Back in March, many would-be chefs and bakers hopped on tons of cooking trends, from nurturing sourdough starters to making the perfect loaf of banana bread. Hey, there’s not a ton to do while sheltering in place! But now, even as more restaurants open up amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some of your buddies may still be donning the chef’s hat.
This is great for several reasons: 1) You might just get to be a go-to taste-tester, and 2) you now have tons of gift ideas — maybe too many, in fact. Stocking your kitchen with the right tools isn’t as easy as you might think; the sheer number of gadgets can be overwhelming. Don’t worry — we’ve cooked up a list of some of our favorite kitchen must-haves for all your favorite at-home cooks.
Cut Through the Cooking Prep with Ease
This might seem like an obvious item, but if your friend has just gotten into cooking, then they may not have a high-quality chef’s knife. Sure, it looks like just another knife, but you (and your buddy) won’t truly understand the difference until you hold something like the Victorinox Fibrox Pro Knife in your hand.
Cutting up meat and slicing and dicing vegetables has never been such a breeze. With an 8-inch blade, this knife is sure to cut through even the firmest potatoes like butter. (How do you like them apples? Er, potatoes…) Coming in at less than $40, the Fibrox Pro Knife is also an affordable option, but make sure your giftee knows how to care for it. Avoid the dishwasher and keep this one sharp.
Keep Things Looking Sharp
Okay, you probably saw this one coming, right? Right. After all, if you’re investing in a high-quality knife, you’ll also want to make sure it stays sharp. For that, you’ll need a great tool like the Kitchellence Knife Sharpener. This easy-to-use device takes your knife through a three-stage process — straightening, sharpening and polishing, all of which keep your chef’s knife in top-notch condition.
Not only do sharp knives make cutting up meat and veggies a breeze, but a well cared for tool also means more control. Often, dull knives slip, leading to injuries. Like a well sharpened knife, this product is also loved by reviewers for its sturdiness — it doesn’t slip around on the counter. Bonus: This handy gadget comes with a cut-resistant glove — all for the low, low price point of less than $20. You really can’t beat such a sharp-looking deal.
Make Meal (and Drink) Prep a Cinch
At first glance, a juicer sounds like something pricey. In reality, a quality appliance, like the BLACK+DECKER Citrus Juicer, is actually a very affordable kitchen must-have. To be honest, any product that saves time and energy when it comes to food prep is worth it — the low price tag is just a bonus.
Instead of tiring out your arm twisting away on a manual citrus juicer, you can plug in this electric juicer and let it do the rotating for you. All you need to do is press on the juicing cone, and it turns under the pressure, collecting pulp at the base. Customers also love the fact that this juicer is easy to take apart and clean, something we recommend you do after every use, whether you’re making fresh-squeezed orange juice or mixing up some lemony cocktails.
Put a New Spin on Salad Prep
Is there anything worse than a soggy salad? You have to rinse the ingredients, but too much water leaves the lettuce limp and the dressing runny. That’s where the OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner comes in. Toss your rinsed lettuce inside, give the handle some spins and enjoy your fresh, crisp salad.
Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity, however. Customers say this salad spinner takes some practice to master. If you find your greens are still dripping, you might be missing something mentioned in the directions. For less than $30, it can make a world of difference for salad lovers — and it can make a side task a breeze for an at-home chef whose attention is split between several courses all at once.
Let Your Gadgets Do Some of the Heavy Lifting
Even if your chef pal insists on being hands-on, we promise that doing some prep and cooking with a Crock-Pot Slow Cooker isn’t cheating. In fact, there’s a reason this classic kitchen must-have is so loved, especially by folks who work long hours. While many of us are at home quite often these days, we can still find ourselves pulled in a number of different directions.
No matter how Julia Child your pal has gone, a slow cooker can be a saving grace, allowing them to not only save time but focus on other, more interesting elements of the cooking process. With this cooker, you can simply prep your ingredients, throw everything together in the pot and let it do its thing throughout the day or even overnight. Just make sure your heat setting is on low, and it’s in a safe spot in your home.
