A Good Pair of Tongs Is More Important than a Chef’s Knife

updated Jun 15, 2020
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Credit: Mia Yakel/Kitchn

Wanna hear a controversial statement? A good pair of tongs (or a couple of sets, even) is the single greatest tool a home cook can have in the kitchen — and beyond. (Hey, you were warned.) Yes, most professional chefs will tell you that a good chef’s knife is the most crucial tool. Although I do agree that a perfectly sharpened blade is important, I’ve been noticing that Kitchn editors’ Geek Flags fly high at the mere mention of kitchen tongs. They came up in casual passing just the other week, and during an incredibly passionate brainstorm — to come up with our all-inclusive list of Kitchn Essentials — staffers decided that every home cook needs not one but two pairs of tongs. And, honestly, it’s hard to think of a Kitchn meeting when tongs don’t come up. They’re just so incredibly versatile!

This versatility is what brought us, as a staff, to vote them the most crucial kitchen item. Staffers have even said tongs are basically just an extension of their hands. (“Tongs are like my heat-proof arm and hand extensions,” says Studio Food Editor Amelia Rampe. Related: Why is there not a tong version of Edward Scissorhands?) Got a minute to explore the Wonderful World of Tongs? Of course you do. Who would want to miss this?

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot

All the Great Things Tongs Can Be Used For

“Whenever I’ve got something hot in a pan, the first tool I reach for is a pair of tongs,” says Deputy Food Director, Grace Elkus. “I use them to turn planks of tofu or halloumi cheese, flip griddled flatbreads, and to turn all sorts of veggies (asparagus comes to mind!)”

Associate Food Editor Meghan Splawn has no fewer than seven pairs of tongs. She knows for sure because she counted when I interviewed her for this story. While that’s probably too many tongs (again, our official recommendation is two and we’ll get into that more later), she says she uses every single pair. “I’ve got a few shorter pairs that I like for turning bacon and chicken pieces, and two longer pairs: one for the grill and one for our fire pit.”

Credit: Joe Lingeman

And she doesn’t just use them on food, either: “Unlike a spatula, tongs can grip, say, a pan or ramekin and makes moving stuff around a lot easier.”

Related: The Alton Brown Tip to Make Your Tongs Even More Useful

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh/Kitchn

“The main reason I love tongs is because they keep me from burning myself,” says Studio Food Editor Jesse Szewczyk. Arm yourself with a pair that’s got just the right grip and you’ll no longer risk being splattered with hot grease or oil every time you want to flip something.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Remember how we said a good pair of tongs is like an extension of our hands? Here we are using them like bear claws to shred meat. (Again, what are you up to these days, Johnny Depp? I have a project for you!)

Credit: Photo: Christopher Simpson; Food Styling: Judy Kim

At the end of the day, though, Kitchn editors have two top tong uses (say that five times fast!): tossing salads and cooking pasta. We love them for tossing salads because it’s an easy way to control every last bit of lettuce, making sure each one gets into the dressing without sending pieces flying. And when it comes to pasta, we recommend using tongs to fish the noodles out of the boiling water (this way, you’ll preserve that starchy water and more will cling to noodles, which means a better sauce experience!) and drop them right into your saucepan or skillet. Plus, if you’re serving something like spaghetti, tongs make it incredibly easy to plate the noodles in a restaurant-worthy swirl.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh/Kitchn

If you have weak or arthritic hands, we also recommend using tongs to get every last bit of juice out of lemon halves. Tired of looking at the window through dusty blinds? Use tongs to clean them!

I realize this is starting to sound a little bit like an infomercial for tongs, but wait — there’s more! My husband and I also once used a pair of junky tongs to reach and clean out the gutters when we first moved into our house. What? It was a dire situation and we had to work with what we had!

A Semi-Comprehensive List of Things Tongs Can Be Used For

  • Grabbing food.
  • Flipping food.
  • Straining and plating pasta.
  • Tossing big salads.
  • Shredding meat.
  • Picking up ramekins.
  • Moving hot pans around in the oven.
  • Juicing lemons.
  • Dusting window blinds.
  • Cleaning gutters.

Why Every Home Cook Needs Two Sets of Tongs (and Which Ones to Get)

Ready to load your kitchen up with tongs like Meghan? Yay! But you really only need two pairs. First, we like this super-simple and inexpensive pair above. We actually like that they don’t lock because, too often, similar pairs will lock when they’re not supposed to and then be annoying to unlock. They’re 12 inches long, so we especially love them for searing steaks, plating pasta, and using when grilling outside.

The second pair we recommend: These silicone-tipped ones from OXO. You’ll want them for when you’re cooking with your nonstick pans (the silicone will protect the coating on the pan) and these are our favorite for mixing up salads. And don’t worry, the locking mechanism on these works the way it’s supposed to.

Okay, that was a lot of words to write just about tongs! I could probably keep going. Instead, though, I’m just going to leave this Instagram post right here.

Do you love tongs as much as we do? Debate our controversial statement in the comments below!