In terms of versatility, very few kitchen tools come close to the food processor. It can quickly chop fruits and vegetables, grate cheese, purée soups and sauces, emulsify vinaigrettes, and make bread dough and pie crusts. Aside from the fact that it can perform multiple tasks, it’s also relatively inexpensive. You can own a good food processor for around $120 and mini food processors are even less expensive.
Once upon a time, the Microplane was used by woodworkers for planing wood. Now, it has become ubiquitous in professional and home kitchens. It's easy to see why it is so popular — not only does it easily zest citrus fruit, but it grates everything from cheese to gingerroot. Once you own a Microplane, it will be hard to go back to a box grater.
While there is virtue in kneading bread by hand or whipping eggs whites stiff with a whisk, not all of us have the time or the upper body strength to do these tasks properly. So for those who are short on time or upper body strength (and love convenience), the electric stand mixer is a godsend. Mixing a smooth cake batter or making properly kneaded dough is a cinch with this kitchen tool. Although KitchenAid makes the most well-known stand mixer, Cuisinart and Hamilton Beach make them as well, along with many other companies.
Even good cooks can find cutting uniform pieces of fruits and vegetables difficult, but this problem can be easily solved by purchasing a mandoline. This gadget, which resembles a horizontal grater, is perfect for the precision cuts that can be hard to achieve with a knife. Mandolines comes in two styles: a simple, handheld slicer with a straight slicing blade often referred to as a "Japanese" mandoline, and another version that stands up and has straight, serrated, and comb blades. Just make sure to purchase a mandoline with a safety guard to protect your fingers from the blade.
For many, the ability to feel when the meat is done or knowing when the syrup for fudge is at soft-ball stage is a point of pride. But the hallmark of great food is precision, and true precision can only be achieved with a thermometer. So set aside your sixth sense for when the roast is done and buy a thermometer. This tool will all but guarantee you to become a better cook and you'll never have to guess when your pot roast can come out of the oven.
Whether or not you believe the adage that cooking is an art and baking is science, baking does require more precision than cooking. In order to get consistently flaky pie crusts or tender cakes, you need to weigh out your dry ingredients instead of measuring them, because a cup of flour can be 30 percent more or less flour than you want. Once you start weighing your dry ingredients, you'll never have to worry about whether your cup of flour is really the amount called for in a recipe.
A lot of kitchen tools promise to save you time and effort but fail to deliver, but an immersion blender really does make your life easier. You can purée soups without ever having to take the ingredients out of the pot or make small amounts of pesto or mayo. Immersion blenders are also easy to clean and inexpensive — $20 can get you a good and reliable one.
While a lot of cooks think that a cast-iron pan is too high-maintenance to own, its definitely worth the effort. A cast-iron pan is versatile enough that you can use it to cook, bake, or fry, so it can replace a lot of the pans you already own. It also heats more evenly than pans made of aluminum and stainless steel. Best of all, if properly seasoned (coating it with a neutral cooking oil and baking it at 350 degrees for about an hour), a cast-iron pan can last a lifetime.
While a coffee grinder may be seen as an unnecessary gadget because it seemingly has only one use, it can actually be used for something other than helping you get your caffeine fix. Coffee grinders are great for making freshly ground spices and can be used to make breadcrumbs or crush seeds and nuts. If your coffee grinder is powerful enough, it can also be used to make nut flours like almond or hazelnut.
For many people, slow cookers are unsightly things used only by grandmothers in linoleum-tiled kitchens, but you should consider welcoming them into you own kitchen. Slow cookers (often referred to as Crock-Pots) allow you to cook meals while doing other things, such as working, sleeping, or watching trashy reality TV. In an era where we all feel pressed for time, a slow cooker is a great kitchen tool that happens to retail for as little as $30. So before you dismiss it, just remember that with a slow cooker, you can always have a hot meal waiting for you at the end of a long day.