Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener

Any chef will tell you, a sharp knife is the most important tool in the kitchen. I have tried many different types of sharpening methods, from stones to steels, electric to manual. Stones are hard to use because you need to maintain a very consistent angle while using it, and other gimmicky sharpening tools are just not good enough to give you a good edge. And very, very few can sharpen a serrated blade. I won’t lie — I can’t use a manual sharpening stone to save my life.

My dad got me the Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener and I swear I’ve never seen its equal. It is approximately the size of an electric drill and uses sanding belts of three different grits: 80 for repairing blades, 220 for sharpening, and 6000 for putting on that smooth polish. The sanding belts are very easy to change and last long enough for you to sharpening everything in the house, from your scissors and kitchen knives to axe and lawnmower blades. The head of the tool swivels so you can use it free-hand to sharpen very large items, like shovels.

One of the best features is the guards that attach to the tool that keep the sharpening angle perfectly consistent. The first guard offers a 50° angle for large hunting and butchery knives, and a 40° angle for thinner knives. The second guard allows you to sharpen serrated blades and heavier outdoor blades.

Best of all, this sharpening system only costs around $70 and packs of 6 replacement belts cost around $9. They also offer packs of 2 diamond belts for around $26 for sharpening those pesky ceramic blades.

-- Joel Roush  

Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener
$69

Available from Amazon



Nuance Wine Finer

This is my girlfriend’s cool tool — not sure how long she’s had it but I’ve been using hers for a couple months. It’s a multipurpose wine tool. It fits snugly down inside the neck of a wine bottle (never had it pop out), allowing you to pour without drips. At the same time, it’s aerating and filtering the wine. It also comes with a stopper for when you’re finished pouring.

We did a taste test with friends at Thanksgiving. Uncorked a bottle of red, poured a glass, then put the wine finer in and poured a glass. The difference in taste was amazing. I’m sure there are people out there who have the patience and forethought to uncork and decant their reds ahead of time, but I’m not one of them.

I love that this thing fits down inside the neck of the bottle and then acts as a stopper – not some separate aerating device that you have to go get each time you want to pour a glass. And since it’s acting as the stopper, you don’t have to deal with cleaning it until you’re finished with the bottle.

-- Mary Lindsey  

Nuance Wine Finer with Flat Top
$21

Available from Amazon



Digital Day Counter

I bought two of these Digital Day Counters a few years ago. But I really did not start to use them till I began making water and milk kefirs.

Now I just stick one of these suction-cupped timers on a jar of fermenting kefir, and it lets me know how many days it has been fermenting.

Most timers are set up for seconds, minutes, and hours. These tiny timers count up to 99 days. They are water resistant, and yes they work in the refrigerator.
Cool.

-- KentKB  

DaysAgo Digital Day Counter
$14/2-pack

Available from Amazon



Quirky Verseur 4-in1 Wine Opener

In theory, corkscrews are great tools. In practice, however, they’re often either challenging to use, over-engineered, or prohibitively expensive.

But as I opened a bottle of wine on New Year’s Eve, I realized that the Quirky Verseur is by far the easiest, fastest corkscrew I’ve ever used.

Simply slide the flared plastic tube of this odd-looking device over the top of the wine bottle, squeeze gently to hold it in place, insert the corkscrew until the tip pierces the cork, and and start turning clockwise. The cork comes out with hardly any effort. No pulling, no prying, nothing but a clean, extracted cork 100% of the time.

But it’s not just one tool — it’s four tools rolled into one. In addition to being a great corkscrew, there’s a recessed foil cutter in the handle to help you swiftly get to the cork (it takes a few times to get the hang of using this), a pouring spout for drip-less wine delivery, and a minimalist bottle stopper to keep the wine you don’t drink fresh. Everything fits together in one piece for easy storing. It’s a wine-opening multi-tool.

Quirky Verseur 4-in1 Wine Opener
$17

Available from Amazon



Boska Holland Toastabags

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good kitchen novelty, and it was certainly that affliction that initially drew me to the Boska Holland Toastabags, but it turns out they’re both practical and really useful too.

