Tools: Tongs

Although I'm confident I could quit anytime I want, it's probably fair to admit that I have a tongs problem. I've got more than half a dozen pairs of tongs in my kitchen, of various lengths, designs and materials. Two are essential and constantly in use:

9" stainless steel tongs, spring activated: these are the most frequently grabbed-for tool in my kitchen, a natural extension of my hands. I use tongs for manipulating food in the pan, flipping steaks on the grill, pulling lids off of pots, serving plates, stirring pots and a hundred more things. Price: really cheap - <$10
12" stainless steel tongs, spring activated, with lock: when 9" isn't enough to keep your knuckles from singeing, reach for the longer version. Not as articulate as their shorter brethren, but invaluable for the grill, broiler or wok, when you don't want to futz around with a glove. Get the locking ones. Price: really cheap - <$10

Two other models earn their keep, though they are less frequently used:
9" stainless steel tongs with nylon tips, spring activated, with lock: as above, but safe for non-stick cookware, these are great for grabbing vegetables, flipping chicken breasts, etc. I'd use 'em all the time, except the tips don't "grab" quite as well as aluminum, and I worry about melting them, especially on the grill - they're only good for temps below 400F. Price: cheap - <$15
16" stainless steel, spring activated, with lock: sometimes - such as when i need to move a chicken off the smoker - 12" just isn't big enough. These tongs are really too long for most indoor uses, but they're perfect for tending wood, moving grates and relocating hot poultry. Get the locking ones. Price: cheap - <$15

Others range from handy-but-seldom-used to unsafe-at-any-speed. In particular, the stainless steel scissors-style tongs are completely useless for any task. Ditto for the bobby-pin design single-piece plastic tongs, which are too slippery to hold anything, even if they could muster the leverage for a decent pinch.

The lock may seem like unnecessary frill, but you'll appreciate it when you put tongs in the dishwasher or in a drawer; locking them shut makes for a much more compact package.

OXO makes all of the sizes I've mentioned; their tongs feature a nice non-slip rubber ridge on each handle, and they have held up to active use for years. (To be fair, I've been just as pleased with the no-name ones I picked up at a restaurant supply house for $4.)

Tools: Razor-Sharp Paddle of Doom

OK, doom may be a stretch - but this hand-held mandoline puts a serious hurt on anything that gets close to its double-edged blade: cloves of garlic, onions, cucumbers, fingertips, you get the idea. Very thin (2.5mm, or about 1/10”), uniform slices fly off the ceramic blade at an astounding rate; the double-edge means that you can slice on both the downstroke and upstroke, so a clove of garlic disappears in seconds.

What makes this gadget much more useful than a knife or a countertop mandoline is the ability to slice directly into a sauce pan or mixing bowl. Flick paper-thin wisps of garlic right onto your green beans. Float delicate onion rings into sizzling butter, for the start of a great curry. Make a cucumber salad in 30 seconds, without a knife - just shave into a serving bowl and toss with rice wine vinegar and a little sugar. Shred a head of cabbage into cole slaw in 2 minutes flat.

In addition to impressive performance, it’s easy to clean by hand, and also dishwasher safe. Inexpensive, too - about $25.

There are a couple of downsides. At 3”, the blade isn’t very wide; you’ll need to cut large onions in half, and heads of cabbage into quarters to fit. Then there’s the razor-sharp blade. A reviewer on Amazon aptly describes the situation as “99% glorious and 1% terrifying.” The blade is incredibly sharp, and the included plastic finger guard is absolutely useless. Suck it up, and you'll be rewarded with a terrific tool.

Williams-Sonoma has these guys in stock, or available online here.

Subterranean Tuscan Potatoes Blues

Here's my Tuscan Potatoes recipe as a Bob Dylan video:

Walkthrough: Pulled Pork & Chicken

Here's the timeline for our Labor Day weekend feast - recipes will follow.

Friday: my butcher cut me a beautiful 9-pound Boston Butt, the ideal section of pork for smoking. The Boston Butt is the top portion of the front shoulder of the pig - the other, bonier, half of the shoulder is the Picnic. I also picked up a couple of plump chickens, about 4 and a half pounds each.

Saturday, 9PM: rubbed the Boston Butt with a generous quantity of the Tri-Wizard, supplemented with celery seed, mustard powder, onion powder, brown sugar and paprika. Popped it into a 2.5 gallon Zip-Lok and watched "Human Nature," our Netflix pick.

Sunday, 9PM: took the pork out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter for an hour, still wrapped. At about half past the hour, I warmed up the smoker and prepared a mix of hickory and pecan wood, for sweetness and tang.

Sunday, 10PM: with the temperature at a perfect 225F, the pork hit the pit. Pork shoulder ought to spend about 1.5 hours in the smoker per pound of meat.

Monday, 9:30AM
: took the chickens out of the fridge and let them rest in the sink for about 20 minutes, still wrapped, while I prepared their accompaniments. I cleared out the cavities, rinsed the chickens well, then stuffed each one with 4 cloves of garlic, 4 whole cloves and an onion, cut in half. Light salt, pepper and paprika.

Monday, 10:30AM: with the temp still holding steady at 225F, the chickens joined the pig in the pit. Chickens should go about 4 hours in the smoker. Time to make the potato salad and cole slaw!

Monday, 3:00PM: the chickens come off the pit, after 4 and a half hours, with an internal temp of about 165F. I'll let them sit for 30 minutes, while I make a light sauce, then pull the meat off the bones and mix it with the sauce. Wrapped up, it'll stay warm for a couple of hours.

Monday, 4:00PM: after 18 hours, the pig's internal temp is only 170F, but we've got to go - we're taking the show on the road today. It gets a triple wrapping of aluminum foil before going into an ice chest.

Monday, 6:00PM: I unwrap the pig and pull it with two pairs of tongs. It's perfect: tender, smoky and juicy. Let's eat!