Worth It: Instant Pot
The Instant Pot is the workhorse of any kitchen. It can pressure cook, slow cook, act as a food warmer, sauté and steam — and that’s just the basic model. Other models allow you to make yogurt, to sterilize and to make cakes You can use it to make foolproof hard-boiled eggs and rice, make yogurt and cheese, roast a chicken in a fraction of the time your oven takes — pretty much anything you need to make can be made faster and better in an Instant Pot.
Instant Pot Ultra 60, $135.99 at Amazon
Worth It: Programmable Slow Cooker
Yes, your Instant Pot can slow-cook too, but it doesn’t slow-cook as well as a real slow cooker (and you’re bound to eventually need them both at the same time). Slow cookers are perfect for dump-and-forget recipes so you can get on with your life and come home to a home-cooked meal. We recommend a programmable model because it gives you more freedom to roam while your slow cooker powers through that pot roast — then turns itself to warm when the cook time is done.
Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry programmable slow cooker, $49.99 at Amazon
Worth It: Stand Mixer
This worth-it designation comes with a caveat: It’s only worth it if you need the functions it has. Stand mixers aren’t just for bakers, though. They can be used to shred meat, make a quick whipped cream for your favorite dessert and create the fluffiest of fluffy bases for scrambled eggs, and you can buy a variety of attachments that make other machines obsolete for most. With certain attachments, it can chop, slice and dice; grind meat and mill fruits, veggies and grains; make pasta and more. While the extra attachments are also an investment, it beats having six other devices you’ll only use two or three times a year.
KitchenAid Artisan 5-quart stand mixer in Empire Red, $279 at Amazon
Worth It: Quality Blender
A blender can help you make smoothies and shakes, sauces and dressings, soups, quick breads and pancakes/waffles, cocktails and more. A powerful one can even crush ice for snow cones or margaritas. Even an inexpensive blender is an investment, and if one part stops working, the blender is totaled, which is why we recommend opting for quality. We like the Vitamix, which may very well be the world’s most powerful blender. It’s got enough horsepower to actually heat any soup you make as you blend. But there’s no need to throw perfectly good money out the window either; a certified refurbished model is just as good as a new one and about half the price.
Refurbished Vitamix 64-ounce blender in black, $269.95 at Amazon
Worth It: Coffee Maker
A quality coffee maker is a must if you need your liquid energy on a daily basis. But just how much you spend depends on what you drink. If you’re OK with a regular cuppa joe, a solid midrange model will do the trick. If you’ve got a serious Starbucks habit, it’s time to stop wasting hundreds of dollars a month and learn to DIY, but that’ll cost you more.
For average joes: Cuisinart Coffee-on-Demand programmable coffee maker, $71.82 at Amazon
For java addicts: AICook espresso and coffee maker with built-in steam wand, $125.99 at Amazon
Worth It: Vacuum Sealer
Vacuum sealers can save you hundreds if not thousands in groceries by allowing you to store food longer (and buy more when food is on sale as opposed to full price), whether in the refrigerator or freezer. We like the Foodsaver brand because you can buy an attachment that lets you use reusable bags.
Foodsaver two-in-one vacuum sealer and starter kit, $179.90 at Amazon
Worth It: Food Processor
A good food processor can save you hours of prep time, but make sure you invest in one that won’t take just as long to clean as the time you saved on prep. Also, buy a larger model than you think you need. Not only might the volume you need to chop, shred or slice go up (say, as your family expands or when you’re hosting a dinner party), but it’s never a problem to process less than the bowl fits… it’s always a problem to do more. We like this Cuisinart model because most of the parts are dishwasher-safe and it comes with both the standard chop and mix blades, plus the slice and shred discs you usually have to buy separately.
Cuisinart 14-cup food processor, $161.65 at Amazon
Worth It: High-Quality Knives
Quality knives stay sharper longer, and sharp knives are both safer and more efficient. You can definitely invest in one of those big block sets, but most of us only realistically need a few types of knives (and would prefer our steak knives, which usually come with those big sets, to match our other silverware, not the knives we cooked with). That’s why we like this minimalist set from Mercer Culinary, which comes with a paring knife, a utility knife, a chef’s knife, a bread knife and a boning knife (for an actually pretty reasonable price for the quality). If even that’s more than you need, buy them piecemeal from a reputable knife-maker like Mercer or Wüsthof (there are too many to name here, so do your homework).
Mercer Culinary Genesis six-piece forged knife set with tempered glass block, $143.34 at Amazon
Worth It: Quality Cookware
Exactly what cookware you need depends on what you cook. A solid set from a reputable brand is a good start, but you should also invest in a quality enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven (great for frying, stews and soups, pot breads and more). But quality doesn’t have to mean getting the most expensive brand. For cookware sets, research the material options to decide what’s best for you, but no matter what material you choose, look for solid construction and avoid unnecessary extras like padded handles, which can get damaged long before the cookware itself wears out; you can use potholders to avoid burns or purchase handle covers inexpensively from a variety of manufacturers. And opt for Lodge instead of Le Creuset for the Dutch oven and your other cast-iron needs.
KitchenAid 10-piece triple-ply stainless-steel cookware set, $399.95 at Amazon
Lodge 6-quart enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven in red, $55.65 at Amazon
Worth It: Food Dehydrator
Obviously, a food dehydrator is only worth it if you plan to make dried veggies and fruits or jerky or even fruit leathers, but it landed on the worth-it list for one reason: It takes an insane amount of time to dehydrate food in the oven (we’re talking 10 to 12 hours), which heats up your house during that time (bonus during the winter, energy-suck during the summer). How much you spend on one should depend on how often you plan to use it and how much you plan to make at once, but we’re comfortable recommending this Nesco expandable version, which comes in at a reasonable middle-of-the-line price point, is dishwasher-safe and can expand to up to 30 trays if you become the sultan of shriveled foods.
Nesco Gardenmaster food dehydrator, $107.74 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Teflon Pans
Teflon-coated pans are definitely handy, but don’t spend a lot of dough on them. The nonstick surface will eventually scratch no matter how careful you are, so these are workhorses, not racehorses. T-fal is an excellent midlevel brand that will give you decent quality and last up to a couple of years depending on how much you use it (and how careful you are with the nonstick surface) before needing to be replaced.
T-fal 12.5-inch nonstick pan, $26.25 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Deep Fryer
For those who don’t do a lot of frying, a quality Dutch oven, a spider and a candy thermometer will get you there. If you do a lot of frying, go ahead and get a deep fryer; just don’t shell out over $100 for extra bells and whistles you probably don’t need. The main benefit to a stand-alone fryer is its ability to help you maintain a constant temperature. You don’t need preprogrammed settings, and you certainly shouldn’t shell out an extra $60 over the more basic models for a grease drain. This Cuisinart model is large-capacity and has a removable oil container with a pour spout to drain the oil — probably a tad messier than the grease drain, but nothing a $5 bottle of Dawn won’t take care of.
Cuisinart 4-quart stainless-steel deep fryer, $63.99 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Air Fryer
Sorry, health nuts. Even the best air fryer is a dud according to the good folks at Wirecutter. Instead, if you’re serious about crispy food without the oil, they recommend investing in a convection toaster oven (if you don’t already have a regular oven with convection settings). Sadly, they’re a lot pricier than air fryers, but on the bonus side, they have a lot of other uses.
Breville Smart Oven convection toaster oven, $249.95 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Electric Popcorn Popper
Electric popcorn poppers are one of those gadgets we buy with visions of family movie nights in our heads, but it never really works out that way. And when you do use it, man, is it a pain to clean (and put back in the depths of your cabinet where you store it because you almost never use it). Instead, purchase this significantly cheaper microwave popcorn popper bowl.
Presto PopPop popcorn popper, $17.90 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Sous Vide Machine
Sous vide is a fantastic cooking method, to be sure, and we really do recommend getting in on the trend. But skip the pricey stand-alone model. Pricier models of Instant Pots can sous vide, and if you already bought one that can’t, try a sous vide wand that can turn your pressure cooker or any large, heavy-bottom pot into one. Even if you buy a wand with all the features you could imagine, you’ll still save around $300.
Anova Culinary Bluetooth sous vide wand with smartphone app, $97.86 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Deli Slicer
It pains us to put our beloved deli slicer in this category, but alas, most people just don’t need it. Most of what it can do can be done with gadgets in the worth-it category in this very list. That said, if you do a lot of slicing of meats, cheeses veggies and more for entertaining large crowds, a deli slicer will definitely come in handy and is a lot faster to use than a food processor with a limited bowl capacity (and believe it or not, it’s easier to clean than most food processors too).
Chef’s Choice deli slicer, $167.80 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Bread Machine
We can hear the screaming masses now, but hear us out. The only reason a bread machine ended up in the not-worth-it list is because everything it does can be done just as easily with a stand-mixer and an oven, regardless of your skill level, and most people end up buying them and then stop using them after a month or two. So if you want to get into bread-baking, first start doing it with a stand mixer, and if you make it past the three-month mark and still want it to be fix-and-forget with your baked goods, then invest in a bread machine.
For beginners: SKG automatic bread machine, $97 at Amazon
For pros: Zojirushi Virtuoso Plus bread machine, $319.99 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Pasta Maker
As often as most people will really make homemade pasta, a dedicated machine for it is probably not worth it for most, especially if you have a stand mixer you can buy comparatively less expensive attachments for. If you stick with pastas you can cut and shape by hand, you’ll save a wad of cash — it turns out that pasta making is a really expensive hobby to get into.
And much like with a bread machine, if you stick with it on the handmade pastas and just really want to get into extruded noodles and perfectly rolled and cut linguini, a pasta machine might be a good investment.
Philips pasta and noodle maker, $299.95 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Ice Cream Maker
For most people, an ice cream maker is a pointless kitchen device, mainly because they’ll use it twice before they realize how much more expensive it can be to DIY or because they’re attached to a flavor they can’t recreate. That said, it’s not exactly easy to make homemade ice cream without one (it’s possible; it’s just not easy). As such, opt for a well-rated but less-expensive model you won’t feel bad about only using a couple of times. You can always replace it with a better model if it turns out making ice cream is your calling.
Dash ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt maker, $34.99 at Amazon
Not Worth It: Juicer
Juicing isn’t a hobby; it’s a lifestyle. OK, so that’s probably an exaggeration, but juicers are probably one of the most likely gadgets to get old fast for a lot of people. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of people just can’t commit. Instead of investing in a juicer, head to a juicing class (yes, these are real!) to learn the techniques and evaluate whether or not it’s something you’re likely to do long-term. You can decide what level of juicer to invest in (or not) once you know what’s involved.
Juicing class, free at Williams-Sonoma
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