Kitchen gadgets, especially as Christmas approaches, start to get silly. (Shrimp butler, anyone?) Here are ten kitchen items worth shelling out for.
1. Chef’s knife: A high-quality chef’s knife, whether it has a light Japanese steel blade or a hefty German one, is a must-have. It slices carrots, dices onions, minces herbs, smashes garlic cloves, portions and trims meat, and carves turkeys and roasts. Inexpensive knives are simply inferior. A badly weighted knife is clumsy and inefficient; a dull blade will bludgeon your food rather than slice it. Be sure to get the right size—not larger than you feel comfortable with—and keep it razor sharp. A good knife is expensive, but if properly cared for, it will last a lifetime.
2. Vegetable peeler: A good vegetable peeler won’t cost much; this one is only a few dollars more than a conventional peeler. The Y-shaped peeler is easier to maneuver (especially around misshapen potatoes and carrots), and it stays sharper much longer than the cheap version.
3. Big frying pan: A high-quality, heavy-bottomed, stainless steel frying pan with a copper core is worth the price tag. It conducts heat evenly and dependably, never warps, and goes from the stovetop right into the oven. We recommend a big one—12 inches or more. If the food is crammed in, moisture won’t escape and the food will steam. With this pan, you can cook six chicken breasts or four pancakes at once.
4. Cutting board: A heavy, high-quality, hard maple cutting board like this one from John Boos is stable, long-lasting, and even approved by the FDA! (Wooden boards can harbor bacteria; look for boards that won’t warp or separate between the pieces of wood.) Some people prefer plastic or ceramic boards because of the contamination issue, but wooden is best for your knife, and with regular cleaning and sealing , it is just as safe. With proper care, this board can last a lifetime.
5. Blender: This magnificent Waring Bar Blender quickly pulverizes just about anything into a smooth purée. It has only two speeds, but what’s the point of all those buttons on other blenders, anyway? The sturdy metal base (no crackable plastic) and hefty motor make this one a powerhouse. It also has a narrow jar top for making smaller quantities of purées.
6. Chinois: Any heavy-duty medium-mesh sieve will do for heavy straining, but for a delicate soup or sauce, use a fine-mesh chinois, once seen only in professional kitchens, now available at almost any kitchen-supply store. The conical shape makes it easy to filter sauces into different-sized pans, and the hook on the side helps it keep a grip on the pan and allows easy storage.
7. Burr coffee grinder: This may seem like the most excessive item on the list, but it is more than simply a bean grinder (though if you use it only to grind beans, it’s still worth the price). A burr grinder doesn’t heat up, so you won’t get burnt-tasting grindings. You can choose from coarse to super-fine grinds. And as long as you wash it between uses, you can use it to pulverize nuts and spices as well as coffee.
8. Roasting pan: You can roast in anything from a glass baking dish to a pie plate, but heavy-duty stainless steel roasting pans conduct heat well, stand up to a beating, and look good enough to spend time on the dinner table. Most roasting pans come with a roasting rack, which is essential for true roasting (cooking with dry heat), as opposed to cooking the meat in its own juices.
9. Stand mixer: Yes, it’s the ubiquitous wedding-gift-cum-dusty-counter-space-hog, but a stand mixer is truly useful. It’s an obvious boon for baking—whipping cream, making meringue, creaming butter for cakes and cookies, and kneading dough. (And unlike a cheaper hand mixer, a stand mixer allows you to walk away while it works.) Some of the additional attachments are super, too. We especially love the grinder and the freezable ice cream bowl. (Not all the accessories are necessary: We can live without the pasta attachment.)
10. Stockpot: Another big piece of equipment worth the storage space. A well-made stockpot conducts heat well and has enough room to handle anything from a few lobsters to massive amounts of pasta or even chicken soup for an army. Its sheer mass is impressive; it gives the impression that big culinary creations are afoot.