Alton Brown's Misguided Crusade Against Pastry Bags

Chef Alton Brown is not a fan of ultra-specific kitchen utensils that only serve one purpose: He describes them as "unitaskers" and has railed against items like handheld claws for shredding meat (among other kitchen tools) as a waste of money and space. But there's one relatively common piece of kitchen equipment that Brown has placed in this category and dubbed unnecessary: pastry (or piping) bags, which are used for decorating and filling cakes.

On a pastry-centric episode of his show "Good Eats," Brown suggested avoiding pastry bags and instead using a plastic sandwich or freezer bag with a corner cut out from it. If you're someone who practically never bakes, and you need something resembling a pastry bag for a quick, one-off task, then this isn't a bad hack. But zip-top bags aren't an ideal substitute: They can be flimsy and easily torn, they're often a lot smaller than pastry bags, and they won't work well for cake decorating since piping nozzles (if you have them) may be awkward to fit into the snipped square corner.

The immense usefulness of a pastry bag

While many of the gadgets that Brown criticizes seem to be new kitchen gadgets made to sell on Amazon or Wish, pastry bags have been around a long time (probably since the early 19th century), and for good reason: They serve a useful purpose.

Brown's description of them as "unitaskers" may not be totally accurate, as pastry bags can be used for a variety of tasks: decorating cakes and other sweets, filling in layers between cakes, shaping meringues and macarons, and filling donuts or even pasta. You'll typically use pastry bags with a nozzle that fits neatly into the conical tip of the bag: Some of these nozzles have specific shapes to help you decorate more beautifully, but even the plain nozzles are good for precision.

Pastry bags are also available in a variety of materials like nylon and different plastics, which can often handle denser, tougher-to-pipe frosting (and firmer grips as you pipe); environmentally-conscious cooks will also appreciate that they're more reusable than flimsy Ziploc bags.

It's not an intrusive unitasker

Brown does have a point when he dismisses some "unitaskers" (that is, kitchen tools that only have a single use): There are a lot of pieces of equipment out there that are so specific that they're frivolous and waste a lot of space. Devices like an electric quesadilla maker are serious space hogs and probably don't make much sense unless you're really into making quesadillas frequently — and even then, a frying pan or skillet would probably suffice. There are also all manner of specialty fruit and vegetable slicers –for example, for avocados or strawberries. These are a little more defensible since they take up less space, but they're still doing the same job as a knife (although avocado and strawberry obsessives who really want to save a few seconds might be able to justify them).

But the space issue doesn't really apply to pastry bags since they're made of flexible plastic or other fabrics, they can be folded up and easily slotted into any nook in your kitchen storage. They take up practically none of your storage space, and Brown's alternative (zip-top bags) may even take up more space since you'll typically need to buy a whole box of them at once.