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The 'Unitasker' Kitchen Gadgets Alton Brown Loves To Loathe

Dec 23, 2015
The Daily Dot / YouTube

Cooking gadgets seem to be a solid go-to when you're not sure what to give someone. Who wouldn't be charmed with a laser-guided pizza cutter? A one-click butter dispenser? An electric bacon-bowl maker?

Alton Brown, that's who. The Food Network host and celebrity chef has always railed against single-use kitchen gadgets. And on All Things Considered, he urges you to think twice before putting these items in your virtual or actual shopping cart.

In early December, Brown made a video for The Daily Dot in which he "reviewed," so to speak, several items. It's basically a guide on what not to get the cook in your life.

As Brown tells ATC's Ari Shapiro, "I have railed against unitaskers for 20 years. I've come around to liking them as strategic gifts for people you don't like."

Brown explains why you may not need meat claws, an egg cuber or the Rollie Eggmaster. You can listen to the interview by clicking the button above.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's take a moment now to talk about the gift of cooking gadgets. They seem to be a solid go-to when you're not sure what to give someone. I mean, who wouldn't be charmed by a laser-guided pizza cutter, a one-click butter dispenser, an electric bacon-bowl maker?

ALTON BROWN: Which, by the way, also makes a lovely yarmulke.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BROWN: That's a problem, of course because nobody actually wants a bacon yarmulke.

SHAPIRO: But it makes your hair smell so nice. Alton Brown has always railed against single-use kitchen gadgets, and he's here to urge you to think twice before you put an item like those in your virtual or actual shopping cart.

BROWN: Indeed.

SHAPIRO: The Food Network host and celebrity chew made a video for The Daily Dot where he reviewed, so to speak, some of these items. And it's basically a guide for what not to get the cook in your life. He joins us from Atlanta. Alton Brown, welcome to the show.

BROWN: Thank you very much for having me on the show. And you're right. I have railed against unitaskers for about 20 years. But I'm actually starting to come around to like them as strategic gifts for people you don't like.

SHAPIRO: Or people who appreciates the gag gift.

BROWN: Or - yeah, certainly gag. And believe it or not, you've got a device in your studio right now that, pretty soon, will be making gagging noises.

SHAPIRO: We're going to get to that device in just a moment. But first, this sound...

(SOUNDBITE OF MICROPHONE INTERFERENCE)

SHAPIRO: ...Is me scraping the shield of my microphone with my new, frighteningly sharp what I like to call Wolverine claws. But these are actually - what are they, meat somethings?

BROWN: They're meat claws. They're marketed by several different companies, but it's basically a device that you hold in your hand that imitate bear claws, and they are meant for ripping into meat such as, you know, barbecue, like, a smoked shoulder or something like that that you want shredded. And the idea is that for some people, two large forks or even a chainsaw just isn't violent enough. You've got to be able to rip at it like a wild animal or a Marvel character.

SHAPIRO: As it happens, I have a freshly cooked chicken breast here in the studio, and I'd like to go at it with these meat claws and just see how they work.

BROWN: Everybody else, just stand back. Let the man work.

SHAPIRO: Here we go. I am pinning down this chicken breast with one claw, and I am shredding the breast with the other claw. You know, it's not bad.

BROWN: Is it satisfying?

SHAPIRO: It's a really good feeling.

BROWN: It's not about the food. It's about the violence.

SHAPIRO: Oh, hang on a second. There's something happening over at mic number two.

BROWN: Oh, I know what that is.

SHAPIRO: What is that?

BROWN: That's the Rollie just getting warmed up.

SHAPIRO: You recognize it by the sound.

BROWN: Oh, yeah, I do because I've experimented in my own home, in the privacy of my own home, with this device which attracts and repels me in equal measure.

SHAPIRO: This device is not only making a sound. It is making a smell.

BROWN: Yeah, the smell's a real problem. I've been meaning to talk to the people at Rollie about - maybe they could drop one of those Christmas tree-shaped, you know, air fresheners that you see in cars down in there or something.

SHAPIRO: We haven't actually explained what the Rollie is.

BROWN: Well, it's - it actually falls into a range of unitasker that is very specialized, meaning that it only does one thing that you didn't know you needed done...

SHAPIRO: And that one thing is...

BROWN: ...Which is simply to cook eggs into a cylinder, a tube. Imagine a hot dog. Now imagine it made out of eggs with kind of little bits of crusty lacelike ickyness on the ends. And that's what a Rollie does. And I can hear it. I can hear it working in the background.

SHAPIRO: It's like something out of the soundtrack of "American Horror Story."

