It's been just over a year since Gadgets became a regular feature here at Serious Eats, so I thought it was about time I looked back and picked some surprise favorites. Below, my top five finalists from a list of fifty-two, to give you an idea of which ones have risen to the top of a gadget-filled kitchen.
Most Regularly Used: Universal Nonstick Silicone Pot Lid
I may have given the Universal Nonstick Silicone Pot Lid flack for trying to do too many things; it's not a trivet, let's face it. But who cares if it doesn't perform extra functions when the one thing it does well is something that I need all the time? Even if I could use it as a wonderful trivet, I wouldn't, because this baby barely ever makes it off the stovetop between washes. It fits every single pot and pan I own, which means I never have to fumble through a drawer for other lids (which, by the way, all look the same and don't stack nicely in my cabinets). Plus, it's a value purchase: Rather than buying more expensive lids individually for each new pot or pan, buy one of these and consider yourself done. I'm obsessed: This may be the best thing I've bought all year, which continues to surprise me every time I think about it. Without question, though, it has proved to be the most used. Unfortunately, currently sold out at Sur La Table
Most Improved Kitchen Staple: Kapoosh Universal Knife Block
Your comments made me worry: Would my Kapoosh Universal Knife Block get bent out of shape the longer I used it? Weeks of testing put it through a certain amount of stress, to be sure, but I wondered what would happen after months and months. So what did? Nothing! What started as a fear of premature mourning has become a long and loving relationship. No matter how many knives I add (recently my steak knives moved in—all eight of them!), it doesn't seem to make a dent in the knife block. Better yet, it held a huge variety of kitchen utensils during a recent move, proving that, carelessness aside, over-stuffing and continual use are not an issue. $29.99 from Bed Bath & Beyond
Best Cleaning Aid: Odor Absorbing Splatter Screen by Faberware
You know that sticky grime that ends up all over the kitchen when you don't use a splatter screen? It's arguably the hardest thing to clean after cooking, though maybe the smells that stick around after cooking fish or shallow-frying potatoes take longer to undo. The Odor Absorbing Splatter Screen takes care of both—invaluable in small or open kitchens. Does it help you cook better? No, not really. But what time it saves in cleaning and convenience makes me want to use it as much as possible, keeping it out of the storage closet for good. And so far, the smell-trapping carbon filter has held up just fine. $12.99 from Pfaltzgraff
Best Value Purchase: HotSpot Silicone Egg Poachers
My fervent love for poached eggs makes me unquestionably biased, with lots of good contenders in the "painless price tag" category. Sure, I love my silicone pot spout and utensil clip—and they're likely to trump the HotSpot Silicone Egg Poachers for many of you. But for me, here's the bottom line: While I can pour and rest utensils without the other two, I am a horrible, horrible egg poacher without some help. And now that I can poach eggs at home, reliably and without fail, I'm able to dress my vegetables with eggs for a healthy dinner on a very regular basis. They always come out just right, and post-meal cleaning is a breeze. Talk about a lazy indulgence. $8.99 from LaPrima Shops
Most Worthwhile Splurge: Breville One-Touch Tea Maker
I would have never bought the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker for myself had it not been for this column, but I would have also kicked myself had I known what I was missing. Automatic coffee makers, in my experience with them to date, result in flawed cups of coffee—ones that have been sitting too long, that weren't ground right before brewing, and so on. But an automatic tea maker that controls for steeping, temperature, timing, tea variety, your own personal preferences—and does it all on your watch without even the touch of a button? If you're going to splurge on something, it should be something that you can use on a daily basis. I can't wait for fall and winter to come around so that I can use it more regularly. $249.95 from Williams-Sonoma
Have you made any surprisingly impressive gadget purchases? Let us know!