These “toasting bags” are synthetic envelopes that create a near-perfect grilled cheese sandwich using just your regular toaster. You can even add little a ham, or perhaps use a pita with some veggies instead. I was skeptical of these claims, as found on the product’s packaging, but they’re true.

You simply assemble your sandwich as usual, but sans butter, then slip it into a Toastabag. Insert the whole shebang in your toaster and drop the lever. After one medium-darkness cycle, your sandwich will be hot and the bread toasted — complete with little grill marks.

The secret is the envelopes, of course, which are made from some sort of conductive material that amplifies the heat from the toaster’s elements. (Apparently woven fiberglass coasted in PTFE, AKA Teflon.)

The bags work best with a wide-slot toaster, and slim bread, but I’ve managed to stuff even thicker slices in the bag with just a little effort. Be sure to monitor the “grilling” process, at least at first, as it happens a lot faster than you’ll expect. The bag is hot when it emerges; probably too hot for some children.

The manufacturer claims that the bags are free of any mess, and they certainly don’t muck up your toaster, but they do such a good job of melting the cheese that some will ooze out inside. No problem, just let the bag cool and turn it inside-out to clean the non-stick surface.

The video at the product’s website presents a fair and honest depiction of both the process and results. You get a pack of 3 or more bags in a set, each of which are reusable. I have yet to wear out my first one; they are said to be good for at least 50 cycles.

-- Gordon Meyer  

Boska Holland Toastabags, Set of 3
$9

Available from Amazon



Cuissential SlickFroth

I often mix stuff into my coffee: cream, coconut oil, medium chain triglycerides, taurine, even some resistant starches like inulin as part of my low carb life. Previoius to getting the slickfroth, I had to choose between a small hand blender or a spoon. I did not expect much (you know, a battery powered small toy) but I have found that this device works much better than I expected as a mini-handblender for liquids and powders. While it will not chop up the contents of thick smoothies, it will mix liquids together or powders into liquids very well. It offers a very useful tool in-between a hand blender (over-kill for many situations) and just mixing with a spoon (often not adequate).

-- Dale Simpson  

Kuissential SlickFroth 2.0
$18

Available from Amazon



Floppy Tube Garlic Peeler

When you are pulling together a meal, anything you can do to minimize prep time up front — or more importantly, along the way — helps make things run more smoothly and cleanly. I love garlic and often increase (or double) suggested amounts in recipes for the dishes I like to make. I don’t mind peeling garlic per se, but it can get tedious and slow especially when a recipe asks for a lot. Considering how sticky it makes your hands as well, doing this mid-cook can be a real time suck and throw off one’s rhythm.

This amazingly simple tool makes a huge difference. You can peel multiple cloves of garlic in just a couple seconds with no mess whatsover. Whether you are prepping for a recipe or realize you need more garlic once you are already going, this can save a great deal of time and energy. You just pop 2-5 cloves into the tube, roll it with the palm of your hand, turn the tube on it’s side and voila – the peeled cloves just fall out. At this point its just a quick mince, press or slice and you move on.

On top of the usage benefits, cleaning and storage are also exceedingly convenient. Just giving it a quick rinse under the tap releases the accumulated skins inside the tube and is a sufficient clean most of the time. After several uses — or each usage if you are germaphobic — you may give it a thorough wash as it is dishwasher safe.

-- Ali Kafshi  

Floppy tube garlic peeler
$7

Available from Amazon



Mastrad Orka Silicone Oven Mitt

The modern method of roasting a turkey calls for roasting breast-down for the first hour, then turning the bird. “Turn the bird using tongs” the instructions say. (Yeah, right. Tongs. Sure, I’m going to try to pick up and flip a 20 lb piece of hot, moist meat using tongs. Not!)

Fortunately, I have Mastrad Orka oven mitts instead.

With these silicone mitts on, I can just pick up the turkey with my hands, and turn it over! Solo! No tongs. No worries about dropping it. And even though the oven was at 400 degrees I did not feel any heat on my hands, not when taking the roaster out of the oven nor when picking up the bird and turning it over.

With a quick swish with soap and hot water, toss them into the drying rack and they are clean and ready to be used again.

