I thought I knew of all the ways I could use my kitchen tongs. In my kitchen, that meant flipping deeply seared meat in the pan or thick pucks of zucchini or tofu I like to let turn golden on one side, undisturbed, before turning them to brown on the other. But since I've been eating out at restaurants less frequently and opting to cook at home, I've found that my tongs (a trusty pair of silicone-tipped kitchen tongs can do a lot more for me than just flipping tasty foods.
Maybe you're a kitchen whiz and you knew these all along, but for this amateur cook, discovering new ways to put a set of tongs to work makes me feel like a hero in my own home. Once I stumbled on a few new uses of my own, I looked for more suggestions online, and now I'm using those, too.
Reaching items on the top shelf
At 5 feet 3 inches, it's fair to say I'm shorter than the average bear, but more importantly, I keep certain lesser used kitchen ingredients, like packages of dried tangerine peel and chipotle chiles, in a top cabinet. I can reach the front from the top of a folding step stool, but often the items I need are in the back.
The long reach of a 9- or 12-inch pair of kitchen tongs gets me what I need -- especially loose packages -- and then returns the item to its rightful place. Kitchen tongs are also great for grabbing an item and dragging it closer to the front of the cabinet, like a can of tomato paste, so I can reach it myself.
Cleaning window blinds
While researching how to clean window blinds fast, a chore I want to do as seldom as possible, I came across an inspiring use for kitchen tongs: affixing sponges on the underside of each grip and closing the whole contraption around each slat. Then you simply slide the tool from one end of the blind to the other, and move on to the next. Full disclosure: I wound up using a vacuum attachment to clean my horizontal blinds this time because I can't reach the top slats without a chair, but I'm looking forward to trying out this technique.
If I can find a way to burn myself, I probably will. I'm the person who has to touch the hot thing with my bare hands, probably because a few seconds of discomfort seems like an acceptable trade-off to get my toast onto a plate as quickly as possible. Since I've been using my kitchen tongs more often in general, I now reach for them when I want to grab toast. The favorite pair in my kitchen now, from Oxo, are gentle enough not to crush the bread.
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Ultimate citrus juicer
I've been wanting to buy a citrus juicer because the old-fashioned style I have requires a lot of shoulder work and never gets out all the juice. Instead, I've been placing a small mesh strainer over a bowl, cutting the citrus into quarters and squeezing it with my hands around a fork. Effective, especially at finding cuts on my hands. But also messy and ridiculous.
That all changed when I saw a tip online about using tongs as a lemon, lime and orange juicer, by cutting the fruit, placing it between the arms, and squeezing with both hands. Very effective! Just beware of side spray, and modulate your strength. At first, I was crushing so hard I had to fish out the peels from the grooves on the inside of the tongs.
Now I mostly quarter my citrus and gently squeeze it between the silicone tips, right over the bowl and fine mesh strainer. Since I'm typically just juicing one lemon or lime at a time, I haven't felt the need to buy another specialized tool.
Best hot pasta scoop -- hear me out
This is my biggest revelation. I've always used a pasta scoop to retrieve my cooked noodles from a pot of boiling water, or else dumped the whole pot over a large mesh strainer, which itself sat on top of a bowl to collect the pasta water in case I wanted to add some back into my sauce or noodles.
The scoop always lets long noodles slip out, which is frustrating as the pasta begins to overcook. The dump-your-pot method is hot, heavy and a bigger hassle than it needs to be. Now I just use my kitchen tongs right at the stove, grabbing long noodle strands and dropping them into a medium fine mesh strainer that sits over a bowl to catch any hot water that drips away.
Admittedly, this technique probably works best for long pasta and also for blanched vegetables, even leaves. No crushing at all. I still used the dump-it-all method for shorter pasta, like penne, probably more from habit than anything else, but I may try a kitchen spider-style spoon strainer next time.
Grabbing hot ramekins, baking sheets, oven racks
Remember the toast? Once I figured out that kitchen tongs and hot toast go together like peanut butter and jelly, I started absently reaching for the tongs to grab other hot items in one hand while supporting them with a hot pad in the other.
Examples: removing a hot baking sheet from the oven, pulling out or pushing in a hot oven rack, removing small bowls from the microwave and ramekins from the microwave or oven.
Depending on the size and shape of the bowls and plates, this might be a risky maneuver, especially because the bowl could slip in the tongs' grip and spill its burning content all over you, or fall to the floor and break. So far this hasn't happened to me, but please, if you try this yourself, exercise the utmost caution and always have a hot pad and steadying hand ready to support the item -- the tongs should be used primarily to guide.
Cleaning the grill
There are specialized grill tongs for food and tools for scraping and cleaning the grill, but any tong can also help you wield paper towels, an onion or whatever you use for light cleaning on the grill surface. It's better than using your hands, and you get a surprising amount of leverage and maneuverability this way.
For the record, here's a heavier duty approach that CNET recommends for cleaning your outdoor BBQ and grill plates.
If you're on a kitchen streak like I am, here are 21 cheap and easy meals to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 15 other essential kitchen tools, all the Instant Pots you can buy and our favorite cookware sets of the year.
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First published May 2, 2020 at 7 a.m. EST.