As a home cook, I’m all for anything that makes my life easier in the kitchen. By easier, I mean that it saves me time, money, and keeps my cooking consistent each time I make a dish. These four tools do just that. Do your research and buy the best you can afford.
Note: None of the links I include are affiliate links. I just provide them for your convenience to the specific items I personally have purchased and enjoy.
Kitchen scale — $25 to $100
I use my scale every day. When I first started using it, I limited myself to weighing my ingredients for feeding my sourdough starter. After reading articles and researching bread recipes, I learned this is one tool that can make every recipe come out the same each time I make it.
It took some time to convert my recipes, but I finally made a list of my most used ingredients. Now, I use fewer dishes when preparing a meal. I can use just one bowl and add the correct weight of the ingredients, mixing as I go. I can’t believe how much faster my cooking has become because of using a scale.
Features to look for
- Choose a scale that can weigh 11 pounds or more to accommodate heavier items like meats.
- It should be able to weigh in both grams and ounces. Grams are more accurate but having both makes conversions easy.
- The scale should have a tare or zero buttons to reset the scale to zero. Place a bowl on the scale, reset to zero, and only the weight of contents are displayed. This allows you to add ingredients without ever using a measuring cup.
My scale has a lift-off stainless steel cover over the platen that I can quickly remove for cleanup. I like this feature because I never worry about food contamination. If you can find a scale with that feature, it is worth the extra expense.
Quick read thermometer — $35 to $100
I use a quick read thermometer for cooking so many things. It gives me confidence that the meat I prepare is properly cooked and no one will get sick from it being undercooked. No one wants to bite into raw sausage.
I also learned that I can tell exactly when a loaf of bread is done, and my loaves never dry out from cooking too long. Nothing is better than fresh bread, and my thermometer (and kitchen scale) makes it perfect every time.
I have two different quick-read thermometers and a leave-in dual thermometer with a timer, which I almost never use anymore. The wires sticking out of my oven are a nuisance, and I find I worry more about the food cooking than I should. In short, it is a chore to use.
On the other hand, I love my quick-read thermometers. My smallest thermometer is Thermopop by Thermoworks. It is quite small in size and the most affordable at around $35. It comes with a cover to keep the probe end clean while storing it in a drawer. If I could only afford one thermometer or had limited storage space, this is the one I would get.
The other quick-read thermometer that I have is also by Thermoworks. It is their Thermapen. This is the first one I purchased, and at $80 was quite the investment. I purchased a leather storage pouch for less than $20 and a silicone sleeve for about $10 to protect it from splashes.
Features and benefits
- Both thermometers are highly accurate, the Thermapen slightly more so.
- Both thermometers can be set for Fahrenheit or Celcius readings and have wide temperature ranges — from -58°F/-50°C to 572°F/300°C.
- Both work great for cooking in the kitchen or grilling on the patio.
- Both have auto-shutoff to preserve battery life.
- Their compact sizes easily fit into small drawer spaces.
- They have easy-to-see, backlit, digital readouts.
Both thermometers are sufficient for most purposes and can measure temperatures in liquids like oil or for making candy as well as more solid foods like meats, bread, and cakes. They come in a variety of color options, so it will go perfectly with your kitchen.
The best part is that you can be confident that your food is perfectly cooked.
Air fryer/toaster oven combo — $70 to $450
Several years ago, my husband and I purchased an air fryer to make healthier meals. We didn’t know if we would like it that much, so we purchased a small, relatively inexpensive one. And we loved it. We especially loved the benefit of not using much, if any, oil to fry foods, making them much lower in calories.
The problem we had, though, is that we have limited counter space in our kitchen. It is a galley-style and has about 36" of prep space on either side of the stove and 24" of prep space on either side of the sink. Not ideal for multiple high-use appliances. Our separate toaster oven and air fryer eliminated one 36" prep space altogether.
Losing that prep space made my kitchen feel even more cramped than it already was. When my husband and I were in there together, we constantly struggled to find a place to work. I thought about putting my air fryer in the closet, but that would make it too much trouble to get out and use.
This summer, however, our toaster oven started failing, so we began looking for a new one. We discovered that we could get a toaster oven that also acted as an air fryer, which would free up counter space. So we began researching.
Some combo ovens were enormous and provided no counter saving benefits. Others were loud and had limited cooking options outside of toasting and air frying. Some had multiple uses, including dehydrating, roasting, proofing bread, rotisserie cooking, and the ability to be used as a slow cooker.
And many multi-use appliances had high price tags, ranging up to $450, so we found it difficult to pull the trigger and pick one. Finally, we made a list of the features it must have, and those I really wanted it to have.
