My Cooking Kit, Part 5— Devices & Electrics
A little about me: I cook a lot, mostly dinner at home for my family and friends but sometimes for massive parties of upwards of 200 people. I’ve been doing sous vide cooking since 2010. I run a food blog called Unselling Convenience (also @unsellingconvenience on Instagram if you’d rather follow along there), which is mostly an inspiration board and memory database of things I’ve enjoyed cooking and probably want to cook again. I believe that shortcuts are great, but not at the expense of quality. I administer the Everyday Sous Vide and Instant Pot Love groups on Facebook.
I enjoy inspiring other people to cook and giving advice. Also, I love gadgets, and I’ve tried out a LOT of stuff. I have strong opinions. This post series is about things I use in the kitchen plus a few things I don’t and why, and I hope it’s informative and fun for you. Unless otherwise specified, everything listed here is something I’ve used myself. If you buy something from one of the links, I probably get a small commission which won’t even come close to defraying the amount of money I’ve spent on these things over the years but which will make me happy anyway.
This is part of a series, if you’re looking for a specific chapter:
- My Cooking Kit, Part 1 — Cookware & Bakeware
- My Cooking Kit, Part 2 — Knives
- My Cooking Kit, Part 3 — Basic General Tools
- My Cooking Kit, Part 4 — More Specialized and Obscure Tools
- My Cooking Kit, Part 5 — Devices & Electrics
or see my other food writings at https://counter.kitchen.
The previous parts covered tools, and here I get into devices and countertop electrics.
A note about brands. There is a LOT of crap out there, and I’m generally not fond of buying things from the gibberish brands that will be gone in 3 months and have no product support. I usually much prefer to buy from companies that will stand behind their products and still make the things I like in 5–10 years when I decide I need another one, or when I recommend one to someone, even if it’s comparatively more expensive. Most of the brands I’ve mentioned here have excellent support if something goes wrong, but an extra special callout is deserving for OXO, which has hands down the absolute best customer service of any company I have ever dealt with. That said, I will sometimes buy from the throwaway brands if it’s something unlikely to need service. In some of these cases I’m resigned to just throwing it away if it breaks, but I also don’t like the waste that generates and I try to avoid it.
Most of the items I use on a regular basis are still made, but some of them don’t exist anymore. Where that is the case, I’ve tried to find what looks like a reasonable alternative, but in those cases it may not be something that I’ve personally used, and I’ll note that.
Anything listed with a * is my best guess at a decent option, not necessarily something I’ve specifically used.
I love to hear from people if you try things I recommend, whether your experience was good or bad, but I especially want to know if something I suggested didn’t work out for you for some reason.
I use the 1-pint iSi Whipper most frequently for making whipped cream, and also I keep a 1-quart one in the fridge with seltzer. These have a lot of other interesting uses that I do occasionally — carbonating fruit is fun, and they can be used with sous vide for a variety of things. You might want a decorator tip set, extra gasket, N2O cartridges, and CO2 cartridges. As a general rule, CO2 is used for carbonating watery things, and N2O is used for things with fat (creams & custards).
~ Food Preservation ~
Mason Jars are super useful! I cook a lot of things in them, use them for storage, canning, fermenting, and sometimes sous vide. They are sometimes difficult to find, buy the ones you like when you see them. My favorite sizes are wide mouth pint, wide mouth quart, and 4 oz. jelly jars.
For boiling water canning of high acid foods, you just need a pot large enough to fit your jars and a rack so they don’t sit directly on the bottom of the pot.
For canning low acid foods, you need to use a pressure canner which can reach higher temperatures. I really like the design of this All American canner — it has a dial gauge for convenience (though the pressure is determined by the wobbler over the steam valve), and the metal-on-metal seal means there’s no gasket to replace. I’ve used this one for over ten years.
You’ll also want a canning accessories set for canning in standard mason jars — at the least you need a jar lifter, a lid magnet, and a funnel. For each sealing you’ll need fresh lids (do not reuse lids for canning, but after you open the jar you can reuse the lids for fridge and dry storage), which are available in regular mouth or wide mouth. If you’re using something other than standard mason jars, you probably already know what you need.
Home fermentation in a mason jar is probably one of the highest effort to reward ratios of any cooking process I know. I wrote a guide to making crunchy fermented pickles, and that also covers the equipment that can be used for other kinds of lactofermentation.
I really like making fermented soft drinks, especially ginger beer. You can do it in just a plastic 2–liter bottle, but these EZ-Cap vented plastic caps make it a little easier and take out some of the guesswork and risk of overpressurization.
I like the food dehydrator much more than I ever expected to. Homemade raisins are amazing and taste like grape juice, and leftover berries can be easily pureed and turned into fruit leather. I chose the Samson 6-tray model because I run it in the kitchen and the highly rated Excalibur was very noisy. I gather that the Samson is somewhat less efficient, but it still works pretty quickly and evenly, and the low noise level is a good tradeoff for me. You may want silicone tray liners, parchment tray liners, or extra metal trays (the included ones are plastic). The dehydrator can also be used for proofing bread and making yogurt, though I prefer the Instant Pot for both of those uses given a choice.
~ Other Countertop Electrics ~
I’ve never met a food processor I didn’t like. Cuisinart and Kitchenaid make some very nice models. I don’t think the ones I have are still made, I’d get one of the recent models. A mayonnaise dripper hole in the top of the pusher can be useful, you can drill your own with a 1/16" drill bit if yours doesn’t come with one.
The Kitchenaid Stand mixer is the gold standard for home use. If you’re making a lot of bread, you might want a heavier duty one (Bosch or Ankarsrum). This Kitchenaid stand mixer cover is nice and will help keep it from getting greasy if you leave it out on the counter.
I really like the SideSwipe beater blades that have little silicone fins to scrape down the sides of the bowl as it runs. They come in different sizes to match your mixer. A second mixing bowl is also very handy.
The Kitchenaid stand mixer also has a wealth of available attachments. I mentioned the kitchenaid pasta roller attachment and kitchenaid pasta extruder attachment in Part 4 (though it’s narrower than I’d like).
I like the new design of the circular slicer attachment, I mostly use it for shredding cheese. A meat grinder is useful for occasional use making ground meat and sausages. The spiralizer and vegetable sheet cutter also work pretty well. They come separately, but my guess would be that if you want one of them you probably want both.
There are other attachments, but those are the ones I use most often. Some mixer attachments (particularly the pasta extruder and the grain mill) can stress the motor, so caution is advised.
I tried the ice cream maker attachment, but my freezer doesn’t really get cold enough and I don’t have enough freezer space for the insulated bowl models. I strongly prefer an ice cream machine with an integrated freezer (covered later).
I honestly don’t use a hand mixer very often since I have a stand mixer, but if you prefer one or need to make a larger quantity of something than can fit in the stand mixer bowl, it can be useful. I have no complaints about the Kitchenaid hand mixer I’ve had for years.
Corded stick blenders carry a bit to a lot more power, and of course the batteries don’t need to be charged or wear out, but personally — It is a good deal more expensive, and it remains to be seen how long the batteries will actually last for longterm use, but I use my stick blender a LOT more now that I don’t have to plug it in every time and worry about whether the cord is long enough to reach to the pot or get snagged, so I love this All Clad Cordless immersion blender. They do occasionally show up on deep discount on the All Clad clearance sales. For corded ones, Bamix is a great commercial brand (and they have many options), and Braun and Kitchenaid both make perfectly usable light duty ones. I mostly only use the blender head, but they are also available with a variety of stirring and chopping accessories if you like.
The 6-quart Instant Pot Duo is still the base model and it does just fine for most things (see my article about Instant Pot Tips). If you want a higher capacity or particularly if you want a wider diameter, the 8-quart models are also great. The Instant Pot Pro 8 -quart adds a large number of convenience features including silicone handles, a more automatic sealing valve, and an offset lid. I think it’s worth the premium if you use it a lot. Extra stainless and/or ceramic liners are very handy and make great general mixing bowls.
Useful accessories include a steamer basket, a steam redirector if it’s under cabinets, this OXO bakeware sling, silicone mitts for grabbing the pot, a glass lid for non-pressure cooking and dough proofing, and some shallow pans* for pot-in-pot cooking.
I have a whole other article about Getting Started with Sous Vide Cooking, in which I cover all of the basics including equipment. A few specific gadgets I’ll call out here:
Small silicone-covered magnetic weights are super handy for keeping bags submerged. The ones I have don’t seem to be available anymore, but these magnetic weights are similar. Non-magnetic weights are also useful, but less flexible.
I stuck a magnet to one of these Klever Kutters with some sugru so I’d always have it easily reachable for slicing open bags. I keep it stuck to my stove’s range hood.
These plastic Sous La Vide hamburger rings make great hamburger patties, and are safe to be cooked in the bag (but not safe for cooking in the pan). I wish the 1/3 pound size was a little narrower and taller so I could fit more in a single bag, but they’re still pretty nice. They also come in a 1/2 pound size if you prefer.
Sous vide supreme makes this great bag rack (included with a sous vide supreme but available separately).
