The best kitchen gadgets aren't always the new-fangled ones. A random sample of people's favorite kitchen implements reveals some good old fashioned basics: a vegetable peeler (but a good one). A tea kettle and pot that doesn't drip. A manual can opener. A good chopping knife. These aren't so much gadgets as they are tools for achieving the most basic cooking tasks.
The word gadget denotes an ingenious novelty item. We argue that all of the above are indeed ingenious and novel, as indicated by their ability to endure time and trends and still show up as an everyday, can't-live-without-it tool. But we know that cool new kitchen products make their way into our lives all the time. That's why we divided this guide into two sections: Basic Kitchen Tools and Novel Gadgets.
But first, we want to address food storage. These are the containers we use to store food we've prepared in advance, leftovers dinners, and more. The use of plastic, particularly of unknown origins, is widespread, and we're becoming more aware of how to manufacture food-safe plastic. That doesn't mean it's not harmful or that there aren't better, cleaner ways to store food that don't pose such a grave risk to the health of our planet. So, let's start there. Then we'll get into our pick of the coolest and more useful kitchen and cooking implements.
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Remember those Tupperware parties back in the day? Named one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century, Tupperware is how reusable food storage really started to take off (1). Streamlined, rubberized storage ware with snap-on lids and easy cleaning gave us greater convenience and fresher leftovers. (By the way, those lids were inspired by a paint can lid). A gazillion competitors followed Tupperware's suit and the plastic reusable food storage container market exploded.
Meanwhile, that first iteration of America's cling wrap arrived with the invention of Saran Wrap in 1949 (2). Wholly convenient, cheap, and effective, a roll of this stuff could be found in nearly every American household. By comparison, Tupperware and other storage ware was more expensive and accessible to fewer people.
Then we found out how damaging plastic is to our health and the natural environment. Unfortunately, even with all the education and awareness raised around this issue, we continue to see plastic wrap sold in stores, even the "eco-conscious" versions. The bigger problem is that people are still buying it. In just six months, 5 million Americans go through an average of 10 million boxes of the stuff.
Made from potentially harmful chemicals, especially as they break down, plastic wrap is difficult to recycle. Some of those chemicals include PVC, which contains chlorine, and BPA. Included in the chemical cocktail of single use plastics are flame retardant chemicals, phthalates, and other toxic additives. There are known health risks associated with all these chemicals. While many organizations have outlawed the use of certain plastics, far too many are still in use.
So if not plastic, then what?
Silicone is essentially a hybrid version of synthetic plastic polymer and synthetic rubber. It's flexible, temperature-resistant, and water-resistant. It's also easy to clean, non-stick, and non-staining. Perfect for food storage, cookware, and kitchen utensils, right?
Based on what we know, silicone is relatively food safe. But that doesn't mean it poses no harm. Studies have found that silicone bakeware may leach harmful chemicals into food, particularly high-fat foods (3). Further, certain components of silicone may cause endocrine disruption (3). As it concerns the environment, silicone has a low-recyclability rate and is not biodegradable or compostable. If you choose silicone cookware or food storage, ensure it comes from a trusted brand that uses a high-grade, food-safe silicone.
Glass or Stainless Steel: Where It's At
Glass has many advantages. It's easy to clean, long-lasting, and hygienic. Tempered or heat-resistant glass tolerates high temperatures. The only problem with it is its heaviness and potential to break. Glass is our choice for food storage.
Stainless steel is lightweight, durable, easy to clean, and free of the harmful chemicals that silicone and plastic may contain. The problem is that you don't find a lot of stainless steel in food storage containers because they can't be microwaved. Stainless steel is our choice for kitchenware like mixing bowls and utensils.
For the zero waste optimizers, this one's for you. These wraps abound online and in shops, and for very good reason. They're made by infusing cotton with food-grade resin beeswax and a high-quality oil, like jojoba or coconut oil. This creates a breathable, waterproof coating that's both flexible and durable. Wrap up any food you wish to keep fresh. Hand wash it in cold water with an alcohol-free soap.
