Since I’ve made a commitment to early retirement, though, I’ve managed to kick the gadget habit and pare down my kitchenware to the essentials…. well, the essential tools plus a few extras that I feel add enough value to keep around.
With these 10 suggested kitchen tools, you will make cooking time a breeze. And you will wonder why you didn’t start using these gadgets sooner!
1. FOOD PROCESSOR
My first absolute must-have kitchen gadget is a food processor with switchable disks/blades. This item alone could be considered the cook’s best friend. With it, you can shred block cheese or slice stick pepperoni (both of which are much cheaper than buying pre-shredded cheese or pre-sliced pepperoni).
You can also use it to make mayonnaise, peanut butter, or whipped cream, as well as chop or slice any number of vegetables in no time flat.
Food processors are awesome gadgets for making pates and dips, and mixing smooth and creamy deli-style tunafish. Make awesome hummus or guacamole in minutes, perfect for when you’re making our guacamole deviled egg appetizers! They are easy to clean, and the results are superior to buying prepackaged deli and grocery store foods.
Food processors are an essential kitchen tool that will save you loads of time, and once you start using it, you will discover more and more uses for saving time in your cooking.
You’ll want a good, sturdy model that will withstand heavy use over the years. The brand I would most highly recommend is Cuisinart. A good alternative to one of these machines for slicing is a mandoline, another tool that actually performs a few tasks a little better or quicker if you are preparing smaller amounts of food.
2. SLOW COOKER
My next must-have kitchen gadget is a slow cooker, also known as a crockpot. Aside from the energy savings from using a slow cooker versus the oven to cook a roast, this little beauty is a great way to use up leftover meats and vegetables – just toss them in with some broth, let it cook all day, and you’ve got soup!
It’s also the easiest way to cook a chicken for those casseroles or pot pies that call for cooked chicken – AND make your own chicken broth at the same time! Just season the chicken, pop a peeled onion in the cavity, add 2-4 cups of water, and cook it on low for 8-10 hours.
Place a colander in a bowl (which has enough volume to hold the amount of liquid in the crockpot) and slowly pour the contents from the crockpot into the colander. Carefully lift the colander and let it drain, then place it in a large, empty bowl or on some paper towels (as a little more liquid will continue to drain off), to let your chicken cool until you can easily handle it.
The meat will fall completely off the bone, the skins are easy to remove, and you’ll have loads of cooked chicken for several recipes, as well as several cups of homemade broth. You can refrigerate the broth before using it, and easily skim the fat off the top to make it even healthier.
Many crock pot dishes from soups to beans can provide multiple meals: just freeze the leftovers to reheat on the stove top or microwave for weeks to come!
Another great thing about crock pot cooking is it can easily fit into a busy family’s schedule, where different family members sometimes need to eat at different times. Using this simple cooking method, they can each eat a hot meal without requiring you to put in the effort of cooking multiple times.
You can get a crock pot or slow cooker at a starting price of about $20 and find a really decent one for under $50, although I’d highly suggest spending a little more. Consider the Cuisinart MSC-600 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker pictured above, because it will allow you to slow cook, brown, and steam all with one appliance, and it will likely last for years.
If you already have a crock pot, then start using it! You will be amazed by how much time and money this valuable tool saves you!
3. RICE COOKER
Another one of my must-have kitchen tools, and the one I get the most resistance from fellow cooks about because it seems odd or unnecessary, is an electric rice cooker.
Rice is a staple of any frugal cook’s pantry, and is probably used often. This gizmo is the best and most energy efficient way to cook your rice – whether white or (my preference) brown – to absolute perfection every single time.
Think about the number of times your rice has boiled over, or cooked for too long and burned, or dried out without enough liquid, or took up valuable burner space so you had to wait to cook another part of your meal. Rice cookers remove every single one of these obstacles.
They come with precise measurements that are plainly marked on the cooking vessel, so there is no guesswork involved – you put in X scoops of rice, fill the container to the X level, pop it in the cooking chamber (most have an outer and removable inner chamber for ease of use and cleaning), cover, hit the “cook” button, and that’s it!
Another great use for your rice cooker is making oatmeal for breakfast (or, if you are like me, sometimes for dinner)! You’ll find a lot of different recipes out there – read through them, and pick one that creates the type of oatmeal you prefer (some like it soupy, some firm and chewy, some in between the two).
You just toss your ingredients in, take a shower, dress for work, and in 20 minutes or less, you have a hot, inexpensive, and nourishing breakfast waiting.
Although you can purchase these low-cost versions made by Aroma, once again I caution you against cheaping out here. Having lived in Korea, I know that all of these are not created equal.
If you buy a good one made in either Korea or Japan, with Fuzzy Logic (computer chip enabled to adjust cook times) and “stay warm” capabilities, your rice will be cooked correctly AND stay fresh for several days. I’d recommend looking at the Zojirushi NS-TSC10 5 1/2-Cup Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer pictured above.
This is a made-in-Japan model (some of Zojirushi’s cheaper models are made in China) that has all the basics that you need. With hundreds of positive reviews on Amazon at the time of this writing, you can’t go wrong.
If you don’t already own a juicer, buy one immediately! These are a definite must-have kitchen gadget. If you do already own one, then start using it!
Not only are juicers a great tool for squeezing lemon, lime and orange juice when called for in recipes, the’ye able to juice vegetables as well.
They save you muscle and extract the most juice possible, something you could never achieve by hand squeezing citrus fruits alone, and allowing you to extract juice from plants that you would never be able to squeeze with an old-style citrus juicer.
Additionally, you won’t have to worry about the seeds or the pulp being in your juice, and the waste pulp works well in your compost bin.
Fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices are far superior in taste and nutritional value to anything you can possibly buy in the grocery store. Once you taste fresh juice, you will never go back to store bought. And serving your guests fresh juice will get you nonstop raves for the uplifting and refreshing feeling they experience!
Juicers can be bought at a low starting price of around $12. Once again, I caution that you get what you pay for, and I highly recommend spending a little more for this fabulous kitchen tool. For the most bang for your buck, purchase a masticating juicer rather than the centrifugal type, as they are a lot more efficient and you will get a lot more use, enjoyment, and juice out of a good one.
I recommend the Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Juicer if you’re serious about buying a quality tool that will last. If the cost is prohibitive, Amazon sometimes offers factory reconditioned versions with full 15-year factory warranties at a more affordable price.
Blenders don’t need to be expensive. You can get a low-end blender for $20 to $30 that will work well, and this handy gadget will provide you with a multitude of uses from making smoothies and blended cocktails to your own sorbet from frozen fruits and juice.
For a lower cost product, I can recommend the Oster 6812-001 Core 16-Speed Blender, as I’ve personally owned one (actually two, thanks to many household moves with the Army). They feature glass carafes and they look pretty snazzy on the countertop.
However, it you want to step it up a notch, I highly recommend the Vitamix 5200 Series Blender. I bought mine through a road show at an Army PX (Post Exchange – the department store on Army installations) but they can be had easily through Amazon and other online retailers as well.
When I got my Vitamix, it was like a night and day difference compared to what I had been using. Where my Oster struggled with making a thick smoothie or frozen yogurt, the Vitamix chugged right along and asked for more. The motors are so powerful that you can actually cook in these things due to friction of the blades spinning in the ingredients! They also make special blades and carafes to allow you to grind grain. You really couldn’t ask for a more perfect kitchen tool.
Many folks also report good experiences with the Blendtec Designer Series, like the model pictured below. I’ve never owned one, but if the many positive customer reviews on Amazon are any indication, then this is definitely an awesome gadget that should help you to blend anything you desire short of a brick (and it just might be able to handle that as well).
Many people have blenders and they forget to use them as other newer gadgets get more love, but once you start taking full advantage of your blender and using it as one of your go-to tools, you will find it not only to be time saving, but a fun way to create variety in your menu experience on a regular basis. No more hanging out in the back of the cabinet for this small appliance!
6. RUBBER SPATULAS
Having a good set of rubber spatulas in at least three sizes will save you time and money in the kitchen. Food won’t be wasted when using the last of that mayonnaise, or pouring batter from a baking mix you just prepared. And rubber spatulas are fantastic tools when it comes to spreading condiments on your bread or a toasted sandwich.
They spread so much more nicely than butter knives, and can accomplish the job in one fell swoop. When you are making sandwiches for several people, you can really appreciate how crucial a good spatula can be for saving time!
My favorites are those made by di Oro Living. I find that they are quite a bit stronger than most others, with an embedded stainless steel core. I hate a flimsy plastic tool! They also feature a lifetime guarantee, should you have any issues.
7. FOUR-SIDED STAINLESS STEEL GRATER
A good grater is not only a great time saving gadget for quickly grating cheese (and grating your own cheese is far superior in taste to buying store-grated cheese), you will find it handy in grating raw vegetables of all types, from carrots to radishes, potatoes, and much more. It doesn’t take much muscle to do your own grating, and you’ll find that grating some items is much faster than chopping them with a kitchen knife.
I can only really recommend one product, and that is the Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology 4-Sided Boxed Grater shown in the above picture. Its 25-year warranty is a testament to the quality of this product, and I wouldn’t use any other brand.
It’s a bit pricey for a basic tool, but in the long run it will save you time and aggravation, as opposed to dealing with an inferior grater. I particularly like this brand as it’s the only grater I’ve ever found where the fine side actually grates rather than just creating a powdery mess. I think you will be thrilled with the quality of this product as well.
Again, a mandoline is also an excellent substitution (in some cases) for a grater. And a food processor with slicing and shredding blades can sometimes double up to accomplish many of the same jobs quickly and efficiently as well.
8. LARGE METAL OR PLASTIC COLANDER
I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t use my colander. This is a fast and efficient tool when it comes to draining pasta and vegetables, or even sliced potatoes for homemade french fries.
Don’t think you can just keep a lid on a pot and pour out the excess water without using your colander. The “hold the cover and just pour the water” method is not only ineffective, you can burn yourself badly with the steam that escapes as well.
It will take you far more time to deal with a burn or injury than if you had just used a colander in the first place.
This is a tool for which, unlike some of my other suggestions, paying up for a little more in the quality department is not going to cost too much.
You’ll want to take a closer look at the OXO Good Grips 5-Quart Stainless Steel Colander, pictured above. It’s also reviewed well by verified customers on Amazon.
9. CARBON STEEL WOK
You can save time in the kitchen and cook fabulous meals by using a carbon steel wok. One pot to clean, and fresh veggie-based meals are ready in minutes. You can’t beat that!
You can get a wok at a starting price of about $20. I’d suggest that you look into a flat-bottomed version, unless you want to deal with a “wok ring” to holds a curved-bottom version over your stove. I particularly like the one pictured, as it is made in the USA (kind of ironic, isn’t it?). The Chinese have special stoves (both modern and traditional) that hold the curved-bottom versions correctly, but they just don’t work as well on modern Western-style cooktops.
Take a look at Foodal’s article on choosing the best wok for more details.
10. AIRTIGHT FOOD STORAGE CONTAINERS
Airtight food storage containers will save you both time and money in the kitchen, because you can neatly store your rice, pasta, dry baking ingredients, and snacks, and even organize your spice packets and meal mixes.
They will help you to find what you need in your pantry at a glance, and not only keep ingredients fresh, but keep you from accidentally spilling that open box of elbow macaroni or instant rice, or open bag of flour, and creating a kitchen disaster that requires lots of sweeping and vacuuming!
Again, I’m not trying to spend more of your hard earned money, but I feel that you would be best served by a set of the OXO 5-Piece Good Grips Pop Containers, as they force a good chunk of the oxygen out from the storage area and allow your ingredients and other foodstuffs to stay fresh for much longer.
These are a good quality product and should last quite a while as they are made with thick, sturdy plastic. I’m getting close to five years with mine, with no issues or performance loss.
Taking advantage of a few simple tools and kitchen items will not only save you time, but in most cases, it will save you money as well.
You probably already have many of these gadgets, and maybe some have been ignored over the years. But if you revive or renew your use of these essential tools, you will find cooking and cleanup time to be greatly reduced.
So there you have it – ten kitchen gadgets that are sure to save you time, money, and hours of hassle. Oh, and about those taco shell warmers and muffin top pans? I’d say pass them by… unless, of course, you plan to buy them at my next yard sale!