Kitchen gadget excellence
October 25, 2020 3:21 PM   Subscribe

What is your favourite kitchen tool or accessory?

My partner is a great cook who spent a few years in restaurant kitchens, and I'd like to buy him some special, high-quality kitchen stuff for Christmas.

Things he already has and is happy with:

- excellent, expensive knives and the right tools to sharpen them with
- pots and pans, including cast iron
- cutting boards
- all the appliances, including a Vitamix
- a Peugeot pepper mill
- a pizza stone
- high quality pizza cutter and rolling pin

I'm looking for things that aren't necessarily fancy or unique, but a bit beyond basic, REALLY useful and high quality. For example, a couple years ago I bought him a fish turner (recommended by mefi!) and he gets tons of use out of it. This year I'm considering a bench scraper for moving things from cutting board to frying pan. More ideas like that would be appreciated. Let me know what you love to cook with!
posted by orange and yellow to Food & Drink (68 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Brand new chef towels! Ikea has the classic white with blue stripe ones.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 3:24 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love my bench scraper, so I think that’s a great idea. Maybe too basic, but a Microplane if he doesn’t already have one for grating things finely. Or if he doesn’t have a mandoline slicer you could give him one with a cut-proof glove for extra safety. A few years ago, I bought myself a very nice hand crafted wooden spoon from a local maker, and I LOVE using it to stir soups and stews-I think mine was about $40, and it will probably last a lifetime. A nice wooden spoon plus some flaxseed oil for conditioning it would make a lovely gift.
posted by little mouth at 3:28 PM on October 25, 2020 [12 favorites]

You don't mention a mandolin, so definitely a mandolin if he doesn't already have one. And a safety glove to go with it.
posted by cooker girl at 3:28 PM on October 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

I thought I had basically everything I needed forever, but then I got a sous vide circulator, and it's the tool I've used the most since.
posted by General Malaise at 3:28 PM on October 25, 2020 [10 favorites]

(Specifially this beautiful baby boy from Anova, in case you want a brand recommendation)
posted by General Malaise at 3:30 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Gaucamole-sized mortar and pestle. I moved and no longer have mine, and I miss it all the time. So much easier to use on spices than those little ones. Even works great on annatto seeds.
posted by aniola at 3:34 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

That timer you put in the water with the eggs as they boil.
posted by aniola at 3:34 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Those condiment holders you see in bars with maraschino cherries in them. Great for holding homemade condiments.
posted by aniola at 3:35 PM on October 25, 2020

posted by mekily at 3:36 PM on October 25, 2020 [25 favorites]

I know you said he already has ALL the appliances, but just in case: does he have an INSTAPOT?
posted by aniola at 3:37 PM on October 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

If he doesn't have them already, then glass prep bowls are indispensible! I use mine every time I cook.

I also have a 1 cup glass measuring cup that I use a lot. It can be microwaved, and I use it to build dressings and sauces.
posted by hydra77 at 3:43 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Was coming in to say fish spatula, but you said he already has one. A Thermapen digital thermometer is definitely worth getting, as is a mandoline. Couple other suggestions - a set of dishers (aka ice cream scoops) in various sizes to use in making cookies, meatballs, or dumplings. Also, a digital food scale.
posted by briank at 3:46 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Immersion circulator if absent for sure.

A Searzall I questioned as a gimick, but it was a gifted to me and I end up using it all the time (at least once a week?) to get a bit more color on something, or cook up an egg super fast.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:46 PM on October 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Does he have a blowtorch? I held off forever getting one because nobody needs a food torch, but now that I have one it gets used.

I also bought myself a milk frother for non-coffee applications. The rechargeable ones that come with a traditional frother AND a teensy little beater are like $14. So handy, very easy to clean, and I just permanently leave a short usb cable plugged into a kitchen outlet for the increasing number of rechargeable items arriving in my kitchen.

Waterproof bluetooth speaker, if he likes music/podcasts/audiobooks while he cooks.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:53 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nthng Thermapen, or other decent thermometer. Thermoworks also sells timers that have multiple times at once - it is true you can just use your phone / oven / microwave but it is nice to have them all in once place. Microplane along with a mandoline (or if they enjoy playing music a mandolin) are pretty necessary. A grain / legume colander, mine is from a Japanese housewares store but it is similar to the one I linked to. A large digital scale and a smaller one that does tiny weights. Bench scraper. Collection of higher end spices they might use and/or perhaps a masala dabba (Indian spice box).
posted by Ashwagandha at 3:57 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh! And it's not pretty, but I have a small collection of professional kitchen grade food containers for big mixing, marinating, dealing with straining stocks or otherwise working with large volumes of liquid or meat. They're pretty much bulletproof and bottom-rack safe. Cambro is the brand name most often used to refer to all types, but I also have some knock-off and Rubbermaid lab-grade storage containers that have been through the wars and still look basically new.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:59 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

My rice cooking results were pretty uneven before I purchased my 5.5 cup Zojirushi pressure/induction rice cooker. I've only used it a few dozen times so far but every batch has been perfect. Models without pressure or induction cost much less and (reportedly) work about as well. There's comfort in knowing the dinner's rice will be ok.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:00 PM on October 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

Not strictly a kitchen appliance, but does he have a smart speaker set up in the kitchen for timers, conversions and music? If not, would highly recommend.
posted by ellerhodes at 4:06 PM on October 25, 2020

These skillet spoons from the Alaska Spoon Company have proven to be extremely useful. They come in both right- and left-handed versions and are great when you're sauteing. You certainly won't find them everywhere (I bought mine in Anchorage) but I love mine so much I don't even mind hand-washing it!
posted by DrGail at 4:17 PM on October 25, 2020


Seriously, scissors. Doesn't really matter what brand. Once you start using them in the kitchen you'll wonder how you got on without them.
posted by chavenet at 4:31 PM on October 25, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I have many tiny bowls for keeping my prepped ingredients separate and ready for adding in. They are cute and colorful and look nice on the shelf in stacks, but dishwasher safe and smaller in kitchen footprint than a similar number of ramekins.

Is he happy with his salt cellar? We have this one in the kitchen and it is excellent. The glass bit just sits in the metal bit so if things get crusty you can take it all apart and wash it thoroughly but the lid keeps kitchen mess out of the salt. The teeny spoon is perfect to break up clumps in the corners, and the amount it holds is good for a regular cook who doesn’t want to haul a big box around or deal with a tiny salt shaker. The materials used mean no stretching or warping over time. There are tons of salt cellars available to go with his aesthetic but I like mine a lot.
posted by Mizu at 4:33 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

A nice immersion blender, if he doesn't already have one. Also, if he bakes, silicone mats.

I'll nth the mandoline recommendation, and add that this benriner one is what I have and it's WAY better than the one I had before it (which was maybe Oxo? I can't remember). Also, yes, definitely protective gloves with that.

Another thought: Fancy-ass ingredients. I can't think of any examples besides, like, luxardo cherries for cocktails, but that's the kind of thing.
posted by hought20 at 4:48 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

if you don't already have a smooth stone counter in your home kitchen, then maybe a marble pastry slab
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:51 PM on October 25, 2020

Best answer: Maybe too basic, but I bought an inexpensive, nicely weighted, metal kitchen mallet a few years ago and have been surprised at how happy I am to have one. I only use it maybe a couple times a month, but every time I do I shower myself with congratulations on my clever purchase. I mostly use the flat side, but the pointy side has come in handy a couple times.
posted by ClingClang at 5:17 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Our oil press was another thing we used a ton before we moved. You end up with a bit of fresh oil and a ton of press cake, which is great for cooking with. My partner used the press cakes to make (among other things) these fermented veggie burgers that were very popular.
posted by aniola at 5:38 PM on October 25, 2020

Best answer: Many of the above are things I want.

Things I have and love:
A nice cherry pitter - a short season but wow it makes life nicer than my crappy cherry pitter did
Meat thermometer with a wire and alarm for when the meat hits the temp I want. No more opening and closing the oven.
Vacuum food sealer. Not just for sous vide but also to lengthen the life of things affected by oxidization.
Kitchen scale
Silicon brushes
An exhorbitantly large stack of cleaning cloths - half in standard bar mop size, the other half as extra cheap white washcloths. They serve an entirely different purpose from “regular” kitchen towels and are literally always available. Saves a million paper towels, no excuse not to wipe the sink out every evening. Plus, I can clean a spill off the floor or counter, and hang to dry over one of the metal bar stool rungs until it’s laundry day (because wet is not something I add to the laundry bag to fester)
Three! sets! of tongs!

Things I desperately want:
Extra measuring cups and spoons all in one style (I consistency between sets is....a thing and it bothers me)
Good Bluetooth speaker for the kitchen so I can listen to music
Digital candy thermometer
Assorted fun, festive cupcakes papers
posted by bilabial at 5:39 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Bench scraper for sure!

Does he like baking neapolitan or other thin-crust pizza? Because a baking steel is better than a stone for neapolitan-style pies in a home oven by a long shot. Send him here if he wants to geek out.
posted by lalochezia at 5:40 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

A vintage jar opener.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:45 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Art of Fermentation
posted by aniola at 5:48 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

A set of tongs, as Bilabial said. I love mine. Spring tensioned so all you have to do is hit against your hip or any surface to release it.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:48 PM on October 25, 2020

My neighbors had two copies of the above-mentioned book (and we were very share back and forthy) and they still didn't have enough copies to share long enough for me to read it all the way through, and I couldn't keep it through the library because people kept putting it on hold.
posted by aniola at 5:51 PM on October 25, 2020

If he stores food in bulk in 5-gallon buckets, a bucket wrench.
posted by aniola at 5:53 PM on October 25, 2020

Best answer: I am but a humble person-who-cooks-to-eat, but GIR's flexible ladle kind of blew my mind. It's so useful to be able to simultaneously smush it into the side of a deep pot and scoop things out. Whereas without it I'd have to somehow hold the hot pot tipped over while scraping with a tool in the other hand and trying to aim for the bowl while not flipping it, now I can just ladle even the last dregs on over. (I sound like a comically incompetent infomercial person, don't I? Oh well: the struggle was real.)

We also recently got a Thermoworks alarm thermometer with the long corded probe, and it is fantastic. I use it for bread loaves after they're risen/crusty but not actually ready to come out, and to tell me when water has boiled, like for hard boiled eggs or waiting on a big pot of it for lasagne noodles.
posted by teremala at 5:54 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

A nice sturdy box grater is really handy, and does much of what a food processor does (except for things like making dough) and is a lot easier to clean up and store.
posted by AceRock at 5:57 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A zester! Easy to use, easy to clean, easy to store. When pulled gently across citrus fruit peel, the zester creates small swirls with intense flavour that not only taste excellent when baked/cooked but also look great (when scattered on top of salads or frosting, for example).
posted by The Patron Saint of Spices at 6:07 PM on October 25, 2020

I recommend a FoodSaver mainly for storing dry goods like dried fruit, nuts, crackers, basically anything you put into your pantry that has been opened. Forget the crappy plastic, expensive containers that you’re supposed to use and instead use canning jars, which you can stock up on various sizes pretty cheaply, and since they’re glass and not plastic, they’re dishwasher safe. This short article explains how you do it. Along with the mason jars and lids you will need two adapters to fit either small or wide mouth jars. I recommend wide mouth because they’re easier to fill up. Once vacuum sealed the contents stays much fresher and tastier for a very long time. I’ve eaten crackers, cookies, chips, nuts etc that were still fresh even a year after sealing. You can open the jars as often as you want then just revaluing them. This is a game changer for keeping dry goods fresh. I also use it for opened items in the fridge.
posted by waving at 6:36 PM on October 25, 2020

Best answer: When my wife and I started cohabitating we went a little gadget-crazy at Sur La Table. Much of what we bought lingers on the back of drawers, especially once we improved our knife skills. But we bought a lemon squeezer mainly because I liked the bright yellow enamel and now I believe there's no better way. Works great with limes too.

Another impulse buy that we love: OXO 1/4 cup measuring cup. The main thing is that it's also marked in tablespoons. You're going to want at least two.

Someone mentioned prep bowls. Small silicone pinch bowls are also indispensable.

If you buy your olive oil in big cans then a smaller bottle with a spout is handy. I use a big beer bottle that I sandblasted for texture but I had to whittle the spout down a bit to fit it.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:53 PM on October 25, 2020

Spices, and/or a gift certificate for Penzey's (fancy high-end spice store).

The barrier to entry for learning authentic Indian cooking is often acquiring lots of different whole spices. If he has any interest, you might collect some whole spices, portion them into cute jars, and label them. I've given kits like this as a kind of 'starter set' and it's always been a hit.
posted by aquamvidam at 7:02 PM on October 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: This is the best appliance for making popcorn.
posted by TDIpod at 7:08 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another idea: of all my kitchen tools, one of my absolute favorites is the Di Oro silicone spatula. It really does live up to the hype. I'm thinking of buying one for my own mother as a gift.

Also - Silpats, in various sizes, according to the sizes of his baking sheets. They're that kind of item you really want but can't bring yourself to spend the money on (let alone buying several in different sizes), so I imagine they'd make a great gift.

A spice organization system - maybe a tiered spice rack, or a big set of magnetic jars to go on the side of the fridge.

A subscription to NYT Cooking, America's Test Kitchen (beware: predatory retention behavior), etc.
posted by aquamvidam at 7:09 PM on October 25, 2020

I was initially skeptical of the aura around Gray Kunz sauce spoons, but they are cheap, so I bought a few - and now they are like the only thing I reach for. I regularly take these out of the (dirty) dishwasher and wash them by hand to use in the heat of the moment. They even come in a slotted version. Highly reccomend!
posted by niicholas at 7:24 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Silicone Spoonula!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:56 PM on October 25, 2020

It's really nice to have a (or several) silicone spatula, mixing spoon, whisk, baking sheet liner, muffin sheet, and similar items, whatever you don't already have. I love all of these and use them often - works much better than nonstick.

I bought a dough whisk recently and it really does seem to mix dough/batter unusually well.

Basic but still very useful : I bought 2 extra sets of measuring cups so I can leave one in the bag of rice, flour, dog food etc or use multiple of the same size without having to wash it. (may be less useful for less lazy people)
posted by randomnity at 7:58 PM on October 25, 2020

-food mill
-spice grinder
-immersion blender
-electric kettle
-atlas pasta maker
-dutch oven, either a cast iron one for outdoor/open fire cooking, or something from, like, Le Creuset for indoor kitchen
-cast iron plancha
-really high quality copper sauce pan
-high quality stock pot
posted by happy_cat at 8:37 PM on October 25, 2020

Microplane grater
French rolling pin
Ramekins of all sizes
Copper pots
Anything LeCruset
posted by jennstra at 9:23 PM on October 25, 2020

High-quality and unique spices/seasonings! I have gifted the Wild Icelandic Kelp and Black Lime from Burlap & Barrel a couple times recently to great success. I also love them myself, and put them both on popcorn, cheese, and meat all the time.

Maybe those + the Whirlypop referenced above, which is indeed the superior popcorn popping tool.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:25 PM on October 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I use this butter warmer every day. Not for warming butter, it's just an amazing and perfect pot for everything small.
posted by Toddles at 9:35 PM on October 25, 2020

Best answer: The one tool that was ALWAYS out, especially when I had a kitchen with a lot of butcher block in it, was a good sharp-ish all-metal pastry scraper. Amazingly useful for tidying up, shoving chopped vegetables around, dough dividing, and scraping nasty things off counters.

Edit: Ohh, so that's what a bench scraper is. Well, just consider me as nthing it!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:07 PM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Candy making, like baking, is kind of its whole own thing so.. Candy making tools/thermometer/cookbook/etc?
Bonus: if you do your homework by watching candy making videos on youtube, it's very therapeutic. (Drop candy and millefiori videos are my personal favorites)
Double Bonus: you get candy.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:53 PM on October 25, 2020

A really good can opener. Mine recently stopped working properly, so I can't make a recommendation, but I realize now how much I depend on it.
posted by Avalow at 10:58 PM on October 25, 2020

Best answer: Really powerful garlic press, like a “garject”
posted by slightlybewildered at 11:14 PM on October 25, 2020

If he doesn't have a bench scraper, that is a really good idea.
On my own wishlist is a donabe, a Japanese lidded stewpot.
I'd also like a big marble board for rolling out dough and pastry.
And a pasta machine or a pasta making attachement for my stand mixer.
Once I had a set of glass storage containers, they were beautiful and more sustainable and easier to clean than plastic, but I didn't have the space for them, so I had to give them up. I still regret that loss (I should just have stored them under the bed until I got a bigger kitchen), and look for them online and at yard sales.
A pressure cooker is an amazing thing to have, specially during the winter months when stews are good. I just have stovetop pressure cookers. Which reminds me: I've been thinking of getting a single induction burner. This is because I have a gas stovetop, and it would be nice to be able to simmer something very slowly, or put the pressure cooker on a very controlled heat. The reason I'd rather have a separate burner than an instant pot, which does exactly those things, is that a burner is much smaller and easier for me to store, and doesn't replace things I already have.
Once my best friend gave me a truffle shaver. I don't think it's ever been used for truffles, but it gets a lot of use in my kitchen, as a tiny mandolin for little slices of cucumber, carrots or radishes or even sometimes potatoes when I just need a few.

Because I am a big foodie, people often give me kitchen gadgets, and there are some I really appreciate, see wishlist above ;-) , but most unitaskers remain in the drawer, still in the original packaging. My favorite gifts are interesting cookbooks and speciality foods, like the best anchovies, very good olive oil, bottarga, ventresca (focusing here on Italian stuff, because you mentioned pizza).

(Sorry for the lack of links, my internet is very shaky today)
posted by mumimor at 1:26 AM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

A kitchen scale is wonderful. If I make a recipe enough I keep track of the weight of ingredients so I can add things directly to the bowl without dirtying a measuring cup, etc. Also great for baking and making coffee.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:44 AM on October 26, 2020

Lemon or lime squeezer
A pack (100 or 500) sheets of pre-cut parchment paper
posted by sarajane at 4:57 AM on October 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Put rubber feet on the wooden cutting boards so that they don’t slip when the counter is wet. Game changer.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:31 AM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

What a lot of these suggestions have in common is that they improve precision. A good instant-read thermometer (like a Thermapen) helps you cook meats to a precise temperature; and a leave-in probe thermometer is useful for roasts (a wireless probe thermometer is great for grilling and smoking, but if you don't have a grill a wired probe is fine). An immersion circulator is pretty much "set it and forget it" for precise temperature control.

A vacuum sealer and a Searzall can be useful on their own, but they will be even more useful if there's already an immersion circulator. You can use an immersion circulator without a vacuum sealer (carefully lower a Ziplock bag into water to press out the air, then seal it) and you can always sear things in a hot cast iron skillet, so neither is strictly necessary on its own. (I still don't have a Searzall but I did recently spend a gift card on a vacuum sealer and I love it).

Also if you have room to store things you could look into CSAs and/or meat shares for a regular supply of fresh ingredients to cook. If I had a place to put a chest freezer I'd probably already have a cow share.
posted by fedward at 7:31 AM on October 26, 2020

reuseable mason jar lids
posted by aniola at 8:03 AM on October 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

A pineapple cutter. Maybe he's just "meh" about pineapples. I was too until I got one as a prize at a shower and thought, "What the heck." Turns out I was "meh" about canned pineapple. They can be had for less than ten bucks.
posted by BlueBear at 8:30 AM on October 26, 2020

Best answer: 5 things that get the most use in my kitchen (apart from the InstantPot and Vitamix):

- A giant stainless steel mixing bowl. The best way to massage kale &/or make big salads.

- A wide wooden cutting board with a lip. It lives on the counter and stays put. And it leaves a nice space behind it for jars or utensils.

- Very long and flexible spatulas for jars and the bottom of the Vitamix.

- A tofu press. This one is a game changer and worth the money if you eat a lot of tofu.

- These jars are great for pickling or storing things in bulk: 1/2 gallon & 1 gallon.
posted by 6thsense at 9:07 AM on October 26, 2020

You mention a few pizza things. If he has an oven with the broiler in the main compartment, a baking steel really lets you make a New York style pizza. Total pizza game changer.
posted by advicepig at 9:10 AM on October 26, 2020

Response by poster: So many wonderful answers! Marked a few as best that I think would work for him but I'd love to buy them all :)
posted by orange and yellow at 11:34 AM on October 26, 2020

Turbo Garlic Twist. So much more reliable than every other garlic crusher I've used. (Respectfully, that garject looks incredibly wasteful.)

Pair it with a Silicone Garlic Peeler and you have a great combination.
posted by liquado at 6:46 PM on October 26, 2020

Oh! And also, Nthing pretty much any cheap-ass pineapple corer/cutter. A-mazing. Seriously.

And, this ice cream scoop – but not for ice cream. It is TERRIBLE for ice cream, but stunning for making scones or biscuits from scratch.
posted by liquado at 6:51 PM on October 26, 2020

Someone mentioned pinch bowls and I concur. You can buy in attractive sets. I find all sorts of uses. Mostly I use them for my mise en place. But I also use them to serve small amounts of things--garnishes, dipping sauces. Here are some attractive ones I found with a quick google search, which have different makers' names but look the same. One, two.

Not so much for serving, but for the kitchen, I love my silicone pinch bowls. Here's a colorful example for purchase. Three.
posted by tmdonahue at 7:01 AM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

A baking steel. Not only can it be used in lieu of a stone for baking, it can be used with dry ice to make ice cream.
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:50 AM on October 27, 2020

Looking at the original post, I see he has most of the items I would recommend including appliances, knives, and pans.
One possible addition is to maybe buy higher quality ingredients to use with these tools.
Good quality spices and herbs can make those basics really shine especially since your partner already knows the techniques.

Examples could be Penzeys spices, Wagyu beef, or Wild Salmon.
posted by radsqd at 9:44 AM on October 27, 2020

A little late to the party, but these Chef's Pressse have been a hit among my more chef-y friends.
posted by kejadlen at 10:59 AM on October 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding aniola's recommendation of the excellent Art of Fermentation above, and suggesting a parallel investment in a high-quality fermentation crock to go with it. Fermenting stuff is rad as hell.

Edit: Although I might gently suggest Katz's first book, Wild Fermentation, before Art.... Art... is an exquisite volume but primarily theory, whereas Wild... is straight up instructional and better for fermentation beginners.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:24 PM on October 29, 2020

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