The first few Food Republic gadgets of the week (which run every Monday morning) are items that every man should have in his kitchen, whether you’re just starting out and working on your cooking mastery. First we chopped things up with the mandoline slicer, then set ingredients awhirl in immersion blenders, and now we mix and mash with the mortar and pestle.

This dynamic duo may remind you of something you’d see in an old-fashioned pharmacy, but it’s actually the unsung hero in many kitchens. Sure, sometimes it’s easier to throw a bunch of stuff in the food processor and press a button, but when you really want a good hands-on cooking workout, this is the gadget for you. Use it to crush herbs and spices, make garlic paste for meat rubs or aioli, rough pesto and even tapenade.

Choose one that’s stone or ceramic, because the wooden and marble versions are often too slippery on the surface. In order to harness the most of your cooking energy, put your body weight into the work, rather than just your hands and wrist, and scrape the pestle in a circular motion.

Choose Your Weapon

For the first-time user and proficient cook:

Le Creuset 10 oz. Mortar and Pestle, $27.95 (10-ounce version),
Soon-to-be classics like this stoneware mortar and pestle from Le Creuset will make a permanent addition to your kitchenware collection. The unglazed interior gives you just enough texture to create the perfect grind, and both pieces are dishwasher safe.

For the gadget guru:

Molcajete, $49;
You’ve probably bypassed the basic mortar and pestle and would love an authentic molcajete (for mortar) and tejolete (pestle)—the Mexican three-legged version traditionally carved from indestructible volcanic rock. Like a cast-iron skillet, these should be seasoned following the instructions that come with the set. Hand wash these with a brush. Bonus: guacamole looks great in the molcajete, which makes it easier to serve guests.

Do you use a mortar and pestle to mash things up in your kitchen? Tell us about it in the comments.

More kitchen tools on Food Republic