20 Kitchen Essentialsfeatured

When Hua and I got married we decided to forgo the traditional bridal registry. Between his addiction to trolling Craigslist for restaurant going-out-of-business sales and my habit of goading him on, the last thing we needed was more stuff. We agreed that we’d much rather have a travel fund than receive a blender (…unless it was a Vitamix).

Our summer calendar is flooded with weddings this year, and it made me think of all those registry-gun-wielding brides out there. I imagine aisle after aisle of appliances, cookware, and knives to choose from. Which one to pick? Which will last the longest? Which is best? Can’t someone just make an informed decision for me?

Before you have a panic attack in the middle of Bed Bath & Beyond, the answer is Yes.

Overwhelmed Shopper, meet America’s Test Kitchen. America’s Test Kitchen testers spend roughly 2-3 months painstakingly product testing cookware so that only the best make it to your kitchen. They go into insane detail about how it was tested, what the user experience was, and how it matched up to the competition. They are the savvy shopper’s secret weapon.

Whether you’re preparing a registry, or just looking to build out a solid kitchen, here is your golden ticket. 20 Kitchen Essentials, gleaned from America’s Test Kitchen’s most recommended products. This is the dream team of kitchen equipment. These products have been hand-selected, and well, pardon my French, but I trust them because I just know they’ve been tested the shit out of.

I’ve included the product name, price, and tester comments. For the full detailed review, including alternate recos at lower price points, and side-by-side product comparisons, visit America’s Test Kitchen (you’ll need to sign up to read the full reviews).

all-clad stainless steel 10 pc

1. All-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Set, 10-piece ($749.95)
This set came closest to our ideal and includes winning pans from previous testings in sizes we’ve identified as the most useful. The fry pans have low, flaring sides and broad cooking surfaces; the saucepans are sturdy and hefty for slow, steady cooking; the stockpot is roomy enough for most big cooking jobs

Masamoto Chefs Knife

2. Masamoto VG-10 Gyutou, 8.2″ Chef’s Knife ($320.00)
“Feels fantastic when you pick it up: comfortable, light, ready.” “A dream” for cutting up chicken and dicing onion, with its “very slim, sharp tip” and an acutely tapered blade that made it feel especially light as well as slightly flexible. With a blade more curved than most of the Japanese knives, it assisted a rocking motion that effortlessly “pulverized parsley into dust”

Victorinox boning knife

3. Victorinox 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible ($18.44)
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus (ATK seems to like this brand a lot and also recommends the Victorinox Chef’s Knife if you’re not quite ready to commit to a super expensive, high-end one like the Masamoto)

proteak teak cutting board

4. ProteakEdge Grain Teak Cutting Board ($82.60)
Roomy, knife-friendly, and exceptionally durable, this teak slab was worth every penny. It resisted warping and cracking, showed only minor scratches, never seemed “thirsty,” and—despite its heft—was easy to lift and clean, thanks to handholds on each end

Cuisinart 5.5 Quart Stand Mixer

5. Cuisinart 5.5 Quart Stand Mixer ($222.68)
In addition to acing its way through heavy tasks like kneading bread and pizza dough and churning cookie batter full of oats, nuts, and dried fruit, this machine offers a host of modern updates—a digital timer with automatic shut-off, a fold function for incorporating ingredients delicately, and a splash guard attachment with a built-in feed tube. It also features a spiral dough hook, which worked more efficiently than most other models to knead dough

kitchenaid stand mixer

2013 Update: A new winner! KitchenAid 7 Qt Pro line via Cook’s Illustrated.

Cuisinart Hand Mixer

6. Cuisinart Power Advantage 7-Speed Hand Mixer ($49.95)
Powerful enough to whip and beat almost as quickly as a stand mixer, its extra-low speed also let us incorporate light ingredients without making a mess. The motor was quiet, and the simple digital controls, separate beater-release lever, and contoured handle made the mixer a pleasure to use. A swiveling cord helps left-handed users

Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor

7. Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor ($184.88)
We developed a real appreciation for this user-friendly classic, but came away with a couple of quibbles. First, precutting vegetables into 1-inch chunks (per the manufacturer’s recommendation) was tedious, and even then the results were uneven. Second, its feed tube was short—too short for a russet potato, which had to be trimmed extensively to fit into the chute (though once trimmed, the potato sliced perfectly)

The Smart Oven by Breville

8. The Smart Oven by Breville ($249.95)
While the price makes us wince, this well-designed oven aced every test and was simple to use. Food browned and cooked uniformly, whether we were roasting chicken, toasting bread, or melting cheese. Five quartz elements consistently cooled and reheated, producing steady, controlled heat

cuisinart ice cream maker

9. Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker ($50.93)
Our Best Buy (and previous favorite) made ice cream that rivaled the smooth texture of our top choice. Though a bit noisier than our winner, it was simple to use and one of the most compact models we tested. True, its canister must be frozen before each use—and new batches of ice cream refrozen for a few hours before serving for a densely packed texture—but given its modest price, you can hardly go wrong

Crock-Pot Touchscreen

10. Crock-Pot Touchscreen ($94.95)
The control panel is extremely easy to use, and the timer counted up to 20 hours, even on high. Sunday gravy thickened to the correct consistency, pot roast was tender and sliceable, and onions caramelized perfectly

Waring Pro Professional Meat Grinder

11. Waring Pro Professional Meat Grinder ($149.00)
This all-metal machine doesn’t come cheap, but it quickly ground through pounds of meat with ease and won’t scuff up like its plastic counterparts. Its powerful (albeit loud) motor offers a reverse mode to help unclog any stuck pieces—but we never had to use it

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

12. Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, 18½-Inch ($299.00)
Save for its lack of handles, this model literally smoked the competition: Plenty of cooking space, a water pan, and multiple vents that allowed for precise temperature control added up to meat that came off the fire consistently moist and smoky with little tending necessary

GrillPro Cast Iron Smoker Box

13. GrillPro Cast Iron Smoker Box ($12.14)
Tasters favored the smoke flavor produced by this box above all others, describing it as “good, sweet, and balanced.” Its cast iron heated slowly and let the chips smolder steadily a long while, producing chicken with a clean smoky taste. Just slightly over an inch tall, it will fit in almost any grill. It was easy to fill, empty, and clean and looked barely used by the time we were done smoking

progressive nut chopper

14. Progressive International Heavy Duty Nut Chopper ($9.49)
In 90 seconds, we chopped a cup of pecans into mostly even-size pieces—with minimal dust. The chopper can handle harder, fatter nuts but will crank more slowly. It disassembles easily to clean by hand or dishwasher

Rà¶sle Basting Spoon

15. Rösle Basting Spoon with Hook Handle ($28.95)
The thin spoon glided under fat, leaving clear broth behind. Sauce was easily scooped up and spooned over food. The long handle was comfortable in testers’ hands, and the position of the flattened head and angled handle allowed testers to scoop up sauce without having to tilt the skillet

Matfer Bourgeat Pelton Spatula

16. Matfer Bourgeat Pelton Spatula ($14.94)
Comfortable from any angle, this spatula boasts a thin front edge and moderately flexible head with a slight upward tilt that kept food secure. It melted slightly at 380 degrees, despite the manufacturers’ claims that it was heat resistant to 430 degrees

Oggi Nautilus Corkscrew

17. Oggi Nautilus Corkscrew ($19.04)
Compact and easy to use, this lever-style model fits securely over the bottle and sports a long handle for plenty of leverage. It even features a foil cutter and an extra corkscrew worm. The cork emerged from the bottle cleanly and easily, and came neatly off the worm with a second pump of the handle

iSi Twist 'n Sparkle

18. iSi Twist ‘n Sparkle ($49.95)
Just twist the carbon charger into the top to make bubbles in the reusable plastic carafe, which holds a generous 4 cups of water—and the whole operation doesn’t have to live on your countertop

Progressive Collapsible Cupcake and Cake Carrier

19. Progressive Collapsible Cupcake and Cake Carrier ($24.54)
Comfortable handles and a sturdy locking system, coupled with its collapsible design for easier storage guaranteed the top spot. It can fit either 9-inch round or square layer cakes, or up to 24 cupcakes (with an included insert)

Exaco Trading Kitchen Compost Waste Collector

20. Exaco Trading Kitchen Compost Waste Collector ($18.50)
This inexpensive green plastic pail is 8½ inches wide at the base and fits on the counter or in a cabinet under the sink. Food scraps broke down as expected, and odors were completely contained. We fit an average of 12 recipes’ worth of waste before having to empty the bucket. The hinged lid was easy to flick open and closed with a single hand, and the latch kept the lid secure. (A pack of three replacement filters is $7.95; the filter is supposed to be changed every three months.)

There you go! You are on your way to having a sweet kitchen. What are some of your can’t-live-without kitchen essentials?

Note: Prices listed are based on what I found on Amazon at this time, so, they’re subject to change.

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