A set of good knives is a must, but sometimes another kitchen gadget or tool will get the job done better. Sometimes this has nothing to do with efficiency. Sometimes it's just about playing with new toys.
There are few kitchen gadgets that can be pretty darned useful. In some cases, I think they're essential. Don't buy a ton of them, though. They take up storage space so make sure you're only buying those that suit your cooking style. I've bought a few that I thought would be great but, once I used them, I took them down to the thrift store vowing to never use them again. Fortunately, the following list only has one of those in it.
Yes, I actually know people who prefer to use a paring knife when peeling potatoes, carrots, and the like. I think they need to wake up to reality and reassess their life choices. A good vegetable peeler with an easy grip handle and a swiveling blade is way easier to use than a paring knife. They also get rid of the skin without cutting away so much of the stuff you want to keep. My wife likes a fixed blade peeler, but I think she's just trying to justify the fact that she bought a couple of them at a thrift store for her and the kids. I think someone else bought them, used them once, and got rid of them like I might have
A swiveling blade slides over the contours of the vegetable, making proper peeling easy. They can also be used to cut ultra thin slices of the vegetables themselves, for salads and such. The blades tend to stay sharp for a long time, but they can rust pretty easily so make sure you dry them off quickly after washing.
Regardless of the commercials you see on TV, you don't want to use a bread knife to cut open a can of tomatoes. Hammers don't work so well, either. You need a good can opener with a comfortable grip and sharp cutting wheels. Yes, I know. You've got that little fold-out model that used to come with your father's C-rations or flips out of your nifty multi-tool. I know how to use them but I'm not going to kill my hands using those things on a daily basis.
I'm torn with this one and, to be honest, I don't own one. The only one I own is part of a corer – peeler – slicer machine. It's awesome. (Pick one up one of those if you haven't got one already.) The only reason I can think of wanting a stand-alone apple corer, though, is if you're baking a lot of whole apples. Most of the time I'm cooking apples I'm slicing them, and getting rid of the core is easy. I just cut it out as I'm cutting the rest of the apple.
I don't own one of these, either. I just wish I did. Not for cutting nice little melon balls, although that would be nice. I've seen these pop the core out of an apple as easy as popping toasted bread out of the toaster. Maybe you have some other uses for them you'd like to share.
A flat-blade skewer with a flat blade is the best choice when grilling or broiling kebabs. Those wood ones sort of work, and are really cheap, but hey. It you want to make it easy get some decent ones.
Scissors (kitchen shears)
I have a pair of Wustoff kitchen shears and I wouldn't trade them for anything. Well ... maybe some things but they'd have to be pretty cool. I used to think kitchen shears were just silly, until I started using them. Now I won't do without. Beyond the basic “scissor” aspect, they're great for cutting through the center of a center of chicken breast, the wing tips, or trimming herbs among other things. The Wustoff shears are great because they come apart for easy cleaning and sharpening.
Yeah, it looks cool, but you don't need one. Get a grater or a micro-plane, instead.
Large Narrow Spatula
I used to just use a bread knife to spread frosting on a cake. My wife came home with a large narrow spatula one day. It took a bit to get used to, but it cut my frosting time down to less than a quarter of the time it took with the butter knife, and half the time with a rubber spatula. If you're frosting cakes, you'll want one.
It's an unfortunately truth, but even these days some bottles don't have screw tops. I've tried opening a bottle using the edge of a counter, like you see in the movies, but all I managed to do was damage my counter and hurt my hand. The bottle cap laughed at me. Do you know how humiliating it is to be laughed at by a bottle cap? I prefer the double ended variety, one side is blunt, for bottles, and the other is pointed, for opening holes in the tops of juice, stock, and condensed milk cans. There's just no reason in my mind to get out the can opener just to pour liquid from a can.
No, I don't drink wine and spirits. Yes, I do own a corkscrew. I don't use it very often, but there have been a few occasions when I've needed to remove a cork from a bottle. You just can't do it decently without one.
Picture by Patti Adair