The Kitchen Gadgets & Tools You'll Actually Use
The kitchen gadgets and tools I've* bought that I actually use have no set status as classic or trendy, electric or manual, or simple or complex. When it comes to cooking at home I've found a perfectly stocked kitchen has a perfect mix of all of these things. What they have in common is they conform to the wise owl Alton Brown's primary kitchen gadget and tool requirement: they're multi-taskers.
Brown has famously advised never to invest in a piece of kitchen equipment that can do only one thing. So while the thought of having an automatic pancake machine might make your belly smile, unless you're planning to open an automatic pancake stand at the farmer's market, don't waste your money.
Get this pan instead. It won't make the pancakes for you, but it is the best, cheapest, most nonstick nonstick pan I've ever used. I don't even have to put butter or oil down to make pancakes, so there's never sticking, burning, or smoking. Cleanup is just a quick rinse under the sink and a dry. I can't imagine what cleanup of a giant metal box with complex automatic pancake machine parts inside would entail.
And on that note, here are some more kitchen gadgets and tools that will prove themselves worthy of your investment and countertop / drawer space. Dig in to my list of the kitchen gadgets & tools you'll actually use.
Note: Kitchen gadget and tool prices are approximate, and listed as they were at printing. Prices are subject to change.
*When I use "I" and "my" here, I really mean "my wife," who chooses to do almost all of the cooking at home. My primary role during food preparation is to stay the F out of the kitchen.
Cuisinart Food Processor
With their swappable blades and love of twirling, food processors are the masters of prep in the kitchen. Use them to chop the Holy Trinity of onions, bell peppers, and celery for your gumbo, or to shred a head of cauliflower into perfectly fluffed "rice" (that actually looks more like grated cheese when you use the shredder blade, but is still the perfect size and thickness.)
Cuisinart has set the standard for food processors, and I know this because it's the kind my mama has used for 40 years, and that's what she told me. The model shown here is the company's 14-cup big boy, with 2 simple buttons for On and Off / Pulse. Looks like the package includes the standard spiral blade, the aforementioned shredder disc, and an equally useful slicing disk (think potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots.)
Also known as a stick blender, immersion blenders are a pot of chunky soup jonesing to be pureed's fairy godmother. Yours too, since placing the zhhuzhhing neck of the blender directly into your stovetop pot to do the breakdown entails way less effort, mess, and chance of a soup explosion than transferring the soup contents, batch by batch, into your standard blender.
For soups or any other hot item that needs a good blending, this is an A+ winning gadget.
The OXA Smart immersion blender I've listed here also comes with a few accessories, most of which will probably collect dust in your cabinet. But the mini food processor makes it all worth it. If you need to cut half an onion, a single green pepper, maybe a coupla jalapenos for guac - anything in a quantity too small to situate itself in the chopping path of the full-size food processor - this Jr. is a gem.
For serious home cooks I think the Instant Pot will be another passing fad. Because if you actually enjoy cooking, why get a machine that does all the work for you?
But if you don't enjoy cooking, but you do enjoy eating, and you want to be able to cook at home more, well, that's a perfect reason to get an Instant Pot, and let the machine do all the hard work for you.
This Instant Pot comes is 3-, 6- and 8-quart models, each able to perform 9 different food-prepping functions. You can use it as a pressure cooker or a slow cooker. A yogurt or cake maker. A steamer or saute pan. A rice cooker or egg hard boiler. A food warmer. Or a germ-annihilating sterilizer for unpasteurized milk, baby bottles, or silverware.
The multi-cooker's elaborate functionality also makes it a good choice for people living in small apartments with limited kitchen space, or for RV travelers.
I'm not a patient man, so slow cookers can be the ultimate tormenters for me as the eater. Two hours in to an 8-hour cook time I start smelling the beef slow roasting inside, and by hour 6 I can almost taste it begin to fall off the bone. But there's no rushing it, no cutting it short, and, by penalty of death, absolutely no lifting the lid to take a taste.
For the cook though, the slow cooker is the sous chef who can do no wrong. You can almost close your eyes and pick out a bunch of raw, random crap from your fridge to throw into its ceramic crock, hit 2 buttons, and then come home after work to a delicious dinner.
Or if you want a little more precision, but still minimal effort, the Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker shown here pairs with Belkin's free WeMo app over WiFi or 3G / 4G on your smart device to turn the cooker on and off, adjust settings, set timers, and monitor your grub's status from anywhere. So if you get stuck at work, in traffic, or listening to one of your kid's friend's newly-separated moms go on about what a d-bag her ex is, you can have faith that the hiccup in your day is not going to pay it forward with an F up in your dinner.
Ceramic Mandoline Slicer
Anything you need super thin super fast, this simple handheld mandoline and its ceramic blade are your tireless champions. At first I was surprised at how many times a week I found this thing in the pile of dishes assigned to me to wash, but then I tried using it myself once to slice a carrot for a salad.
It really is a fun toy to use. Carrots, celery, cucumber, radish, fennel, and the thinnest sliced cabbage for cole slaw you'll ever muster. In that regard, this unassuming little manual tool has the food processor's slicing blade beat by a landslide.
Drop Block Under-Cabinet Knife Blocks
It's not like countertop knife blocks take up that much space, but...yeah, they kind of do. Especially if space in your kitchen is already at a premium, what with the microwave, commercial blender, food processor, and 60-second beer chiller already staking their claim.
