Spend your dough in the right places.
I love a kitchen upgrade, but not all pricey products are created equal. I can tell you from personal experience that springing for a premium model for one kitchen tool often pays bigger dividends in your day-to-day routine than ponying up the dough for a top-shelf version of something else.
Nonstick cookware is a good example: You can spend $100 or more on a premium pan, but it's not going to scramble eggs or sizzle pancakes any better than this $22 Tramontina nonstick skillet. I'd posit that other kitchen appliances are quite worthy of spending more on, will perform accordingly and have the potential to really change the way you cook and eat.
A blender with good power will turn out silkier shakes and smoothies, and in less time than a cheap model, and might be enough to help kick your healthy breakfast routine into gear (it was for me). And a quality frying pan or chef's knife that just begs to be used might be the nudge you need to put in the work on a home-cooked meal and skip the expensive delivery.
Over the years, a few pieces of hardware have come into my kitchen that I've become so reliant on, it's hard to imagine being without them. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, some have even changed the course of my diet and health. These are just a few upgraded kitchen tools and small appliances I simply couldn't live without.
Upgrade to a performance model blender, and you'll feel the difference immediately -- and it might even help you change your diet. I was a piecemeal breakfast eater relying mostly on empty carbs until I started using a blender with some real get-up-and-go. Now it's protein- and vitamin-packed smoothies or bust. I can absolutely feel the difference throughout my day (oh hello, energy, I've missed you), and I don't have to shell out $10 on a fancy juice bar shake or smoothie.
Ninja makes a number of good blenders and most offer terrific value for money. My favorite is the modestly sized Ninja Twisti ($140) -- about the best blender I've ever used for making smoothies and other small-ish recipes.
One unique feature I love is the rotating mixer blades that protrude down from the lid. You can spin those babies to loosen the contents mid-blend. That means I almost never have to stop and stir sticky ingredients such as peanut butter or chunky ice.
The Twisti has 1,500 watts of power packed into a machine. It won't eat up tons of space on the counter or coins from your bank account as a pricey Vitamix or Blendtec will.
I'd all but given up on handheld citrus juicers since they seem to leave more juice in than they get out. Enter Dreamfarm's excellent Fluicer.
This innovative kitchen brand has found ways to improve many of the most common culinary tools. This handheld citrus squeezer not only squeezes front to back but also bends each half of a lemon, lime or orange as it squeezes, leaving nothing in the rind and everything in your bowl, jar or cocktail shaker.
At just $15 for the small size -- good for limes and lemons -- this kitchen upgrade doesn't cost much more than the original. In short: Everyone I know is getting a Fluicer for their birthday this year. As a regular lemonade and margarita maker (OK, mostly margs), this is my favorite addition to the miscellaneous kitchen tools drawer in years.
I always used the filtered water that comes out of my fridge. It's fine -- better than tap, more eco-friendly than bottled, and I got by. Then I started testing filter pitchers and discovered ZeroWater. The brand is named "Zero" for a reason, since these puppies take every last bit of dissolved sediment out of the water, leaving it as crystal clean and delicious as anything.
My pick is the large 20-cup dispenser ($35), which only needs filling once a week or so, making it the path of least resistance for keeping yourself fully hydrated and happy. You can class things up with this smaller, cylindrical glass dispenser for $68.
If you've become reliant on your nonstick skillets, it might be time to learn your way around a stainless-steel pan, since they offer better surface heat for browning and searing, and are far more durable than Teflon.
The fastest way to get used to a stainless skillet is to get a great one, and All-Clad's 10-inch tri-ply skillet with a covered lid is our favorite option. While $100 might sound like a big splurge for one pan, if you care for it, it's going to last for many years. This pan is light, heats evenly and includes a lid for recipes that require covered cooking and to help manage splatter.
TL;DR? This frying pan makes cooking a joy and I'm totally obsessed.
This is another one of Dreamfarm's simple innovations we're filing under "why didn't I think of that?" and it took just a few swipes across a carrot to fall in love. The Sharple may look like your standard peeler, but on closer inspection you'll discover the sliding case is also a sharpener, keeping the device razor-edged for years without having to do anything more than open and close it. I love a kitchen tool with high function and staying power, and this self-sharpening veggie peeler has got it all.
I like this Made In knife so much I'll go out of my way to find things to chop. Kitchen knife weight and length preferences are admittedly subjective, but I find this blade to have a perfect heft, a comfortable handle and impeccable balance.
There's not likely a kitchen tool you'll put your hands on more than the chef's knife, so it's a no-brainer to upgrade to one you love. This is my absolute favorite, and it's reasonably priced considering the quality.
Rice is one of the most versatile side dishes that go with so many mains, but making it at home takes time and practice to master. Even when I'd start to get the hang of time and temps, I'd need to keep at least one eye on the range and remove the heat source or I'd have some badly burned brown basmati on my hands -- not to mention some serious pot soaking and scraping to do.
Enter the rice cooker. When I brought one into the house, I started swapping healthier brown rice and ancient grains in for mostly nutrition-free potatoes and bread. Having just one button to push for a satisfying starch makes all the difference. I did some hands-on testing of several rice cookers last year and the Tiger made the most consistent rice -- never mushy or undercooked. It features fairly basic settings and cooking programs and clocks in under $100, or closer to $80 if you find it on sale.
This is admittedly a big splurge, but the Ode grinder is a joy to use and has unmatched precision when it comes to grind size. That's especially helpful if you regularly make espresso, which calls for a fine grind, or use a pour-over method that requires a coarse bean.
It's also about the best-looking and quietest coffee grinder on the market. Sometimes I catch myself grinding more beans than I even need just to hear the calming whirr. And if the price feels too steep, Fellow sells refurbished models for $195.