Recently, I’ve realized that almost all of the regrettable purchases I’ve made throughout my life are consequences of the following two truths:
- I like food.
- I am bad at making food.
Also, there’s truth #3: given the choice between the easy way to do something and the right way, I will pick the easy way every time.
These three truths put me squarely in the crosshairs of the kitchen gadget industry. Throughout the years, I have made a number of purchases that have likely landed me on marketing lists with names like “These Giant Suckers Will Buy Anything.”
I may be a giant sucker, but through (great) trial and (much) error, I have found some kitchen gadgets that actually work. Below, I rank my purchases from “Dumbest Product Ever Created” to “Best Purchase of My Life.”
The New Coke Award for Dumbest Product Ever
#9 – Grillex
Several years ago, I saw a deal on a device from the Home Shopping Network that promised succulent Brazilian steakhouse-style meat grilled directly on your stovetop. This product was called the Grillex. The Grillex! I bought it anyways. To give you an idea of just how dumb the Grillex was, this indoor device included a charcoal briquette tray to provide “added flavor” and presumably “death by carbon monoxide poisoning.” The Grillex gave us one smoke-filled evening of fun and charred-on-the-outside, raw-on-the-inside pork loin before being retired to the basement.
The Cornballer Award for Most Dangerous Product Ever
#8. Wireless Meat Thermometer
A wireless thermometer is a trap for hungry, stupid people. It seems simple. You just put the metal rod into your meat, close the lid to the grill and set your remote monitor to alert you when the meat has reached the desired temperature. Ten minutes later, the monitor beepbeepbeeps and you run back outside to collect your perfect meat. All you have to do is remove this pesky metal…HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT!!! Every time I’ve used our wireless meat thermometer, I’ve ended up with a giant meat-thermometer-shaped blister on my thumb and index finger. Every. Single. Time.
A mandoline is a device for slicing food thinly and uniformly. “Why don’t you just use a knife?” you might ask. Because I saw a video where someone used a mandoline to slice a potato into homemade chips. “Why don’t you just eat the bag of chips sitting on the shelf above the potatoes in your pantry?” you might ask. Because…uh…maybe you should keep your comments to yourself.
Deserae was the first one to use the mandoline. “Hey Dustin, this is pretty cool! I…AHHHHHHHH!!!!!”
Deserae sliced a chunk out of her thumb and started covering the homemade potato chips with blood. “I’ll get it!” I said. “See, you just have to be careful and…AHHHHHHHH!!”
Later, we discovered the safety cover we had left in the box in our haste to make homemade potato chips. Also, the potato chips were not good.
#6. Deep Fryer
I covered this in a previous blog post named “Deep-Fried Disaster.” It was, in fact, a disaster.
#5. Cast Iron Skillet
One day while procrastinating, I watched a whole bunch of videos of manly men talking about the manly art of cooking with a cast iron skillet. When Deserae came home, I declared my need for a cast iron skillet. She made a face.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
Deserae bought me a cast iron skillet. It took ten times longer to clean than our non-stick skillet and burned the food just the same. It did not make me feel manlier. Deserae watched me scrub the same spot for five minutes after dinner.
“I don’t understand.”
#4. Grill Grates
We have a perfectly normal grill, except for one spot that is 10,000 degrees hotter than Hades. If food touches this spot for even one second, it bursts into flames. GrillGrates are grates that you put on top of your existing grates to “provide an even sear and prevent flare-ups.” On my first day of GrillGrates, I tested my new purchase by putting two burgers directly over Hades. A few minutes later, I flipped them over and sure enough – perfect sear! I shut the lid to the grill and walked inside to grab a plate. I came back out fifteen seconds later to two smoldering balls of meat.
The Good Idea
#3. Old Timey Popcorn Machine
You know how if you give a goldfish too much food, it’ll keep eating until it explodes? I’m the same way with popcorn. That’s why, when Deserae surprised me one Christmas with an old-timey popcorn machine, I nearly wept tears of joy. I fired up the machine and spent the next twenty minutes stuffing myself full of beautiful, buttery popcorn. I then spent the next two hours discovering why the rest of the world eats popcorn from bags that they can throw away as I scrubbed hot grease from every nook and cranny of the machine.
#2. Electric Smoker
An electric smoker makes screwing up a meal virtually impossible. You just put your food in a mini fridge-looking thing, set the temperature, throw in some wood chips and come back three hours later to succulent meat. The first time I used ours, I did everything right and came back three hours later too…a very gray slab of ribs. Undeterred, I took my first bite. It tasted like stale smoke – like I’d roasted ribs in an ash tray. I read the instructions again and learned about one small step I’d missed: open the smoke vent.
The Best Idea
#1. Sous Vide
For the past two months, I’ve been talking up sous vide to anyone who will listen. The idea is that you drop vacuum-sealed food into a pot of water heated to a very specific temperature with a sous vide stick. Eventually, the food reaches the exact temperature of the water, and you’ll have perfectly cooked steak or chicken or whatever. It is literally impossible to screw up even for me.
The only problem is the food comes out of the bag looking like a gray piece of meat that you wouldn’t feed your dog. No problem – you just sear it in a pan for 30 seconds, and it is perfect. Except for some reason, every time I try to sear something, I almost start a fire and the food ends up horrible.
The other day, I finally turned to Google to learn about the perfect sear. Google said to try sprinkling a bit of flour over the meat and searing in butter. Great! I wanted a lot of sear, so I used a lot of flour.
“I used a secret ingredient tonight!” I said to Deserae as she took her first bite.
“Hmmm…” she said with a polite smile.
Uh oh. That was the same thing she did when she ate the stale smoke ribs. I took one bite and got a mouthful of flour.
Unbelievable. Sous vide is foolproof, and I’d found a way to fool it anyways.
LIFE LESSON #108
You can choose between the right way and the easy way, but just know that the easy way tastes REAL bad.