Versatile gadget for a minimal kitchen.
July 8, 2013 4:49 PM   Subscribe

I live in a small studio apartment with an alcove "kitchen": sink, hot plate, mini fridge. I eat most meals at the cafeteria my employer provides. My counter space is extremely limited. What is the most functional and versatile appliance or device I can buy for those occasions when I want to cook something? (Assume I already have various pots, pans, and small kitchen tools.)
posted by Nomyte to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Electric skillet?

I think part of the question might be, what are you realistically most likely to cook? If you just want to be able to occasionally heat something up and make a grilled cheese sandwich, a toaster oven might be your best bet.

If you want to be able to bring leftovers back from restaurants, a microwave would probably be your best bet.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Toaster ovens are really useful.
posted by jeather at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

The Breville toaster ovens with digital controls are what all previous toaster ovens wish they could have been. They actually cook things properly and evenly. It's amazing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:58 PM on July 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you have no oven, then yes, a toaster oven.

If you think you'll be making a lot of soups, sauces, or stews, though, a stick blender. You can get them with a couple of attachments that let you also use them as whisks or food processors.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:02 PM on July 8, 2013

Either a toaster oven or a rice cooker, depending on what you like to eat.

What about some kind of George Foreman Grill situation?
posted by Sara C. at 5:06 PM on July 8, 2013

I am in full agreement with seanmpuckett in recommending a Breville Smart Oven. The BSO is a bit pricey but it is an amazing appliance. Toast, broil, roast, bake, reheat, cook pizzas, food warmer. It even has a top specially made for plate warming while the food is cooking. It is also very efficient in terms of power usage. Ours sits on top a microwave for more space saving.
posted by Kerasia at 5:08 PM on July 8, 2013

Nthing a toaster-effing-oven! I was a complete skeptic re: the toaster oven until I moved in with Mr. Thumbscrew, who happened to own a very-nice DeLonghi. While the full-sized oven is nice when making a big batch of food, for routine meal-prep, the toaster oven absolutely CANNOT be beat. Just be sure to buy one with a convection feature (so's you can bake in it, too).
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:13 PM on July 8, 2013

Toaster ovens are awesome. Chicken baked in a toaster oven turns out BETTER than in a regular size oven. Mine does not have a convection feature and it bakes biscuits just fine. I haven't tried cupcakes or anything.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:15 PM on July 8, 2013

1) Electric skillet if you like: eggs, quesadillas, grilled cheese anything, thin strips of meat (would not try anything thicker than a hamburger), grilled tofu, falafel, lightly saucy things (they do have little sides,) etc. I had one in college and it was an absolute champ for turning dining hall ingredients into luxurious meals.

2) Rice cooker if you like: rice, rice salads, pastas, warm carbohydrates generally, making your own sushi, rice casseroles, all of these wonderful things, etc.

3) Proper toaster oven if you like: the occasional roasted game bird or small chicken, baked goods, egg muffins, pizza, flatbread, crackers, toast, frittate, etc. My parents have one like the Breville and it's really wonderful for cooking actual meals + desserts.

4) Microwave if you like: really fast tea, leftovers, soups, frozen dishes or ingredients, etc. I mean, there are cookbooks for the microwave and some recipes are really good, but I've never felt like the time was worth it for the full recipes-- I just couldn't live without it.

5) Electric water kettle if you like: lots of tea, bowls of pasta for one (it's really good for this!), anything else needing hot water.

6) Blender if you like: awesome smoothies and lassi and juices and cold soups

7) Slow cooker if you like: braised meats, bean dishes like lentils or chili or daal, soups and stews. They do make smaller ones that might better fit your needs of a meal + one set of leftovers, given the mini-fridge.

(I'm probably forgetting a bunch of options for each of these, but hopefully it helps!)
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:15 PM on July 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

I don't have one, but have seen these things called multi-cookers, which say they're usable as crock pots, rice cookers, and steamers. I'm planning to look at them when either my current rice cooker or crock pot gives out.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 5:22 PM on July 8, 2013

A multi-function electric pressure cooker like the Instant Pot can be used as a rice cooker, slow cooker, and hot plate (you can sauté in it). You can also cook roasts, beans, and chili pretty quickly.
posted by Banish Misfortune at 5:26 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Combination convection oven microwave. Not the crappy "browning microwave" ones, the ones that let you set them to 350f for 20 minutes or just to microwave. Panasonic used to make them, and i'm sure other brands still do.

It was basically a microwave, toaster oven, and full on convection oven all in one.

Being a wacko, i'd throw a george foreman type grill on top. Then i'd get a nice single-space induction hot plate and some new compatible cookware. expect to spend $3-400 and maybe a bit more on a good convection+microwave unit, and another 300+ on the induction cooktop, and under 100 for a small set of pots/pans that work with it(kitchen aid or something). But this will essentially upgrade you to a full kitchen. George foremans are cheap as hell too.

With this setup i'd imagine i could cook every single thing i can think of off the top of my head, and probably even some i couldn't easily cook now with my standard oven/stovetop/microwave setup.
posted by emptythought at 5:54 PM on July 8, 2013

I want to say a high-quality blender . . . . because I LOVE my blender and use it more than any other appliance. However, if you do not have a microwave already, I have to say microwave. It is no use blending soup and sauces if you cannot heat it up.
posted by ainsley at 5:56 PM on July 8, 2013

I am in full agreement with seanmpuckett in recommending a Breville Smart Oven.

Yes, do. I would absolutely and without hesitation enter into a federally recognized civil union with a Breville Smart Oven if permitted by law. They are the best thing. THE BEST THING.
posted by elizardbits at 6:26 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Find a board you can put over the sink to convert it to extra counter space during your preparation time.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:50 PM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

1) Breville Smart Oven
2) George Foreman Grill with removable grill plates for easier cleaning
posted by quince at 6:53 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

When my wife and I were splitting time between two apartments for a few years (for work reasons) she had a TINY kitchen and found that getting a panini press was a great way to prepare meals. She cooked meat, vegetables, paninis (of course), toasted bread for bruscetta, and cut up pitas to make pita chips all on the press. It was WAY more versatile than I thought it would be.

(On preview...I guess it's a lot like a George Foreman grill without the branding...)
posted by achmorrison at 6:55 PM on July 8, 2013

I live in a similar tiny apartment and use my toaster oven nearly every day. It's incredibly useful and you'd be surprised how much you can cook in it! (although to be completely honest, I mostly use mine for melting cheese onto things. Because cheese makes everything delicious)

Also, tables and careful stacking of things is really helpful when you have no counter space. I have no counters in my apartment at all, technically, but I have two tables I use for appliances and prep space, and I have a hot plate on top of my microwave and a toaster oven on top of my fridge (er, probably not recommended for safety reasons but it works fine for me).

(I also own a microwave, kettle, slow cooker and hot air popcorn machine, but would recommend the toaster oven over any of them except maybe the microwave, depending how much you like to toast/roast things vs. heat up leftovers)
posted by randomnity at 7:20 PM on July 8, 2013

I have to agree with the toaster/oven comments. They are so useful and versatile. While a rice cooker is nice, you want something that can do several things in a limited space. Of course you want to buy a damn good one. And that can cost a bit. But ultimately it will pay for itself. oh and, you can't make toast in a microwave. But you can make bacon in a toaster oven. ;)
posted by Splunge at 8:45 PM on July 8, 2013

If you want to go the supersonic route, a thermomix will do 80% of kitchen work on a very small footprint. Add a really good toaster oven if you want to bake and you can do just about anything on 2ft of counter space. Ikea and Jamie Oliver have cheaper thermomix knock-offs - basically, a blender with a heating element. I got mine as an extravagant Christmas present, but if I were starting a kitchen over from scratch, I would get one and add on as needed because they really do that much as advertised.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:58 PM on July 8, 2013

A thermomix would be wonderful, but they are extremely expensive. I'd opt for a microwave-convection oven. We've had one for many years; I use it every day. A convection oven cooks food in about 1/3 less time. GE makes good ones.
posted by ragtimepiano at 11:10 PM on July 8, 2013

Immersion blender.

Its small, easy to store, easy to clean, and has limitless uses, from making soups and purees, to making mayonnaise, to making modernist lecithin foams.
posted by destrius at 12:28 AM on July 9, 2013

You don't need an electric skillet, you already have a hot plate. A panini press is also not so useful because you can essentially do the same thing in a frying pan. Rice and stew can both be made on a hot plate, don't waste space on a specific gadget for those.

When I spent large amounts of time living in similar situations (although for multiple short amounts of time) I really missed being able to cook things in an oven. That can't be replicated using what you already have. So I bought a small, cheap toaster oven and threw it in the back of my car. That thing went everywhere with me and was so worth it. I mainly used it for toasting bread and hot cross buns or melting cheese onto things, but those two things made my life so much better. If you like cooking more than I do you can also roast chicken and bake small cakes and whatever, and in that case it may be worth buying one that's decent, but even just getting a really cheap basic one to use for toasting and grilling is a good idea.
posted by shelleycat at 3:50 AM on July 9, 2013

That Breville Smart Oven looks really nice but it's also five times more expensive than the oven I bought (which was more like this). As an aside, mine was small enough to move or put away when not in use, which was helpful given I didn't cook regularly and had limited space. Personally I'd get zero times more use out of the fancier model, but your mileage and cooking skills may vary.

I think those two models show the extremes of your range though, you probably want something that falls within that. Don't go cheaper and crappier, but also don't go larger and fancier unless you want to really increase how often you eat at home.
posted by shelleycat at 4:00 AM on July 9, 2013

Response by poster: Ended up getting the suggested Breville model. It looks nice, but I still haven't used it once.
posted by Nomyte at 2:58 PM on September 8, 2013

« Older Why won't my lawn mower go?   |   Trying to remember a cartoon about a firework Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.