Do you like spending most of your time in the kitchen? Whether you cook or bake, you know there are a ton of gadgets and gizmos out there to help you in the process. The thing is, you don't need them all. Here are just a few items you might consider splurging on, and others that aren't necessarily worth the money.
Splurge: If you're anything like me, you're concocting something baked on the daily. I use my KitchenAid stand mixer ($150 to $250+) almost exclusively. It comes with beater, whisk, and dough hook attachments that work wonderfully for most tasks. I've been known to bake brownies, pizza dough, and a double batch of bagels all in the same day, so help with the heavy lifting is important. Bakers over at ChowHound share that this stand mixer does indeed make baking faster and more efficient, definitely earning its value a million times over.
Save: If you'd rather simmer soup than bake a cake, you might want to skip any type of mixer and just stick with standard whisks and spoons. You can get most basic, occasional baking done this way, from chocolate chip cookies to no-knead breads. If you'd like something motorized, I've also fallen in love with my KitchenAid hand mixer — it whips up frosting in seconds, creams together sugar and butter like a dream, and costs less than $40.
Splurge: Cooks rely heavily on knives to slice and dice. Though you don't need all the many options you'll get in a big set, it's worth investing in a few quality pieces for your collection. Start with a quality chef's knife ($100+). Consumer Reports shares that knives that are forged versus stamped may cost more, but they'll hold up better over time. They are created from a single piece of steel and won't bend as much with use.
3. Mixing and Prep Bowls
Save: The sky's the limit with the prices you'll see on bowls. I use a vintage Pyrex set handed down to me by my husband's grandmother. My mom, on the other hand, has used the same set of stainless steel mixing bowls ($15+) since her wedding shower back in 1980. You really don't need to go expensive on this item. Same goes with prep bowls. You can skip them entirely (I do) or pick up a set of four for under $6.
4. Cast Iron
Splurge: You've probably heard of the many merits of a cast iron Dutch oven (perfectly even cook with roasting, braising, frying, baking, etc.) and wondered about the top-notch brands. When asked, readers of Serious Eats weighed in on the matter. Their overwhelming response? Le Creuset ($170+) is worth the price, especially if you plan to use it often. Check local shops (and hunt around online) for the best sales and deals. That way, you can build your lifetime collection slowly. (See also: How to Pick the Best Cookware for Your Needs)
Save: You'll also find a ton of cast iron cookware at a fraction of the price, which might work well if you're only going to use it every now and again. Read reviews before you buy and look for notes on chipping and cracking (a common complaint with enamel on cheaper coated cast iron). Another good budget option might be Lodge ($40+). Though a good number of their pans are not coated and need to be seasoned before use, they still offer the benefits of cast iron.
5. Digital Scale
Save: I've learned the importance of weighing ingredients versus measuring with my baking. My digital scale has been a big help with preventing bread-related mishaps. My kitchen scale only cost me around $10. You don't need one with lots of bells and whistles. A simple weight will do in a pinch.
6. Food Processor
Splurge: I use my food processor almost every day. It blends together a perfect hummus, makes an amazing pesto, whips up delicious pasta dough, and even gifts me with crazy-good homemade peanut butter, among many other things. It's not hard to spend well over $100 on one (I've have this Cuisinart 11-Cup Pro model for the last eight years) — but the cheaper options, in my experience, don't hold up to frequent use. I've burned out many motors in my time.
Yes, you can get by without a food processor — but with its versatility, you won't want to. In fact, you may end up saving money by making things you usually buy at the grocery store from scratch. (See also: 35 Grocery Items You Should Make at Home — And 5 to Buy)
Save: Though I use a grater frequently, I wouldn't say it's an item you need to buy at a premium. The most important feature, in my opinion, is that it's easy to clean. Beyond that, you will probably want a couple different size options, course to fine. You can get away with spending less than $7 for a simple grater that works well.
8. Veggie Peeler
Save: Same goes with a vegetable peeler. We had a fancier model that recently bit the dust. I replaced it with a $6 basic peeler, and I couldn't be happier. When you're looking at peelers, try to find information on rust. The one I bought guarantees not to rust for 10 years!
Splurge: I'm a vegetarian, so I didn't know how important it is to have a good thermometer until a friend clued me in. You don't want to over- or under-cook an expensive piece of meat, for example. And you can buy a cheap thermometer that will record an accurate temperature and serve you well.
Why is this one a splurge? A quick-read thermometer will give you that reading in a blink (four seconds), which might mean the difference between delight and disaster.