A pair of kitchen tongs is easily my most-used non-knife tool. Easily. It is to the point where if I’m cooking at someone else’s house and they don’t have tongs, I am just paralyzed with confusion and betrayal. How do these people even live? What do they use to flip a salmon fillet? What do they use to toss sautéed greens? How do they flip a burger on the grill? How do they pull out their oven racks when they can’t find a mitt or dishtowel and don’t want to self-inflict horrible burns? A pair of tongs is an extension of your hand in the most literal, most effective sense: it is basically a thumb and a finger, a grown-up, heatproof version of one of those inexpressibly neato-torpedo robot claw arms that were so cool when we were kids. You don’t need one of those silly infomercial Oven Gloves to reach into the flames: this is your Oven Glove. This is your Captain Hook’s hook. This is your Terminator-style cybernetic real-grip fireproof hand, and it is like ten bucks, and it is amazing.
Cooking tongs come in a variety of lengths, from teensy 6-inch models all the way up to huge 24-inchers. The less violently aggressive the environment of your food, the smaller your tongs can be: use a standard 10- or 12-inch model for most stovetop and grilling purposes; if you’re pulling a turkey out of an oil-drum deep-fryer, you’ll probably want to go longer. (And maybe wear an asbestos face mask?) For optimal control, choke up on the tongs when using them: the closer you are to the ends, the better your ability to manipulate things (it’s kind of like chopsticks, of which tongs are really just large, metal, for-beginners versions). All-metal varieties are inexpensive, but (science!) metal conducts heat, so they can become uncomfortable to hold. Many brands have versions with rubber- or silicone-lined handles, which to me is an invaluable addition to the tool; a locking closure mechanism makes the tongs easier to store.
My pick: I have a pair of OXO Good Grips 12-Inch stainless steel tongs. I love them dearly.