Most often referred to as a side towel, these rectangles of thick cotton cloth are an important part of a cook's attire. Whether you're a professional or not, a side towel is a handy thing to have. They're easier and less awkward than most potholders, always available and wash up like a dream. Just be sure your side towel is dry when using it as a potholder substitute, as a wet towel will conduct heat and not offer much protection. Here are just a few of the ways you can use your side towel:
Potholder: The side towel makes a very handy pot holder. Fold it a few times into a square and use it pull a hot dish from the oven or lift a lid; left long and narrow you can hold an end in each hand to lift a pot of boiling water.
Splatters and dribbles: Use your side towel to wipe any dribbles from the rims of plates and serving dishes.
Hand wiper: Self-explanatory, but sometimes frowned upon in a professional kitchen.
Clean as you go: Having a side towel handy means you can wipe up small spills as they happen.
Bowl holder: Make a circle with your side towel and place your bowl on top to keep it steady while whisking and mixing.
Patting and drying: Pat dry wet ingredients or mop excess oil or moisture while cooking.
A heavy weight cotton tea or dish towel works great as a side towel. A cotton linen blend is nice but not necessary. Some people use IKEA's famous super cheap Telka towel, but I find them just a little too thin. Your side towels are real workhorses and you should not hesitate to get them dirty and greasy as you cook, so steer clear of fancy expensive tea towels unless you're willing to let them take a beating.
The most important thing about a side towel is that it's always right there by your side. No hunting around for hidden pot holders or sponges. Home cooks without aprons can also tuck a tea towel into their pant's pocket or belt loop. Once you start, it will be hard to stop reaching for this handy, versatile kitchen tool.
How do you use your side towel when cooking?