In a world of many appliance choices, below are guides to the appliances that have differentiated options. While of course, no kitchen would be complete without a can opener — I would say get a side can opener instead of top! ;), below are the more complex choices.
Suggestion: Don’t clutter up the kitchen with one-use appliances unless you use them super often, e.g. griddle (only good for pancakes and sandwiches to easily flip and brown evenly), waffle maker, crepe maker, rice cooker, pasta maker, veggie mandolin slicer, food grinder, food processor, cookie cutters.
Kitchen Cookware and Utensils
Pots and Pans
Skillet (sloped sides) vs Sauté Pan (vertical sides) – Both are equally efficient for high-temperature (ie steaks) searing. A skillet, however, is actually better for sautéing (moderate temperature and low liquid, you can jump-flip the food and don’t need to stir as much). A sauté pan has higher walls for more liquid so is better for shallow frying, moderate-temperature searing (as for chicken pieces), or braising. If you can’t have both, go with the skillet, as it’s preferable for sautéing (helpful in lots more recipes).
Pots and Pans Material:
Stainless Steel is the standard and Tri-ply is enough (5 or 7 or fully-clad are all unnecessary), recommended over Hard Anodized because it’s usually the higher quality choice! If you want non-stick, Hard Anodized aluminum is a good compromise between steel and non-sticks, very strong, not as chemically inert as stainless but foods tend to stick to stainless steel more. If you must get non-stock, T-Fal has great non-stick.
Some may prefer cast iron, as they sear like steel and slips like non-stick. Holds heat longer and more evenly. However, the Cons: Takes longer to heat ~10mins and harder if not impossible to do the flip because it’s heavy unlike on a stainless steel skillet. Rinse it out with water and then wipe it with a paper towel to keep it seasoned, but use soap every now and then.
Note: Don’t put cookware in the dishwasher.
Best Pots/Pans Brand (for coil or gas stove): Costco has great sets (their Kirkland brand) [Costco], as compared to the competition All Clad (very expensive), Cuisinart, Bialetti, Calphalon, Le Creuset, Lodge.
Cast Iron Skillet: Get from an outdoors stores or online, ie Lodge Logic Pre-Seasoned 12 inch [Amazon] or Best: Griswold (used).
Instead of a Roaster Pan (ie used Guardian Ware), get a Rotisserie!
If buying a saucepan separately, a used copper-bottom/stainless Revere Ware is great quality (thicker/heavier than the new ones no longer made in the USA).
To clean the stove or stains off of pots/pans, instead of getting expensive sprays that may or may not work, make a paste of water and baking soda. Work it into the surface and leave overnight and wipe it off with a wet towel. Or can use Bar Keepers Friend.
Skip the Fryer, and get a Wok!
A traditional Wok is just as good or even better tasting than frying in a real oil fryer! And why get a fryer (or even the slightly healthier Philips Air Fryer) when it tempts you to make fried foods (ie French Fries, Fried Plantains, Chicken Wings, Chicken Fried Steak, Tater Tots)?? A wok is healthier and more versatile (don’t need to bread things with panko crumbs, can do a great stir-fry).
A Round bottom wok is preferable for tossing (ie Handhammered carbon steel Pow wok, 14″ $25 [Amazon]) than a flat bottom (ie Origins Carbon Steel 12″ $31 [Amazon]), however, some American electric stoves may not allow for the round. Those listed are two great quality ones. If you want the burner super high, like it’s supposed to, you can do it the authentic way and get a dedicated outdoor jet burner: Eastman Outdoors Portable Kahuna Burner with XL Pot and Wok Brackets with Adjustable and Removable Legs $80 [Amazon].
Utensils / Plates / Dinnerware
Recommended is Corelle as the material is nigh impossible to break!
Asian Style Bowls – Korin, Also get chopsticks and soup spoons
Good knives don’t come in box sets and that many knives aren’t even necessary to the best chefs. The best values in cutting knives are either getting a Fujiwara FKM or Tojiro DP series $50 [Amazon]. Properly sharpened they’re even better than Wusthof factory edge because they’re both thinner and will stay sharp longer because they’re harder.
Sharpening (Cheap and sharp beats expensive and dull anyday): Either freehanding on bench stones or buying an EdgePro Apex kit (both better than Chef’s Choice electric machines which is what they use at Sur La Table chain store). To get it sharpened online, Dave Martell is amazing at Japanese Knife Sharpening but pricey. To do yourself, watch the videos on CKTG – Chef Knives To Go and Japanese Knife Imports. To begin the process of sharpening, start with medium/coarse stones (~1000 JIS) ie Benton 500 and Bester 1200 (need lots of water soaking), and medium or medium-fine stones (3000# or higher) ie Chosera 3000 (5-10 mins water soaking) and Gesshin 8000 (splash of water) to finish it.
