You can fill your kitchen with niche gadgets that only mildly improve your cooking experience, but if you really want an upgrade, these are the devices that can change the way you cook forever.
We’re not talking veggie pasta slicers or a blooming onion machine like you see on TV that make one task slightly easier, that you’ll use twice then put in a cabinet and forget about until your next garage sale. No, any one of the gadgets on this list, when used regularly, can become a centerpiece of your entire cooking routine. Each one has their strengths and weaknesses. Which one (or ones) work best for you will be up to your preferences and needs, but all of them have the potential to totally change the way you cook and we encourage you to take the leap and try them.
A Slow Cooker: 6-Quart Crock Pot ($43)
Slow cookers have been around long enough that you’ve almost everyone has had at least a few meals in them. If you have any gadget on this list in your kitchen already, it’s probably this one. On the off chance you don’t, though, here’s how they work: in the morning, you toss some ingredients in the pot, maybe do a little light prep work, then press a button. When you get home from work in the evening, you walk in the door to the savory smell of a meal that’s been slowly cooking itself for you all day.
Slow cookers are amazing for two big reasons. First, they minimize how much work you have to put in. Most slow cooker recipes are made in a single pot, so there’s little cleanup, and since it cooks at such a low temperature, it can’t burn so you don’t have to watch it. More importantly, low temperature cooking can soften the connective tissue on meats without toughening up the muscle. The result is mouth-wateringly tender meat. If you want to add some vegetables, you may want to sauté them separately for the best taste, but if saving time is more important to you than how your carrots taste, you can throw everything in together. Either way, you’ll get a delicious meal with very little time spent on it.
When it comes to slow cookers, the Crock Pot brand set the standard. The biggest thing to consider is the size of the inner pot you’ll need. This 6-quart stainless steel Crock Pot is big enough to cook a meal for your whole family, while this smaller 2-quart model is ideal for making small meals for yourself, perhaps in a dorm or a studio apartment. You can even find a ton of slow cooker recipes out there for dozens of meals to get you started.
A Pressure Cooker: Instant Pot DUO60 ($100)
We’ve talked about pressure cookers—and, more specifically, the Instant Pot 6-Quart DUO60—before. Yet it bears repeating, since this gadget can do so much. For starters, while not all pressure cookers are slow cookers, you can use the Instant Pot as one. So if you were already sold on a slow cooker but don’t want to buy multiple gadgets, you can (and should) get this one.
However, the real benefit of getting the more expensive Instant Pot is that it also functions as a pressure cooker. The pressure cooker function is almost the exact opposite of a slow cooker. When under pressure (around 15 psi), the boiling point of water rises from 212°F to about 250°F, which creates super-heated steam. This steam cooks food at a much faster rate than slow cooking or even conventional cooking. After a few minutes of prep work, you can create a robust meal in much less time than it would take to cook on a traditional stove top.
Additionally, because the steam can’t escape the container (except when it’s necessary to release a bit for safety reasons), moisture is forced into the food itself. This makes for juicier meats and saucier stews or curries. The one downside is that you can’t check on your food without interrupting the cooking process, so you have to time your meals just right. However, the Instant Pot comes with a detailed guide for most common foods.
As we’ve mentioned before, the Instant Pot is our favorite pressure cooker by a wide margin. You can choose between a 3, 6, or 8 quart model. However, since the 3-quart model is $80 already, it’s almost always worth it to spend the extra $20 (or wait for a sale) to get the 6-quart version. Aside from the manuals that come with the Instant Pot, you can find plenty of fantastic recipes online to broaden your horizons.
Sous-Vide: Anova Precision Cooker ($110)
A sous-vide precision cooker is a little different than a slow or pressure cooker. It’s harder (though not technically impossible) to make an entire meal with it. However, if you’re the type to worry about over- or under-cooking something, sous-vide is the perfect solution. Technically, sous-vide is a technique, not a single device, that’s employed in high-end gourmet kitchens across the world.
Sous-vide consists of placing food in a bag and immersing that bag in water, which is then heated to a very specific temperature. The sous-vide device itself then keeps the water at that exact temperature. This allows you to cook food precisely without the guesswork. This is especially useful for things like chicken breasts, where the size of the meat can dramatically affect cook times.
This technique also combines some of the best aspects of both slow cookers and pressure cookers. Sous-vide uses low-temperature cooking, which can make meat extremely tender and juicy. Since you’re cooking in a sealed bag, it also locks in moisture. In fact, since it uses such low temperatures, it’s even possible to cook food with a sous-vide in a plastic tub that sits on your counter, leaving your stove free for other foods. Of all the options on this list, a sous-vide is certainly one of the most expensive options, but it gives you a high degree of control and flexibility over your cooking that other methods simply don’t have.
When it comes to consumer-grade sous-vide machines, we prefer the Anova Precision Cooker. You place the device in a tub of water so you don’t have to pick a specific size with the cooker itself (you can use large pots, but it doesn’t hurt to check out some sous-vide-friendly plastic tubs as well). However, you can still choose between Anova’s Bluetooth model ($110), or the Bluetooth + Wi-Fi model ($130). The latter is useful if you want to be able to check on your meal when you’re out of Bluetooth range, but both are excellent. The Anova app—which you can use to set up and control your sous vide—also comes with a built in selection of general guides on how to cook specific foods, as well as recipes for whole meals to cook with it.