In these hyper-modern times, where tech dominates nearly everything, there’s something comforting about turning to classic manual kitchen tools. These are the things your grandmothers or great-grandmothers wouldn’t have wanted to do without — and once you have them in your kitchen or pantry, neither will you.
Percolator: I’m not sure if this is considered a kitchen “tool” or just cookware, but I’m not going to be without one if I can help it! We live on an island and have lost power due to hurricanes in the past and the percolator means I can carry on making morning coffee even without my usual Keurig or drip coffee maker. I have a vintage Corningware percolator, but I also have one like this.
Mason Jars: The ordinary mason jar is a jack-of-all-trades in the kitchen. Beyond the obvious uses in food storage and canning, they can also be a great tool for making homemade butter. Just add heavy cream, secure the lid, and shake vigorously. This process is not only a great arm workout but also a fun and engaging activity for children, who will be ordinary cream start turning into butter right before their eyes.
Rotary Egg Beater: Before electric mixers were a thing, rotary egg beaters were the go-to tool for perfectly whipped eggs or cream. Yes, they’ll give you another arm workout (you’ll notice a trend with these manual tools), , but they also will give you hands-on experience, allowing you to feel the transformation in texture and consistency, perfect for smaller egg or cream beating tasks where an electric mixer might be overkill. I like this one.
Food Mill: A food mill is a multi-tasking tool, ideal for pureeing fruits and vegetables, making smooth sauces, or creating silky mashed potatoes. It’s particularly adept at separating skins and seeds from the pulp, a task that many modern appliances struggle with. Here’s one that works well.
Manual Can Opener: Simple, reliable, and easy to clean, a manual can opener is a must-have in any kitchen. It’s indispensable during camping trips or power outages, reminding us of the effectiveness of well-designed manual tools. I have two recommendations here. This one is made in the USA and is durable and super powerful. I’ve had mine for years and it works as good now as when I bought it! This one will take the lid off safely so that you can put it right back on the top of the can with no sharp edges.
Hand-Cranked Meat Grinder: It can be a real money saver, grinding your own meat. But in addition to saving $$$, you also get to control the texture and fat content, ensuring the perfect balance between flavor and quality in your ground meats. For example, you’ll often see pork shoulder (Boston butts or pork picnics) on sale at the grocery store — and cheap! They weigh a lot, but they also have a good balance of meat to fat — ideal for making your own homemade sausage. I have a manual meat grinder that I won at a local auction so I don’t have a link for that one, but this one is highly rated and recommended by Chefs & Experts per Food and Wine Magazine.
Box Grater or Hand Grater: A manual grater is a no-setup, straightforward tool for grating cheese, vegetables, or making breadcrumbs. The different sides of box graters offer a variety of grating textures, from fine to coarse, without the fuss of assembling and cleaning a food processor. Hand grater are great in kitchens with limited space as they can easily fit in a drawer. I have this one.
Potato Ricer: For fluffy, light mashed potatoes, a potato ricer is unmatched. It gently presses boiled potatoes into fine strands, achieving a texture that’s difficult to replicate with electric appliances. This one is highly rated.
Hand Chopper: A hand chopper is something that should be in every kitchen. If you have one that works enclosed in a jar, it’s great for quickly dicing up nuts, fruits, or vegetables for recipes. I don’t use that kind, but I’m fiercely loyal to this old school, Made in the USA Kwik-Kut Chopper and I mostly just use it for chopping cabbage for cole slaw or chopping collards.
Apple Slicer and Corer: What really needs to be said about one of these? The name speaks for itself, but in addition to using it to peel and/or core apples, you can also use it to peel potatoes! Be careful when you’re shopping for one. Some don’t give an option to just peel or core apples or potatoes. You also have to slice them. I have this one and I love it.
Table Trivet Warmer: This cast-iron trivet, with a space for a tealight candle, is perfect for keeping a teapot or even small dishes warm at the table. Not only is it a reliable heat source, it’s also attractive piece of tableware that a unique and practical addition to any kitchen. This one has similar construction to the old one that I have.
Not only are these tools going to make you feel some serious nostalgic vibes, they’re downright practical. If there is ever a power outage, you won’t miss a beat if you’re used to using these tools. Having and using these in your kitchen can also be a great reminder that sometimes, the simplest tools can be the most effective — and satisfying to use — in making food for our families and memories along the way.