When Culinary Gadgetry Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

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I still remember the sight of my first -- and only -- glass cooktop. It gleamed in the soft glow of the kitchen lights like some beautifully alien technology. With all of the coils and heating elements contained under a sleek, shiny surface, it would be a breeze to clean...or so it promised.

Instead, I found out quickly that the glass cooktop was not only terribly easy to get dirty -- it was also terribly difficult to clean. Within only a few months, its surface was scarred with what would have been the most minor of spills on a regular electric or gas stove. Spills that could have easily been wiped clean from a steel surface, but which stuck stubbornly to the glass cooktop.

Those spills were even more firmly adhered to the cooktop by the fact that the heating elements practically glued any spills -- even water! -- into place more quickly than you could grab a rag. And forget about trying to clean the spills up right after they'd occurred anyway; the surface was always too hot to even come near with a rag, and stayed that way long after you'd turned off the burners.

Some kitchen gadgets seem too good to be true, but aren't: My countertop Breville convection oven, for example, is the perfect marriage between a toaster and a full-sized oven. Others, however, are simply a frustrating waste of money.

Sandy Webster Hall, a personal chef in Houston, recalls her first encounter with the NuWave Oven after she was selected to test recipes for the manufacturer.

"Given how hot our summers are, I was excited to roast stuff in less time, less heat," Hall said. "Pathetic would be the best description of the final results, and the thing was HUGE, like having R2D2 squatting on the counter. It lived in our attic until I donated it to Goodwill."

Personal chefs such as Hall find themselves testing out every gadget, gizmo and unitasker that comes along, whether in hopes of saving time and energy during a busy cook day for their clients, or because they're faced with a kitchen full of appliances that their clients have purchased yet rarely use.

One such instrument for personal chef Lisa Brisch was an electric tortilla press, which she quickly discarded in favor of her good old griddle.

"You make the dough, press it and cook it on the same gadget," said Brisch. "Problem is, it doesn't get hot enough to make those wonderful brown spots of flavor. Returned!"

Even gadgets that others may find useful aren't always best in the wrong hands, said chef Carlin Breinig. And -- like Brisch's griddle -- aren't better substitutes for cookware or utensils that already do the job.

"I am rice cooker-impaired," Breinig admitted. "I got one since I had only heard good things, but I scorch in it; doesn't work for me. My saucier pan works wonderfully."

For chef Jan Harding, it was a mandoline. "I don't use it often, and it always takes me too long to figure out how to put the blades in the right way and position the food correctly," said Harding. "My knife is faster, though not quite so precise."

As for me, I'm living with a gas stove for the first time in my life and I couldn't be happier. When I turn the burner off, the heat goes off with it. And when I spill something, it wipes up in seconds flat.

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