While we at Engadget are blessed with a passion for cooking, most of us are not blessed with spacious kitchens. But that doesn’t stop us – we use every inch of our tiny apartment kitchens as efficiently as possible. In doing so, we’ve found that some of the most useful cooking tools are the small things – items hiding deep in your drawers or sitting humbly on your countertop that you turn to often and may end up taking for granted. We wanted to highlight some of our favorite small kitchen essentials to remind everyone (including ourselves) that you don’t need to add the latest ultra-convenient unitaster to your kitchen to make great food. Ultimately, it’s the small stuff that matters, both when it comes to recipe ingredients and the tools you keep in your cupboards.
If there was ever an essential kitchen gadget, an instant-read thermometer is certainly it. Not only does it help you cook things correctly, but aso safely. No one wants to serve their guests undercooked chicken. If you’re in the market, Thermapen’s One is the best your money can buy. It’s more expensive than your run-of-the-mill probe, but the One gets its name from its speed: it can provide readings in one second.
What’s more, the One is accurate to within half a degree and the IP67 waterproof housing means it will hold up to any accidents. The display auto rotates so you’re never twisting your neck to read the numbers. It’s also equipped with a motion sensor so that display automatically comes on when you pick up the thermometer. The Thermapen One will serve you well in the kitchen, at the grill and for many other things, making it a go-to for a variety of culinary tasks. – Billy Steele, Senior News Editor
Buy Thermapen One at ThermoWorks – $105
I was late to hop on the Instant Pot train. I picked up the three-quart Instant Pot Ultra on Prime Day in 2020, and even as I waited for it to arrive, I was slightly skeptical about how much I’d really use it. Fast-forward more than a year and the multi-cooker has become one of the most used gadgets in my laughably small kitchen. If I had enough counter space, it would stay out all the time – next to my other cooking MVP, my Vitamix – but sadly it has to sit in a lower cabinet when not in use. But I pull it out often to make soups and stews, to meal-prep large batches of dried beans and even to whip up rice. I grabbed the three-quart model because I mainly cook for myself and my fiancé, but since we always have leftovers, that leads me to believe that the smallest Instant Pot could make a decent-sized meal for up to four people or a big batch of our favorite side dish. While the Ultra model can be difficult to find right now, the newer Instant Pot Pro Plus has many of the same cooking modes along with a fancier display, plus app connectivity. — Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor
Buy Instant Pot Pro Plus at Amazon – $200
I bought my Microplane after taking an in-store cooking class at Sur La Table where, admittedly, the hosts had an agenda to sell us stuff on our way out. I treated myself to this $15 hand grater, having just been introduced to it in my cooking demo. Today, I use it for everything from mincing garlic, to zesting citrus to grating parmesan over my pasta. The Microplane takes up less cabinet space than my box grater – and it’s never sliced my finger like traditional models either. The only annoying thing about my workflow is that the Microplane is often sitting dirty in the dishwasher when I need it. But at this price, with such a small footprint, it wouldn’t kill me to get a spare. – Dana Wollman, Editor In Chief
Buy Microplane Classic at Amazon – $16
Amazon Basics scale
I love to cook, but I can’t say I’m terribly precise when it comes to following recipes. If something calls for a tablespoon of oil or a half cup of stock, I’m more likely to just dump it straight in than measure it out. So if you had told me a few years ago that one of my most-used kitchen gadgets would be a cheap kitchen scale, I probably would have laughed.
Then the pandemic hit and I quickly realized my lackadaisical approach would not cut it when it comes to baking. Baking bread, or just about anything else, requires precisely-measured ingredients, and a kitchen scale is far and away the easiest and most reliable way to measure out your ingredients.
I like this one because it’s compact, but can handle up to 11 pounds of weight. And it’s easy to quickly switch between pounds, grams and fluid ounces. And even though my pandemic baking hobby was short lived, I’ve found having a scale handy is actually quite useful. From brewing the perfect cup of pour-over, to weighing out the cat’s food, to managing my own portion sizes, this little scale has earned a permanent place on my counter. – Karissa Bell, Senior Reporter
Buy food scale at Amazon – $10
Cosori gooseneck electric kettle
There are very few items that have earned a permanent spot on my painfully tiny countertop, and my Cosori electric kettle is one of them. I’ve written about it before, about how I finally decided to move on from the dark ages of heating up water for tea in the microwave to something more civilized. But the kettle has proven itself useful in many other ways, like prepping stock by using Better Than Bouillon and boiling water, and making the occasional quick cup of ramen. I like that Cosori’s model has different built-in temperature settings for different types of drinks, and its gooseneck design makes it easy to use for Chemex-made coffee. I’ve thought about upgrading to a new kettle recently, but I always ask myself, why? Cosori’s is still going strong, just the same as the day I bought it. — V.P.
Buy Cosori electric kettle at Amazon – $70
Cuisinart DLC-2ABC mini food processor
According to my Amazon records, I purchased this small-batch Cuisinart food processor for about $28 on Amazon Prime Day 2017, correctly surmising that I didn’t need anything larger or pricier. For small kitchens and occasional use, the size is right – and so is the price, even if you pay closer to the $40 MSRP. And don’t be fooled by the name “mini” either – the three-cup capacity is enough to whip up pesto, hummus and various other dips and sauces. The only time recently I had to work in batches was when I was grinding up Oreos for the cookie layer of an ice-box cake. No big deal, and certainly not a dealbreaker.
When it comes to cleanup, I like that the plastic cup and lid can go in the dishwasher, though I need to wash the blades and wipe down the base by hand. Fortunately, too, it’s short enough in stature that it can sit even in a cabinet with just 9.5 inches of clearance. And, because it’s so lightweight, pulling it down from above my head never feels like a safety risk. – D.W.
