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Getting the Gadgets

By • August 6, 2012 • 55 Comments

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Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: choosing the right kitchen gadgetry.

Chimichurri

Sometimes, when my ingredients are laid out on my couch, and my mise en place is in plastic Solo cups, and I’m balancing a mixing bowl on my thigh because there’s no room left on the counter, I like to picture myself in another kitchen. 

These kitchens have roaring hearths, endless counter space, and the colorations of an Instagram photo. Sometimes, out the window, I see the Tuscan countryside; other times, the bustling streets of Paris. Most likely, there’s a handsome man kneading bread in the corner, or an Italian nonna shelling beans.

These other-worldly kitchens, like my own, lack any gadgetry.

While it’s easy for me to fantasize about wooden cutting boards, vintage cutlery, and rows of speckled cookbooks, kitchen gadgets – the blenders, food processors, toasters, mixers, rice cookers, coffee makers, and other plug-ins – seem un-romantic, un-inspired, unnecessary. They’re too shiny for that Tuscan kitchen, too electric-cord-y for Paris. Their odd shapes and sizes – and unattractive names – deem them unfit for those hazy, lazy, sepia-toned afternoons, where things are chopped into uneven hunks and still cook perfectly, and where I have all the time in the world to whip, chop, stir, knead.

That’s why it’s the kitchen of my dreams. 

In reality, I’m busy. Crazed, sometimes. Kitchen gadgets, so I’m told, will make my life easier, my prep quicker, my nights shorter. Anything that will make me want to cook more -- that will bring me into the kitchen and guide me towards dinner -- seems worth it.

Maybe gadgets can be dreamy, after all. 

Mixers

Stand mixers vs. hand mixers

I’m a knead-with-your-hands kind of girl. I’m also a making-bread-is-a-major-project-and-I’m-focusing-all-my-energy-on-it kind of girl. Fancy-schmancy stand mixers, like the Cuisinart 5.5 Quart Stand Mixer ($349), are great at kneading dough – but hey, so am I. And since when I’m making bread, I’m making bread – flour on my cheeks, determination in my eyes – I don’t need a handy little machine to make bread for me when I do other grand kitchen tasks. Making bread is my grand kitchen task.

A stand mixer’s other skills – paddling cookie dough, for instance, or whipping eggs and cream – can be accomplished with a simple hand mixer, for a fraction of the price (the Cook’s Illustrated-vetted Cuisinart Power Advantage 7-Speed Hand Mixer is $59.95). That is, when I don’t feel like doing it myself. Which, to be honest, is not that often.

Blenders

Blenders vs. immersion blenders

Practically-speaking, this seems like an easy one. 

Immersion blenders are givers. They’re smaller, they’re easily packed away, and they can do their job in any vessel: a saucepan, a mixing bowl, a stock pot, a cute little milkshake glass that I do not own. Plus, they’re cheaper – the KitchenAid 3-Speed Hand Blender, for instance, is $59.95. 

But some home cooks swear by their blenders. They say they give food an airier, creamier texture, that they’re worth the counter space, the cleaning time, the potential spillage, everything. But are they worth the extra money? Are they really that much better?

Food processors

I’ve already gotten all poetic and weird about how much I love knives. But in my reality-kitchen, I don’t have all of the time in the world to prep vegetables (wouldn’t that be nice?). When crunched for time, prep is not an entity onto itself; it is a hurdle to cross to get to dinner. 

That’s when a food processor would come in handy.

But even beyond prep, a food processor would introduce me to culinary projects that I otherwise may shy away from: baking pies and other pastries, making chimichurris and other condiments, maybe trying my hand at some homemade nut butters. Having a tool that pushes you into the kitchen, to try new things, to challenge yourself? That seems essential. Even though a good one comes at the steep price of $199.

Toasters? Coffee makers? Rice cookers? Juicers?

While I’ve cast many gadgets aside as not-First-Kitchen-worthy, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are your most essential kitchen gadgets, and what do you think I’d like for my First Kitchen?

As usual, I'll be pinning everything I'm coveting to my First Kitchen Pinterest board, so check it out!

