Serious Eats Gift Guide: Kitchen Essentials
If you know someone who's serious about cooking at home, what better gift is there than gear?
Some of these suggestions are more utilitarian than others—the kind that you might find in professional kitchens. They might lack the wow factor of expensive toys from those fancy home goods stores, but over time the recipient will actually find them useful.
Here's a recommended list of essential tools, generally inexpensive and totally durable, priced from lowest to highest.
Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler
You don't need a fancy rubberized, molded, ergonomic peeler that costs $20. You need a simple, durable peeler that won't fall apart on you. Super sharp blade, lightweight design, lasts forever. The perfect stocking stuffer. Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler, $4
12-Inch Stainless Steel Kitchen Tongs
Some chefs ban tongs in their kitchens (since wreckless tong use tends to destroy delicate food). But as long as you're careful, a good, sturdy pair of tongs can give you better control of your food. Twelve inches is a good size, long enough so you won't get splattered. Those huge, unmanageable tongs your parents use for grilling? Or those fancy rubberized tongs that melt the second they're close to heat? Chuck 'em. 12-Inch Stainless Steel Kitchen Tongs, $6
For zesting citrus or finely grating nutmeg or cheese (and hopefully not your knuckles or finger tips). Plus it's got a fancy rubber handle. Microplane Grater/Zester, $6
Candy and Deep-Fry Thermometer
I've broken several cheap plastic candy thermometers just by washing them in the sink, so I finally broke down and spent $10 on this fancy one. It's got an awesome clip, and it's made of METAL, so it won't melt. Taylor Classic Candy and Deep-Fry Analog Thermometer, $9.50
Silpat Nonstick Baking Mat
If you're doing any kind of baking, you need a Silpat reusable nonstick silicone baking mat. You don't actually bake cookies on parchment or, heaven forbid, straight on a sheet tray, do you? Silpat 11 3/4-by-8 1/4-Inch Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat, $10
Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet
Cast iron pans may not look fancy, might not be expensive, and your mom just might look at you funny if you give her one of these, but there is no better cookware than a well-seasoned cast-iron pan. More durable than your fancy-pants cookware set, cast iron is naturally nonstick, and clean up generally involves simply wiping it with a paper towel. And it'll make you want to cook bacon all the time. Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet, $16
OXO brand doohickeys are usually overpriced hunks of plastic, but this little salad spinner really is the best. There is a larger version available, but the small one does the trick. OXO Salad Spinner, $22
Great for making soups, vinaigrettes, and mayonaisse, you can even make those fancy foams that are all the rage these days. The blender part pops off so it's easy to clean. And for only $2 more, this version comes with neat attachments that will probably end up in the back of a drawer somewhere. Braun Multiquick Deluxe Hand Blender & Chopper, $24
An essential kitchen tool, it's great for turning fish and doing other delicate flipping work, like pancakes, cookies, latkes, and blinis. LamsonSharp Stainless Steel Chef's Slotted Turner, $25
It's a timer! A stopwatch! A clock! And it's got the probe thing that you poke into your meat. It's magnetic, so you can leave it on the front of your oven and not dig around in a drawer looking for it. Alton Brown loves these things. Polder Cooking Thermometer, $25
Peugeot Pepper Mill
The Cadillac of pepper mills. The chocolate brown is rather handsome. Peugeot Paris Pepper Mill, $28
'The Professional Chef'
Incredibly dependable recipes from the Culinary Institute of America. There's a real focus on technique, butchery, and an in-depth pastry section. It's more like a textbook than anything. You'll see this book in most professional kitchens, it's really that good. The Professional Chef, $44
Cuisinart Food Processor
Just get the food processor already. Get a big one too, don't waste your money on the little ones. This Cuisinart line is simple; it just has the on-off switch. They're kind of a pain to clean, but you can bang out hummus in like 30 seconds in one of these things. It can even shred cheese! Cuisinart Food Processor, ~$200
Kitchen Aid Mixer
It's a serious commitment, but once you get one, a whole world of pastry opportunities opens up to you. Plus you can get the different attachments, making the Kitchen Aid the workhorse of your kitchen. Kitchen Aid Mixer, ~$200
Related: Kitchen Aid Pasta Roller Attachment
The pasta attachment is kind of expensive, but totally worth it. Making pasta at home is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. You'll be makin' tagiliatelle in no time. Kitchen Aid Pasta Roller Attachment, $142
Related: Kitchen Aid Food Grinder Attachment
The grinder attachement is probably the best attachement for the Kitchen Aid. You can grind your own meat for burgers or sausages, achieving that perfect ratio of meat to fat. Just stay far, far away from the sausage stuffing attachment, it's the most infuriating, rage-inducing gadget I've ever come across. Kitchen Aid Food Grinder Attachment, $45