You won't catch us turning down chocolates and flowers, but in our book, nothing says "I love you" quite like a big sharp knife or a functional pot. Seriously! Diamonds aren't the only thing that's forever—cast iron will easily last just as long, and a Le Creuset Dutch oven will endure for generations if you and your descendants take care of it properly. Whether you're ready to drop the big bucks or are just looking for something that says, "I care about you (and you care about food)" we've got 16 top-of-the-line kitchen tools to help you find your way to your honey's heart.
A Large Enameled Dutch Oven
A Dutch oven is the best vessel for anything that requires some heavy searing followed by gentle, even cooking—slow-cooked braises like pot roast, carne adovada, or better-than-Chipotle's barbacoa. It's also handy for soups, like spicy pork, green pepper, and pork soup, hearty escarole and barley, or roasted cauliflower and barley. And, of course, it's great for the best chili ever.
You can't beat the durability, good looks, and cooking power of a French-made Le Creuset Dutch oven, the winner of our best cast iron Dutch oven review. At over $300, it's not a cheap toy, but it'll last your lucky giftee a lifetime. If you're looking for something that is still great quality but a little less expensive, we found the Martha Stewart Dutch oven to be a worthy alternative.
The Splash-Proof Thermapen
A good instant-read thermometer is the only way to ensure that roasts, steaks, chops, or burgers come out exactly the way you want, every time. Forget about poking your meats with a finger, relying on inaccurate timing guides, or resorting to the nick-and-peek method. Buy a high-quality, fast, accurate digital thermometer, and you'll never have a piece of over- or undercooked meat again.
In our tests to discover the best affordable mandolines, we found the V-blade mandoline from OXO to be durable and easy-to-use, creating even slices of everything from zucchini to tomatoes. The design is self-contained and comes with two attachments for julienne cuts and a corrugated blade for crinkle cuts, all of them securely and compactly stored on the underside of the slicer's runway. While it isn't a tool that is 100% necessary, it definitely makes potato chips, crinkle-cut fries, or, say, a beautiful beet gratin a breeze to prep, which makes a very good Valentine's Day, indeed.
An Immersion Blender
For everyday blending tasks, an immersion hand blender is the best tool for the job and saves major clean-up time. It's great for puréeing soups directly in the pot or rapidly breaking up whole tomatoes into rough chunks for sauce. You like that froth on your hot chocolate? Heat it up in the pot and buzz it to create a luxurious foam. Lumps in your béchamel? All gone. You can even make foolproof mayonnaise or hollandaise in just about a minute. If you want to get your valentine one of these blenders, we highly recommend the All-Clad immersion blender, which was the undisputed champion in our tests.
A Digital Food Scale
Did you know that depending on how you scoop up a cup of flour, its weight can vary by as much as 25 percent? No wonder the pizza dough that came out perfectly last week is suddenly too wet to handle this week. A good digital scale will make inaccuracies like that a thing of the past.
Things to look for in a good scale: at least 1 gram or 1/8th ounce accuracy, a capacity of at least seven to eight pounds, a tare (zero) function, measurements in both metric (gram) and imperial (pound) units, a large, easy-to-read display, and a flat design for storage.
The OXO stainless steel food scale has got all of that, plus a neat pull-out display that allows you to read measurements with ease, even when weighing large, bulky items that would otherwise obscure the screen.
Metal Mixing Bowls
Want to know why television cooks use glass mixing bowls? It's not because they're better than the more inexpensive metal version. It's for one reason only: metal bowls are too reflective and make life difficult for the camera operators. Go into any professional kitchen and you'll find that mixing bowls are exclusively metal. They're lighter, take up less space, and last longer (and yes, modern microwaves can even handle metal).
If you've got access to a restaurant supply store, you'll find that the metal bowls are cheaper than anywhere else. If not, these stainless steel mixing bowls come in a variety of useful sizes and will do just fine. And hey, they're shiny!
A Sous Vide Circulator
With a portable circulator like the Anova, any pot or large container in your house becomes a restaurant-quality water bath that will give you unparalleled control over how your food is cooked. Check out our guide to getting started with sous vide for recipes and more info on how it works. And if you're looking for inspiration for Valentine's night, might we suggest some sous vide duck confit or sous vide toasted cream for ice cream?
A Wooden Spoon
A good wooden spoon is any cook's best friend. We've seen macho line cooks come close to tears when their favorite wooden spoon finally cracked in half after years of loyal, obedient service. Whether stirring sauces, tasting soups, or making the creamiest possible risotto, with rare exception, the wooden spoon is the the most essential hand tool for any cook. As for our recommendation? We love the Le Creuset wooden scraping spoon for its wide head, flat scraping edge, and thick and sturdy construction. What's more, this spoon carries the storied and trusted name of Le Creuset at a very doable price.
A 10.25- or 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet
Whether you're searing a steak, sautéing some veggies, frying up a rösti or latkes, or even making a foolproof no-knead pan pizza, a heavy-duty, seasoned cast iron skillet is the pan to reach for. Its weight makes it ideal for retaining heat, while its ruggedness means that a single pan will outlive you (and most likely your children and grandchildren). Not bad for under $20, like Lodge's 10.25-inch pre-seasoned skillet.