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

Jump to Comments (55)

Tags: kitchen confidence, first kitchen, gadgets, cookware, food processors, blenders, mixers

Comments (55)

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8 months ago Charlie Henss

I haven't found that immersion blenders are all they're cracked up to be. Get a good regular blender with a glass, not plastic, jar. A low-cost mandoline will handle your vegetable prep until you can afford a food processor. When you do go for a food processor, consider the Cuisinart Prep 11 plus, available for $139.99 at Costco.

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over 1 year ago craftybee5

I was given an Oster Kitchen Center circa 1984. It converts to a stand mixer, blender, food processor and meat grinder all in one. They can be found on ebay or in garage sales, and in my experience those older Oster motors last for ages. I love it and have relegated my blender, expensive viking stand mixer, hand beaters, and food processor to deep storage.

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about 2 years ago calfes

i love my blender for frozen drinks that a stick blender won't work (if don't make that many drinks then stick blender is fine)....if you love rice and varoius pilaf etc., i would consider a rice cooker...i always put it in the nice to have but i don't really need one category till i actually bought one....love, love, love...it has saved me enormous amounts of time because i make things early and stays perfect for hours....i also eat more brown rice and even make steel cut oatmeal overnite...there is a wonderful rice cooker cookbooks that has endless ideas

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about 2 years ago mira864

I concur with other readers that the Cuisinart food processor is indispensible. In addition to the many other uses, readers have mentioned, I love it for making pesto with the basil I buy from the farmers market in the summer. When I lived in South America in 2005, this was the one kitchen implement I truly missed. I had purchased a small, inexpensive, Chinese-made one, but it was so terribly inferior by comparison, I became sad every time I used it.

In the US, I have always had small kitchens, thus space is an issue. I am a big fan of open shelving, which none of the apts. I’ve ever lived in seem to have, so I have used bookshelves in the kitchen to create my own. Since the shelves on one that I have are adjustable, I have my Cuisinart food processor, rice cooker and blender on the bottom shelf. I also have two of those folding metal bookshelves from the Container Store in my kitchen as well, which provide a lighter feel.

I don’t own a large stand mixer, although I wish I did. I’m managed well with a KitchenAid handmixer, although it started to slow down last year (after about 15 years), so I’ve purchased another.

Other kitchen appliances I wouldn’t want to be without are an electric kettle. These are extremely popular in Europe, but I almost never see Americans with them. They turn off automatically when done, so if you forget, you never have to worry about burning up a kettle – something I’ve unfortunately done more than once.

Other notable appliances and gadgets include a recently acquired magnetic timer that sticks to the refrig. It’s quite cute! They’re available at Anthropologie, and use it all the time. I am not sure how I managed without it earlier. But of course, you’re young – you probably know how to easily program your iphone to alert you 5 different ways when each dish is ready.

I have also forsaken the large drip coffee maker and coffee grinder for a small 2 cup Vev Vegano Kontessa stovetop espresso maker. It makes very good café con leche, and I no longer have to have a drop coffee maker and coffee grinder cluttering my counter. Plus, the Lavazza or Illy coffee that I buy for it is far cheaper than the vast quantity of whole beans I used to consume before.

I do have a rice cooker, blender, and stick blender. The latter is wonderful with soups: for this purpose, the regular blender just doesn’t compare. If I had serious space constraints, I could manage without the full blender and rice cooker, but they are nice to have.

Finally, I agree with your other readers: buy the best quality knives, pots, and pans you can afford. You'll enjoy them every day, and they will last you a lifetime.

Have fun stocking your kitchen!

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about 2 years ago sbane

The company that I work for - Weston - came out with these really awesome little hand mixer/grinder/processors, and as soon as I used them for a blog, I bought one of each.

First of all, they're non-electric and pretty much silent, so I love them for my apartment since my landlords happen to live directly below me and complain when I close a cabinet.

Second of all, they're lightweight and small, so I have no problem storing them in my tiny space.

And the biggest reason why I think they're a must have: THEY WORK! Seriously, you look at these things and think 'Yeah right," but I swear: I've used them for grinding meat, blending cake batters, making salsa, and a thousand other things, and they held up to the challenge every time. And I should add: They're ridiculously inexpensive.

Here they are listed in order of how often I use each:

1. Manual Kitchen Kit: http://www.westonsupply...

2. Manual Food Grinder: http://www.westonsupply...

3. Multi Function Mixer: http://www.westonsupply...

And each one of those has a ton of functions.

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about 2 years ago rroseperry

You can do without a food processor, given patience, a grater, and a good knife. But a blender, yes, you need to have a blender. Immersions are quick, but less thorough than a standing model.

In retrospect, I've done a lot of good cooking with minimal gear, but it's amazing how much work a great tool like a KitchenAid saves

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about 2 years ago southernlady

What you consider “essential” depends on 3 things - space, budget and how you cook. While you will probably eventually cherish a KitchenAid stand mixer, a good, sturdy hand-held may serve you well for 5-10 years, depending on how often and how you use it. I have a full-size food processor that I hardly use. I just don’t do enough big jobs to justify pulling it out or cleaning it. Same goes for my stand blender. That said, a mini-processor and a stick blender can be a lifesaver. I have the Braun stick blender, whisk, food chopper combo. While I’ve never had a toaster oven, I’ve always thought they seemed like a good multi-tasker for the space and price. Other gadgets I have but seldom use –toaster (though my husband uses it almost daily), rice cooker, electric skillet, waffle iron and electric knife sharpener. I’ve never owned a crock pot, electric knife, juicer, ice cream maker or indoor grill and haven’t missed them. What you eventually decide will depend on those 3 criteria – how much you will use it, what does it cost and how much space/maintenance it requires. And as your cooking styles and lifestyle changes, so will what you consider essential.

Marshmallow26

about 2 years ago belmontmedina

I too like to do things by hand for the most part, but I could never part with my kitchenaid. I got mine as a gift, but it's proved its usefulness over and over (I have the grinding attachement, and I especially love it.) I've lived for years without a toaster (or a microwave) and done perfectly fine.

I'd recommend the following: an immersion blender (I use mine almost exclusively now, to the detriment of my actual blender, although that comes out for margaritas), a mixer of some sort (hand is fine I suppose, but I cannot strongly recommend a good stand mixer enough, and a small food processor. The big ones are nice if you have the space, but almost everything you'd do in a big one, you can do in batches with a small one (or in the case of pie crust, a bowl and a pastry blender or two forks.)

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about 2 years ago carol.penn.romine

I've never had a pop-up toaster, because I could toast bread in the oven. Why buy an extra appliance just for that, especially when it does nothing else? Then I discovered the toaster oven, which can do so much more. I’ve worn out several over the years, and when I discovered the Oster convection toaster oven, I gladly dished out the bucks for it. In it I can roast garlic, beets, tomatoes and scores of other items. It can handle broiling and light baking chores, though nothing too complicated. It’s worth the cost and the counter space simply because it allows me to toast nuts without having to crank up the oven and use a lot of gas to get it up to temp, not to mention all the electricity required to cool off the kitchen and house. If I never own a pop-up toaster, I won’t feel deprived.

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about 2 years ago sbf-ct

Wow! I can't believe I've made it this far without a Kitchen Aid mixer!! Look at all of those chefs RAVING about it! No wonder it's at the top of my list to buy once I move into my dream kitchen (literally NO space to squeeze it right now).

I'm going to toss in a recommendation for a GOOD dutch oven. Use it stove top, in the oven, over a camp fire, whatever. I got mine in a fun orangy red color and it makes me WANT to go cook. I just love it.. (not to mention how awesome my arms feel after the workout it gives me lifting & washing it!). It doesn't have to be the super pricey Le Creusette version to be good either... got mine at Costco & it is my kitchen happiness! Especially once soup season arrives in New England!

