18 Kitchen Gadgets Pro Cooks Actually Use at Home (Psst: Most Are $20 or Less!)
Do professional cooks really use the fanciest gadgets in their own homes? A poll of our Test Kitchen staff reveals all.
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Head to the kitchen section of your local big-box store and you’ll be inundated with kitchen gadgets rumored to make food prep easier (mango slicer!), meals tastier (sous vide!!) and cleanup simpler (automatic microwave cleaner!!!). Here are the kitchen gadgets you really need, according to our trusty Taste of Home pros, who spend their days with food: dreaming up recipes, testing recipes and styling amazing magazine shots.
“I love, love spatulas!” says Peggy Woodward, one of our food editors. “I use a giant one for stiff cookie dough and have medium and small ones, too.” Look for a spatula with a slightly flexible plastic handle that won’t snap when you’re working with a really thick batter. Try this fun spatch available in several colors.
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If you ask Peggy, no kitchen is complete without at least one trusty wooden spoon. “I have three,” she says. They come in all sorts of shapes, including slotted, the classic rounded head, and squared off (which makes hitting the edges of high-sided pans easier). We like this starter set.
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If you want to go old-school and skip the kitchen electrics, Kitchen Operations Manager Beth Jacobson says you need one of these: “I tend to do things more slowly at home and often forgo electronic gadgets entirely, so if I’m whipping heavy cream? Hello, balloon whisk!” They’re also efficient for salad dressings and stirring up flour (no sifting necessary).
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You knew this was coming. “I firmly believe a good chef’s knife is key to almost anything you’re going to be doing,” says Food Editor James Schend. “I’ve got a lot of knives, but there’s one I reach for all the time: the 5-1/2-inch Shun Classic Hollow-Ground Santoku Knife.” Want less of a splurge? Try this classic.
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“The Microplane grater is my favorite tool,” says Food Stylist Shannon Roum. “I use a ton of citrus to add flavor in both sweet and savory dishes.” These precision hand-held tools, which come in multiple shapes and sizes, are famous for their zesting abilities, plus they do a mighty fine job of grating cheese, mincing herbs and turning gingerroot into a paste.
Use the Gadget: Lemon Recipes from Tart to Sweet
Speaking of sharp things, if you ask me, a Swiss vegetable peeler needs to be a part of your collection, too. These Y-shaped gadgets seem to stay sharp forever. Mine is going on 10 years old, and I use it nearly every day. You don’t have to pony up for an expensive one—mine was $5 at a farmers market.
Use the Gadget: Ribbon Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Peggy and Beth both love cookie scoops. “They’re perfect for consistent and easy portioning from cookies to meatballs,” says Beth. For a smoother release, go for the spring-loaded split-handle variety instead of the type with thumb release.
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Talk about versatile, says Culinary Director Sarah Thompson. “Mine goes from the mixing bowl to the skillet, and I can use it for spreading jams on toast or mayo on bread.” It’s like a spoon and a spatula in one. We like this one.
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Another tool that earned double points, offset spatulas are for serious home cooks, a category where both Peggy and Sarah belong. “A small offset spatula is ideal for evenly spreading frosting, melted chocolate, even batter,” for a cake roll, for example. “It helps you make your food look great!” Peggy says.
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James is all about Boos cutting boards, which come in all shapes and sizes. Check out the grooved styles-these are super helpful when it comes to cutting juicy things, like roasts or tomatoes. Juices run into the grooves instead of over the edge onto your countertop. And be sure to have a few boards on hand to avoid cross-contamination (designate at least one no-garlic, no-onion cutting board, so you can cut up fruit without adding a funky taste).
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According to Peggy, cleanup’s a cinch with a nylon pan scraper. It loosens cooked-on gunk more quickly than a scrub brush. “You’re basically paying for a little piece of plastic, but I love it,” she says.
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Sometimes, a big knife just isn’t going to cut it. Or, rather, it just might cut you. More-detailed tasks, like peeling apples or cutting slits in meat, call for a tool with a finer blade. “What I can’t do with my chef’s knife, I’ll work on with a paring knife. My favorite is the Zwilling Four-Star Paring Knife,” James says.
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Big into yeast breads? Get a couple of Norpro scrapers, says Lauren Knoelke, one of our food stylists. A stainless steel scraper helps lift and divide dough, while a flexible plastic one gets every last bit out of the bowl. “I love these two tools for handling doughs,” she says.
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Precut parchment paper is one of Sarah’s secret weapons. “I always have a package on hand. It’s perfect for measuring dry ingredients onto a sheet, then carrying it over to the mixing bowl and sliding everything right in,” she says. “I also use it to line baking sheets when I freeze fresh-cut fruit for morning smoothies.” Grab it at the grocery store, or buy them here.
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“Many of our Test Kitchen practices have followed me home,” Beth says. One of them is using a digital kitchen scale. “I weigh ingredients for baking across the board now.” This takes the guesswork out of consistently measuring dry ingredients.
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Recipe Editor Irene Yeh hits the office supply aisle when she’s kitchen-gadget shopping. “Binder clips secure opened bags of anything: spices, frozen peas, pastas,” she says. Get a cute set in bulk, here. “And I use magnetic clips to attach recipes to the refrigerator door. They’re easy to look at without being in the way.”
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Shutterstock / Elena Kharichkina
Last, keep your smartphone on hand to help look up cooking queries while you’re in the thick of it. “They also make Thai food appear almost magically,” says Beth.
Use the Gadget: Browse for inspiration in our recipe collections, like these Restaurant Copycats.