Home Kitchen Tools: Emergency Substitutions

Though most of us have enough foresight to ensure that we have all the implements we need before we start cooking, there will always be occasions in which we find ourselves in a pinch. Fortunately, there are some emergency fallback plans and techniques that can be used when needed.

Use a Mug to Sharpen Your Knife

Sharpen Knives on Coffee Mugs

Photo by Spiritus Canis

This trick may sound rather bizarre, but it actually works.  Knives dull over time, and though most of us have our trusty sharpening wands within reach at all times, there may be occasions when you’ll have a dulled knife in hand and no sharpener to be found. What can you do in this scenario other than tear that roast apart with your bare hands or call for pizza delivery? You can use a mug.

A ceramic mug, that is. This is a technique that most people don’t know about, but can be incredibly handy when you’re in a jam. Ceramic mugs are glazed before being fired in a kiln, but that glaze is wiped off the bottoms beforehand so they don’t stick to the kiln’s shelves. This leaves an exposed portion on the mugs’ bottoms which can act as perfect whetstones for your knives.

To sharpen that dull blade, hold the mug by its handle in one hand, and the knife in the other. Lay the blade against the exposed ceramic at a 20-degree angle, and swipe it downwards (from handle to tip), with your fingers well out of the way. Repeat this process a few times on either side of the blade until it’s sharp enough to do what you need it to, and then sharpen it properly when you get a chance to do so. Remember that this isn’t an ideal sharpening method, but it’ll work, and will either impress or freak out your dinner guests.

DIY Double-Boiler

Mason Jar Double Boiler

Photo by Tim Patterson

You may not find yourself in many situations where you’ll be in need of a double-boiler and not have one at your disposal, but it can happen. Let’s say you’re at a friend’s place and an impromptu chocolate fondue party breaks out: you’ll have to melt that chocolate somehow, right?

If said fondue-loving-friend doesn’t have the kitchen tools that you’re accustomed to, you can MacGuyver a double-boiler from a mason jar and a saucepan. Mason jars are ideal for this purpose because they’re thick and strong enough to withstand the heat that’s needed for home pressure-canning. Don’t just use an empty glass pickle jar or one that held pasta sauce, as the glass is far thinner, and you don’t want to ruin good chocolate with stray bits of shattered glass.

Place something at the bottom of the saucepan that will elevate the jar a bit. You can use ceramic chopstick holders, pebbles, or even a folded washcloth—just make sure there’s a gap between the glass and the metal. Fill the jar with whatever you wish to melt, and then fill the saucepan halfway with water, ensuring that no water splashes into the jar’s contents. Bring the heat slowly up to a boil, then back down to a simmer and stir the chocolate/cheese/misc regularly until it’s all melted evenly.

Credit Card Spatula

Assorted Credit Cards

Photo by Photero

There are few things worse than having batter stuck to the inside of your mixing bowl and realising that you don’t have a spatula to scrape it out with. Spoons take far too long, your fingers won’t slush it all out properly, and you don’t want to lose a drop of that precious mixture. What do you do? Pull out your credit card.

Okay, in all fairness, it’s actually best to use a card that doesn’t have a magnetic strip on it such as a library card or ID tag, but your Visa will work if you’re desperate. These plastic cards don’t just have perfect, cleanly-cut straight edges, they’re flexible enough to bend and arc as needed so they can scrape every last bit of batter, egg albumen, or icing out of your bowls. Afterward, all you need to do is wash the card with a bit of soap and water, and then you’re free to use it to buy yourself a new spatula.


- Lana Winter-Hébert

Lana Winter-Hébert fell in love with cooking while still in primary school. The various dietary needs of her extended family (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets) have helped her to learn a fair bit about substitutions and meal plan modifications, and though her first love will always be the Scandinavian/Eastern European cuisine she grew up with, she has a penchant for Mexican food and can be bribed heartily with the offer of good huevos rancheros.

Lana currently resides in rural Quebec with her husband and family, where she divides her time between writing, editing, design, and tending her permaculture garden. She cans and preserves whatever’s in season, and is having some fantastic adventures with home cheese-making and mead-brewing.

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