If you’ve ever needed to outfit an apartment or home from scratch, you know that the kitchen gadgets section of any Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, or Crate & Barrel can put you in a Little Mermaid frame of mind. There are whozits and whatzits galore, but which kitchen tools are actually worth the price? Do you really need the 25-piece cooking set, seven types of pie slicers, and that battery-operated corkscrew?
The kitchen tools you use most will depend on how often you cook at home, and how much you try to emulate Julia Child. There’s also quite a price difference and choice of peculiar gadgetry available. Obviously, some items are going to be more useful than others.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 11 of the most useful kitchen tools there are. You might disagree with a few, depending on your own cooking preferences, but in most cases the gadgets are universally helpful in the kitchen. In many cases, they also serve multiple purposes, making them especially essential. Some are upgrades from classic products, others are classics all on their own, and a few more have been growing in popularity in recent years. Take a look to see if you’re missing out on the most handy of kitchen tools.
Why use a bulky box grater or an inefficient zester when a microplane can take care of it all? When you need finely zested citrus peels, super shredded cheese, or fancy chocolate shavings, a microplane is your best friend. While most novice chefs don’t own one, those who do say it changes their cooking for the better. It claimed the No. 1 spot on The Kitchn’s list of most useful gadgets, and is on pretty much every other list of its kind.
“I thought microplanes were kind of a frivolous ‘one-use’ item — until I caved and bought one. It’s awesome! You can use it on everything from perfect citrus zest, to fresh garlic or nutmeg, to finely grated Parmesan,” said one Buzzfeed community member.
2. Immersion blender
You have your regular blender, and you’ve got the wooden spoon or spatula for stirring your soups and mixing your smoothies. But if you want creamy, smooth mixes, an immersion blender is a worthwhile purchase. The handheld device chops and blends things like pasta sauce, smoothies, soups, and other liquid-based recipes. It operates much like a regular blender or food processor, except it can be used directly in the glass or pan, and doesn’t have the same bulk as the typical appliances.
In fact, budget-conscious chefs can get away with using an immersion blender instead of a food processor altogether, one editor from The Kitchn posts. Other cooks in a community board on Serious Eats make their own cases for the necessity of an immersion blender, with many saying it has become one of their must-have tools. Both Serious Eats columnist J. Kenji López-Alt and Telegraph food writer John Whaite recommend the KitchenAid hand blender, a cordless version which also comes with several attachments.
3. Garlic press
Some purists do not think garlic should go anywhere near a press. But in the words of The Kitchn, it makes this list because of “sheer, overwhelming popularity.” It’s only really good for one thing, but it does that one thing very well — without making your fingers smell for hours. It’s especially helpful if you cook with garlic often, or are making a recipe that calls for ungodly amounts of the stuff.
4. Mandoline slicer
You can enroll in the Culinary Institute of America, but even then you probably won’t be able to slice your vegetables evenly and paper-thin in the same way this gadget can. Consider the slicer a great equalizer, for those of you who don’t have time to practice cutting bunches of carrots and stalks of celery for the heck of it.
Most kitchen experts suggest a variation of the Benriner Mandoline, a plastic version featuring an angled blade that will slice onions, potatoes, fennel, and really anything else in a snap. Most reviewers highly suggest using the finger guard — it can be a bit awkward at the beginning, but will save your digits from untimely accidents. You can also adjust the blade to slice at different thicknesses, depending on what your recipe requires.
5. Non-stick rice cooker
I grew up without a rice cooker, meaning that the popular grain was often one of two ways: bone dry and undercooked, or overly saturated with the consistency of Elmer’s glue. Obviously, the revelation of a rice cooker in my life changed a lot of misgivings I previously had about rice.
Of course, the most experienced users of the rice cooker will tell you it’s good for far more than perfectly cooked starches. Make automated one-pot meals by throwing in some vegetables and seasoning with the rice, or steam the veggies with the accessories that come with most models. Real Simple suggests poaching fruit or making oatmeal with it. Buzzfeed offers a number of recipes you can make in the rice cooker, including everything from mac and cheese to banana bread.