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about 2 years ago atlacm1

Sometimes "super pricey" means quality and in the case of Le Creuset, a lifetime warranty. I couldn't afford a Le Creuset dutch oven, but now realize I should have just bitten the bullet and bought one. Instead I bought 2 off brand dutch ovens (1 oval and 1 larger round) which I've used constantly for the last several years -- and it shows. The enamel coating on the bottom on both pans are now bubbling and chipping off, so I won't be able to use them (already stopped using my oval for this reason). I could have bought a 7 qt. round Le Creuset oven for the price I paid for these two off brands, and I'd still be using it without any problems! I work in a kitchen where we use Le Creuset and Staub dutch ovens constantly and I've come to really appreciate how well made and durable they are. So, divide the upfront cost of the quality dutch oven over your lifetime (rather than 5 years) and you'll find you won't mind spending a little extra money after all.

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about 2 years ago Panfusine

Thanks... You just helped me make up my mind.. Le Creuset it is!

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about 2 years ago GritHippie

From a 'teenage' cook to you (ie: not a newbie, but not a seasoned chef either) (and I'm 33...) - my must have kitchen gadgets:

1. Garlic press - no single kitchen gadget has changed my life for the better. Squish garlic, press out. Done.
2. Cuisinart Food Processor - finally sucked it up and purchased this fantastic piece of machinery about 4 months ago and it has changed my life. Before I just had the $8 dealie from Target, which practically sent me to tears each time I had to use it. My new cuisinart has, and I'm not exaggerating, changed my life. Now I can make pesto, hummus, pimento cheese, homemade crackers, etc in less than 5 minutes instead of the 45+ it used to take me. Buy one. You won't regret it.
3. Sharp Knives - These will also change your life. They may also send you to the ER (finger stitches - me? - noooo...), but it's a lesson you'll only have to learn once.

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about 2 years ago Peggio

I didn't know what I was missing until I got my Kitchen Aid stand mixer at age 50+! Others have said it but I will re-iterate ... the fact that you can do other things while it's mixing or kneading is a great time saver! I understand your wanting to get right in there w/your hands making bread or pasta (because I feel the same way) but I really love that I don't have to do ALL the kneading by hand, again saving me time to do the other tasks associated with those recipes. Also, the attachments for pasta and grinding meats are just amazing.

My other can't live without gadgets are immersion blender, toaster oven, multiple whisks, good chopping & bread knives, slow cooker (for great soups & meats cooked while you have to be somewhere else) and a coffee/spice grinder (mine is metal inside w/a plastic lid & I use it for both without noticing any lingering coffee flavor cross-over).

I have a Cuisinart food processor but don't use it much, rarely use a blender or hand mixer and rice made on the stove top in a pan has always come out perfect for me so no desire for a rice cooker.

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about 2 years ago vaughan

Didn't see a mention of my must-have kitchen appliance - a toaster oven. I use mine everyday. I have a gas range (Viking) but I don't always want to crank up that bad-boy. I use my little Black and Decker oven for toast, cheese toast, heating up leftovers that need to be crispy and evenly cooked, you name it.
I also can easily broil small pieces of meat and make a small loaf of bread. Just love it. Don't own a regular toaster. So, that's my can't live without gadget. Next, is my Kitchen Aid....

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about 2 years ago phyllis

Brette, you're going to have to decide, and, perhaps, build your kitchen gadget list slowly. I won't go into how I was of the first wave to get a Cuisinart food processor in 1971, and how I only use mine a few times a year now, but I will tell you that I have almost every gadget but only use a few. I use: toaster, coffee pot, Breville blender (does everything; hardly use my fancy immersion blender), kitchen-aid stand, but can definitely use a hand mixer for almost anything, box grater and a very sharp knives! I love that you care and are thinking about your purchases. Have fun!!!

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about 2 years ago Jane Eyrehead

I have a Cuisinart and a KitchenAid stand mixer and use them lots--maybe the stand mixer more. I could do without them, though, if I had to. I couldn't do without a cast iron frying pan.

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about 2 years ago J.B.

