The best kitchen gadgets make certain cooking tasks easier without taking over your drawers. What’s more, some of the most useful ones won’t break the bank. All the recommendations on this list are either products I use currently, or more affordable versions of something I decided to splurge on after years of cooking. Not every item is essential, but they’re all things I’ve come to appreciate when I need to get dinner on the table quickly.
Victorinox Honing Steel
There are few things worse than cooking with a dull chef’s knife. It’s unsafe and a waste of time. You need a way to maintain your blades, and a good place to start is with a honing steel. Contrary to popular belief, a honing steel won’t sharpen your knives; what it will do is realign the blade. With consistent use of one, you can get away with actually sharpening your blades once every six months to a year. Almost any model will do the job, but for an affordable option, consider the 10-inch Swiss Classic Honing Steel from Victorinox. It comes with a comfortable handle that makes mastering the motion of honing a knife easy. Best of all, it costs less than $30.
If you cook meat, you need to get yourself an instant-read thermometer. It will take all the guesswork out of braising, searing and roasting animal protein, making those dishes safer to eat and more delicious.
There are plenty of affordable instant-read thermometers out there, but I like the $27 Lavatools Javelin. It’s not the fastest thermometer on the market – taking about four to five seconds to deliver a temperature reading – but it’s accurate to within a single degree Fahrenheit. The Javelin is also magnetic, so you can stick it on your fridge or knife holder for easy storage. Best of all, the casing is IP65-certified against water and features an antimicrobial coating Lavatools claims will inhibit 99.9 percent of pathogen growth. Oh, and you can buy the Javelin in nine different colors, including a cheerful “Wasabi” green hue.
OXO Good Grips Food Scale
After an instant-read thermometer, one of the few items I think everyone should have in their kitchen is a food scale. I know what you’re thinking: aren’t food scales only useful for baking? The answer is no. They will streamline every aspect of your cooking by allowing you to do away with measuring cups, while also giving you more accurate measurements overall. A scale is also essential if you’re calorie counting or tracking your macros.
After trying a few different scales, I like this OXO Good Grips stainless steel model. At under $60, the OXO model is a bit pricier than other food scales but it comes with a few features that set it apart. The first is a handy pull-out display that makes it easy to read the scale even when you have a large bowl on top. Plus, it also comes with an imperial/metric toggle. It’s handsome, too, with a design that’s easy to clean.
Prepworks by Progressive Magnetic Measuring Spoons
I’ll admit, sometimes it’s not practical to use a food scale to sort out ingredients, and you need to turn to a measuring spoon. After owning a few different models over the years, I’ve come to swear by magnetic ones. They’re easier to separate and subsequently easier to clean. Prepworks by Progressive makes a thoughtfully designed set where each spoon features both a round and narrow end. The latter is perfect for measuring spices since it can fit in most jars.
Microplane Professional Series Grater
If you’re like me, you probably bought a box grater at the start of your cooking journey only to find out it’s terrible. I’m here to tell you there’s a better way to grate cheese and zest limes, and it’s called a Microplane. There are a few different variants, but they all offer the same advantages over a box grater. Being smaller, a Microplane is easier to maneuver over bowls and other dishes. As for what model to buy, I like the Professional Series line for its wide blade and clean design. For zesting, you want to go for the “Fine” model. The “Ribbon” variant is also great if you want to shave chocolate and cheese.
Zwilling Handheld Vacuum Sealer Machine
In the last few years, vacuum sealers have become affordable enough that most home cooks can add one to their kitchen. They’re a great way to reduce waste since meat and produce stored in airless bags will last longer. The right one can also help you reduce plastic waste. Zwilling makes an affordable handheld model that supports an ecosystem of reusable bags and containers that are also on the budget-friendly end of the spectrum. The bags are freezer- and dishwasher-safe, so you can easily sanitize them after storing meat in them. The only thing to complain about the Zwilling vacuum sealer is that it charges over micro-USB(!).
Zulay Silicone Utensil Rest
Before moving to Portugal, my neighbor gifted my partner and I a silicone utensil rest. Since then, this simple tool has been an indispensable part of my kitchen arsenal. Once you start cooking at the stove, it helps to have all your tools right in front of you. A utensil rest helps with that while reducing the amount of cleanup you have to do afterward. Once you’re done, you can just toss it into the dishwasher. Best of all, you can buy one for about $10.
Cuisinart Electric Kettle
While an electric kettle is nether essential for cooking or preparing tea and coffee, it can make both those tasks faster, safer and easier. You can spend a lot to buy a kettle with multiple temperature settings, but unless you’re a tea connoisseur, I don’t think that’s a feature most people need. Cuisinart’s JK-17P1 boils water faster, looks nice on a countertop, and best of all, won’t break the bank.
Crate and Barrel Salt Cellar
Shortly after reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and learning the importance of salting dishes from within, I bought my first box of kosher salt. I didn’t have a good way to store it at the time, so I used a small bowl whenever I went to cook. The problem with that approach was that the salt would dry out if I left the bowl out. A salt cellar solves that by adding a lid to the bowl. Crate and Barrel makes a nifty (and attractive) acacia wood model that comes with an attached lid so that the two parts never get lost or separated.