I did not buy these mitts, they were purchased by a former housemate. I would not have bought them, I thought traditional quilted style oven mitts did everything I needed. I had no idea I’d ever need these silicon mitts. But they are here in my kitchen this morning, and I’m ever so thankful on this Thanksgiving that I have them! I’m going to recommend them to everyone now.

-- JC Dill  

Mastrad Pro Silicone Oven Mitt 11-Inch
$25

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mastrad



Wide Mouth Canning Jar Accessories

I was planning to write a review of the Norpro Wide Mouth Funnel, because it’s one of my favorite kitchen tools and has revolutionized my food storage process. But then I realized the funnel is a small a part of a larger system of jars in my kitchen.

The iconic canning jar — better known as the Mason or Ball jar — is the only cheap, standardized storage solution I know. There are, of course, fancier, more expensive jars available, but buying enough of them to be truly useful is cost-prohibitive, and with new designs you run the risk the company will stop making them after you’re heavily invested. Weck, Fido and Bernoulli jars, while classic and useful for specific purposes, lack full standardization: you take apart the lid for cleaning and then wonder which jar that lid belongs to. Not so the canning jar.

Usually around $1 apiece (or 25 to 50 cents in thrift stores), canning jars are cheap enough to build a collection. I have at least a dozen of each size in regular rotation in my kitchen, pantry and fridge and use them many times a day:

  • In the morning I pull out a few 4oz jars and dole out my vitamins for the day.
  • I pack lunch items, including soup, tea, pudding, and nuts or seeds, in half pint and pint jars which then go into an insulated lunch bag (available at your local thrift store).
  • We use the pint size as drinking glasses, of course. At our wedding we had an assortment of jars and colored sharpies for guests to label them with. (Classy, I know.)
  • My immersion blender fits snugly into a wide-mouth jar to make shakes, mayonnaise or whipped cream. Leftovers can be easily capped and stored.
  • When I make sauerkraut or other anaerobic ferments, I use a 4oz canning jar as a weight inside a wide mouth or bail-top jar, to keep the veggies under the brine.
  • Straight-sided jars can be used in the freezer without breaking. Put them in warm water for a few minutes and the food slides right out.
  • Their usefulness is by no means limited to the kitchen.

funnel

The website Food In Jars has a useful taxonomy of canning jar sizes.

Presumably because the patent has long expired, the canning jar is fair game for all kinds of innovative accessories. My favorites are the aforementioned funnel, which works elegantly with a small strainer in both wide or standard mouth jars. One-piece lids are also handy.

There are a myriad of other innovative accessories, including the Cuppow (previously reviewed on Cool Tools), Kraut Kaps, ReCAP, Tattler lids, and the Holdster. So far none of these have proven themselves indispensable, but they’re all evidence that the magnificent canning jar continues to inspire.

A couple of caveats:

Unless you have tiny hands (or an excellent dish washer), stick to mostly wide mouth jars. Standard jars are hard to clean (except for the shallow 4oz size).

Although “salad in a jar” is a thing, canning jars don’t make great lunch containers if you pack sandwiches or just want a “bowl like” dining experience.

As far as I’m concerned there really isn’t a perfect non-plastic lunch container on the US market. I’ve tried many, from Indian tiffins to Ikea glass lunch containers. Inevitably they aren’t leak proof, or they are but then they get a dent, or you lose the lid, or the seal gets filthy or wears out, and then the parts aren’t replaceable, or the company stops making them and you have to buy a new set. I dream that one day someone will design a standardized, open-source, leak-proof travel bowl. I already have a name for it: the extra-wide mouth.

-- Reanna Alder  



Dorkfood DSV Temperature Controller for Sous Vide

Works flawlessly, controlling temperature to one degree. Using it with my 25-year-old Proctor Slo-Cooker (Original cost $19). Best thing so far is 48-hour short ribs. Cooking them at 140 degrees for two whole days makes the best tasting beef dish I ever had. The meat is totally different texture than what a braise gives you and they still are pink on the inside.

It sure beats spending $400 for a sous vide water oven. I just set it up in the garage and let it go. I do use it with my vacuum food packer but you can use it with regular zip lock bags, (just remove the air using the archimedes principle).

-- Bruce Johnson