Alton Brown has smoked a salmon in a cardboard box, roasted a prime rib in a terracotta flower pot, cooked onion soup in an electric skillet, used a C-clamp as a nutcracker, and a binder clip to hold a probe thermometer in place. While his machinations may border on the Rube Goldberg-esque, it is among Brown’s missions to present the best – and often the simplest – tool to get the job done. Following an introduction that discusses a little bit of kitchen history and some advice on room layout and organization, the book is divided into 9 chapters: Big Things with Plugs, Pots and Pans, Sharp Things, The Tool Box, Small Things with Plugs, Storage and Containment, It Came From the Hardware Store, Surfaces, and Safety and Sanitation.”I think cooking is a lot of fun and I hate to see people not having fun doing it just because they don’t have the right tools–which is not to say they need the prettiest, best, most expensive tools. They just need the tools that are right for them.” Such is the organizing principle of Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen by the selfsame Alton Brown, star of Food Network’s Good Eats as well as award-winning author of I’m Just Here for the Food. It’s an interesting, effective principle. It comes from a guy who serves pie with a four-dollar mortar trowel he picked up at the hardware store.

Brown’s opening challenge is a 60-day, four phase process of ridding your kitchen of all things unused and insignificant–easy on the surface, but tough in the doing. That leaves room for essential gear. And to help make those choices, Brown looks at pots and pans, sharp things (not just knives, but graters, mandolins, and cheese slicers, too), small things with plugs (as in small appliances–from food processors to coffee makers to deep fat fryers), kitchen tools unplugged (those items that fill drawers), storage and containment, and safety and sanitation.

If this were just an encyclopedia, what an unwholesome bore it would be. But Brown turns this relevant information into a romp. He’s talking about the tools he uses, after all, and has no fear of naming likes and dislikes–based on his own experience. He also includes unending side chatter about cutting corners, saving money, and actually putting good tools to work. You’ll find recipes throughout, and techniques, too. Like, how to bake a chicken in a flower pot. If you wonder why you would even want to attempt it in the first place, Brown clues you in. Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen is about as guilt free as pleasure will ever get. –Schuyler Ingle

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