I wrote a whole separate piece about chamber vacs.
Griddle / Waffle Maker
Most electric griddles / panini presses / waffle irons seem relatively interchangeable and in my experience most of the ones I’ve tried work just fine. A few of my standouts:
Breville Sandwich Press
This Breville has a really nice feature that it has an angled top and rests cleanly on top of the bread without crushing it. It also has an elevated mode to melt cheese without touching it.
Captain America Waffle Iron
It makes Captain America waffles, y’all.
Griswold Cast Iron
Ok, not technically or even correctly a “countertop electric”, but since we’re on the subject of waffles, I love this cast iron stovetop waffle maker my uncle found for me.
I like this Breville fast blade juicer if you’re juicing softer wet fruits. You definitely want one with a pulp ejector, otherwise you’ll have to stop it frequently for cleaning. The fast spinning blades work very well for quickly pulverizing fruits, but won’t handle fibrous roots and stalks (like ginger, carrots, celery, kale, etc…) very well. For that, you’ll want a masticating juicer like this Omega which crushes the juice out instead of pulverizing. The Omega is also great for making nut butters, and can be used for super smooth mashed potatoes and pasta extrusion, but if you’re juicing a lot of softer fruits the screens will need frequent cleaning, though it isn’t difficult to do. My current juicer is an Omega. It is an amazing machine despite its limitations, and comes with a 15 year warranty. It does have a comparatively narrow feed tube, so you need to cut your food into smaller pieces. All of the Omega attachment pieces are dishwasher safe and easy to clean. Many fast blade juicers are dishwasher safe but in my experience the fine mesh screen with the attached blades is best cleaned by hand with a nylon brush.
Fast blade and masticating juicers can handle citrus if you cut off all of the peel, but it’s much easier to use an electric citrus juicer* if you’re doing a lot of them. It used to be possible to get a food processor attachment to do this and that’s by far my preference. I haven’t seen those available in the past 10 years or so, and that’s kind of a shame.
Blendtec and Vitamix are the two main brands of overpowered consumer blenders. I went with the Blendtec for two reasons — 1) it’s a lot shorter and it fit under my cabinets, where the vitamix did not, and 2) I preferred the duller blade smashing to the vitamix’s sharp blade chopping. Both are great if you need a heavy duty blender. Blendtec also has a separately available “twister jar” which has a smaller capacity and a lid with fins to push food into the blades. It is specially designed to handle solid food purees, but I also use it often as a smaller capacity jar for liquids.
A lot of people also recommend this Oster, which is a good deal cheaper but not as powerful.
Ice Cream Machine
For a home ice cream machine, I absolutely recommend getting one with an integrated freezer — my choice is the Cuisinart ICE-100. I used to have the previous ICE-50 model and I was happy with it until it died, and I found that it produced a texture I liked better than the commonly recommended Whynter, though it does take a little longer. I have no space for a freezer bowl in my freezer, they don’t work that well, and I’m not buying a bag of ice every time I want to make a frozen dessert (which I also have no room to store).
However, I do really like the results of rock salt ice cream machines, and I wish I could find a small (1–2 quart) hand crank machine that worked this way. I have this small Yay Labs ice cream ball which is just delightful to take to the park, to the beach, or on a camping trip. It’s not really a durable ball for playing with and if you drop it on a hard surface it will crack, but it makes great ice cream without electricity.
My absolute favorite cooking thermometer is the Thermowork Thermapen. It is expensive, but it’s worth it for the precision and speed it offers. Recent models are waterproof, have better backlighting, rotating displays, and turn on automatically when you pick them up. The Thermapen One is the fastest model they offer, but if you can still find a Mk 4 for cheaper, that one’s great too. Many “quick-read” thermometers will say they have a fast response time, but what that actually means is that they display something in one second, but take more time to equalize and show you the actual temperature. The Thermapen shows the actual temperature at the tip, extremely quickly. The difference between a second and 5–10 seconds may not seem like a lot, but if you’re checking a roast in front of an open 500F oven, the ability to get multiple fast reads very quickly is important.
I also find the Thermoworks ChefAlarm invaluable for making instant pot yogurt. The probe fits through the hole in the glass lid, and it can be set to sound an alarm when it hits both a low and a high temperature.
I’ve tried a few of their other smaller thermometers, and they’re fine, but these are the two I use regularly.
Watch out for sales — they go on deep discount and clearance several times a year.
That’s it for Part 5! I haven’t decided what Part 6 will be!
I love to geek out about this stuff, and feedback is welcomed! Leave a comment here, or find me @fields on twitter or @unsellingconvenience on instagram.