Gift Guide: Kitchen Tools and Appliances

Since I’ve been an avid cook for more than a decade my kitchen is pretty well stocked so I thought I’d share the tools and appliances I use – and love – the most! Hopefully the timing of this gift guide will be good for all those holiday shoppers (and list makers) and also for those who are lucky enough to be registering for gifts for an upcoming wedding. If I left any of your favorite kitchen tools off the list please share them in the comments below.

  • Food Processor
    This appliance is at the top of the list for a reason…I use it all of the time! I have the Cuisinart Food Processor, and this is definitely an appliance where “you get what you pay for.” We got ours as a wedding gift over 11 years ago and aside from replacing the bowl twice (one time was user error…apparently you aren’t supposed to grate mozzarella in it!) our machine is still going strong. I use our food processor for all sorts of things like making dough (for pizza, pasta, and tortillas), pesto, powerballs, and for shredding cheeses…other than mozzarella of course.
    Recommended: Cuisinart Food Processor
  • Mini Chopper / Food Processor
    A miniature food processor is a very affordable appliance for shredding small items like fresh ginger, garlic, or a few carrots (to go in your meatballs) and also to make small batches of pesto. The last thing I want to do is clean my big food processor and all its parts if I just need to grind up one quick thing. This certainly won’t replace the need for a big one, but if you are on a budget it would certainly be a good place to start.
    Recommended: Black & Decker Mini Chopper
  • High Quality Pots and Pans
    This is another area where “you get what you pay for” as far as durability goes. If you buy high quality (a.k.a. expensive) pots and pans they will honestly last you a lifetime. We use All Clad pans, although there are several other comparable brands out there that would hold up just as well. The prices can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to get them all at once. Ask for a new one each year for your birthday and for your holiday gift and within a few years you will have a collection!
    Recommended: All Clad Stainless Steel Pots & Pans
  • A Set of High Quality Mixing Bowls
    This is yet another purchase that can last a lifetime if you buy a high quality product. We have a set of both glass and porcelain mixing bowls that we got in 2000 and other than one broken bowl over the last decade they are showing very little wear and tear. And this is one of the few kitchen tools we use almost daily.
    Recommended: Duralex Nested Mixing Bowls
  • Crock Pot / Slow Cooker
    I make everything from refried beans to chicken stock in my crock pot and what you’ve heard about this appliance is true…it is the best way to make inexpensive cuts of meat taste great! My slow cooker is pretty basic, and I use it several times a month so it was definitely worth the small investment.
    Recommended: 6-Quart Rival Crock Pot
  • Hand Immersion Blender
    Now I don’t use this tool quite as much as the others mentioned, but what this appliance does for me is just short of magical. In the old days when I would make big double batches of soup (like butternut squash or split pea) and it came time to puree the soup I would make a HUGE mess transferring it in batches to my countertop blender, pureeing each batch, then trying to figure out where to put the soup that was pureed since more “un-pureed” soup still remained in the original pot. Trust me – it was a big pain. Now for a small investment of $29 when it comes time to puree a soup I simply break out my immersion blender, take the soup pot off the heat, put the blender stick in and voila…my soup is done! I also use our immersion blender to make homemade berry sauce as well.
    Recommended: Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Immersion Blender
  • Countertop Blender
    Just because I have a hand immersion blender doesn’t mean I don’t need a countertop blender as well. I use this one to make smoothies (which we make quite frequently), banana ice cream, and even batter for some recipes like crepes. Now I don’t have one of those fancy “Vitamix” blenders, and sure… I’d love one if it just showed up on my doorstep for free, but it’s hard for me to justify spending $400+ on a Vitamix when my cheap Target blender honestly does the trick.
    Recommended: Countertop Blender
  • Salad Spinner
    We actually didn’t need one of these before our switch to real food because we rarely ate salads or greens (gasp!). Now that we’ve come to our senses, and also started buying organic and local greens, a good bath is actually quite necessary before we take our first bite. And that spinning action really does work when it comes to drying out the lettuce…not to mention how much our girls love to push the button and watch it go!
    Recommended: OXO Salad Spinner

