Boil them. Peel them. Let's not complicate this.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Friday Food Post: 5 Gadgets You Don't Want

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
Read More.
a | A

You could be forgiven for assuming that I basically want almost any kitchen gadget that has ever been made. I could be forgiven for that. And yet, there are things that will never grace the doors of the Stately McSuderman McMansion, things that put me in mind of P.J. O'Rourke's reflection upon visiting the duty-free shops in Kuwait: "I never knew there was so much stuff I didn't want. I assumed I wanted most stuff. But that was before I saw a $110,000 crepe de chine Givenchy chador and a solid-gold camel saddle with twelve Rolex watches embedded in the seat."

The other day, a friend asked me to write a column on the uselessness of the salad spinner. Now, in fact, I kind of like our salad spinner. It does a pretty good job of drying greens, and it's excellent for getting the sand out of bok choy (cut bok choy in half and place in the bowl, fill with water, put it through its paces in a nice deep sink). You can also use it to dress your salad, though I never have.

But this did get me thinking: What gadgets wouldn't I use? Here are my current top five.

1. The Eggstractor. People in infomercials seem to have very hard lives. They are constantly thwarted by tasks that most of us seem to manage with minimal fuss, like cooking a grilled cheese sandwich or getting meatloaf out of the pan. But the Eggstractor people are in a class by themselves. They are the Mozarts of misfortune, the Beethovens of befuddlement. Faced with the task of peeling a hard boiled egg, they are apparently unable to keep from mauling the egg into a postapocalyptic ruin of shells, white and yolk. It is like watching someone try to eat a bowl of Jell-O with one of those arcade claw machines.

Luckily for these people, there is the Eggstractor, which also doesn't work, but will at least not send egg shrapnel hurtling through the drywall into the neighboring apartment. It will merely cost you $15, two dozen hard-boiled eggs, and the hour of your life that you will spend trying to make the gadget work like it does on the telly. Note: It will never work like it does on the telly. Legend has it that there actually is a foolproof method which will, if employed carefully, make the Eggstractor work as promised. However, this method involves methodically removing the shell from both tips, along with the inner membrane, at which point you realize it would be faster and much more convenient simply to donate the Eggstractor to a rummage sale and peel the darn egg with your hands.

Target market: People who live in infomercial world, people who have taken a monastic vow never to remove their oven mitts.

Actual method for peeling eggs: use a glass of water.

2. The pancake bot. I saw this at the Chicago Home and Housewares show. You can upload an image, say of a Tyrannosaurus rex, and it will make a pancake out of your picture! Works as promised. The pancake looks like the images, and there were some very attractive examples. Not promised, but also true: The production time for a single pancake rivals that of the Chevy Cruze. Even my gadget-loving brain balked at spending 10 minutes to turn out a single T. rex pancake for an honored brunch guest, while everyone else stared grimly at their mimosas and made pointed remarks about having to be home by 9 p.m. to catch "True Detective."

Target market: Single people who never entertain, find it tedious to sweep up all the piles of unused money that are lying around their apartment, and love Tyrannosaurus rexes.

Actual method for making shaped pancakes: Use a pancake mold, or make a normal round pancake and tell people it's actually an impressionist representation of Pluto in honor of NASA's recent flyby.

3. Multichoppers. I owned one of these for a while, because the lure is irresistable: perfect dicing, every time! And it does, to be sure, dice your vegetables into evenly sized bits, just as advertised. What they do not advertise is that getting an onion through the grates requires the use of such titanic force that I was frequently forced to call my husband in to do the job, because no combination of pressing, leaning or pounding was sufficient to allow me to complete the task with my dainty woman-arms. And by the time you have actually gotten it out of the cupboard, inserted the correct blade, and forced your vegetable through, you inevitably realize that it would have been much easier just to take a knife out of the block, or dropped it into the food processor with willful indifference to the appearance of your minced onions. Dropped the vegetable into the food processor, I mean. The multi-chopper should be dropped into the nearest trash can.

Target market: Bodybuilders with poor knife skills.

Actual method for dicing onions: Knife, chopper, food processor or indeed, almost any way you can think of except the multichopper.

4. The pancake machine. Are you daunted by the process of dumping dry pancake mix into a bowl with a pour spout, whisking in some liquid and eggs, and pouring the resulting pancakes onto your griddle? The pancake machine is for you! However, if you are daunted by this task, you are probably not old enough to handle your own money or to eat solid food. Reviews suggest this device is a fail on every level: It automates a task that does not require automation, the automation does not actually work unless a human intervenes with a scraper to keep the dry mix from caking to the sides, it breaks easily, and like most devices with trigger/spout mechanisms, it is an enormous pain to clean.

Target market: People looking for an inexpensive housewarming gift for someone they don't particularly like, people living under tyrannical regimes that have outlawed the sale or possession of mixing bowls.

Actual method for making pancakes. Mix them in a bowl. If your bowl does not have a pour spout, use a measuring cup that does to dispense the batter.

5. Vertical egg cookers. Have you ever thought to yourself, "Gee, I wish my scrambled eggs looked more like a long, eyeless worm?" No? That's all right. I haven't either. Until a few years ago, I wouldn't have imagined that anyone might have. Yet the vertical egg cooker exists, and it is a striking rebuke to anyone who would forget that age-old proverb: "You never can tell what people will get up to."

For a summation of its charms, I cannot improve upon this review from The Guardian: "This week’s gadget describes itself as 'a new way to prepare eggs,' which is accurate in the way that chopping off your legs could be described as a new way to lose weight."

I sampled the output from one of these devices a few years back, and in case you were wondering, the flavor and texture are every bit as appalling as its appearance. There are certainly things that I would less rather eat. But most of them are not legal in the continental United States.

However, while this machine does not make anything that you would voluntarily eat, it does make you think. It's healthy to dwell on life's questions sometimes, and this one raises a big one: "Why?"

Target market: People with elaborate and troubling fantasy lives, people who need a relatively inexpensive way to mock up alien parasites for their small-budget film.

Actual method for making scrambled eggs: Use a pan. Or if you really can't wait the five minutes it will take, you can cook them in the microwave.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at

To contact the editor on this story:
Philip Gray at