.”
4. You’re using the wrong detergent
This is a surprising mistake many people make, says Li Greci, and it can lead to stained and scarred utensils. Avoid detergents that have bleach, he advises. Devlin adds that cleaning nonstick cookware with harsh scouring pads leads to deterioration of the cooking surface.
5. You’re using a metal spatula with a nonstick pan—and cooking with it over high heat
Both chefs say that one of the major kitchen tool mistakes is using metal tools in nonstick pans. This is not a good idea for those trying to maintain the quality of their cookware, because these utensils can easily scratch off the surface of the pan. “Stick to wooden or silicone utensils,” says Devlin.
In addition, most nonstick cookware is not equipped to withstand high temperatures on the stovetop or in the oven. Medium heat sautéing is the sweet spot when it comes to PTFE-coated nonstick skillets, so use these with scrambled eggs, pancakes, veggies, and other dishes that won’t require you to crank the heat up to nail a perfect sear. Cast iron or stainless steel cookware can be used over higher temperatures.
6. You don’t sharpen your knives
Knifes are your numbero uno in meal prep, and keeping them sharp doesn’t make chopping more efficient and easy; sharp knives are actually significantly safer than dull ones. Devlin says knives are the easiest kitchen tool to accidentally ruin, too. “The best way to extend their lifespan is to keep them clean and have them sharpened on occasion,” she says. For the easiest way, check out how to sharpen a knife—or have yours sharpened for you—here. (Also, see tip two about letting them dry completely before putting them away.)
7. You think more is more when it comes to kitchen tools
When it comes to cooking gadgets, Devlin recommends channeling your inner Marie Kondo and avoiding excess or overkill. “Quality over quantity absolutely applies to kitchen tools. A drawer full of flimsy plastic spoons, spatulas, and gadgets just isn’t necessary. Cooking is so much more fun when you are using durable utensils,” says Devlin. A takeaway? Paying a bit more for a few high-quality tools you’ll use every day is likely a better use of money than amassing a collection of strawberry hullers, cherry pitters, shrimp deveiners, and kale strippers. That being said, if these gadgets spark joy in your own cooking process, who are we to judge?
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