I decided that in addition to toasting and air frying, I wanted to be able to use it to proof bread, and dehydrate. I also wanted to be able to use it as a second oven, which I have always wanted, so it needed to be large enough to fit a pie or casserole dish, without taking up the whole counter.
Features and Benefits
We eventually purchased the Cuisinart Digital Air Fryer Toaster Oven for about $280. It felt so freeing to have our prep space back. I can prepare food on both sides of my stove and cook in my countertop oven all at the same time. It gives us one more place to be able to make our own mess, I mean masterpiece.
- The small footprint (16"w x 15"d x 14"h) gave us back much-needed prep space yet it is large enough to roast a large chicken or bake a pie or casserole.
- It toasts, bakes, broils, dehydrates, air fries, roasts, and proofs bread.
- The interior oven light allows you to check the food without opening the oven door.
- It comes with accessories that store inside the oven when not in use. Additional and duplicate accessories are available.
- An air fryer/toaster oven combo is really a countertop convection oven, so you can use the convection fan to reduce cooking times while baking.
- Most ovens have the fans on the side, but mine has it on the top, which seems much more efficient to me.
You must use it a bit to determine the best temperatures to cook with, as the temperature builds up the longer it runs. I usually set the temperature lower than the recipe calls for. After using this for a few months, and adjusting to the temperature variants, I love this machine and am glad we made the switch.
It is large enough to easily cook a meal for two or more, and I can air fry several dishes at the same time. I love to make salmon and asparagus, or teriyaki chicken and snow peas as well as many other dishes. Clean up is quick and easy, too. This countertop oven saves me time and is easy to use!
Vacuum sealer — $35 to $320
Years ago I purchased a FoodSaver vacuum sealer and used it all the time. When it went out, though, I opted to go with a less expensive vacuum system by Reynolds. It was less effective but at $10, was certainly more affordable. When that was discontinued, I did without. Boy did I miss it.
Without it, my frozen meats would get freezer burn, and I couldn’t buy as much on sale or it would go bad before I could use it. Also, I had to quit cooking double amounts and freezing half for quick, homecooked meals instead of eating out because regular freezer bags didn’t work as well.
Frost collected seemingly overnight when food was stored in ordinary freezer bags, ruining the food quickly, and forcing us to eat it within a couple of weeks. I never had that problem when I used a vacuum sealer because removing the air prevented condensation inside the bag and stopped freezer burn.
Last summer, when I began cooking meals for my dad and taking them to him each week, I needed to be able to freeze them in a way that allowed easy thawing and cooking in the bag or a microwave-safe dish. I looked again at vacuum sealers and discovered that FoodSaver made a great choice again.
The sealer I chose had multiple functions. As I plan to can my own jellies, I needed one that would remove air from jars as well as resealable bags and make bags of various sizes. The one I chose can even reseal my partially used wine bottles using a special stopper. Just what I needed!
While my sealer cost around $180 at the time, I felt it was money well spent. I can divide my hamburger and other meats into serving-sized packages, perfect for just two people. I can purchase steak and other meats on sale and keep them frozen for more than three months with no freezer burn. And I can preserve left-overs without having to eat them the next week.
If you are unsure if you would use a vacuum sealer or have limited space, get the hand-held rechargeable model by FoodSaver. This model limits you to using their standard 1-quart or gallon-sized bags, but it fits in a drawer. Handy!
Features and benefits
- Many models can make their own bags to the size you need.
- Some models can use resealable bags that allow you to preserve fresh vegetables longer.
- Some models have accessories that allow you to preserve your favorite wines using a specially designed cap or freeze in airtight containers.
- Food will last months, not just a couple of weeks like in ordinary freezer bags.
- You can purchase meats on sale and in bulk, repackaging them into serving sizes perfect for your recipes and good when you are ready to use them.
- You can preserve meal-sized portions for your whole family and have quick, homecooked meals instead of eating out.
Ultimately, this investment has saved me enough money to more than pay for itself. There are many brands and prices for these machines, so you can choose the one that fits your budget or handles the tasks you need. FoodSaver has models that range in price from $35 to $320.
These gadgets are worth it
In the end, a kitchen gadget doesn’t improve your cooking unless you use it often enough to master the device. Out of these four, I would definitely recommend putting the scale and digital thermometer on your list. If you are looking to expand your cooking, I highly recommend the others as well.
You can spend more or less than what I’ve mentioned, but most importantly, do your research. I do like the ones I have, so I know you won’t go wrong if you choose those as well, but research the one that best fits your budget and cooking requirements.