BROWN: But here's the thing - is that, by the expanding air at the bottom of the Rollie - as that air expands, it will push the tube egg or egg tube - whichever sounds worse - up and out like some kind of...

SHAPIRO: It's like an egg that's very happy to see you.

BROWN: Yes. It's - the Rollie produces an egg that looks like it's extremely happy to see you.

SHAPIRO: Whoever comes into the studio next is going to think (laughter) something terrible happened in here.

BROWN: Well, something terrible is happening.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) That's true. It's a small room with a profound scent of egg.

BROWN: I have actually tried to make eggs smell that bad just in a pan. I can't do it.

SHAPIRO: But Alton Brown, this raises a question that I have about all of these tools. If they exist, that suggests that someone must be buying them, right?

BROWN: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Is there actually a market for this kind of stuff?

BROWN: There is, and I have a couple of hypotheses about this. One is that, you know, you probably have a smartphone somewhere very close to your person, do you not, Ari?

SHAPIRO: On my person right now, yeah.

BROWN: Yes, you do, on your person right now, OK. So your life is pretty much run, whether you know if or not, by that phone and by the apps that are in that phone which don't do anything physical. And because of that, we have this kind of equal fascination with small physical things, and kitchen gadgets fall into that. It's like some kind of little flea circus of things, and we're attracted to that.

SHAPIRO: We actually found an item that perhaps you've run across by was not included in your video review of these kitchen gadgets. I'm going to unscrew the lid on it right now. This is a little clear plastic box just about big enough to put in a hard-boiled egg.

BROWN: This is to make square eggs. I know this device.

SHAPIRO: This is to make square eggs.

BROWN: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Who knew we needed a square egg? This is like a medieval torture device for a hard-boiled egg, really.

BROWN: Confess (laughter).

SHAPIRO: I'm screwing the lid on. And my question is, what are the kitchen gadgets that drive you the most crazy?

BROWN: It's always the tools that are actually harder to use than the thing they're trying to replace. You know, we don't actually need banana slicers because they don't actually slice a banana as well as a thing called a butter knife. So any tool that is designed to do just one job and then does it worse than any other thing I could reach for in the kitchen - that is the, Nader, so to speak, of the kitchen gadget world, the seventh level of Hell.

SHAPIRO: Well, I'm ready to unscrew it and see the final product. Shall we?

BROWN: Yeah. Knock yourself out with that.

SHAPIRO: All right, here we go.

BROWN: Drum roll.

SHAPIRO: You'll be shocked to learn, what we have here is a square egg - cube egg.

BROWN: A Cubist egg.

SHAPIRO: It actually - you know what it looks like? It looks like a shiny marshmallow.

BROWN: Oh, that's wonderful. Dust that with, like, cornstarch. And give it to a kid, and say, there's your marshmallow.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BROWN: Let them bite into it. Now I finally understand why that device exists, and now I want one because I love the look on kids' faces when they realize food is betraying them. And can you just imagine them biting into that. Now - OK, now I take back everything I have said about the square hard-boiled egg maker.

SHAPIRO: OK. Through the magic of radio, this conversation has gone relatively quickly. But in real time, we've been sitting in the studio, talking for 20 minutes, and the Rollie has not moved. I only know it is actually working because there's a green light on it.

BROWN: It will. I have never seen it not actually push something up as long as you put at least two eggs in. Did you lube it?

SHAPIRO: Oh, no.

BROWN: You got to spray the interior with cooking spray, so...

SHAPIRO: Well, so should I use these - I've got some wooden skewers. Should I shove them down there to try to loosen it?

BROWN: No, no, no, don't touch it, no. God, don't shove anything in there, Ari, for the love of all that is holy.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BROWN: I feel like I'm working the Rollie hotline. I'm working the Rollie hotline. All right, just calm down.

SHAPIRO: The Butterball Thanksgiving hotline for Rollie users.

BROWN: I want you to close the window and back away, OK? Everything's going to be OK. I'm going to talk you down.

SHAPIRO: Well, Alton Brown, it has been a pleasure.

BROWN: Well, except that you forgot the cooking spray. I'm disappointed.

SHAPIRO: I was really looking forward to eating this Rollie, but instead, I'm just going to have to enjoy a cubic hard-boiled egg.

BROWN: Oh, I'm going to cook up some Rollies and send them up there to you. You can rest assured.

SHAPIRO: Please do. I'm sure they travel well.

BROWN: Beautiful.

SHAPIRO: Alton Brown is the host of "Cutthroat Kitchen" on the Food Network. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.