Don’t Get: Cutco Knives, Cuisinart, MAC (slightly better than Tojiro but twice the price at $110), Pro M, Richmond, Masamoto, Misono, Hiromoto (ie Gyuto), Global (ie G-2, again slightly better than Tojiro but twice the price at $110) Source. Unnecessary: Mandoline Slicer (ie the Swissmar Borner or a japanese Benriner)
Best Dish Soap
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Dish Soap, Honeysuckle 3 count/$11 [Amazon] – Make sure you get Honeysuckle! Best of the scents
A toaster is unnecessary as a toaster oven is more useful (a more efficient oven that doubles as a toaster, and it toasts almost as uniformly!). And they’re even convection, in case your living space’s oven isn’t, meaning they cook super fast! These tend to be good for baking pizzas, cookies, fish, roasting chicken, roasting burgers (roasting turned out to be better than broiling). The best large one (fits even 13 inch pizzas) is the Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven $250 (convection) [Amazon] (better than Cuisinart and Frigidaire). It has trouble fitting a whole chicken, but one could cut in half or quarters and roast it that way (the dark meat and white meat even get cooked perfectly at different temperatures) Don’t get the smaller Breville Smart Ovens (BOV650XL and BOV450XL don’t have convection) and the Cuisinart TOP-135 $143 might be a good substitute to save money, however, it does not cook as evenly as the Breville. If you need smaller profile for a small studio apartment kitchen, best would be the Panasonic FlashXpress Toaster Oven $110 (which fits 9 inch pizzas).
Cook meat perfectly everytime (or slow poached eggs), via boiling it at perfect temp and searing it a minute on each side afterwards. Just place the Anova Sous Vide Culinary Precision Immersion Circulator $130 [Amazon] in a pot of water and the meat in a heavy duty ziplock. It’s better than the Sansaire and Nomiku and SousVide Supreme Demi Water Oven (Immersion Circulator) ~$200, as per SeriousEats.
To get a more premium one that has a stronger heating element for larger baths, get the ChefSteps CS10001 Joule Sous Vide $180 [Amazon]
Some recommend right before sous vide to give the meat a little bath in boiling water first (then put them in bags), with the tongs in as well. Because a few seconds at 165F degrees will destroy almost all potentially harmful bacteria/organisms, while at Sous Vide temperatures it may take longer (ie 64 minutes at 136F degrees). Source. Note: Sous vide is more versatile than the Cinder Sensing Cooker (precision flat grill).
Poached Eggs Hack – Put half a cup of water in a glass cup, crack an egg in the water, and microwave for one minute.
Instead of a slow cooker, go for the pressure cooker! Can cook very fast (because water boils more easily at higher pressures), and keeps the food moist at the same time. Beans and lentils can be tenderized sooner (15mins), beets, and stews. No reason to get a stovetop (ie Fagor or Kuhn Rikon) when the electric InstantPot IP-DUO60 $80 [Amazon] is cheaper ($80 vs $120-300).
If you regularly eat white/brown rice, a “smart” rice cooker is necessary: foolproof in making your rice perfectly fluffy every time. Zojirushi (Japanese) is better than Tiger (also Japanese) and Cuckoo (Korean). To save a little money, look for used ones on Amazon or for them at Asian Grocery stores.
Details: 3 cup will feed a small 3-4 family, so I’d suggest either 3 cup or 5.5 cup Zojirushi for most people. Some have GABA brown rice feature: it pre-heats and germinates the brown rice for an improved nutritional profile (takes 1.5-2 hrs instead of 50 minutes)
Zojirushi Umami Mode 5.5 Cup NS-YAC10 (regular Fuzzy + Umami mode + slow cooker) $200 [Amazon] is most highly recommended. This one has the Umami setting, taking longer to cook white rice, using lower temperature but makes it more savory with softer aftertaste and a little sweet. This one also can do GABA Brown (a better version of “brown rice” setting) and slow cooks. Makes rice better than the normal fuzzy Zojirushi NS-LAC05XA Micom 3-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer $115. The Neuro Fuzzy has additional temperature sensors ie lid / center / room temp (NS-ZCC10 $162) and Induction cooks more evenly and makes rice soft (NP-GBC05 3-Cup $300 / NP-HBC10 5-Cup $252), both make great rice like the Umami but the Umami also doubles as a slow cooker. The expensive $400 pressure cooker induction (NP-NVC10) is a bit pricey at $400, and you could instead have a separate stand-alone pressure cooker. Source for [Zojirushi Comparison]
A blender is preferable over a Juicer (Omega Masticating Juicer, midrange Breville Juice Fountain) because much of the benefits from fruit are within the fibrous solids. Sources: Sweethome’s Best Blender, Youtube, Eater.com, CNET
Budget Blender (if you blend occasionally or need to save space): Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender $40 [Amazon] (700 watts but still can’t crush ice well, still great for smoothies). Would get this one over the $100 Nutribullet which is heavier and a little clunkier and more expensive, even though it has better build quality and is much stronger. Stronger than the Hamilton Beach Single Serve $15 which is low profile but weak at 175 Watt (even though it is one of the better single serve blenders).
