Buy-and-hold may be a a workable strategy for some investments, but when it comes to kitchen equipment, it isn’t always sound advice.
We’d all like to think an ice cream maker will lead to gallons of homemade creations that would make Ben & Jerry envious, and that a juicer will help us pick up healthier habits with a daily kale and wheat grass concoction. In the end, many of us leave those pricey gadgets gathering dust in the pantry.
The easiest way to gauge an item’s usefulness in your kitchen is to estimate its cost per use. Frugal Foodie’s $50 ice-cream maker that has been used three times, in retrospect, was a waste — that ice cream cost $16.67 before ingredients. But her fancy $200 stand mixer, which she has used weekly since receiving it as a gift five years ago is down to about $0.77 per use. Well worth the cost.
We asked chefs, nutritionists and avid home cooks which kitchen gear offers the best bang for your buck. (Check back next week for some of the gadgets they hate.) How about you? Leave us a comment below – which kitchen item has paid for itself?
Several chefs told us that they just couldn’t live without one of these fine, sharp graters. They’re versatile enough to handle softer things like citrus, ginger and garlic as well as tougher nutmeg, chocolate and Parmesan cheese, says personal chef Kathy Rana of Madeline’s Table. Although you can buy ones with various specialties (citrus, spices), an all-purpose one is really all you need.
$30 and up
“I used to not understand what all the fuss was about a pressure cooker was — now I won’t be without one,” says personal chef Cathy Marella-Luce of Magical Meals Personal Chef Service. Cookers use less energy than oven cooking or steaming, and are significantly faster. They’re also fairly foolproof, Marella-Luce says. “Who thought you could make garbanzo beans, from scratch, in 15 minutes — or perfect, flavorful, beyond tender pot roast in 50 minutes?”
$80 and up
“You try beating four egg whites until stiff — you’ll end up looking like Popeye,” jokes Ontario barrister and avid cook James M. MacMillan. Not only do stand mixers make meringues and whipped cream faster, they’re capable of heavy-duty or big-batch mixing of cakes, cookies and other types of dough. You can also buy attachments ($10 and up) to grind meat, roll out pasta and make ice cream, among other tasks, says home cook Lisa Lawrence. “The cost per use of this piece of equipment is nearly nothing at this point,” she says of her nearly 20-year-old mixer.
$35 and up
“Buy one good knife and it can do virtually all your cutting,” says holistic nutritionist Bernadette Armiento of Shining Life Nutrition. “I do 99% of my slicing with one, and use a serrated knife for bread.” Marella-Luce says price is less important than finding a knife that can be sharpened, which lets you get the perfect edge to make cutting, chopping and slicing easier. (While you’re at it, pick up a sharpener to keep on hand.)
$40 and up
A good-quality food processor is a kitchen workhorse, one that can last decades, Armiento says. Various attachments, blades and settings let food processors handle a variety of tasks, from chopping veggies to whirring stale bread into breadcrumbs and blending butter into dry ingredients for pie crust.
$20 and up
Versatility makes it easy to get your money’s worth out of this appliance. “You can wake up to hot oatmeal for breakfast and come home to a complete meal in the evenings,” says Rachelle Strauss of “Little Green Blog”. Soups, chili, roasts, punch, cakes — there are slow-cooker recipes for all of them. Plus, you’ll spend less time actively working in the kitchen.
$100 and up
Invest in a high-powered blender and you won’t need a juicer, says registered dietician Elizabeth Di Biase. You may even be able to ditch a cheap food processor. A blender that can tackle whole foods lets you make more from scratch, such as homemade nut butters. It also better breaks down fruits and vegetables, letting you keep the pulp (and so, healthy fiber) in smoothies and soups, Di Biase says.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.