9 Trendy Kitchen Gadgets That Experts Say Are Worth It (and 6 That Just Aren’t)
If you’ve been spending more time in the kitchen this year—and who hasn’t?—you’ve probably discovered that whipping up a restaurant-style meal can sometimes require more equipment than your trusty cast iron pan and favorite spatula. There’s a never-ending supply of gadgets available in our modern times, all designed to make cooking easier, faster, and more fun, but how do you know which appliances and tools are worth the cash, and which ones will just take up precious counter or storage space?
We went straight to the people who know best, including culinary experts like executive chefs, food journalists, and recipe testers, to find out which gadgets have a spot in their hearts—and in their kitchens.
The gadgets that experts say are worth it:
A salad spinner
“One of my pet peeves about salads is when the lettuce is still damp, so the dressing won’t stick to it or when you find a small pool of water at the bottom of your bowl,” shares Kaleena Bliss, Executive Chef at Thompson Seattle. She recommends giving the classic Salad Spinner a whirl for delicious greens with less mess. As she notes, the bowl-shaped contraption “is just so quick, easy to use, and easy to clean. It also leaves you with immaculately dry lettuce that isn’t bruised from excessive shaking or pressing.”
A mortar and pestle
“This tool opens your cooking up to a world of cuisines—and you don’t even need to plug it in,” recommends food journalist Kris Martins. And as Martins notes, they can do a whole range of things: “Grind whole spices together into rubs, make chunky salsas, and pound fresh and dry ingredients together to make aromatic curry pastes,” she suggests. “Along with their versatility, mortars and pestles are easy to wash and come in different designs so you can show it off on the counter without taking up too much space.”
Martin is also a fan of small prep bowls. “[They’re] a must for cooking more efficiently and neatly,” she says. “Instead of crowding a cutting board with multiple groups of chopped produce, cramming six different prepped ingredients onto one plate, or using full-sized bowls, smaller prep bowls hold different ingredients so you can breeze through the cooking process after prep. They don’t take up too much space in the dishwasher or in the cabinets.” I’m a fan of Le Creuset’s silicone bowls, which are easy to clean and stash in a cupboard or drawer.
An Instant Pot
One of the buzziest kitchen appliances of the past few years gets a thumbs-up from Claire Lower, Senior Food Editor at Lifehacker. “You can do so much with it: make rice, make a big pot of beans, make stock, hard boil eggs (that actually peel), cook big hunks of meat,” she says. “I think it’s especially useful if you have a small place, simply because you can cook entire meals in it without having to turn on an oven.”
A nice coffee maker
Lower recommends investing in “whatever fancy coffee device that makes the kind of coffee you like” for your daily cup(s) of joe. Since you’re probably not hopping out to Starbucks or the local coffee shop on a daily basis anymore, figure out your favorite brew method and start playing barista at home. “That may be a drip coffee maker that makes gallons at a time, it may be a French press, it may be a cold brew system. Coffee is such an important part of the day; your setup should start you out on a pleasant note,” Lower says.
A utilitarian food processor
“I use a food processor as my ‘blender’ because it gets the job done and doesn’t require me to have another appliance sitting around,” says recipe developer and professional chef Micah Leal. “All around, food processors are more multipurpose than blenders.”
Lower is also a big fan of the food processor, preferring it to a traditional blender. “I make smoothies and smooth soups with my immersion blender and everything else in a food processor, which can also make pie dough,” she says. “I can’t make pie dough in a blender.”
A kitchen scale
“I’m not sure anything will make your kitchen life easier than a good scale,” says Katie King, a culinary researcher based in Atlanta. “The day I realized that no two cups of flours were ever the same, I converted to weighing ingredients for the sake of accuracy. But it became quickly apparent that cooking by weight makes your efforts easier as well as more correct. You’ll feel more confident in your culinary endeavors and won’t spend as much time cleaning an endless parade of measuring cups.” Using a scale may completely change the way you think about baking, and you don’t have to spend a ton of cash on a good one.
A KitchenAid Stand Mixer
Sure, it’s a splurge, but Adam Eaton, executive chef at Saint Dinette in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a big fan of the iconic stand mixer. If you’ve been coveting one, you may find it becomes a staple in your kitchen too. The workhorse appliance features “so much versatility,” he explains. “It has tons of attachments… it’s the Swiss Army knife of kitchen gadgets.”
A stick blender
The hand blender comes with a busy restaurant kitchen seal of approval. “This is probably our most-used gadget at Saint Dinette,” Easton shares. “It’s everything a blender is but without the mess. It’s light and portable, and a very cheap alternative to spendy table-top blenders.” You can use a hand blender for everything from smoothies and soups to salsa and sauces; in fact, it was one of the most common answers from many of our experts!
The gadgets that experts think just aren’t worth it:
An electric knife sharpener
“When it comes to sharpening my knives, I’d rather not risk accidentally damaging them on an electric sharpener, which can also take up too much precious cabinet space,” shares Martins. “Instead, I’d drop them off with a professional knife sharpener when they need a tune-up. If you feel like your knives need to be sharpened more frequently, it might be worth grabbing a set of Japanese knife sharpening stones to take care of them at home—but be sure to watch a YouTube lesson or two.”
“An egg slicer, a garlic press, an apple corer, an egg separator… get rid of all these unnecessary items and get one of your drawers back,” recommends Bliss. “A good knife and your hands are your most valuable tools.”
A spice rack loaded with spices you never use
Leal isn’t a fan of standard-issue, pre-filled spice racks, as photogenic as they may be. “I’m convinced no one uses all of the spices on one of those standing rolling spice racks,” he says. “The designer of that tower of spices tries to come up with the right number of spices to fill the slots on the tower, but rarely does someone use two spices with the same frequency—for example, an empty cinnamon container sitting next to a three-quarters full container of mustard seeds.”
Instead, he recommends building your own spice collection as you cook, so you can really tap into what you use frequently, and what you want to splurge on. “Having a designated spot in a cabinet or drawer for spices is optimal because it isn’t cumbersome on your counter and you choose the spices that you will use and keep, not to mention avoiding the sad situation of a bunch of old, stale, and ultimately useless dried spices on your counter,” he says.
Too many spoons and spatulas
Keep your drawers clean and full of tools you actually use—according to Leal, it’s simpler than you think! “Any cook only really needs two large wooden spoons for stirring and mixing, a rubber spatula for scraping bowls, one whisk for whisking, and a wide spatula for flipping things,” he shares. “Does anyone actually use that strange pronged spoon thing for pasta? What about the other four spatulas that are usually lying around and never used, because who needs more than one at a time? For the same reason, I don’t own a ladle because I’ve found that a measuring cup works just as well.”
An electric wine opener
For King, enjoying a glass of wine doesn’t require a bunch of moving parts. “When I’m ready for a glass of wine, I don’t want to worry if my corkscrew is charged or not. These machines are bulky, (comparatively) expensive, and feel weirdly cold to use. Give me a run-of-the-mill wine key any day,” she says.
Too many oven mitts
Kendall Melton, owner and chef at Vivian’s in Austin, Texas, says you really don’t need a patterned oven mitt for every season; your kitchen towels can do double duty. “I use kitchen towels instead of mitts,” she says. “I find they give my fingers and hands much more dexterity when removing things from the oven, rather than being stuffed into a suit where I can’t feel anything!”