The Essential Appliances
It’s so easy to fall into the trap. You walk through a store, or watch a cooking show, and you see a myriad of gadgets, appliances, and modern conveniences geared towards food preparation. You buy one item here, and another, and another...until you end up with cabinets crammed full of items you find yourself using once in a great while.
Don’t fall into the trap. If there is anything I ever thought I could teach about passions like cooking, it’s to buy tools based on how much you realistically believe you’ll use them. $300 on a cool gadget is wasted money if you only pull it out once a year.
So what I have for you today are two lists. One is of what I believe are the essential appliances you should consider having in your kitchen, and the second are more optional ones, and why they didn’t make the first list. You’ll see similar lists on other blogs, thus why I reiterate that this is my opinion. Feel free to debate my suggestions in the comments.
The Essential Selection
I’ll first start off by assuming you already have a refrigerator, freezer, stove, and oven. If you walk into a kitchen missing any of these four, I’d suggest walking out, or buying said items. Beyond that, here’s what else I think are necessary:
Microwave Oven: This is a definite subject for debate, as I’ve seen many foodies, chefs, and cooks against the idea of microwave ovens. I understand the claim that microwaves hinder people from learning to properly cook, as they’ll choose to “nuke” up a frozen dinner or do many makeshift shortcuts.
If you’ve read many of the tips I’ve left on this site, you’ll know that I feel that shortcuts are not a bad thing. I personally can’t live without a microwave oven. Most of the reason is that I like to cook larger amounts of food and live on leftovers over the busy work week. Plus I’ve found my microwave just plain easier for things I used to do on a stovetop, like making oatmeal and melting butter.
Food Processor: Originally, I had purchased a cheap “mini” food processor just to chop nuts, but since graduated to a moderately-priced Cuisinart. Now I can’t fathom not having a food processor my kitchen, and I would tell you to make it a priority to own one. It’s just a handy tool for slicing, chopping, and pureeing. A worthwhile investment you’ll constantly use.
Toaster Oven: You might have encountered one of these at an elder’s home, and potentially found it strange compared to the traditional pop-up toaster, but I’d advise you not to overlook the toaster oven. A traditional toaster can only do some bread items, but you get the same fulfillment on a wider range of items with a toaster oven. Bagels heated without getting stuck, strudel and spanakopita given the right crisp, and even cold French Fries rejuvenated.
Stand Mixer: I was so excited to get that KitchenAid as a wedding present, and would highly recommend owning a stand mixer, especially if you want to get into baking. Even a hand-held electric mixer would work for just simple whipping and mixing, but the stand mixers can also provide kneading, which making baking rolls and breads so much easier.
Electric Kettle: Boiling water on the stove takes forever, and microwaving it doesn’t bring good results. For those of us who like to steep our coffee or drink tea. For the small amount of money these cost, it’s so worth it. Even if you’re trying to make stock or just need hot water quickly, an electric kettle is a wonderful convenience.
With the essentials in order, the following are what I really think are optional items. These are appliances that you should only consider if you’re seriously going to use them on a frequent basis. I’m not telling you to never buy any of these, but to be smart about them if you don’t want to needlessly spend money.
Juicer: I own a juicer, and love it, but I have noticed my frequency of usage to variate depending on mood. Sometimes we’re making carafes every week, and other times the juicer sits in our cabinet for a month or more. Unless you’re serious about juicing, I’d suggest a fun trip to the local juice bar for those occasions when you are in need. Even many decent grocers are now investing in juice bars.
Electric Grill/Panini Press: This is another appliance I happily own, but don’t always use it. Most of these serve two purposes: making panini sandwiches and grilling some meats on your countertop. One of my favorite cafes will also use their press to grill wraps and even crisp up pieces of baguette to serve with soups and salads. A wonderful tool, but again, not always necessary. You could get much of the same results with a cast-iron grill pan.
Blender: Some of you might think I’m insane for putting a blender in the “optionals”, but I think the food processor has taken over much of the need for a blender. Some better-built food processors can even chop ice and make frozen drinks. Now if you’re a big fan of milkshakes, malts, and smoothies, then get a blender. Beyond that, you could probably skip on this now.
Grinder: Coffee and spice purists would scoff at the notion of not having a grinder in your kitchen, but I never claimed to be a purist. I’ll have roasters grind my coffee, and I buy spices already ground. This is again one of those appliances worth buying only if grinding coffee, nuts, and spices on your own is that important to you.
Food Dehydrator: I’m currently borrowing an Excalibur Dehydrator from a friend, and we’re thoroughly loving making dried apples and pears, but our desires for homemade dried fruit (and potentially jerky) hasn’t pushed us enough to buy one. I think if you’re going into a raw food diet, then take a risk with a moderately-priced dehydrator. However, for the rest of us, tread carefully. Maybe even try doing some dehydration in your oven.
Coffee Maker/Espresso Machine: Surprised? I’ve owned several coffeemakers and one espresso machine in my life. The espresso machine only lasted a year, and the coffeemakers didn’t see as much use as the electric kettle and French Press. It just seemed a waste unless you’re able to have a pitcher of coffee around all day. For us it would have been half a pot going to waste.
Now I know the one-cup coffeemakers are all the rage, with the small rack of cups at your disposal, but I’ve found those machines create much bacteria and landfill waste. I’ve also found if you’re going to get an espresso maker in your home, you have to spend a lot of money for a quality machine. Save your money and instead take those moments to go out and embrace the local cafe.
Crockpot: Yes, you could be thinking I’m crazy, thinking of all the yummy dishes you’ve created in your crockpot, or the vast number of recipes you’ve encountered online. However, the notion of leaving any appliance on all day while at work is rather scary, and I’ve found better results using a Dutch Oven. Most crockpots only put the heat on the bottom, while a Dutch Oven surrounds the food with heat as it sits in a conventional oven. You’re free to disagree with me on this, but I know my last crockpot collected dust in my cabinet when I got my Dutch Oven.
Beyond this list, there’s plenty more toys and gadgets like immersion blenders, donut makers, bread machines, and popcorn makers. Regardless if you see these as necessary or “nice to have”, just always remember the underlying lesson when you fear overloading your cabinets. Purchase based on realistic frequency of use. Save the extra cash for the great foods you want to make.