6. Silicone baking mats
Silicone has changed many aspects of cooking for the better, including the creation of these non-stick mats. They’re a wonderful eco-friendly replacement for using parchment paper or foil for baking, but you don’t have to make fancy foods like macaroons (pictured above) to enjoy their magic. They’re a cinch to clean, last a long time, and can serve a number of functions besides providing a baking surface.
Perhaps the best alternative use is to use these mats as the surface for rolling or kneading any type of dough you’re working with. It won’t stick, and you won’t find piles of excess flour in all the crevices of your kitchen. Silpat has earned a reputation for being the best in the niche market, but any silicone mat (that’s approved for baking temperatures) will do the trick.
7. Glass or stainless steel mixing bowl set
OK, so we’re moving a little farther away from “gadget” territory here, but a decent set of mixing bowls is essential for any efficient kitchen. Purchasing a set with lids will change your life. Like one Buzzfeed commenter states, “previous mixing bowls I’ve used were the hard plastic Rubbermaid type, that over the years built up a number of stains or divots from hard use. Glass or steel won’t do that.”
Purchasing a set with tight-fitting lids ensures the bowls can go from mixing ingredients to the table for serving, and then to the refrigerator for storage — all in one bowl. Getting a set of three varied sizes allows for a number of uses, with everything from whisking homemade sauces and marinades to holding an entire sliced watermelon.
8. Silicone whisk
Back to the silicone, there is literally nothing a wire whisk can do that a silicone version can’t do better. I chose a wire version for my wedding registry, but ended up purchasing a silicone version on my own. With enough time, I’ll likely get rid of the wire one altogether.
The reason is that silicone holds up to heat, but also won’t scratch metal and non-stick surfaces like a wire version will. Use it to make a sauce from scratch, stir homemade hot chocolate, or whip up a quick salad dressing. No matter the task, it can do it all — without nicking those prized cast iron and anodized pans.
9. Quality can opener
I say “quality” here, because there is nothing worse than a can opener that gets stuck halfway around the tin. Except for maybe the one that won’t even make it that far. Can openers are a basic staple, but it’s still easy to get lulled into purchasing a sub-par version. Even name brands like Cuisinart can make duds, which I discovered when the can opener I bought broke just a few months after purchasing it. The hard plastic casing around the springs split, rendering it useless.
You’ll pay a few more dollars for an all-metal version, but it’s worth the many, many years of extra service you’ll get out of it. Even with that, you can still get a high-quality, no-frills opener for less than $20. I swear by this version from KitchenAid. Plus, try going a week without using your can opener. Even for those non-cooks, it’s almost impossible.
10. Cast iron pan
Again, not so much a gadget as an essential kitchen tool. But cast iron pans have been lauded by novices and pros alike, mostly because of the superior cooking quality despite an inexpensive price. Though skillet meals are common in pans like this, you can make everything from seared steak to eggs or baked cornbread in a cast-iron pan. Interestingly, vegetarians are encouraged to use cast iron cookware when possible, since the iron in the pan supplements any loss from not eating traditional forms of protein.
It can be a bit of pain to “season” the pan with enough oil to make it non-stick, but over time these pans can become family heirlooms — all for the low price of $20-$50. You can spend much more than that, but the Lodge pans most people recommend are all within a reasonable range for high-quality, long-lasting cookware.
11. Avocado slicer
In a sign of the times where the avocado reigns supreme, it’s no wonder that a number of gadgets have sprung up to help us handle the sometimes-awkward produce. You no longer have to launch a chef’s knife into the pit in your palm to ease it from its fruit — or even worse — use a spoon to wedge it out, often catapulting it across your counter. (Not that I speak from experience or anything.)
One Buzzfeed commenter suggested a 3-in-1 slicer from OXO, while This Old House recommends a version from Williams-Sonoma. Whatever you choose, we hope it’s encouraging that you’re not the only one wrestling with the green fruit for your toast or guacamole.