Small, but Necessary Tools

  • Good quality measuring spoons / cups – I have 4 sets of stainless steel measuring spoons (3 sets of cups), and I use all of them frequently! If you plan to make/bake a lot of “real food” recipes from scratch these items are just a necessary evil and once again – if you invest a little money they will last you a lifetime. Tip: The elongated measuring spoons fit in little spice jars more easily.
  • Soup Ladle – For some reason I went through years of soup making before I owned a ladle so I thought I’d throw this on the list just in case anyone else has overlooked the need for this handy little item. I also use my ladle to spoon pancake batter onto the griddle and waffle batter into the waffle iron.
  • Whisk – From making a roux to scrambling eggs and mixing sauces…another necessity.
  • Good quality bread knife (and other knives, too) – I actually got this advice from some blog readers after I got my bread machine…and they were right. A really good bread knife, which doesn’t have to be very expensive, can make or break your loaf of bread after it comes out of the machine/oven.
  • Mesh colander – If you plan to make homemade stock (which is light-years beyond the canned stuff) then a colander is necessary to strain out the bones, herbs, etc.
  • Splatter guard – If you need to pan fry something greasy on a high temperate this tool does exactly what it says…guards the splatter from making a mess of your entire stove.
  • Fruit slicers — Apple & Mango –- You don’t have to worry about learning how to properly slice a mango if you have one of these!
  • Good cutting boards – I’ve tried the inexpensive white plastic cutting boards from Target and all they do is warp and stain. It’s worth it to invest in some higher quality boards in the beginning because you’ll end up wanting to replace the cheap ones anyway.
  • Kitchen shears – We use these food-safe scissors for all sorts of things like cutting up raw bacon, slicing spinach/lettuce, shredding cooked meat, and opening packages.

Extras: Some nice to have, but not need to have items…

  • Panini Grill We’ve had our panini grill for almost a decade, and I’ve gone through many different phases of being obsessed with it and forgetting about it. I am currently in a very long obsession phase, therefore I’ve been making paninis almost weekly. If you have one of those “George Foreman” grills I believe they’ll work just the same. There’s nothing like a hot grilled sandwich for lunch and in case you need some ideas of what to make check out the list on this post: Sandwich Inspiration
    Recommended: Krups Panini Grill
  • Ice Cream Maker
    I don’t use this appliance as much as the others, but oh how I love it. And the reasons I love homemade ice cream are plenty…
    – You can control how much sweetener (and what type) you put in, and I usually use less than half as much sweetener than what a traditional ice cream recipe calls for.
    – My machine is very quick and easy
    – no salt or hand churning required!
    – The outcome tastes nothing like an ice cream box.
    – Watching the ice cream come to life is fun for both little and big ones! We’ve made everything from maple pecan vanilla ice cream to fresh strawberry ice cream to peach sorbet. And the first time I offered up strawberry ice cream to my husband he said he didn’t like strawberry ice cream, but come to find out he’d only had the store-bought artificially flavored stuff and absolutely loved the fresh “real” version…yum!
    Recommended: Cuisinart Automatic Ice Cream Maker
  • Tortilla Making Supplies
    Tortilla Press – A press, in my opinion, is necessary for making homemade whole-grain corn tortillas. And I make these quite frequently because it is a fairly quick process once you get the hang of it.
    Rolling Pin – I think a rolling pin is the best tool for making whole-wheat tortillas. These are a little more involved than the corn tortillas since the work of thinning out the dough has to be done by hand, which is when that rolling pin comes in handy.
    Cast Iron Skillet – I make both corn and flour tortillas on fairly high heat in our cast iron skillet.
    Tortilla Warmer/Holder – Since it takes me a good 20 to 30 minutes to make a batch of a dozen tortillas I need a way to keep them warm, and this little holder works perfectly.
  • Waffle Maker
    I could probably live without this one, but I can pretty much guarantee that my daughters would not feel the same way. Especially since I started freezing whole-wheat waffles to make their beloved “waffle sandwiches” for lunch this year, they would sorely miss our waffle maker if we didn’t have one!
    Recommended: Cuisinart Round Classic Waffle Maker
  • Blendtec I love how effective my Blendtec is and how easy it is to use (and clean)! It’s definitely my top choice – even over Vitamix.
    Recommended: Blendtec

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75 thoughts on “Gift Guide: Kitchen Tools and Appliances”

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  1. I have a waffle maker, but it makes HUGE waffles and will not fit in the toaster to heat! I like the waffles sticks in your first book…do you make and like the waffle sticks and what kind did you use for the picture? I am trying to do waffles to freeze, since the waffles freeze better than pancakes.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Kate. I know you can find ceramic irons that are teflon free. Oster makes one that is priced well but we’ve not tried it.

  2. Any ideas on where I can find a non-non-stick (yes you read that correctly) waffle maker? I don’t use anything with non-stick coating.

  3. While you’re buying those high-quality measuring spoons and cups, here’s a tip I heard a while back and thought it was brilliant. Buy 3-4 sets of the full range of spoons/cups. Then get some of those silverware drawer dividers (only short ones, because these aren’t as long as cutlery). Put all the tablespoons in one divider, teaspoons in another, half teaspoons in another, and so on. This way you don’t have to fish through a mess to find that particular one you need, and you can even delegate a set for wet ingredients and dry. When you’re cooking up a storm (holiday baking, dinner parties, etc.), you wouldn’t believe how much faster it makes the process go!

  4. I have to echo Lisa’s comments about the Cuisinart brand of food processor. Believe it or not, mine has lasted a whopping 33 years, having purchased it shortly after getting married. They had just come out and it seemed like such an extravagance at the time — $150 was a shocking amount of money to spend on a small appliance in 1980. But I still am using the original bowl and original accessories. In fact I use it so much that I sold my blender years ago at a garage sale!

  5. A Microplane zester! One of the most useful kitchen gadgets ever. I grate ginger, garlic (for garlic bread), and parmesan. Occasionally I even use it to zest lemons :)

  6. I have found that my local Dollar Tree has a bunch of the items on the favorites list..such as measuring cups, and spoons, whisks, ladles, spatter guards and mesh strainers. I buy mine there. They may not be the “very best” quality, however I use my things carefully and store them properly. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get your toolbox started.They also stock Rubbermaid containers in all sizes. Hope this helps anyone starting out on a budget.

  7. Great ideas, I don’t know how I ever lived without my food processor now either! Another fun gift is a nice french oven (those heavy enamel pots)…you can easily drop $300 on a Le Crueset but the Costco brand is just as nice and about 1/3 of the crazy cost. Good for roasts and stews / one pot meals, any cook in your life will be thrilled about it :)

  8. Thanks for all the suggestions. We do have many of these items. I am patiently waiting for my kitchen aid ice cream maker attachment. Okay maybe not so patiently.

    Anyhow, I was just telling my boyfriend the other day that I think we should get an immersion blender and a panini grill. I didn’t realize how inexpensive an immersion blender is. Every fall I like to buy a pumpkin, cook it, puree it and then portion out 1-2 cups and put them in the freezer to use for the year. I haven’t bought canned pumpkin puree in years. But this year I realize that having an immersion blender would really make my life easier.

  9. If you can’t afford a panini maker or don’t have space, a waffle iron can make great grilled sandwiches as well as just waffles! Plus, the kids like the waffle pattern on the bread.

  10. I would definitely add a good, high-quality set of sharp knives to this list. My husband gave me a small Cutco set for my birthday and I use them ALL. THE. TIME. My very favorites from the set are the petite chef’s knife (I have smaller hands and rarely need the bigger one, so this fits my hands and uses well), the paring knife, and the long serrated knife (it’s not their bread knife but what came in the set and we use it for our bread).

  11. What pasta machine do you use? I was really thinking after printing out 3-4 recipes after only looking at the ingredients and then later realizing I needed some sort of appliance, that your site should include a disclaimer. “Warning – this recipe requires a pasta machine, ice cream maker, immersion blender, food processor or some other appliance you may not have but will need to complete the recipe”

  12. Have you ever used a silpat mat when baking and making granola instead of parchment paper? I was wondering if you thought they were safe to cook with? Thanks

  13. I have been hearing a lot about pressure cookers lately. Most of my friends from India own one – this makes cooking dried beans a snap. And someone was telling me last night how quick and easy they make it to cook stews and soups from scratch, in a fraction of the time! Even pasta can be cooked quickly. Have you tried a pressure cooker yet? I don’t think I can live without it much longer!

  14. Hi Lisa – I’m currently in the market for a waffle maker. I don’t use teflon, and although I would prefer cast iron, I have an electric stove and they (cast iron waffle irons) only work with gas. Is the inside of your waffle maker stainless steel? And if so, do you find that the waffles stick at all? I also don’t use the veg oil sprays, so can you share what you use to make it non-stick? Thanks!

  15. Hello,

    I’ve been really enjoying your site in the last few days. I wanted to let you know that Bosch (yes, the company that makes auto parts and power tools) makes a fabulous kitchen machine (http://www.amazon.com/Bosch-Universal-Plus-Kitchen-Machine/dp/B0016KU16G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360792196&sr=8-1&keywords=Bosch-Universal-Plus-Kitchen-Machine) that can be elusive to find in stores (only sold through authorized dealers, not even present on the Bosch website). I grew up with one, as my mother has been a proponent of whole foods my entire life, and learned to cook with one, and now that I own one, I will never ever go back to freedstanding appliances! The basics to the Bosch is a single stand taking up space on your counter, onto which you can mount a blender, a mixer, a food processor, etc. etc. While I love the prettiness of the new Kitchenaids, I live with a small kitchen with limited counter space, and love to cook! Therefore Bosch it is!

