I love them so much, I'd give them as gifts.
This avid home cook would never demand that everyone purchase a $300 high-powered blender. Not everyone can spring for such a thing, and for many, it’s way out of reach. (In a pinch, a $30 mini food processor can get you pretty far.) Yes, it’s great to get a fancy blender if you can afford it—all the better to make kale-sauced pasta—but you don’t have to have one.
Here, though, are five gadgets costing less than $30 apiece that have made a real, substantive difference in my cooking. I stand by them, and would even buy them as presents for loved ones.
500-degree pot holders
I cook at home every day, and more often than not, I’m using my oven. And boy, have I scalded myself on the regular while making pizza (500-degree oven), roast veggies (450-degree oven), and crispy oven-roasted chicken (450 degree oven). For those of us who don’t want to burn ourselves or are klutzy (ahem), get yourself some really good heat-proof oven mitts. I bought these little blacknumbers for wrangling super-hot, oily sheet pans, and although they’ve been great, I’m now pining for some gloves that completely cover my hands, like these $12fire-engine red Silicone mitts that the Wirecutter recommends.
Easy-read digital meat and fish thermometer
If you’re making fish and salmon on the regular, you like to fry foods, or you make your own candy, for goodness sakes, get yourself an easy-to-read digital thermometer. Thermopop sells afabulous, cute one that's only $29, reflects the accurate temperature of chicken thighs and fish fast, and helps me from under- or over-roasting meats and poultry. I’m consistently serving food cooked to the correct temperature, and it feels great.
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If you like to bake even the littlest bit, do yourself a favor: Buy a scale. Not only does it help with accuracy, it cuts down on mess. (Picture the flour flurry when you measure a cup of flour, tap the measuring cup, level it off, spoon in more flour, and repeat.) The scale eliminates all that nonsense. Put one big bowl on the scale, tare (zero) it out, and start adding ingredients until the numbers line up. Zero it out again, and add sugar. Then yeast. Et cetera. There’s nothing better for more accurate, cleaner baking. Right now the one I like costs only 28 bucks.
Someone—no need to name names, here—for many years used a $20 spice mill to grind her coffee, shaking it around in the air in the hopes that she’d cause the spinning blade to create similarly sized coffee bean shards. Experts know that for superior coffee you want the beans ground into similarly sized pieces, for more even extraction. The best way to accomplish that is with a burr grinder, so look for that phrase when you’re buying. I’m partial to my$43 Krups, but this foxy little manual number gets rave reviews, too.
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The pleasures of the Silpat are not, primarily, of the cook. They are of the dishwasher. The Silpat represents some of the best $13 you can spend. (Also, it photographs really well and makes you feel like Amelie.) To save yourself dishwashing headaches and feel French, get one: It’ll prevent fish skin from sticking, it’ll make roast chicken cleanup easier, and it will make the dishwasher in you household love you more—even if said dishwasher is a robot.
Alex Van Buren—follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen—is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist who has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious.