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At the most basic level, the only kitchen equipment you really need are a knife, cutting board, a heatproof vessel of some kind and perhaps a utensil or two. But if you really want to take your cooking to the next level – and who doesn’t? – you’ll want to invest in a few accoutrements. From pressure cookers to toaster ovens, these are our favorite kitchen must-haves that will make cooking easier, faster and maybe even more enjoyable.
Best multi-cooker: Instant Pot Duo Plus
If you haven’t yet hopped on the bandwagon, a multi-cooker like the Instant Pot could become part of your regular rotation. This cult favorite can perform multiple tasks, including pressure cooking, slow cooking, sautéing, rice cooking, yogurt making, steaming and warming. The combination of all these features make it easy to prepare stews, soups, braises and more. You can make cheesecake in it too! Our favorite model for most people is the Instant Pot Duo Plus because it’s simple to use, with several quick-cooking modes for soup, eggs, porridge and grains. It has sterilizing and sous vide cooking functions too.
Want a smarter Instant Pot instead? Consider the Instant Pot Pro Plus. It not only has updated features like a canning function and an oven-safe inner pot, but you also get WiFi connectivity and a companion app, which offers step-by-step guided instructions for over 800 recipes. Plus, you can use it to release the Instant Pot’s steam remotely. You can also use the app to set a timer to release the steam automatically.
Buy Instant Pot Duo Plus at Amazon – $130
Buy Instant Pot Pro Plus at Amazon – $200
Best thermometer: Thermapen One
Nobody wants to eat undercooked meat, but it’s pretty inedible when it’s overcooked as well. One way to avoid either extreme is to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Our favorite is the Thermapen One from ThermoWorks. It gives readings instantaneously, and the screen rotates automatically depending on how you’re holding it. The auto-wake and sleep feature is useful for quick temp checks, and its IP67 waterproofing rating means you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping it in the sink.
The ThermoPop is a more affordable option in ThermoWorks’ lineup. It’s not quite as fast as the Thermapen One, and it doesn’t have the rotating display or backlight. But it still measures temperatures accurately and while it’s not waterproof, it is splash resistant.
Buy Thermapen One at ThermoWorks – $105
Buy ThermoPop at ThermoWorks – $35
Best food scale: Escali Primo
Bakers everywhere know that the most precise way to measure ingredients is with a scale. A “cup of flour” can be wildly different depending on how you scoop it, while a scale can tell you exactly if you have 120 grams. A digital scale is best for the most accurate measurements, and we especially like the Escali Primo. You can switch between grams and ounces with a single press, and importantly, there’s also a tare button that zeros out the weight so you can keep measuring in the same container. One reason we like the Escali Primo over other models is that it has a very long auto-off timer, allowing it to stay on for four minutes before shutting off. That’s important for when you need the extra time to chop up vegetables or gather other ingredients without having to worry about the scale resetting to zero.
Buy Escali Primo at Amazon – $25
Best air fryer: Instant Vortex Plus
The hottest kitchen gadget right now seems to be the air fryer, presumably because the idea of “frying” foods without the oily mess is an easy sell. Really, though, air fryers are just miniature convection ovens. They’re typically pod-shaped and often come with a removable basket. There are also toaster ovens with an air-frying function – see our recommendations below – if you prefer to have a multi-purpose appliance.
Though both have their own merits, if you think you’re going to be air-frying a lot, we actually recommend a dedicated pod-shaped air fryer. These devices tend to result in crispier food, plus they’re easier to clean. One of our favorites is the Instant Vortex Plus with ClearCook and OdorErase. As the name suggests, it has a window so you can see what you’re cooking, as well as odor-eliminating filters that help reduce cooking smells – not many other air fryers have both. It also doesn’t take up as much space as a large toaster oven and it has easy to use controls.
Buy Instant Vortex Plus at Amazon – $150
Best stand mixer: KitchenAid Artisan series
Sure, you could probably mix together a batch of cookie dough by hand, but it’ll take time and quite a bit of upper body strength. That’s even truer if you want to knead bread dough or whip up a meringue. Save yourself the trouble by getting a stand mixer. The favorite among bakers and amateur cooks for years have been KitchenAid’s Artisan series. It’s durable, powerful and it comes with your choice of paddle, hook and whisk attachments. We also like that the KitchenAid mixers are compatible with a variety of accessories and attachments that can turn the machine into an ice cream maker, a meat grinder and a pasta machine just in case you want to expand your culinary horizons.
Buy Artisan stand mixer at KitchenAid – $449
Best blender: Vitamix Explorian series
It’s hard to beat the Vitamix in this space. The high-performance blender brand makes machines that do more than just prep smoothies, but can also make sauces, batters and soups. It’s especially handy if you have a habit of adding tougher ingredients into your recipes – things like nuts, dried fruit and frozen produce. Whereas other, less powerful blenders may leave chunks once you introduce hardier ingredients, the Vitamix won’t, leaving you with a silky smooth final product.