Seems like the consensus is that a Kitchen Aid and Cuisinart Food Processor are worth the sacrifice of time and money, and I heartily concur. In my nearly 50 years of housekeeping I've had cheap tools and finally high end tools (the two mentioned above). In essence you get what you pay for. Bought my heavy duty KA machine to make my daughter's wedding cake. I've always baked bread and kneaded by hand, until my hands went and now to me the machine is priceless, Indeed I still make bread and knead the dough with the KA. Cuisinart processors have been the top performer-value-giver from the get go, from the time when it was RoboCoupe(?). Others processors don't even hold a candle to it in performance and durability. These 2 alone will serve you well; enjoy!

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about 2 years ago dcremerssf

interesting how the styles of cooking change over time. many posters, including you J.B., talk about a food processor or the stand-mixer being essential in making bread. I only recently came to bread-making (and I'm not a young cook) and use neither of those appliances, thanks to the popularity of no-knead bread recipes. It's the most amazingly low-tech way of putting really good bread dough together (as long as you have the perfectly-sized Le Creuset pot to bake it in!). The range of experience, preference and personal style in these postings is really lovely. It's hard for the young starting cook; there are no right (or wrong) answers, you have to find your own way

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about 2 years ago mamac=joy333

Absolutely the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer; it works while you can go about the prepping/chopping/gathering of other ingredients. I also use the Kitchen Aid hand-held mixer for quick/small batches. I must have a good spatula/spoon to scrape the last bit of mix/dough from the bowl, small one to scrape out shortening from a measuring cup. I love my Cuisinart food processor. My son also loves to use my Oster juicer, an old "put the orange half on top and push down while it rotates" kind. Mixing bowls with actual handles are a must for me. Good stainless steel measuring cups and spoons that feel good in your hand are just pleasant to use and easy to clean. Measure your oven and get the right sized baking sheets; I like edges all the way around to keep stuff from sliding off; quality counts too, because the cheaper ones will just warp the first time you use them. Same with baking pans. We use our toaster oven constantly. I use a small, wide Oxo cheese spread knife for frosting cakes and cookies easily; I have two in case my son wants to help! Tongs are a must, as are good offset spatulas in various sizes (larger for flipping omelets to smaller for removing cookies/brownies). And this is a splurge of both money and space, but I use my Breville panini maker a lot for paninis, grilling chicken/burgers/steak/veggies. I also use my dough scraper for transferring cut cookie dough to the baking sheet, cut garlic/onions/etc. to the pan, etc. A good set of knives is an investment that you'll send up prayers of gratitude everytime you use them. Good luck!

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about 2 years ago red135

I have to support the stand mixer - I scrimped, saved, and asked for gift certificates to the store I eventually bought mine from, all at the ripe old age of 22. I think I just lusted after it and knew it would last forever. What I didn't realize about it is that it not only does the work faster than I can, it frequently does the work without me having to stand over it! So I'm free to do other cooking tasks at the same time, a huge time-saver. I also have fallen in love with many of the attachments, and after the in initial investment of the mixer it's cheaper to buy those attachments, as well as space saving, vs. having a separate machine for each task (pasta maker, meat grinder, ice cream maker are my favorites.)
Beyond that, my food processor gets a lot of use, but the best investments are good knives and pans. Many other things I have picked up have been found at a bargain at second hand stores or resale shops where if you don't know what they are they aren't considered valuable- except to me!

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about 2 years ago Kate's Kitchen

I have had a Kitchen Aid mixer for almost 20 years but don't use it that much - still works like a dream when I do. I love my 11 cup Cuisinart food processor and probably pull it out the most. I also love an immersion blender - fast and easy. I like my Cuisinart ice cream maker and a small coffee bean crusher for pulverizing spices.

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about 2 years ago Steffanie

We moved to Paris, France when I was 7. My mom brought her KitchenAid stand mixer with her. It was one of my first purchases with my husband to be : we bought it on a trip to see my dad in Florida & got some extra grinder & slicer attachments as a gift from him. And lugged all 25kgs or so it seemed on the plane with us. And then I had to go buy a transformer to make it work (110V-220V). I probably only use a couple times a month, but it just doesn't feel like a home without it.

And yes, they do sell them in France too - overpriced and only the smaller model. And I needed it to come from the States.