“Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.” Thomas Carlyle.

At one time I had a plethora of pots and pans. I had drawers full of knives, spatulas of all shapes and sizes, and kitchen gadgets galore. As my love of cooking and manning the grill has progressed I have learned a lesson any grizzled old chef would tell; quality is not only more important than quantity, quality is the only thing of importance at all!

The importance of this point came from one of my sons when he was home visiting from college. Some months before he had asked for a decent kitchen knife as a birthday present. Having used his new kitchen knife for a few months, he came home and simply could not believe the lack of quality I possessed in knives.

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Soon thereafter, I spent a few dollars more than I usually would and purchased my first decent kitchen knife. Less than six months later I now have five quality knives – they’re the only knives I’ve used in months. An overabundance of low quality danger-blades now sit in a kitchen drawer simply taking up space. 

My kitchen knives aren’t the only area of recent improvement. When my wife wanted an upgrade from our old electric range, to a double oven with convection, I put my two cents in and we went with gas (oven and stove-top.) It was the perfect setting to begin seasoning the old rusty cast iron pan that had gone so long ignored beneath the low quality nonstick pans I so frequently reached for. At this point, I have my pan seasoned well enough that I’d rather no one else use it or clean it for me. I’ve learned how to use it, how to clean it, and how to store it.

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Another cooking tool I absolutely love is a simple attachment for my barbecue grill. When I first bought my “Party-Q” by BBQ GURU, the attachment cost about the same amount as my grill. Although hesitant to spend the money, I went ahead with the purchase. The Party-Q attachment has revolutionized the way I man my grill/smoker. Gone are the days of worrying about smoker temps or outdoor temperatures and how they’ll affect the process. I light a large pile of charcoal at one small spot at the top, set the temperature I want my smoker to stay at. Then I wait 15 or 20 minutes for the Party-Q fan to bring the coals to the correct temperature, place the meat, and walk away. The Party-Q thermostat tells the unit’s fan when to give the fire oxygen, and keeps the temperature exactly where I set it. So easy it feels like I’m cheating.

The importance of having the right tools for the job cannot be overstated. My eldest son works on cars as a hobby, it’s one of the ways he likes to unwind. As such, he has a fair amount of tools. They’re all quality tools and he keeps them well maintained. Another of my sons is a musician. He owns drums, guitars, amps, and an array of other musical instruments. Again, he loves them and goes to great lengths to take care of them. Ask him to play a song on an old ratty guitar, and you can almost see him wince… like his sister who’s into photography. She’s not interested in an easy cellphone selfie. Just put a good camera in her hands and turn her loose.

It’s the same with cooking as it is with the car tools, musical instruments, and cameras. Sure, one can work on a car with cheap tools – a song can be played on a dime-store guitar – a mountain can be captured on a cell phone – however, if you want quality in the end, begin with quality. Rather than buying an obscene number of junk tools, go with a small number of very high quality tools. It will declutter your cook-space, make the entire process easier, and in the long run you’ll spend less on a one time purchase of a good tool than you’d spend constantly replacing cheap materials.

6 thoughts on “The Right Stuff

    1. Scott, my first decent knife purchase was fairly inexpensive in knife terminology. I bought 2 Victorinox Knives ($40 range.)

      They are not top of the line, but they’re not bottom of the bucket like I already had. They were my first taste of something decent. My last few knife purchases have been in the $100 range, W├╝sthof… as much of a quality jump over the Victorinox as the Victorinox were above my junkers.

      Last month as a birthday present I got a pretty sweet fillet knife: Cangshan ( Japanese made with Swedish Steel.)

    1. Sheila, A common myth is that using soap when washing a cast-iron skillet will damage the seasoning… only half true. When I’m done cooking I use a gentle dish soap with a soft sponge and very hot water. If done while the pan is still hot, it’ll clean easily and quickly without de-seasoning the pan (just don’t use an abrasive pad to wash it.) Also, right when I’m done cooking, I take a good firm metal spatula and give it a good scrape while the oils are still in it to knock loose any residue. The second I’m done washing it, I dry it very well with a few paper towels.

      As far as storing it, just keep it somewhere dry if humidity is a factor (like it is here in Alabama!)

      Seasoning a good skillet cannot be rushed. There’s a process in the oven whereby you can oil it up and get a “starter-season” on it, but to get it “just right,” it just takes time!

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