You might have heard that cast iron is a pain in the butt to take care of. Not so! It's actually a lot more forgiving than people think. You only need to spend about 30 seconds each time you use your pan to wipe it dry, reheat it, and rub a little oil in. Heck, we even wash ours with soap and water! For more info, check out our guide to learn How to Buy, Season, Clean, and Maintain Cast Iron Pans.
A Great Chef's Knife
If there's one question we get most often, it's this one: what is the best chef's knife?
The honest answer? There are many factors that come into play, and depending on what type of cook you are and how your hands, body, and wallet are shaped, you might opt for one over another.
For maximum power, precision, and versatility, we recommend a Western-style chef's knife like the Wüsthof classic, known for its durability and balance. It's the ideal knife for the serious home cook who does a lot of heavy-duty prep and needs a single knife that will perform well at everything from mincing herbs to hacking through a chicken carcass. But at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference, hand size, and intended uses—for a full range of options, pay a visit to our complete guide to chef's knives.
Whether you stir-fry or not, a wok is one of the most versatile tools in the kitchen. It's by far the best vessel for deep-frying; its wide shape and large volume make it easy to fit plenty of food in there with minimal contact and oil-use, with virtually no danger of splattering the stove-top with hot oil (or worse, overflowing). You can also smoke, braise, and steam in it. (Check out Wok Skills 101 for more info.)
You may have heard elsewhere that a skillet is a better stir-frying vessel on Western stoves. This is not true. When tasted side-by-side, a stir-fry that comes out of a cast iron wok tastes significantly better than one that comes out of a skillet, due to the wok's shape, material, and the manner in which heat is transferred. (A wok has a much larger hot area above and around the actual cooking surface, helping to produce that familiar smoky wok-hai flavor, which is impossible to achieve in a flat skillet).
The downside: A wok will not work very well on an electric or induction burner. Take note.
Which one? To be honest, any 1 1/2- to 2 mm gauge carbon steel wok will do the job, including the $15 chinatown kitchen supply versions, but the Joyce Chen wok is an excellent pick. So long as you follow our care and maintenance guide, your wok
should will achieve a deep black, lustrous non-stick sheen within a few uses.
A Large Casserole Dish
Since they're intended both for cooking and serving tableside, a good casserole dish should be both functional and attractive. High quality glazed ceramic dishes heat foods evenly (and more importantly, store that heat so your food stays hot while you're trying to corral the family to the table). Plus, their smooth glaze is practically non-stick, making them simple to clean up afterward, even with creamy or gooey foods like this potato gratin.
We tested a wide range of casserole dishes and found this one from Harold Import Co. to be the best because of its large handles, light weight, durability, and high temperature resistance. The price is pretty good, too. Though, if you're looking to splurge, the Staub baking dish would look absolutely gorgeous on your Valentine's Day table. The red color is also very on-theme.
A Pressure Cooker or Multi-Cooker
You think to yourself, "A pressure cooker? That's for like making beans and stews and stock and stuff, right? I'm not going to use that every day." The reality is, once you get a pressure cooker or a multi-cooker (which pressure-cooks and has other functions), suddenly all of those things become everyday foods. Make rich, gelatinous chicken stock in under an hour. Cook meat to tender perfection on a weeknight. Prepare dry beans in 45 minutes. It's a staple of most South American kitchens for these very reasons, and there's no reason why you shouldn't use one in your own kitchen. The best electric countertop pressure cooker, according to our testing, was the Breville's Fast Slow Pro, but it is a little pricey, as far as Valentine's Day gifts go. But a strong runner up was the Instant Pot, and it deserves the acclaim it's received. It's easy to use (even for first-timers), it's affordable, and if you do have any issues, customer service is very responsive.
During our testing, we also looked at stovetop pressure cookers and the Kuhn Rikon was our favorite. While some stovetop cookers have confusing switches or levers for you to toggle between pressure and release settings, the Kuhn Rikon has a simple valve on the center of the lid to create and release pressure. It's easy and you don't need to worry about causing an explosion.
A Countertop Seltzer Maker
We finally got around to testing the best soda makers on the market—our La Croix addiction was getting too expensive—and found that the SodaStream Source consistently made the bubbliest drinks. It's also super easy to use: The bottle on this model quickly snaps into place, with no twisting required, and injects CO2 into the water with just the press of a button. If your valentine loves bubbly drinks, this gift will say "I love you" and "stop ordering so much La Croix" all at once.
A blender is one of the few small appliances that are likely to be worth the space they take up in any kitchen. But to earn that coveted spot, it has to purée sauces and soups until they're nice and velvety, blend fibrous veggies like Swiss chard into a smoothie, and turn rock-hard ice into snow for happy-hour frozen drinks. We tested nine models (all under $300) to find the very best and the Cuisinart Hurricane blender was the clear winner.
An Automatic Coffee Maker
If you're at a complete loss for what to get your valentine, you can never, ever go wrong with a good coffee maker. Luckily for you, we did all the testing to find the very best (in the automatic drip category, that is). As it turns out, the winner in our tests—the Bonavita 8-cup carafe coffee brewer— is also the coffee maker we use in our office. Just press the "on" switch and in a few minutes, you'll have great coffee. If that's not sexy, we don't know what is.