Many people wonder, is beeswax wrap sustainable? This brand explains this issue well: “Beekeeping is sustainable when the interactions between humans and honey bees contribute positively to healthy populations of locally-adapted indigenous bees living in the wild and in the apiaries of beekeepers. Wooden hives instead of plastic, located in environments without monoculture or pesticides and a modest usage of honey and beeswax of each hive.” In short, know where your beeswax comes from.
Mortar & Pestle.
I can't really live without my mortar and pestle. It's one of those items that I'll pay an additional luggage fee for so I can have it with me on extended vacations. Most hotels or Airbnb rentals don't offer these! It's a heavy-duty tool for smashing out sauces and guacamole, grinding spices and coffee, and even making baby food. A weighty granite mortar and pestle set requires far less elbow grease because the textured stone does most of the pulverizing work. And it looks fabulous on the countertop.
Cast Iron Skillet.
A good cast iron skillet can last you a lifetime, and you could probably pass it on to the next generation too! It's a healthy alternative to nonstick pans, most of which contain perfluorocarbons, a chemical that is linked to cancer, liver damage, developmental problems, and more. A ribbed version is ideal for cooking bacon as the crevices collect the grease drippings so there's less to mop off each bacon strip. It's also handy for achieving the grilled effect when you don't feel like firing up the barbecue. Use it in the oven or on the stovetop too. A cast iron pan even adds more iron to your food, and it's easy to clean––don't use soap!
A Really Good Colander.
Really good denotes quality, not a brand name! It seems obvious, right? But there is a surprisingly high number of poorly-designed and made kitchen strainers. Must-have kitchen colander features to look for are: stainless steel, a high capacity so it can strain an entire pot of potatoes or pasta, and a micro-fine perforated mesh strain that covers the entire bowl. We have that feature-match here at Priority Chef, and at a competitive price. Check it out in our shop.
Reusable Metal Straws.
Most people would classify reusable straws as a novelty item. For us, reusable straws are an eco-imperative. National Geographic reports that 8 billion tons of plastic wash up the world's beaches every year. How much of that is our seemingly innocuous slender smoothie sipper? Enough to be bothered by the one served with your request for water in a restaurant. Plastic straws aren't just harmful to the environment (and animals and small children), they're completely unnecessary. Bamboo, silicone, and metal have taken the eco-straw movement by storm. We vote for the metal version because it's the easiest to clean, the most hygienic, and insulates those cold drinks on their way to your mouth.
Toaster Oven With Convection.
You want your indulgent tuna melt, but do you really want to use the energy of your big oven for it? A toaster oven with convection power functions just like a big oven but for small meals. Bake or broil plates of nachos, small roasts, fish, roasted potatoes, and more. It takes up little real estate on your kitchen counter and is easy to use. Just make sure you don't leave any plasticware on its roof while it's in use!
Unless you're okay with replacing your expensive knife set every couple of years or tolerating the frustration of dull knives, a knife sharpener is an absolute basic kitchen tool. Whether it's a slotted system or a whetstone, a professional knife sharpener keeps all your knives sharp and honed for use (see our knife sharpening guide to learn the difference between sharpening and honing).
At Priority Chef, we offer two types of knife sharpeners. A nonslip whetstone that comes with an instruction guide and a cut-resistant safety glove, and a 4-stage slotted knife sharpening system that works on scissors too.
Big in Asia, not so big in the west. It's because the name is misleading. What it should really be called is the almost-everything cooker. It does lentils, quinoa, beans, oatmeal, and more. A variation on this is the highly popular Instant Pot, which is a cross between a rice cooker and a slow cooker. It has 14 built-in Micro-Processor controlled programs that allow you to slow cook everything from meats, stews, and chilis, to rice, porridge, and other grains.
Enjoy all your favorite deep fried snacks without actually deep frying them. An air fryer is an easy way to avoid the adverse health benefits of oil-fried foods like French fries. They promote weight loss, pose less safety risks (read: no splashes of hot oil), and they reduce the risk of toxic acrylamide formation, which may cause cancer. An air fryer circulates hot air and fine droplets of oil around the food, creating a crispy coating. It requires about 1 tablespoon of oil, rather than multiple cups, meaning far fewer calories and fat. The Maillard Reaction is at play here too, as in several other cooking methods, which enhances the flavor and color of food.
This is by far the easiest way to achieve smooth mashed potatoes. No big clumps or glue-like texture. Just smooth and creamy smashed taters. And potatoes aren't the only food we like to eat mashed. A potato ricer also mashes carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, and cauliflower (why not?!). Make skin-free tomato sauce and squeeze water out of your frozen spinach. It's a quick and easy way to prepare egg-salad too and avoid having to chop up smelly hard-boiled eggs (ensure you remove the shells first!). Make mash-ups easier and ergonomical with a Priority Chef potato ricer.
Stick Immersion Blender.
This is becoming a basic kitchen tool. A high-quality stick blender with several attachments gives you the power to blend everything from that morning smoothie and pureed soups to beating eggs and cream or chopping vegetables. A high-powered one pulverizes freshly roasted peanuts into a creamy homemade peanut butter. The higher the wattage, the better the performance. They're more compact than food processors, super easy to clean, allow you more control, are generally less expensive, and the attachments are dishwasher safe.
The Keurig 1-Cup Coffee Maker.
Arguably, this is becoming less novel and more basic as time goes on. There are so many ways to brew American's #1 beverage, but the Keurig is ideal. It works for singles and big families because it delivers fresh hot java one cup at a time. We beg you though to stay away from the single use pods, and instead purchase a couple reusable ones that you can fill with your own roast. This eliminates the massive waste these types of coffee makers produce just for convenience.
For those who are a bit bougie about their morning coffee, or just enjoy a proper cappuccino! The milk frother is made for creating a light, rich milk froth, but it also works for emulsifying oil and water. If you're into Bulletproof coffee (coffee, MCT oil, and ghee), this is ideal for making a creamier, tastier version of it because it eliminates those nasty clumps of oil.
Electric Potato Peeler.
Personally, I don't mind manual peeling enough to invest in such a contraption, but it's a hot item for those who love their mashed potatoes and homemade French fries! Clamp on one potato at a time and watch it strip the peel in perfect spiral fashion as it rotates. Have fun!
Digital Food Scale & Measuring Cup.
Some ingredients you have to measure; others you have to weigh, sometimes in the same recipe. Get one-stop measuring and weighing in this easy to use 2-in-1 kitchen must-have. Designed for small jobs, it takes up about the same amount of space in the cupboard as a glass measuring jug.
Fitted Basting Brush.
With a universal design, a silicone basting brush pops on to most sauce bottle tops so you can apply your teriyaki or BBQ sauce directly. Optimizes convenience and minimizes clean-up.
This contraption is a must-have if you're a lick-the-spoon kind of person, or you have kids who wait not-so-patiently for a taste of frosting during cake-making extravaganzas. It's a small, flat disc that attaches to the bottom of the whisk loops where they meet the handle. Pull up to drag all the goodness up, off, and into your mouth.
The Meat Fork.
Also known as pulled pork shredder claws marketed for the caveman, but made for anyone who loves pulled pork sandwiches. They work for pulled jackfruit too for all the vegans out there.
Choose Your Favorites
Our cupboards and countertops can't tolerate all our buying indulgences. Neither can our wallets! So we have to be a bit selective about what makes the most sense in our kitchens. For some, the meat fork and baster brush is imperative. For others, a stick blender is a savior. What is your most trusted go-to kitchen instrument? What is the one item you can't live without?
We hope you enjoyed this free guide from Priority Chef. If you have questions, comments, or other feedback, please feel free to contact us, or sign up for our monthly newsletter.
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Priority Chef: Quality You Can Trust
At Priority Chef, we think that food prep and cooking should be a fun and rewarding endeavor, but that's only possible with the right tools. That's why we're focused on creating functional, high-quality kitchenware that you and your family will rely on for years.
We design, source, craft, and rigorously test each of our products to ensure the highest quality and convenience. From our family to yours, enjoy convenience and novelty in the kitchen, always at your fingertips!