The kitchen has to be the most gadget-heavy room of the house.
Some of those implements are true time savers. Some just end up as cupboard clutter.
In today’s installment of Does It Work?, the two of us — the Beacon Journal’s consumer reporter and home writer — tested four products in an attempt to separate the useful from the worthless. We had to find our way without our former Does It Work? partner, food writer Lisa Abraham, who took her cooking expertise with her when she moved on from the Beacon Journal in March.
Here’s what we discovered in our testing.
StufZ Stuffed Burger Maker
StufZ is a mold for making stuffed burgers. It presses a depression into a hunk of ground meat and then seals on a meat lid after you’ve filled the cavity with veggies, salsa, chili, macaroni and cheese or whatever else your lowbrow culinary imagination can dream up.
It’s probably a good thing this gadget isn’t easier to use. Otherwise our cholesterol numbers might be through the roof.
The StufZ, which we bought for $9.88, took a bit of time and trial and error to figure out. Some twisting and locking of parts is required to first mold the depression and then seal on a patty on top of the filled meat cup. Unless you used the StufZ regularly, you’d probably have to consult the instructions every time.
Using the right amount of meat was hit or miss. So was getting the meat to mold into a uniform shape. Sometimes we’d produce a meat cup that was too scant on one side. Sometimes the depression would turn out too shallow. Once the top patty didn’t seal well.
Molding the meat cup took more muscle than we’d expected. “You do have to put some force to it,” Betty said.
We used precooked filling ingredients, per the instructions, and were pleased to discover the burgers were cooked all the way through after 15 minutes or so on the grill. A little of the filling had oozed out the sides, but not as much as we’d expected.
These are burgers for big appetites. We used more than a half-pound of beef for each, and once we added the fillings, the resulting patties were enormous.
Mary Beth thought using the StufZ was too much hassle for anyone who isn’t intent on stuffing their burgers. Betty, on the other hand, was energetically envisioning a burger-stuffing party.
Betty: It Depends
Mary Beth: Skip It
The Potato Express is a fabric cooking sack that allows you to steam potatoes in the microwave, cutting down on cooking time. It can also be used to cook corn on the cob, heat tortillas and soften day-old bread. We bought it for $9.88.
We used it to cook a couple of medium-size Russet potatoes in six minutes. The cooked potatoes were mostly soft but had a few spots that were harder than Mary Beth likes.
Later we used one of the microwaves in our office to cook four slightly larger potatoes, two in the Potato Express bag and two using the standard microwave method: Prick them with a fork and put them on a dish. It took seven minutes to cook the potatoes in the bag and nine minutes on the dish.
A large yam cooked in the bag in five minutes, but a section in the center wasn’t completely cooked. We also cooked a medium-size ear of corn in its husk, but we had to cut off the stem and the silk to get it to fit into the bag. A larger ear probably wouldn’t have fit.
The corn was cooked perfectly, but Betty pointed out that if you were cooking for a family, you could only cook one ear at a time. “I just don’t think it’s very time-efficient,” she said.
We tested a stale hot dog bun, too. It softened when cooked in the bag for 15 seconds.
Mary Beth wouldn’t buy the Potato Express because she likes the crisper skin of oven-baked potatoes. Betty liked it for cooking potatoes, but not for corn or other items that have to be cooked one at a time.
Betty: Snap It Up
Mary Beth: It Depends
The Perfect Bacon Bowl, which we bought for $10.88, promises to make delicious, edible bowls out of bacon. We weren’t quite sure why you need a bacon bowl, but having several friends and co-workers who love bacon, we know everything tastes good with bacon.
When we pulled the two Bacon Bowl molds out of the package, we were disappointed with how small they were. They make bowls that are probably 3 inches in diameter, so you will not be putting too much inside the bowl.
“They’re so small. That’s not a meal,” Betty said.
The bacon was easy to form on the bowl molds. Per instructions, we did not use center-cut bacon.
We made our first bacon bowls in the oven, which took a long time for two little bowls, in our opinion — 30 minutes. When we took them out of the oven, the outsides were crispy, but the bacon wasn’t cooked on the inside. It looked gelatinous and unappetizing.
“That’s disgusting. I wouldn’t eat that,” Mary Beth quipped.
Of course, about 20 minutes later, Betty’s 11-year-old son walked by and asked if he could eat it. Go figure.
When we tried it in the microwave, our first attempt didn’t come out as a bowl and lost its shape significantly. The “bowl,” if you could call it that, was crisp on the inside and out, but it was too small and shallow to fill.
We tried one more in the microwave. It was done properly, but it was still too small.
Betty: Skip It
Mary Beth: Skip It
Betty’s kids love bacon, so she had high hopes for the Bacon Wave.
“I’m bacon challenged,” she admitted. “I’ve had troubles getting the bacon to cook nicely in the microwave on a plate and on the stove, I’m too impatient for the time it takes to properly cook the bacon. This makes it easy.”
Mary Beth prefers to bake her bacon in the oven, so she thought the Bacon Wave was more effort.
We were pleasantly surprised with the Bacon Wave.
The Bacon Wave, which we bought for $9.99, is a plastic rack that holds strips of bacon upright. You run a skewer through all the strips at both ends to keep the bacon straight and keep it from shriveling too much. The rack has a rather deep channel to allow the grease to collect, so the bacon isn’t soaking it up as it cooks.
We filled the whole rack of 14 spots with both regular and center cut bacon. The bacon was done in five minutes and 15 seconds but not crisp. We put it in for another minute, and it came out nicely crisp.
Though the instructions come with timing suggestions according to the wattage of your microwave, some of it will be trial and error with your particular microwave and your personal preference on the crispness of your bacon.
Betty said she liked that it was easy enough to let her 11-year-old son use it, while she wouldn’t feel comfortable with him cooking bacon on the stove unsupervised.
The bacon crisped more after it was removed from the microwave, so you’d have to learn to cook it to the correct doneness.
Said Mary Beth: “I wouldn’t buy this, because I’m not a gadget lover and I think it’s too much bother. But I did think it worked very well.”
Since testing the product initially, Betty’s family has used the Bacon Wave a lot and liked it.
“I’ve actually used it several times to make a few slices of bacon for myself and the kids for breakfast and the kids have used it, too,” Betty said. “I love how the sticks that pierce the bacon and keep it in place make the bacon come out in nice, long strips. Cleanup is easy with the bacon grease in the pan and I throw the pan on the top rack of the dishwasher after disposing of the grease.”
Reader feedback on the Bacon Wave was mixed. Two readers did not care for the product, while one said she’s been using a version of it for years.
Betty: Snap It Up
Mary Beth: Snap It Up
Have you seen an advertised product and wondered if it really lives up to its claims? You can suggest items to be reviewed by Mary Beth Breckenridge and Betty Lin-Fisher by sending email to email@example.com or 330-996-3756, or firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3724. Follow us on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and @blinfisherABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ and www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ.