11 Best Tools for Summer Veggie Prep, According to Chefs
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We have one key rule when it comes to summer produce: Prepping and cooking in-season veggies shouldn’t be an hours-long affair. (Actually, we probably have a few rules, but for the sake of this story, we’re just going to focus on the one.) And with the height of produce season among us, we thought we’d ask the pros for their go-tools that make quick work of the tasks. What utensils and gadgets do they use when prepping veggies in the height of produce season? Their answers included things that are ultra-simple (a good, sharp knife) and super-specific (a corer). Here are 11 items that are — quite literally — the tools of the trade for summer veg.
1. A Sharp Santoku-Style Knife
Sure, a sharp knife is a given. But, it’s the specific shape of the santoku knife that makes it so helpful for veggie prep. Unlike the classic chef’s knife, which tapers to a sharp tip, a santoku has a curved point that slopes down to meet the blade. Paul Artigues, the chef and owner at Green Goddess in New Orleans, favors his santoku because it’s efficient at both chopping and transferring vegetables from the cutting board to a prep bowl, pan, or skillet. “Its cleaver-like style makes scooping up cut vegetables easy, and the weight behind it cuts through tough root veg, while the thin blade can make delicate slices easily.”
Not all professional chefs have tricked-out home kitchens. And after a year of cooking from home during the pandemic, Food Network chef and cookbook author (his latest book is Peace, Love, and Pasta and will be released in September) Scott Conant was feeling the lack of a fully stocked cooking space. He purchased a few key tools, including a Japanese-style mandoline. The Benriner mandoline is lightweight and easy to use, and it’s brilliant for making lightning-fast, even cuts of tender summer veggies (think: zucchini!). Conant doesn’t regret his investment: “I immediately felt the shortcomings of what I had and what I didn’t have in my kitchen,” he says.
Summer and grilling go together like, um, burgers and ketchup? There’s a world of debate to be had about the best type of grill, but Copeland Crews, the chef de cuisine at New Orleans-based Saba, is partial to a charcoal one. (We like them, too!) In addition to a lower price point than gas grills, a charcoal grill offers one crucial benefit, according to Crews: a variety of heat zones. “You should manipulate the coals so there are hot spots and spots with lower heat. This allows you to cook different veggies at different temperatures all at the same time. Don’t sleep on grilled fruits, either!”
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy your veggies raw — who wants to turn on the oven in sweltering temperatures? Just a little prep work can transform tough or fibrous raw veg into a tender salad. Enter: the Y-shaped peeler. Kuhn Rikon is a particular favorite among chefs, and the preferred summer produce tool of Andrew Ashmore, chef at Chicago’s Beatrix restaurants. Ashmore uses it to shave asparagus into ribbons or peel a “massive” amount of potatoes before cooking them. Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of NYC’s Dirt Candy, counts a Y-shaped peeler as one of her top three kitchen tools (a sharp knife and a Microplane zester also rank). In fact, many chefs find the shape of a Y-peeler to be so much more comfortable than any other style that it’s the only one they’ll use.
What may first seem like a one-trick pony is actually a helpful summer tool that translates to year-round food prep. A corer is a favorite of Ayesha Nurdjaja, chef and partner of Shuka (as well as the forthcoming Shukette, opening this summer in New York City). “When I think of summertime, I think of stuffed baby squash and eggplant. We use a corer to take out the middle of the zucchini so we can stuff it with rice, preserved lemon, lamb, and dill,” she explains. She also loves her corer for turning overripe tomatoes into a stuffed and braised side dish. And when summer’s over, store it among your most-used utensils: It’s ultra-efficient at coring autumn’s apples and pears.
Are they trendy? Sure. But spiralizers are more than a keto-friendly flash in the pan. It’s another one of Chef Nurdjaja’s go-to tools. If you’re sick of zucchini noodles, take a page from Nurdjaja’s book and use your spiralizer for cruciferous and root vegetables: “I like to use it for other vegetables, like beets or radishes. Broccoli stems are usually thrown out — try them on a spiralizer for a quick stir-fry.”
7. A Smart Cooking Device
Jetsons-loving home cooks will appreciate former White House pastry chef (and current baking competition show host) Bill Yosses’s pick: a Thermomix TM6. This smart cooking appliance does pretty much everything. Think of it like an Instant Pot that can also chop your vegetables and knead your bread dough. Wild! And helpful, for those dog days of summer when kitchen chores just don’t sound appealing. It’s not cheap, but if slashing prep time and multi-use appliances are important to you, the warmer months are a great time to test out this truly futuristic tool.
While this tool typically only emerges from the depths of the cupboard when there is cheese to be grated, Abigail Henson, the owner of Farm Girl Juicery in Syracuse, New York, uses her grater almost daily. If she’s not making latkes and raw slaw, she’s pulling together a carrot, jicama, and apple salad. And here’s a brilliant tip from Henson: “If you grate ginger on the fine side of a box grater over cheesecloth or a damp paper towel and then squeeze it, you’ll get so much more juice than you would with a masticating juicer.” Happily, a box grater is much easier to clean than a juicer or food processor.
Okay, speaking of juicers! Even if a daily kale-and-beet juice isn’t your thing, an at-home juicer can still level up your summer cooking. Henson encourages all of her friends and customers to buy an entry-level juicer (she’s tried one from Hamilton Beach and found it to be totally sufficient). “Even if you don’t drink juice, you can still benefit from it. Add it to recipes like cold soups (cantaloupe and ginger is a nice starter), use it in a base for cocktails, or pour it into fruit smoothies. You’re still getting all of that goodness.” If your home garden is overproducing, or you’re navigating an abundant CSA membership, juicing is a great way to whittle down a big pile of veg. Henson cites thrift stores and Facebook Marketplace as sources for gently used, deeply discounted juicers: “You can start small and upgrade later. You don’t need to start at Level 10!”
It’s true: You need a fish spatula. Even if you never cook fish! These thin, flexible spatulas perform much better than their heftier cousins, which makes them perfect for delicate cooking tasks. Chef Karen Akunowicz of Boston’s Fox & the Knife (and the soon-to-be-open Bar Volpe) uses hers to flip zucchini on the grill. If you’ve ever lost half a squash between the grates as you fumble around with tongs, you’re going to want to invest in one, too.
11. A Nonstick Grill Basket
See above re: slippery zucchini. Grill baskets are key for cooking thin or delicate veggies that could benefit from char, but are too small for the grates. Akunowicz frequently uses hers for asparagus, as well as onion slices — if you’ve been adding raw onions to your burgers, consider this a mega upgrade. The nonstick coating is ideal for veggies that get “jammy when cooked, like eggplant, and makes cleanup even easier.”
What tools earn a place of honor in your summer veggie prep routine? Share with us in the comments!