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How to get a smarter kitchen without buying new appliances

Fridges and ovens are smarter than ever, but you can still have a smart kitchen without spending the big bucks.

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The Google Nest Hub is great for guided recipes. 

Tania González/CNET

You can find nearly any large appliance in a smart version these days, but upgrading to a fridge with Wi-Fi or an oven that preheats itself takes a big bite out of most budgets. 

There are ways to smarten up your culinary workspace that cost less. Let's take a look at eight easy ways to put smarts in your kitchen without busting your wallet.

Read moreAmazon Smart Oven is air fryer, microwave, convection oven in one

Smart displays

Smart displays are great for displaying photos, watching videos and seeing important information like weather forecasts or your daily commute. They're also fantastic helpers in the kitchen. Our current Editors' Choice, the Google Nest Hub, can show you step-by-step recipes, set timers and answer questions about cooking methods and common measurements.

Amazon's Echo Show smart displays offer similar guided recipes, as does the Google Assistant-enabled Lenovo Smart Display. These countertop displays are a great way to get your kitchen questions answered when your hands are messy. 

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The June Intelligent oven can recognize food and suggest cooking modes. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Countertop ovens with smarts

If you're willing to spend a bit more, you can get a smart countertop oven that will recognize your food and cook it using artificial intelligence and cameras, all with controls from a handy mobile app. The June Intelligent Oven does that, but costs $499 (which is still cheaper than most full-size ovens).

Whirlpool's innovation segment WLabs showed off a similar oven at CES 2019, and we've seen a meal-kit centric model called Tovala. Amazon even launched its own Amazon Smart Oven. Not surprising, since Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017, and has plans to open new stores. Countertop cooking isn't going away anytime soon, and it's getting smarter all the time. 

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You can control the Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi from a mobile app. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Read moreThe best gas grills

Connected cookers

The Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi is the only connected model from the multicooker manufacturer. There was a Bluetooth model, but it's now discontinued. The Wi-Fi model connects to the Instant Pot app, where you can control your Instant Pot remotely. 

Black & Decker also makes a Wi-Fi slow cooker with a companion app so you can set the time and temperature and turn cooking on or off. As with any kitchen appliance that works with heat or pressure, we recommend checking in on your appliance regularly during the cooking process. 

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Meater monitors your food and alerts you when it reaches the right internal temperature. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Bluetooth thermometers 

Getting your steak to the perfect temperature takes precision, and having a connected thermometer will help you keep a close eye on your cooking, so you can manage multiple dishes at once.

Meater is a $70 temperature probe that works with Bluetooth to alert you via a companion app on your phone when your food reaches a set internal temperature. Weber's iGrill technology is available on several grill models and includes a built-in Bluetooth meat probe for monitoring temps through the iGrill app. You can also buy the iGrill temperature probes individually, starting at just $50. 

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Kohler's Sensate Faucet work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart faucets

Like the countertop ovens, smart faucets are pricey, but still less than the cost of any smart large appliance. Both Kohler and Delta make voice-assistant enabled models of their touch faucets that range from $800 to $1,200 depending on finishes. You'll need to give the whole family a quick lesson in how to work these, as the handle and touch mechanisms have to be set a specific way to use voice controls with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. 

Admittedly expensive and not entirely practical, there's still something delightfully futuristic about asking Alexa to pour a cup of water and watching it happen from far away. 

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The Behmor Connected coffee brewer has plenty of smarts for a home barista.

Ray Pawulich/CNET

Smart coffee pots

Connected coffee is coming to our kitchens. With Wi-Fi connectivity you can schedule your morning brew or ask for a fresh pot of coffee with a simple voice command. 

Our resident coffee expert, Senior Editor Brian Bennett, is fond of the $250 Behmor Connected brewer. With it, you can control water temperature, presoak time, and the type of roast right from your phone, or use Alexa to order up coffee via voice commands. 

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The Wyze Plug includes energy consumption monitoring and comes in an affordable $15 two-pack. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart plugs

These little gadgets aren't kitchen-specific, but they're a great way to automate countertop devices that don't have smarts. Both the $30 TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini and $15 Wyze Plug two-pack are affordable options that performed well in our testing. 

From monitoring energy consumption to scheduling countertop appliances, smart plugs can add just the right amount of automation without replacing an entire device. 

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The Wyze Bulb is our Editors' Choice for best smart bulb. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart lights

Having enough light in your kitchen workspace is essential to culinary precision and safety. Adding lights beneath your kitchen cabinets or pendants over the island can create a much brighter area. With smart lighting, you can automate based on color, time and any combination of smart home scenes for breakfast or intimate dinners. The $90 Lifx Z Multi-Color LED Wi-Fi Light Strip and affordable $8 Wyze Bulb are our best bets for light strips and smart bulbs.