    I also own a Greenstar juicer (currently retailing around $700 in Canada), and I am only pointing it out for one reason… for those of you reading this post thinking that having good quality appliances is too expensive, and that cooking whole foods without having them is daunting and time-consuming… my advice is buy them used! Honestly! I paid $300 for my juicer, and it was in mint condition! I paid $100 less (than retail) for my Bosch because the lady just wanted to get rid of it… And quite frankly, they have both changed my life and eating habits drastically, because now I don’t have any excuses… cooking anything is easy! And even if something breaks, Bosch carries a lifetime warranty on all of its parts (EVEN the plastic ones!)…

    I guess what I am trying to say is… for the appliances you will use day in and day out, buy high quality and used (disinfect everything before first use)… and for those that might only see the light of day a few times a month/year, buy the less expensive options (my Crockpot was a Walmart special). Cooking will never be the same, I promise.

  16. I have a stainless steel pan set and I was wondering how do you keep things from sticking? I was frying potatoes this morning and they stuck to the bottom of the pan. I can forget about frying an egg in them. Is there a trick? I would love to do away with my non-stick pans.

    1. Hi Traci-

      I ran into that same problem when we switched to stainless steel pans and my husband told me a trick. Let the pan get hot before you put anything in it (don’t put oil in it yet). Mine takes about a minute to do this. You should be able to put a few drops of water in the pan and being able to get the water in the drops. Then put the oil in it and then your food. Trust me this works esp. for eggs and meat.

  17. We’ve started using sheep’s cheese for my son’s dairy allergies, and it’s so much cheaper to buy wedges, rather than pre-shredded cheese, so I really want a hand-held grater with a hand crank. Any suggestions?

  18. What a great list! I love my Pampered Chef stuff so much, I became a consultant. I’m adding my website if anyone here is looking for anything. We have big kitchen items like great cookware, forged cutlery knife set, and stones for baking, to manual food processors, and smaller needs items like measuring spoons, cutting boards, colanders, even that mango fruit slicer someone mentioned. Good kitchen tools make it SO much easier to provide healthy food for my family. Thanks again for a great post. Love your site.

  19. what’s your waffle recipe? also, do you find it difficult to clean up your waffle maker? i’m trying to decide if i should stick to pancakes or venture into the world of waffles as well! love, love, love your sight!

  20. It is certainly true that All Clad makes a fantastic product and it is true that it is very pricey. Personally, I think most home cooks could get along VERY well with the Target range of Calphalon (Kitchen Essentials and also just sold as Caphalon) which are far more reasonably priced and very durable. I have also found KitchenAid brand pots and pans there, heavy duty, stainless steel, highly durable and very affordable. Although as a rule I shy away from “celebrity” cookware, the Giada deLaurentis pots and pans from Target are also reasonably priced and surprisingly sturdy. The smaller saucepans have an annoying “hole” for hanging which causes water to collect in them in the dishwasher and they will only hang face up, rather than face down which is kind of dumb. They’re quite durable though, with heavy bottoms and cook very nicely.

    All Clad is wonderful, but I would hate for anyone to become discouraged at the idea of trying to cook “real food” because they might think that pricey equipment is a necessity.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I do really like my breadmaker, but I also still love the honey whole-wheat bread from Great Harvest so I guess I didn’t list it as a necessity (at least for us).

  21. Awesome list! Just FYI there’s a more affordable brand of cookware that All Clad makes for Emerilware called Pro Clad. Same lifetime warranty and everything!

  22. I can’t believe no one has mentioned a meat thermometer. I loved mine so much I gave it to a friend who said she always overcooks chicken b/c she’s afraid it will be undercooked. I think my sister is getting me a new one for Christmas – let’s hope!

  23. I just got a cuisinart 7 cup food processor on ebay and I love it.The quality is great. I am also looking into a pasta machine too.Maybe next year!! I like the electric ones or at least I hope I will. I suffer from nerve damage so I often don’t have good hand strength..

  24. This is a great list. I have most of it all ready, but I do need a full-sized food processor and I have been dying to get a pasta machine. I make it by hand which can be quite taxing on the body, though it is a great exercise!

  25. In responce to your question about blenders. I actually bought the Montel williams blender. I also bought the Wolfgang Puck 4 horsepower blender, I took the Montel williams back. It simply didn’t have more horse power and I am glad I did! I bought my Wolfgang puck blender on HSN but I did however find reconditioned on Ebay for much much less..The power alone is amazing it makes snow it works great for cold or hot items…

  26. I just purchased All Clad pots and pans for several reasons.
    First, the craftmanship in the pots and pans is far better then most. Second, they will last 25-30 years. Third, All Clad is the only pot and pan company in America. Buying American was important to me.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I do like my bread maker, but I still really like the honey whole-wheat bread from Great Harvest, too! I think making bread can be challenging because there are some variables that can change the outcome…like the weather for example. So sometimes I get a perfect loaf and sometimes not. This is the breadmaker that I use and the only thing I wish I could change is that I didn’t have to be around to drop in the raisins for the Cinnamon Raisin Bread. http://www.amazon.com/Panasonic-SD-YD250-Automatic-Bread-Maker/dp/B00005QFL0?tag=knowledgepdco-20

  27. My very favorite appliance is the Vita-mix. I use it for absolutely everything, it’s amazing. My husband says I love it more than him. : )

  28. Would you share your whole wheat home made pasta recipe? I tried making some with my pasta maker and it was not good at all. I’m thinking it involves KA White Whole Wheat Flour but don’t know about measurements and such.Thanks!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Sure! In my food processor with the dough blade I mix 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour per egg. I usually make 2 – 3 egg’s worth for our family of four. You want the dough to be a ball chasing itself around, and I almost always have to sprinkle flour thru the top of the food processor while it’s going to get it to become a nice ball. Then you wrap it in saran wrap and leave it on the counter for about a half hour before it’s ready to be rolled out. Good luck!

  29. I love my toaster oven! It’s handy for reheating kale chips, sweet potato fries, and other leftovers, and for toasting small amounts of squash seeds. It’s nice not having to heat the whole oven. I even have a teeny pan that fits in it and is perfect for roasting veggies for one.

  30. Cutco knives, Kitchen Aid stand mixer (I have the Pro. 600 and can mix up 3 loaves of bread in it), and Nutrimill (wheat grinder). Those are at the top of my list, but good pots and pans, immersion blender (baby food!), etc. are certainly on there as well.

  31. I LOVE my Cutco knives, couldn’t live without them! Also, a really good quality onion chopper is my other favorite.

    1. Yes! Cutco knives are awesome, and if you send them in to get sharpened (for free), it’s like you have brand new knives all over again!

      1. I happen to work for Cutco (3+ years) and use my knives and Cutco cookware (same quality as All Clad brand mentioned above but better guarantee and lower price) multiple times a day. Also love my Vitamix and am glad I have started investing in high quality now (I’m 22) so that I can save over the years. Although it’s never too late to start saving. :)

  32. I would expand the bread knife suggestion to include an entire set of very high quality knives, such as Henckels ProS or the Wustov high-end line. They can be almost as expensive as the All Clad pots and pans, but once you’ve used these knives of excellent quality, you will understand the difference and NEVER go back!

  33. I so badly want an immersion blender, ice cream maker, pasta maker, tortilla press, waffle maker and panini press :) HA! I am not sure Santa is going to come through on all of them, but maybe at least the immersion blender :)

  34. I wouldn’t be able to eat as much whole food, if it wasn’t for my wheat grinder! I grind wheat a couple of times a week. I can also grind popcorn for cornmeal or any other grain! I love it!

  35. LOVE my Pampered Chef mango cutter! A good set of knives is THE most important tool! I agree on most everything you said above – we have most of it! Love our bread maker too!

  36. I received an immersion blender thingy for Christmas last year and have never, ever used it. I had no idea what I needed it for when I had the world’s best blender (Blendtec) which I love and use multiple times daily. But just yesterday, I had the soup issue you described. It never occurred to me to try the immersion blender. Now, I know what do to do with it.

    I would add to your list of “favorites” my Kitchen Aid Mixer. I finally spent the money and bought the high-powered one, after having a cheap Sunbeam mixer since I got married 18 years ago. I absolutely LOVE my Kitchen Aid Mixer. I use it several times a week.

    Blessings,
    Sandy

  37. I use my immersion blender almost daily. This time of year I use it for soups, and in Summer I use it to mix up my ice cream. It rarely gets put away, that’s how often I use it. Also I do mozzarella in my food processor without any problems. The only appliance that I would add to the list is my electric knife. It is great for slicing even slices of bread. We use it all the time.