Has one of your gadget-loving, tech-crazy, modernist-food-obsessed friends or loved ones been extra, extra good this year? Here are some ideas for essential gifts that will keep them tinkering in the kitchen for years to come.
A Baking Steel or Baking Steel Griddle
The original Baking Steel was a game-changer for home pizza cooks and bread bakers. The thick-gauge steel sheet was designed to replace a traditional baking stone and offers superior thermal properties, delivering more energy to your dough, which results in crisper crusts, better charring, and overall better pizzas.
The newer Baking Steel Griddle features a pebbled surface for baking pizza on one side and a polished steel surface with a milled grease channel on the other, intended to be used as a griddle or plancha. Fried eggs, bacon, and pancakes for a crowd are a snap, as is getting an insane sear on a steak or smashed burger. At home, I use the Mini Baking Steel Griddle, which is still large enough to bake an 11-inch pizza on one side, but also fits neatly over a single burner when flipped over. When I'm not baking pizzas, mine lives permanently on my stovetop, where I use it on a near-daily basis.
And, if you've got a backyard-pizza-maker in your life, check out the Serious Eats KettlePizza and Baking Steel Special Edition, a device designed to convert your existing Weber Kettle grill into a full-blown wood-fired pizza oven, capable of reaching temperatures of over 1,000°F!
A Sous Vide Cooker
You can cook a limited number of sous vide recipes in a beer cooler, but if the person you're buying for wants to start cooking like the pros, they'll need a dedicated circulator that's designed to maintain the temperature of a water bath to within one degree. I prefer wand-style circulators that can be used in any pot (as opposed to stand-alone water baths) for their versatility and easy storage.
At home, I cook with both the Anova Precision Cooker and the ChefSteps Joule. Both are powerful and compact, with great recipe- and tip-packed apps to support them. The Anova has an easy-to-use onboard scroll wheel for setting the temperature and a sturdy clip for attaching it to the side of the pot. The Joule is even more compact (it slips right into a drawer), but requires an external device, like your phone, a tablet, or an Amazon Echo, to control it. You can't really go wrong with either one.
A Vacuum Sealer
A zipper-lock bag will work for basic, short-term sous vide cooking projects, but for extended cooking and storage, you'll want to pair your sous vide circulator with a vacuum sealer. For compact kitchen spaces, the Oliso PRO Smart Vacuum Sealer is a clever device that allows you to vacuum-seal foods in reusable zip-top bags. Each bag can be used about a dozen times—just flip it inside out, wash it carefully, and it's good to go. It also has attachments for sucking the air out of wine bottles and resealing them, for storage without oxidation. For a more traditional single-use setup, try a FoodSaver V3240, which has a nifty onboard bag cutter and a few sealing options.
A Good Scale
Did you know that depending on how you scoop up a cup of flour, its weight can vary by as much as 50%? No wonder the pizza dough that came out perfectly last week is suddenly too wet to handle this week. A good digital scale can put to rest all your worries about those inaccuracies. A scale can also help you figure out how much moisture your chicken lost during roasting, or exactly how much you've reduced that stock. Hooray! Things to look for in a good scale include at least one-gram or 1/8-ounce accuracy; a capacity of at least seven to eight pounds; a tare (zero) function; measurements in both metric units (grams) and imperial units (pounds); a large, easy-to-read display; and a flat design for storage.
The OXO Good Grips Food Scale With Pull-Out Display has 1/8-ounce (two-gram) accuracy, an 11-pound capacity, a clearly readable display, and a compact design for easy storage. Plus, its display can be pulled out, allowing you to read measurements with ease, even when you're weighing large, bulky items that would otherwise obscure the screen.
A Digital Thermometer
If your gadget-crazed friend (or anyone you know, really) does any amount of meat cookery, a good digital instant-read thermometer will be their best friend in the kitchen. You ever do that thing where you poke a steak and say, "Hmm, I guess this is done"? A quality thermometer allows you to say good-bye to all that. Over- or undercooked roasts, chops, chickens, turkeys, and barbecue will be a thing of the past.
The Thermoworks Thermapen is the Cadillac of instant-read thermometers, with accuracy to 1/10 of a degree; readings in two seconds or less; an auto-rotating and auto-backlit display; automatic turn-on and shut-off based on motion; a long, narrow probe; and fully waterproof construction. If you don't want to spend quite as much, the ThermoPop from Thermoworks and the Javelin from Lavatools are both nearly-but-not-quite as fast and accurate, have only a few frills, and come in at about a third of the price.
A Kitchen Torch
When I say "kitchen torch," I mean a real torch. Not those puny glorified lighters that are sold in fancy kitchen stores. Something that can be used not just for crème brûlées, but also for getting some smoky char on those sous vide steaks. Many claim that butane torches are not as powerful as propane torches, like the classic Bernzomatic. I think those people have not tried the Iwatani butane torch head, which shoots out an intense jet of flame with just a twist of the output knob and a click of the trigger. I love it because it's nearly as powerful as the best consumer-grade propane torch I've found, but both the fuel and the head are far cheaper.
A Kickass Blender
It's hard to explain how much better a powerful blender, like the Vitamix, Blendtec, or Breville Boss, is compared to a standard blender. Velvety-smooth soups and smoothies. Faster ice crushing. Grains that you can mill to your own specs. Fresh nut butters and purées. You get the idea.
At home, I use a Vitamix, but all three of these blenders are crazy powerful, with fully analog speed controls that allow you to adjust the blade rotation from a slow mix to pulverize-the-crap-out-of-anything, turn-Chunk's-hand-into-Goonie-mush, and every state in between. These, my friends, are the blenders that dreams are made of. No, they're the blenders that make liquid blender soup out of the blenders that dreams are made of.
An Electric Pressure Cooker
What was old is not new again. With more safety features, better construction, and automated functions, pressure cookers are back and better than ever. Armed with the power of the Ideal Gas Law and a slew of great recipes, the lucky recipient will be able to cook beans, stews, grains, risotto, pot roasts, sauces, curries, chili, and any number of typically time-consuming dishes in about a third of the time. Even better, our favorite electric countertop pressure cookers—the Breville Fast Slow Pro and the Instant Pot Duo—will do it all automatically, with a couple of button pushes.
Read more here on why I think pressure cookers should replace slow cookers as the kitchen gadget of choice for time-strapped home cooks.