These budget-friendly kitchen tools make cooking easier -- and a lot more fun.
Sometime around 2012, I turned my back on kitchen gadgets . I was setting up a new apartment and took the opportunity to go minimalist and rely on a small arsenal of basic tools. A knife, basic pots and pans, and little luxuries -- like a potato peeler -- would be enough to accomplish meals for one or 10.
That lasted until 2015, when I took home a test unit of the Nomiku, one of the first at-home immersion circulators. Plunged in a pot of water, it would heat the water and circulate it to slowly and precisely cook foods in plastic bags, a technique called "sous vide."
I was changed. The Nomiku cooked the best steak of my life and the juiciest fried chicken. Soon enough, I dabbled in other appliances and "unitaskers" -- kitchen devices that have one job -- and my list of worthwhile kitchen gadgets grew to include five essentials that do their job really, really well. They demand space in my kitchen, but save me time and money, elevate my meals and make cooking that much more fun.
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Why you need it: You want to cook consistently perfect food in quantities large or small, and monitor it all from your phone.
What it does: The Joule is an immersion circulator that heats and circulates water at a constant temperature. Its app lets you easily choose a recipe, follow the visual instructions and monitor the Joule as it cooks your food.
What to try first: The easiest way to fall in love with sous vide is to cook a steak. Add a steak to a freezer-safe zip top bag, along with herbs and aromatics (like thyme and garlic) and a tablespoon of olive oil. Set the Joule to 129 degrees Fahrenheit, submerge the steak and cook it for one hour. Finish up by quickly searing your steak in a cast iron pan over high heat.
Why you need it: Want to make your life easy? Get this 7-in-1 device that does everything from steaming vegetables to searing and slow-cooking chicken.
What it does: What doesn't it do? The Instant Pot is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, saute-er, yogurt maker and food warmer. The pressure cooker mode cooks thick, tough cuts of meats quickly. Or, combine the saute and slow cooker modes to brown your food before letting it cook low and slow.
What to try first: Make a hearty beef stew in minutes. Seriously. Using the saute function, brown the seasoned meat in a bit of olive oil. Then add veggies, like carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Once they have a touch of color, add 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and more salt and pepper to taste. Finally, cover everything with stock (beef, chicken or vegetable), and switch to high-pressure cooking mode for 20 minutes. Dinner is served.
Why you need it: No toaster oven is as powerful, quirky or efficient as the FlashXpress toaster oven. Did I mention it makes a grilled cheese in two minutes flat?
What it does: Most toaster ovens rely on heating elements. But this one cooks your food using a powerful infrared light that heats the quartz and ceramic elements to get to high, consistent temperatures without much waiting. And it preheats fast -- within seconds.
What to try first: I use a FlashXpressto make my best Brussels sprouts. Cut a half-pound of fresh Brussels sprouts into quarters and transfer to a bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to the provided baking sheet and set the toaster to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the timer for 12 minutes, flipping the sprouts halfway through.
Why you need it: Because there's not a single person who likes to watch water boil.
What it does: This egg cooker can cook up to seven eggs at a time. Instead of boiling the eggs, the cute, spaceship-like device steams them to perfection. Depending on how much water you add (using the provided measuring cup), your eggs can be soft-boiled, medium-boiled, hard-boiled or anywhere in between.
What to try: Deviled eggs just became much less of a hassle. Using the Egg Cooker, cook seven hard-boiled eggs. Remove the cooked eggs and transfer them to an ice bath (this helps make peeling easy). Then, gently peel the eggs, slice them in half and transfer the yolks to a bowl. Using a fork, crumble the yolks. Then add a quarter cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly, then spoon back into cooked egg halves. Nom!
Why you need it: Stand-up blenders aren't always the best tools for pureeing or chopping. Sometimes, the quantity of food is too small for the blender's blades (like a small serving of salad dressing) or can't be easily transferred to the blending container (like hot soup). That's where this hand blender saves the day.
What it does: All-Clad's hand blender lets you puree, whip or chop in any container you like. If you're making soup, just stick the hand blender directly into the pot on the stove. You can also make single servings of blended salad dressings in a small jar. The best part? It's super easy to clean. Just pop off the blade part and drop it in the dishwasher.
What to try: Make fresh salsa! In a tall, narrow container, combine chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, salt, pepper and half of a seeded jalapeno pepper. Insert the immersion blender, turn it on and move it in an up-and-down motion until you reach the consistency you like. Replace the tomatoes with avocados and use the same method to make guacamole.
This story appears in the winter 2017 edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.