Depending on the model you get, you can also buy different attachments to make the most of the blender’s powerful base. You can pick up 64-ounce containers for making smoothies for your whole family at once or a “dry grain” container that’s outfitted with a blade specifically for grinding up things like whole grains so you can make your own flour.
Vitamix currently has four series of blenders: the basic Vitamix One, which comes in at $250; the slightly more advanced Explorian series, which starts at $350 and is arguably best for most people; the Legacy series, starting at $400; and the advanced Ascent series, which will set you back at least $500. Yes, these are expensive machines, but it’s worth investing in if you do a lot of blending or like to experiment with making things from scratch.
Buy Explorian at Vitamix – $350
Best toaster oven: Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro
A toaster oven is a surprisingly versatile appliance. Yes, you can use it to toast bread, buns, and all manner of baked goods. But it’s also a great alternative when you don’t want to warm up your whole house with your full-size oven. It heats up far faster too, which makes it a more efficient choice for warming up leftovers.
We love the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro as it’s big enough to roast a chicken and it also has other functions like dehydrate, proof and air fry (thanks to a super convection mode). It also includes presets for baking pizzas and toasting bagels. A step up from that is the Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro, which adds WiFi connectivity so you can control it from your phone. The app has lots of recipes, too, and there’s an “autopilot” feature that automatically adjusts the temperature during cooking.
If you don’t want something quite so large, a smaller and more affordable alternative is the Panasonic Flash Express. It’s roomy enough to handle a slice of pizza but definitely won’t take up as much space as the Breville. It’s definitely a great option if all you want is a toaster oven for heating up frozen snacks or toasting several bread slices at once.
Buy Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro at Breville – $400
Buy Panasonic Flash Express at Amazon – $170
Best sous vide machine: Anova Precision Cooker Nano
If you want to make sure your expensive steak is perfectly medium rare without having to constantly monitor its temperature, consider getting a sous vide cooker. These machines let you cook anything inside a temperature-controlled water bath so that it’s done to perfection. We’ve successfully made steak, chicken, burgers, eggs and even yogurt in a sous vide cooker, and the results have been perfect every time.
Our favorite model is the Anova Precision Cooker Nano. It’s relatively affordable, it’s compact enough to store in a drawer and the controls are easy to use. The companion app is thoughtfully designed as well, with hundreds of recipes and the option to control the machine remotely. There are other sous vide cookers that might be more advanced, but the Nano is the only one that combines affordability and precision in this compact of a form factor. And even though there’s a companion app, you don’t have to use it; you can easily adjust the temperature with the on-board controls and the large digital display.
Another option we recommend is the Breville Joule. It’s a little more expensive and it lacks the digital readout that the Anova has, but it’s even more compact. Plus, it has a magnetic base that makes it a little easier to attach to certain pots. We’re also a fan of the Joule app, which has a “visual doneness” guide that shows you photos of how the food should look when it’s done.
Buy Precision Cooker Nano at Amazon – $129
Buy Breville Joule at Amazon – $200
Best smart displays: Amazon Echo Show 8, Google Nest Hub
Though they’re not made specifically for the kitchen, smart displays from either Amazon or Google make wonderful cooking companions. Searching for recipes is as easy as using your voice (you can say “Look up recipes for tomato soup,” for example). Each recipe features a list of ingredients that you can easily add to your phone, plus step-by-step instructions that you can follow along on screen as you cook. Some recipes even have photo or video guidance, which is especially helpful for beginner cooks. Additionally, you can use smart displays to set timers – a must-have feature for kitchen use.
As for which smart display to choose, we recommend going with either the Amazon Echo Show 8 or the 7-inch Google Nest Hub. They each have a decent screen size for reading through recipes and are fairly affordable as well. We generally prefer the Nest Hub because we like YouTube (there are plenty of great cooking shows on there), but the Echo Show 8 does offer apps for Food Network Kitchen and Allrecipes. Of course, you should pick the smart display that best aligns with your preferred ecosystem regardless. You can read more about picking the best smart display here.
If you prefer a more portable device, tablets are also fantastic options. You can look up recipes from any source you like, including blogs and social media, which aren’t always accessible on smart displays – be sure to check out our guide on online cooking resources for some examples. Sure, you can use your phone as well, but a tablet’s larger screen can make all the difference when you want to read a recipe at a glance. We probably wouldn’t suggest a super high-end tablet for kitchen jobs – you don’t want to cover your $1,000 possession in flour do you? – but a model with 720p resolution is fine for watching recipe videos. For iOS users, we recommend Apple’s 10.2-inch iPad, while we think Android users will be happy with Amazon’s Fire HD 8.
Buy Nest Hub at B&H – $100
Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon – $130
Valentina Palladino contributed to this report.