The Drop Block installs underneath your kitchen cabinets, where it stays tucked out of the way when you don't need a knife, and then pulls down to display your complete cutting collection when you do. The Drop Block's hinged system raises and lowers smoothly, and its bottom ledge and bolted-on magnetic strips ensure your knives stay tidy and in place in storage.
Formerly giant, cumbersome, and expensive temperature-controlled water bath machines suitable really only for professional kitchens, the past few years have seen several attempts to make sous-vide cookers smaller and more accessible to home cooks. Why? Not only do people swear that meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables taste a million times more juicy and texturally perfect when cooked in a bag underwater, but once you have a reliable immersion circulator, executing the sous-vide method is kind of a piece of
cake succulent, edge-to-edge-even 125-degree steak.
With their Joule, ChefSteps has simplified sous-vide for the home. Their stick sits inside a water-filled pot or large container you already own, and heats the bath up to the exact temperature you'd like your food to be when you eat it. Then it gently swirls the water around to maintain that temperature for as long as it's submerged.
The Joule is also WiFi- and Bluetooth-ready to connect to your devices so you can further monitor, control, and perfect the dishes you use it to cook.
Thanks be to the Europeans and their obsession with drinking tea. I'm pretty sure that's what drove the invention of the electric kettle. And as someone who could not even boil water before he had an electric kettle, this is one kitchen gadget that earns its place on my countertop every single day.
Not only do electric kettles boil water much, much faster than the stovetop variety, but they do it without shrieking at you when they're ready. Instead, they just shut themselves off, with some models even holding the water steady at your pre-selected temperature until you get around to pouring it.
Moreover, electric kettles and their heated water are useful for more than just coffee, tea, and hot drinks. Ours fires up every time we cook pasta or make rice too - pre-boiling the water and then transferring it to the stove pot significantly shortens the time it takes to bring the water to temperature.
Index Cutting Board Set
Stacked in a slim vertical "file box" for low-profile storage, and color-coded for your zero-cross-contamination pleasure. Joseph Joseph Index Cutting Board Set includes 4 blade-safe surfaces individually tabbed, stagger-spaced for quick grabbing, and indexed according to what you're going to be chopping. Labels are for raw meat, vegetables, fish, and cooked meat. You can also choose from Small and Large board sets. The Large boards measure 14.8" x 3.1" x 11".
I've had one of these Hamilton Beach single-serving blenders for years, and although it's not the highest quality blending product ever made, I use it faithfully for 3 reasons:
- Being so small, it's easy to wash in the sink, and when I'm too lazy to do that, it fits nicely in the dishwasher.
- I can drink directly from the blender container without fear of its contents avalanching all over my face.
- If I need to scrape blended product out of the canister because I don't want to waste any, as is the case with my post-workout Captain & Oreo protein shakes, the blended product does not get all over and up half the length of my scraping arm.
Some other things I like about the personal blender are that it's cheap and compact enough to store in the bedroom for blending Gatorade slushees immediately following intense sessions of coitus.
My wife would like to point out the single-serving blender is also good for emulsifying salad dressing, and blah, blah, blah about my intense sessions of coitus comment. I'm not repeating that because it's insulting to my manhood.
Tri-Blade Vegetable Spiral Slicer
Freshly shredded, vitamin C-packed cabbage. Potassium-rich, low-carb zucchini noodles. Byoootiful seasonal ribbons of persimmon to go alongside your glazed duck breast. And...mmmmm...triple fried curly fries.
OK, triple fried sweet potato curly fries to keep with the health and nutrition theme the Paderno World Cuisine vegetable slicer seems to be promoting.
She-Ra: Princess of Power sometimes (i.e., always) makes us substitute spaghetti squash or spiralized vegetables for pasta when she's cooking what would be a noodle-based dinner. It's not the worst thing in the world (though this bean pasta is way better). More importantly, it's the least painful way to get 72 cups of vegetables, or whatever insane amount it is they're recommending now, down the hatch each day.
And while I haven't tried it myself, Paderno World Cuisine's slicer looks a helluva lot easier to use than the po-dunk spiralizer we have. True, it won't fit in the drawer with the measuring spoons, but the addition of a handle, a stabilizing vice, and blades that look like they might actually be sharp will provide the leverage needed to churn out a whole meal's worth of curly plant matter before I get so hungry I have to eat some toothpaste to tide me over.
"Flip-It" Wine Aerating Carafe
I like "Flip-It" Wine Aerator, but Menu actually calls their invertible / revertible carafe the Winebreather. Though similar to a decanter in shape - and in function if you choose to use it that way - the aerator distinguishes itself with a bottle-neck-hugging top lined with an accordion of water(well, wine)tight rubber. Place the Winebreather over the mouth of an open bottle of wine to create a seal, and then Flip It! The wine pours from the bottle to the carafe, aerating it along the way.
From there you can remove the bottle and serve your wine straight from the decanter. Or! You can Flip It! again and send the wine back into the bottle for aerated service straight from the source. The second option is especially handy if you need to decant several bottles of wine, and want to do it in advance of your guests arriving, or before you sit down to enjoy a Syrah-laced Star Wars marathon all by yourself.