Regular home cooking would never demand that everyone purchase a $300 high-powered blender. Not every person can leap for such a thing, and for many, it’s way out of reach. (In a pinch, a $30 mini food processor can be what you need.) 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 are five gadgets costing less than $30 apiece that have made a real, substantive difference in home cooking. They are trusted and you can even buy them as presents for loved ones.
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.
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.
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 black numbers 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 $12 fire-engine red Silicone mitts that the Wirecutter recommends.
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.
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 a fabulous, 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.