Picks

Make Life in the Kitchen a Lot Easier

A baguette miter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Amazon.

In search of the perfect gift? Read more of Slate’s holiday gift guides here.

Slate staffers not only love eating good food; we love making good food. From foolproof homemade birthday cake recipes to the best cooking methods for eggplant, we constantly trade tips and ideas. Over the years, we’ve written about kitchen appliances, cooking gadgets, and specialty goods that have brought us joy. We’ve combed our archives so that this holiday season, these items can bring you or your loved ones some joy, too.

When Jordan Weissmann realized he was in the market for a new Dutch oven, he knew it wasn’t necessary to shell out for one of the high-end brands like Le Creuset or Staub. So he and his wife settled on one from Lodge, the brand preeminently known for its sturdy cast-iron cookware. “It has been everything we hoped for, and more,” he wrote. Not only was it much cheaper than its expensive counterparts, “It has turned out to be an excellent, even essential, addition to our arsenal of pots and pans during these past several months of coronavirus cooking.”

For the baker in your life, consider a digital thermometer, which expert bread-makers rely on to create the perfect loaf. Cookbook author Stella Parks tells Violet Kim in this piece that a good thermometer can be a “game-changer”: “Newbies can have a tough time judging whether or not a loaf has fully cooked, as most physical cues are a little subjective, like listening for a hollow thump,” she says. “But with a digital thermometer, you can easily test the heart of the loaf to be sure it’s fully cooked.”

If your loved one has an interest in sourdough, a nice accompaniment to the thermometer is Sourdough by Sarah Owens. Henry Grabar says Owens’ “delightful” cookbook “walks you through sourdough baking from the very beginning to the final, crispy crust.”

A luxury kitchen item doesn’t always mean a fancy new gadget or appliance. For Rumaan Alam, luxury can mean having a solid stock of supplies he needs. “I prepare 99 percent of my family’s meals, yet I still skimp on the little practical tools that would make that labor so much easier. Why? I have no idea,” he wrote. “We only had one colander for ages. Not long ago I bought three more and that makes … a lot more sense.”

Similarly, you can never have enough mixing bowls. Nik Sharma of A Brown Table recommends stainless steel mixing bowls to Violet Kim, saying: “metal bowls are really, really helpful. … Metal is a better conductor of heat than glass. They absorb heat much better.”

Thoughtful organization can mean the world in a kitchen. Rebecca Onion sings the praises of her countertop knife block: “This magnetic knife block, which is very low-profile, can accommodate the randomest collection of knives, and looks much nicer than its price tag would imply. Everything is organized now, and it stays that way.”

Small bowls can help enormously, too, when embarking on a large cooking or baking project. Violet Kim spoke with baker extraordinaire Dorie Greenspan, who stands by the importance of mise en place. Kim writes, “It’s a small thing, but it’s crucial for ensuring that the baking goes smoothly and enjoyably. As an added benefit, Greenspan says, ‘I think the ingredients themselves look so beautiful. It’s kind of a pleasure to see them on your counter ready to go.’ For this reason, one of Greenspan’s favorite kitchen tools is a set of small bowls.”

Small kitchen gadgets make great stocking stuffers for the cook in your life—and cooks can never have enough wooden utensils. “For an item I use almost every day, wooden spoons are oddly annoying to maintain,” writes former staffer Ruth Graham. “I’ve had this bamboo set kicking around for a few years now, and I’m very happy with it. These spoons stir. They scrape. They have nice slim handles so they don’t take up too much space in my countertop utensil holder. What more do you really need?”

If a messy, sticky garlic press is a source of frustration in your home, gift the cook in your life a garlic rocker. This single-use gadget is actually worth the purchase. Laura Miller praised it for its “elegant simplicity,” noting, “I love it because it takes up next to no room in the drawer or dishwasher, and offers all of the convenience of a press without the fuss—nothing could be easier or faster to clean.”

A nice ice cream scoop is “one of those things that yield an outsize amount of happiness for their cost. Here’s the one I got for my housemates. This one’s pretty good too,” writes Salomone Baquis.

Greenspan also loves her sugar duster, which can be used to dress up cookies, cakes, brownies, and even pancakes and waffles. It makes her “feel like Tinkerbell … and it really does work well,” she told Slate.

Finally, the best kitchen tools don’t have to be for cooking—they can be for entertaining, too. Lili Loofbourow said, “Someone gave me this baguette miter as a wedding gift over a decade ago, and I thought it was pretty but assumed I’d never use it. I’m surprised by how much I actually have; baguettes are kind of cumbersome, and it’s a nice easy way to serve the bread at dinner.”