Don’t Get “Board” with Any Kitchen Task
Bet you expected to see this one earlier, right? Well, better late than never. Much like a chef’s knife (and a knife sharpener), a quality cutting board is a kitchen staple. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who can cook without one. Investing in a high-quality John Boos Maple Wood Edge Grain Reversible Cutting Board is a good way to level up anyone’s kitchen game.
The maple wood is easier on knives than plastic and is more eco-friendly to manufacture. Some versions of this product also include juice grooves to catch excess liquids from tomatoes, meats and more before they spill all over your countertop. Customers love the massive amounts of surface area and the fact that this board is easy to clean.
Cook Up Cozy Treats in an Equally Cozy Pan
Hear the phrase “cast iron,” and you’ll likely think of cooking in a cozy cabin nestled in the pines. You wouldn’t be wrong. There’s something delightfully rustic about making everything from cornbread to chicken in a Cast Iron Skillet. If you’re not privy to the wonders of this device, prepare to discover the secret to better fried foods. First, these skillets are incredibly sturdy and virtually impossible to break.
They are also stick-resistant and can be used for baking in the oven as well as cooking on the stove, and thanks to the cast iron in the name, the contents heat evenly every time. You do, however, need to know how to care for a cast iron skillet. Unlike dishwasher-friendly pans, the skillet has to cool completely, be cleaned with hot soapy water and then lightly coated with vegetable oil after drying.
Chicken Wings — But Make Them Healthy
Much like the early pandemic baking trends, food lovers have been spending 2020 looking for new, fun ways to make tasty, restaurant-quality meals. Getting an air fryer, like the NuWave Brio 6-Quart Air Fryer, is a great way to open up a world of new possibilities. From frying meat to fries and veggies, this 6-quart cooker does it all — in fact, you can fit a whole chicken in that basket!
Of course, the best part of air frying is that it’s oil-free, which means the food comes out healthier than normal fried food but still tastes delicious. Reviewers like the dishwasher-safe feature, but the size is something to keep in mind, as it will take up a good chunk of counter space. At around $90, it might be more of a special occasion gift, but we guarantee the recipient will use it for years to come.
Squash the Pasta Competition
If you want to give the gift of a kitchen tool that’s as fun as it is useful, try the Spiralizer Ultimate Veggie Slicer. This product will cut apples, zucchini, onions, cucumbers and any other firm fruit or vegetable into long spirals. All you do is stick the veggie or fruit on the Spiralizer’s prongs and crank away!
Spiralizing foods is a fast way to cut them up and create popular new dishes featuring healthy options like zucchini noodles. This particular spiralizer also comes with seven different blades, so you can switch up the kind of spiral you make. At around $30, this specialty tool makes fancy cutting much faster for many customers. Need a first recipe to try? We recommend substituting your pasta with zucchini noodles, or “zoodles.”
Keep the Basics on Hand, No Matter What Meal You’re Making
Last on our list is the ever-compact Dash Mini Rice Cooker, which is almost as cute as it is useful. If you’ve never used this item, it just might change your life. It cooks perfectly done rice with minimal effort. Just add the ingredients and press “cook.” Much like an instant pot, we don’t consider this one a kitchen “cheat” — it’s just a great way for your aspiring chef friend to manage their time when cooking a full-on meal.
It’s not just for rice, either. Oatmeal, soup, quinoa, pasta and even steamed veggies are all suitable options for this cooker. Dinner will be a breeze and healthy too. With a 2-cup capacity, this particular product is for people who don’t need to make large quantities and want to spend less and take up less space. It sells for less than $25.
Honorable Mentions: Fun, Inexpensive and Silly Gadgets Worth Gifting
Looking for a stocking stuffer, small present or gag gift? Here are some of our favorite little gadgets that make things a bit simpler for wannabe chefs. Bonus: They’ve got a lot of personality.
Our picks include: