Overpriced and Overengineered: Kitchen Gadgets for the Non-Frugal

Today's post is about avoiding overpriced and over-engineered kitchen products. Too often, the housewares industry sells us products we don't really need at prices we shouldn't pay.

Here's a textbook example: a fancy vegetable peeler that could cost as much as $12 in a high-end department store:

You can see that it has an added design improvement which supposedly justifies the high price tag--a metal safety shield covering the business end of the peeler. Unfortunately, this metal shield is actually a design unimprovement that completely blocks the user's view of what he's doing.

It might look really nice in a department store display case, but in reality this vegetable peeler is essentially optimized for blind people.

Why am I talking about this? Because these types of products fool people into thinking it's too expensive to cook at home. It's just too easy to get separated from your money when you think you need to fill your kitchen with overdesigned stuff like this.

Nearly every kitchen tool is available in a high-end version, with stacked costs in the form of celebrity chef branding, higher advertising costs, costly materials or idiosyncratic design features. The only reason products like this even exist is because there are millions of consumers out there who confuse price with value and thus assume that because something has a high price tag it must be worth it.

However, in most cases, the highest-end kitchen gear provides little to no incremental value over standard equipment. And in some instances, like with today's overengineered vegetable peeler, the high-end product is actually worse than the standard model.

I'm not saying you should fill your kitchen with the cheapest stuff you can find. I just want you to be mindful of, and avoid paying, extraneous costs that will have no bearing on the quality of the food you prepare.

Related Posts:
Mastering Kitchen Setup Costs
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
Ten Rules for the Modern Restaurant-Goer
How to Be a Satisficer

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Julia said...

I would also like to add to this post that most people don't need all the extra gadgets sold -- like the egg separator, the olive pitter, ladle/fat separator, etc... Save your money and your kitchen space for what really matters (like a good knife, a pair of kitchen tongs, or my favorite fish spatula)

Tino said...

There should be a national campaign to replace those silly and useless salad tongs with a nice spring-loaded pair. And what's up with the green serrated plastic knife designed ONLY for iceberg lettuce? Pure silliness.

Exploring Food My Way

JCS said...

Don't forget a cast iron skillet, and the knowledge to use it. Teflon wears out, but cast iron can last many lifetimes with some minor (when you consider how you have to handle teflon with kids gloves) care.

PS: Dan- what happened to Mountain Dew being your favorite drink?

Danielle West said...

$12?! That looks almost identical to one that I bought at the dollar store. I have two of them, and they work perfectly well but I don't expect them to last very long.

Chloe (Naturally Frugal) said...

Have you seen the "perfect brownie"? Basically it's a grid that you can cut out "perfect" browines with.

Oh, the things they show you on tv.

Daniel said...

Julia and Tom: excellent points. What's worse is how all those superfluous "tools" require extra space in your kitchen for storage.

JS: Great point on a cast iron skillet. Although I don't own one myself, I have lots of readers who swear by them. (PS: what do you mean about Mountain Dew?)

Dee: You might be surprised to hear this, but the peelers you bought in a dollar store could have been manufactured at the exact same plant as the overpriced peelers (probably somewhere in the far East). This is commonly to many areas of consumer products.

Chloe, thanks for the laugh! I never lost sleep when I cut brownies into uneven-sized pieces--I just took the biggest ones for myself.


edj3 said...

This reminds me of the Wednesday feature on the Unclutterer site called Unitasker Wednesday. Really, why do I need something that has only one use?

I'll confess that I do have one tool like that, my garlic press. But sometimes I want the garlic put through the press, not diced. So that's my token unitool.

Otherwise, I'm with you, Dan. I can slice my brownies myself and if one is bigger, oh well.

Charmian @ Christie's Corner said...

I hear you about useless features, but I'm actually going to defend some higher priced peelers. If you have arthritis paying extra for a comfortable hand grip is worth the money.

Daniel said...

Hi Kittiesx3: I admit I have a garlic press too, and I use it quite a lot. For the me the measure of a unitasker is if you use it and if it saves real labor. That brownie thing obviously does neither.

Charmian, I know I can always count on you for a good contra-case! Thanks for weighing in. I hear you. But that ergonomic handle shouldn't cost that much--and the view-obstructing metal cover most certainly isn't worth the extra money. Just my opinion, of course.


Unknown said...

Came here from Julia's "Grow Cook Eat" (Thanks Julia).

I was the Anonymous (GarlicMan76458) that rubbed my eyes only once after slicing jalapenos.

I like to make Chicken Marsala and I saw your recipe... now you've got another stalker, er, I mean follower. Can't wait to try your recipe. I've favorited your blog.

Mike Bialas aka GarlicMan76458
Jack County Gourmet Garlic
Circle P Farm and Ranch
Jacksboro, TX 76458

Daniel said...

Hi Garlic Man, thanks for stopping by and spreading positive vibes!