A lot of us have seen the inside of our kitchens more in the past six months than we have in the past two years! While you were whipping up banana bread and sourdough loaves to your heart’s content, you may have realized that some of your kitchen tools aren’t quite up to snuff. Having the right tools makes your time in the kitchen more pleasant and more efficient, but not all kitchen gadgets need to cost an arm and a leg. To help you sort out what to get, we’ve rounded up a list of kitchen items worth dropping a load of cash on, and ones you can confidently buy for less.
Worth the Price
Do you really need a KitchenAid mixer? (Signs point to yes.) Or the latest chef’s knife from Japan? (Maybe not the latest.)
1. Stainless steel cookware. The idea behind stainless steel is that it spreads heat across the bottom of the pan evenly to reduce hot spots and burning and is super easy to clean up. Look on the packaging for the number of layers in each pot — more layers mean the pot heats up more evenly. Good pans are a bit heavy, retain their shine after multiple uses, and can last a lifetime. ($30+ for a single pan to sky’s-the-limit for a set)
2. Chef’s knives. You only need three decent knives in your kitchen: a bread knife, a paring knife, and a chef’s knife. (Skip the pricey knife block that comes with more knives than you’ll know what to do with. It’s more for show, anyway.) A chef’s knife is what you end up using for almost everything, from spatchcocking to dicing and slicing fruits and veggies. Look for high-carbon stainless steel with an easy-to-clean handle. Forged knives are preferred over machine-made versions. You get what you pay for here, so you should spend time looking at Japanese and German knives, which most professional chefs prefer. ($100-$1,000+ per knife)
3. Meat thermometers. Giving your diners salmonella or E. coli is not on the menu. You need to be able to ensure meat — every kind, from beef to fish to poultry — is heated to the proper internal temperature to avoid sickening the people eating your food. Even professional chefs use a meat thermometer to guarantee their meals taste delicious! Go for the instant-read kind, which is easy to use and recommended the most. The ThermoPro and ThermoWorks brands are on several top-10 lists and offer a wide range of prices. ($35-$100)
4. Stand mixers. There’s a reason KitchenAid is the first brand we think of when it comes to a stand mixer. It can run you $300+, but the powerful motor, amazing attachments, and long life are worth it. You can avoid mixer’s elbow (like tennis elbow but for bakers), there’s no need for kneading or creaming by hand, and the KitchenAid can be a set-it-and-forget-it tool that leaves you free to prepare other parts of your dish. One caveat: If you generally only bake a batch of cookies or a quick banana bread loaf, this might not be for you. To decide, check how often you use a hand mixer. If you find it’s a regular part of your weekly baking, then an upgrade is probably warranted. ($300+ for KitchenAid brand)
5. Multi-functional cookers. Instant Pot kicked off the American love affair with these small appliances that combine several kitchen tools — such as rice cooker, pressure cooker, and air fryer — into one, but that love hasn’t waned; in fact, there are more kinds of these cookers around than ever before. The Ninja Foodi, most Instant Pot products, and Crock-Pot’s multicooker are all top-notch. Be sure to check the wattage, capacity, and features so you pick the cooker that’s right for the kinds of food you make the most often. ($100-$350)
6. Nonstick pans. We found mixed results when searching for the right way to buy these kitchen workhorses. Some reviewers determined that an inexpensive nonstick skillet is just fine since they all lose their coating after about 3-5 years, while others thought that paying more will get you a skillet that will last longer. Whichever you believe, a thick-gauge, anodized pan is your best bet. You’ll want to check the weight and feel of the pan in your hand before making a decision. ($25-$150 for one pan)
Cut Your Costs
While these tools are hot kitchen commodities, there’s very little difference between high-priced and budget versions. With the money you save on these items, you’ll have more to put into the splurge-worthy kitchen tools listed above!
1. Vegetable peelers. We’re not suggesting you hit the dollar store, but a peeler under $10 from Target or Wal-Mart will serve you just as well as a $25 one from a specialty kitchen store. ($5+)
2. Cutting boards. Go plastic for a deep, deep discount. Bamboo and wooden boards may look fancier, but with plastic, you can pop them in the dishwasher, they don’t dull your knives quickly, and they’re inexpensive enough to make up for their eventual scarring and need to be replaced. ($5+)
3. Cast-iron pans. You need to be prepared to take care of these guys, even the inexpensive ones. Cast-iron needs to be cleaned, stored, and seasoned properly to prevent rust. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of difference between an inexpensive cast-iron pan and one that costs over $100. Look for a pan with a thick bottom and consider what you’ll be using it for so you can select the right size. Note that unseasoned cast-iron pans will cost less than pre-seasoned versions. ($12+, depending on size)
4. Baking sheets. There’s no reason to drop big money on these ubiquitous metal pans, but there are a few things you should know before you shop. Baking sheets are not cookie sheets. Baking sheets are rimmed, which means they can contain spread or spillage, and usually come in a half-sheet size (yes, like half a sheet cake), which is 13”x18”. Of course, they can be bigger, but for the home chef, this size should do just fine. Go for aluminum, which heats and cools quickly. (Under $20)
While you’re out shopping for your new kitchenware, remember to rein it in when it comes to one-purpose gadgets: Do you really need a strawberry corer, a silicon egg poacher, or a stainless steel olive oil mister? It’s unlikely — so don’t waste your budget on gizmos like these when that KitchenAid mixer is calling your name!
Sources: The Wirecutter | Reader’s Digest | Consumer Reports | The Kitchn | Taste of Home | The Chef Dojo