Mid-level (this is the first level to crush ice well / nuts / frozen fruit, recommended to most):
Oster Versa [Amazon] $170 1400 watt – Bigger profile than the hemisphere and complicated accessories and slightly plastic-y but is a great value and a LOT stronger – similar power to the Blendtec/Vitamix, also has a low profile jar. Many articles only review the 1100 watt, so tends to get worse reviews. If you want smaller profile, but it’ll be weaker, go for the Breville Hemisphere Control Blender $150 750 watt. Ninja Ultima $200 1500 watt is similar to the Oster Versa (as strong as Blendtec/Vitamix but more questionable durability. Only go Blendtec Total Blender $330 for utmost reliability). Cleanblend has less functionality and slightly worse build but is similar power for the price. Recommended over an immersion blender (ie to be able to make soups).
Don’t get: Kitchenaid and Cuisinart and Magic Bullet (not great at cutting), Nutri Ninja and Nutribullet have great form factor but there are better values out there, Vitamix (Blendtec is better b/c machine washable while Vitamix is hand-wash only, does not need a tamper with Wildside container, preset keys, and more control while Vitamix can only obliterate to make smoothies/frappucinos), Thermomix – too wide a base to blend efficiently
Unnecessary Single-Purpose Appliances and Miscellaneous
Tortilla Press: Don’t get one! A wood or cast iron like the Imusa Victoria 85008) is unnecessary and many seem to put out thick tortillas (can turn out more like pita bread). A simple recipe to make them yourself is to use Masa Harina (a limed corn flour), mix it roughly 50/50 with water and let the dough rest for a half hour to an hour. Next, roll the masa into small 2 inch balls and press them between ziplock bags using any pot, pan, or skillet to smash it (and optionally, a rolling pin after). Lastly, heat them on the stove for one minute on each side!
Zucchini Noodle Spiralizer – Can be used for hash brown out of potatoes or veggie noodles, however most people won’t use it weekly so it may not be worth it over a julienne peeler. The Paderno 4 Blade $48 seems to be better than the others (has suction to the surface it sits on and more compact than the 3 Blade Paderno, and the Inspiralizer doesn’t have enough reviews).
Tofu Press – For pressing the water out of the tofu. Pretty unnecessary appliance, just wrap with a towel and put a cast iron on top of it.
Pepper Grinder – Although unnecessary, the best pepper grinder / pepper mill brand is the following – Peugeot Paris u’Select 9-Inch Pepper Mill $45 [Amazon]. However, do not get the Select-able grind. Customers have complaining about the grinder cracking if the selector is tightened too much.
Refrigerator: Fridge + Freezer
Go with a French Door (not a side by side which lacks space) and Stainless Steel is preferable, ie a Samsung.
Bosch and Kenmore (Elite models) seem to be at the top of the competition for dishwashers, Bosch being European and Kenmore being American. Double Drawer dishwashers (ie Fisher Paykel) could be the best idea, for savings (only cleaning one drawer), or even time saving of not taking the dishes out of the dishwasher (one drawer is dirty and one is clean, and switch off!). Skip GE (very bad dishwashers) or the Countertop Dishwashers (SPT $230, unreliable)
Outdoor Cooking: Best Smoker / Outdoor Grill
The meat connoisseur will opt for a smoker over a grill (the indirect heat makes it more tender and smoke gives it flavor), however, it takes longer to cook! The best value smoker is the set-it-and-forget-it MES – Masterbuilt Electric Smoker 40″ (best budget option) $278 [Amazon]. Professionals may opt for one of the best smokers, the Cookshack AmeriQue $2200 (even bigger than the Smokette). The SmokinTex is also decent. Don’t go for the R2D2 or Brinkman (annoying necessity of a water pan) or Bradley (flimsy builds), Source SmokingMeatForums. The truly hardcore may want to use charcoal especially for its portability (tailgates/camping), however, for most people it’s not worth the effort over the electric ones above, because electric is cheaper to operate than buying the charcoal and they’re better for frequent use (not having to watch over it). A popular best value charcoal smoker (under $500) is the WSM (Weber Smokey Mountain) [Amazon] (pricing depends on the size you get). While DIY people will save money by building a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker) $40 (parts vary) or Mini WSM $120 with the 2 main parts Imusa Steamer Pot and Weber 40020 Smokey Joe Gold – See here for video and a blog. The ECB (El Cheapo Brinkman 810-5301-6) $50 is usually not worth the hassle with the mods required.
The most highly recommended meat thermometer (that has the benefit of being Wireless / Bluetooth so it can notify you while you’re on the couch) is the Maverick Et-732 $60 [Amazon] (iGrill has bad signal strength and ThermoWorks Thermapen is overkill)