Buy Cuisinart mini food processor at Amazon – $40
Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef’s knife
I have put this knife through hell.
According to my Amazon orders archive (a testament to how much I have, in my own small way, enriched an awful company) I purchased this knife in January of 2016. It had good reviews and was, I believe, less than $40 — my assumption being this would be a cheap, workhorse knife that, were it stolen or destroyed by inconsiderate roommates, would be no great spiritual or financial loss. I have chopped and diced with it; I’ve hacked into gourds, coconuts and lobsters; I’ve used it to cleave straight through chicken bones; I regularly run it through the dishwasher.
Over six years later, it remains the best knife in my kitchen — and with the help of a chef’s steel, the easiest to cut with too. And no, I have never once given it a proper resharpening either. An 8-incher from trendy upstart Misen which retails for almost twice the price failed to take its place. (Personally I think the weight distribution is off.)
There’s no fancy damascus patterning to the steel, and the handle is plastic. I absolutely do not know (or care!) if it features a full tang or what the edge geometry is supposed to be. It’s an utterly proletarian knife that, in my many years of use, remains both irreplaceable and indestructible. – Bryan Menegus, Senior News Editor
Buy Victorinox Fibrox chef’s knife at Amazon – $54
Magnetic Measuring Spoons
I’ve accumulated lots of measuring spoons over the years – plastic, metal, some with a key ring attached – but these are the only ones I bother to use anymore. This set, which includes five spoons ranging in size from a quarter-teaspoon to tablespoon, has a magnetic nesting design, ensuring the spoons take up as little space as possible. (I also never find myself ransacking the drawer to find the one missing spoon that I really need at that moment.) Equally important: Each spoon is two-sided, so if I need to use the tablespoon, say, for both wet and dry ingredients, I can keep the two separate and throw just the one spoon in the dishwasher when I’m done. – D.W.
Buy magnetic measuring spoons at Amazon – $28
A magazine rack
Look, don’t ask me exactly which one is hanging off the pegboard I installed in my kitchen — I don’t remember and frankly, you’re buying bent pieces of wire, so any distinction between different brands is likely trivial. The point is that, while I have the utmost respect for printed media, the best use for a magazine rack is for storing pot lids, a very necessary and otherwise extremely annoying-to-store kitchen object.
What kind you look for depends mostly on what sorts of pot lids you’re trying to stash away. Handle-style (is there even nomenclature for this type of thing? I’m talking about these ones) lids work best with a straight rail. For those with knob-type handles, ideally seek out one like this that features a slight concavity in the middle of each rail, as it’ll keep the lids from sliding around too much. This is also the best bet if you — like me, and probably most people — have a set of pots and pans cobbled together from a variety of manufacturers and your lid handles are a mix of both varieties.
The only word of caution I’ll offer is that, while pot lids might not be as heavy as, say, a cast iron skillet, install your magazine rack securely, either off a pegboard (which I cannot recommend highly enough for its versatility) or make sure it’s screwed down into a wall stud. Cleaning up broken glass and buying an entirely new set of lids is no one’s idea of a good time. — B.M.
Buy magazine rack at Amazon – $25
Nespresso Barista Recipe Maker
Those puny stick frothers do not cut it. Beyond the fact you have to heat the milk yourself – yeah, I was out already – it doesn’t have the oomph to offer that thick velvety milk needed for your daily flat white. There are several more substantial milk frothers available now, but I swear by Nespresso’s Aeroccino series or its Bluetooth-connected Barista Recipe Maker. I have the latter, because, well, I work at Engadget.
The Barista can whip up hot and cold milk, depending on your selection. It uses induction tech to both heat up the dishwasher-safe milk jug and magnetically spin the whisk inside, which is substantial and also thankfully dishwasher-safe. The results are consistent and ideal for at-home caffeination – which is not a word, apparently.
It turned out to be the final piece of my homemade coffee puzzle, ensuring my brews more closely approximate the espresso-based delights I get in West London’s cafes. While the touch-sensitive buttons and ability to replicate recipes are nice, I could survive without them.
Nespresso has recently introduced its fourth-generation Aeroccino, which is designed to look like a Moka pot, which is cute. It’s also a touch cheaper than my Barista Recipe Maker. – Mat Smith, U.K. Bureau Chief
Buy Barista Recipe Maker at Nespresso – $169
If you love coffee, you probably already know all the reasons why a pour-over setup will produce a better cup. But even occasional coffee drinkers will benefit from ditching a bulky drip machine for a sleek glass Chemex. In small kitchens, you need all the counterspace you can get, and Chemex’s three or six-cup carafe takes up a lot less space than the typical drip machine. It’s also easier to clean and stash away in a cupboard when not in use (and easier on the eyes if you do leave it out).
Most importantly, it brews a far better cup than any machine. To the uninitiated, pour-over setups can seem intimidating, but a Chemex makes it reasonably foolproof: add grounds to a filter (you can use bonded paper filters or get a reusable one), add hot, but not-quite-boiling, water, wait a few minutes and you’ll have a surprisingly smooth cup of coffee. What’s great about a Chemex is you can put as little or as much effort in as you want. Like other pour-over setups, there’s room for endless experimentation: you can change up the grind size, water temperature and coffee to water ratio to get the “perfect” cup. Or, if you’re less fussy, you can do what I do most mornings and eyeball it — as long as you don’t pour your water too quickly even a hastily made Chemex cup will have a lot more flavor than whatever is coming out of your drip machine. – K.B.
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