The only thing that beats a well-stocked kitchen is one that’s also well-equipped to boot.
In addition to having a nice selection of ingredients in your fridge and pantry, having the right tools for the job is essential in any recipe for kitchen bliss. Here is a list of kitchen gadgets that I personally own, including a mix of new items and some that I’ve used for years.
Any of these would make a great gift for any home cook who considers their kitchen as their castle at home.
From chefs I know to my foodie friends, a sous vide immersion cooker ranks high in everyone’s kitchen gadget list. It’s no surprise. There’s just something about being able to easily serve a juicy brisket with bark or a glistening pork shoulder with perfect internal temperatures that makes you want to sing hallelujah. The best part is not having to finagle with a thermometer while using the oven or freezing your derriere outside in the cold as you micromanage your grill. Just program your internal temperature of choice then finish and brown your meat on a pan or inside the oven once done.
Popular options when it comes to sous vide cookers are the Anova Precision Cooker and ChefSteps Joule. Both work really well so you can’t go wrong either way. The Joule typically has the better app functionality but one thing I like about the Anova is that it also lets you punch in your settings on the device itself instead of having to fully rely on a smartphone or tablet app. The Precision Cooker also recently underwent a redesign that makes it heat water faster than the previous model.
I’ve personally used this to make anything from lemon butter halibut and Korean fried chicken to barbecue brisket and char siu pork shoulder. Each time, my guests licked their plate clean. Granted, the day could come when combi ovens replace sous vide cookers. Until combi ovens come down in price, though, immersion cookers like this one will remain a great option for home cooks.
Cost: $199 MSRP, can go down to $139 when on sale
Ah, yes, old reliable. I’ve bought a lot of kitchen gadgets over the decades. One that is still alive and kicking after more than a decade is my beloved KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I still remember buying my glossy black KitchenAid Artisan on sale for $219.99 during Black Friday back in 2007. I was quite happy back then as I’ve always pined for one of these even way back when I was a broke college student who only had a trusty Cusinart hand mixer.
In the last 13 years, I’ve used this stand mixer to mix and whip all sorts of stuff such as batter and dough for cakes and pasta as well as all sorts of icing. I’ve also used its attachments to make various sausages as well as cut different widths of homemade pasta. I’ve even silently watched in horror as my mom brought in a guest who borrowed the mixer one day and proceeded to load it up with too much material for making dough. So much so that the mixer started vibrating while said guest held it down on my granite countertop to force it to do the job. Surprisingly, it still works after all that abuse.
In the last year, I upgraded to a KitchenAid Pro 5 Plus as a replacement for my old stand mixer. In the meantime, I plan to give my Artisan to the person who has used it most after me, my niece. Hopefully, it serves her for more than a decade as well.
Cost: $259.99 and up
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I once used one of those old-school, hand-cranked can openers for years. It worked really well until four years ago, when it finally fell apart. Since then, I’ve gone through several can openers — both manual and electric — as I searched for a worthy replacement. None of them even came close to working as reliably well as that cheap stainless steel can opener I used for over a decade. Then I stumbled upon the Kitchen Mama can opener while browsing Amazon. It was less than $30 and the ratings were high so I figured, sure why not. Having used it several times now, I only wish that I bought it when it first came out two years ago. This thing opens cans with aplomb. All you need to do is set it on top of the can, press a button and watch it spin right round like a record, baby, and it’s done. One of the best parts is that the detached lid it creates doesn’t have sharp edges, making the can-opening process safer as well. I even like it more than that old manual can opener I had, which says a lot.
When rival Instant Pot comes out with a new hybrid cooker that emulates your air frying top, you know you’re doing something right. The Ninja Foodi was initially released as an Instant Pot alternative that also featured an additional heating element at the top to allow users to crisp their food. Although this added extra bulk, it actually works so well that Instant Pot responded with its own “Duo Crisp” cooker in late 2019 based on essentially the same philosophy. I haven’t tried the Instant Pot’s version but have seen the Ninja Foodi in action many times. My brother is especially a big fan of the cooker, which he has used to quickly whip up an assortment of dishes for dinner as well as big parties. The best thing about multipurpose cookers such as the Foodi is just how versatile they are. You can use it as a pressure cooker, saute pot, slow cooker, steamer and more, allowing you to cook up an assortment of dishes. I’ve seen it used for stews, risotto, ribs and more. You can even use it to steam dumplings, then use the air fryer to crisp them up till the outside is nice and crunchy. Admittedly, it takes up a lot of space but you can also get rid of several other pots and appliances since this replaces them. Grab it on sale and you can get it for $50 off the original price.
As an Asian guy, I’m pretty persnickety when it comes to my rice. While multi-purpose cookers like the Ninja Foodi and Instant Pot do a decent job in cooking rice, keeping that rice nice and fluffy for an extended time is a different matter altogether. That’s where a dedicated rice cooker comes into play. After my classic Tiger rice cooker finally roared its last, I searched for a new replacement. I ended up replacing it with the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. With a name like “Neuro Fuzzy,” you just know that this thing was cooked up in Japan (Zojirushi, by the way, roughly translates to elephant brand or seal, thus the elephant logo). First off, the rice that this thing makes is really good. For basic white rice, for example, you can change how soft or hard the cooker makes it. It also has a regular “keep warm” plus an “extended keep warm” setting to keep your rice at just the right temperature for longer periods without it drying up into a hard mess. In addition to basic white rice, you can make brown rice, sushi rice, sweet sticky rice and Japanese red bean rice inside the pot. You can even use it to make porridge and cakes. Make sure to look for it on sale as you can get it for as low as $149.
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I was originally going to include a food processor here. Unfortunately, the one I’ve been personally using the last few years, the Veggie Bullet, has been discontinued and I haven’t personally tried any other current brands recently. Instead, I’ll talk about its little cousin, the Nutribullet. I’ve been using this miniature blender to make smoothies, shakes and juices for several years and it’s still going strong to this day. Don’t let it’s small size fool you, either. The Nutribullet’s 600-watt motor can make short work of stuff like strawberries, bananas, carrots, lemon rinds and frozen blackberries. It’s the closest thing to a mini Juice Weasel.
I still remember being introduced to electric kettles by my Japanese friends in college. It was akin to a hot and steamy epiphany. Just what have I been doing with my life boiling water on the stovetop all these years? This thing is great for boiling up some hot water in a pinch — and by that I’m talking one cup of boiling water in less than two minutes. It’s great for making water for tea, instant oatmeal and every college student’s best friend, Cup Noodles. I also use this to boil a liter of hot water to speed up heating on the stove top when I’m cooking ramen packs or give my sous vide immersion cooker a head start by adding it to the hot water from my faucet. This particular model also comes with a temperature adjuster to adjust just how hot you want the water to be depending on what type of tea you are making. It’s another handy tool to have in the kitchen.
As someone who got an electric, self-flipping “takoyaki” maker from Japan, I’m known to acquire some pretty offbeat gadgets. The latest addition to my list of unusual kitchen knick-knacks is the hilariously named San Diablo Churro Maker. Granted, we can debate the finer points of getting gadgets that are limited to doing a single, solitary task that’s highly specific. But if you love Japanese octopus balls or, in this case, churros, then it really doesn’t matter now, does it? The brainchild of Utah-based churro business San Diablo Artisan Churro, this set comes with a canister for filling your dough as well as nine different nozzles for your churro type of choice. The best one creates a hollow center in your churros, allowing you to fill it with caramel, custard, jam or whatever else suits your fancy. If you or someone you know is a churro fanatic, this just might fill that gap in your life, preferably with dulce de leche.
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As someone who cooks large pieces of meat such as brisket as well as whole turkey, an instant-read digital probe thermometer is a godsend. Never again do I have to squint my eyes while watching the readings fog up on my old-school thermometer while standing in front of the stovetop or oven. I especially love dual probes as it allows me to get temperature readings either from two different meat pieces or two different parts of a big piece of meat. I’ve also used it as a candy thermometer in a pinch. The TP-17 model I’ve had for the last couple of years features a magnetized back, which is great for sticking on the side of my fridge right near my oven. There’s also the pricier TP-20 model, which comes with a wireless module that you can take with you inside the house when you’re doing a long cook on your outdoor smoker or grill. Otherwise, there’s also a basic single folding instant-read thermometer that can go down as low as $13.99 when it goes on sale.
Cost: $29.99 to $59.99
Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.