Living in New York City has its downsides. I've come to terms with the fact that I will never own a piece of real estate here, and I know any apartment I can afford to rent will be woefully small, more fit for a hobbit than an average-sized human. (Dating here is also a nightmare, but let's deal with one challenge at a time.)
In many apartments, the kitchen is the space in which we make the most sacrifices. My kitchen is really just a galley in the living room, with a fridge, sink, and about a foot and a half of counter space. That area, while minuscule, is where I do all of my cooking. It's also where I have skillfully Tetris-ed my beloved appliances, all of which I've bought based on the recommendations from our recipe developers. These are the go-to items we at Serious Eats love and use all the time. Hopefully you have more counter space than I do.
Our Most Essential Countertop Equipment
A High-Powered Blender
If you've ever seen a Vitamix blender in action, you'll immediately understand why it's at once so wonderful and so expensive. These machines can pulverize chunks of ice for frozen margaritas, whip up frothy smoothies, and purée soups until they're rich and creamy.
Sure, a hand blender might perform some of these tasks pretty well, but the Vitamix goes the extra mile: It can mill flour, grind beef, emulsify mayo, and make homemade peanut butter. Even if you do have a tiny kitchen, like mine, a Vitamix deserves a spot on your counter—maybe even a pedestal. Or, you know, one of those red ribbons wrapped around new cars in teen movies. And if you're flummoxed as to which Vitamix to buy (if you're going to spring for one, best be informed!), we've got an article that breaks down the pros and cons of each model.
A Mighty Air Fryer
Do you need an air fryer? Well, we tested 11 models and the answer might surprise you: They're pretty great and well worth it if you have the space to store the appliance. Their compact stature, powerful fans, and perforated baskets cut down (or eliminate) pre-heat times and aid in all-over browning.
A Precision Electric Kettle
I never fully understood the appeal of electric kettles until a few years ago, when I was dating a New Zealander. He had spent most of his 20s in London and was an avid tea drinker. He also spent most of our first date discussing the pros and cons of various kettles, and shaming me for not having one. (Needless to say, the relationship didn't go far.)
But my appreciation for kettles grew. Who knew that different varieties of tea can benefit from brewing at different temperatures? A good precision kettle heats the water to your exact specification, with an LED display that shows the temperature. It can also keep your water warm for up to an hour, in case you're in the mood for multiple cups of tea (or hot chocolate, or bowls of instant mac and cheese).
An Automatic Drip Coffee Maker
If you're a coffee drinker, a coffee maker is (obviously) an essential appliance. We reviewed the most popular models and this brewer from Bonavita was one of our favorites. It's straight-forward to use, has a thermal carafe, and makes truly great coffee. Really, it's just an all-around winner.
A Coffee Grinder
I won't go on too much about why you need a burr grinder (and why you should absolutely not be using a blade grinder), but you can read all about it in our review of coffee grinders. Either of the grinders linked above will serve you incredibly well (and we have more top picks in our review). The Baratza has a ton of grind settings so you can really tinker and tweak your cup to your own personal specifications, while the OXO has fewer grind settings, but costs a whole lot less.
A Pressure Cooker or Multi-Cooker
There is perhaps nothing we love more at Serious Eats than a pressure cooker. I never had one before coming to work here, but now I use my Instant Pot (which is a multi-cooker—essentially a pressure cooker with a few other features built in) all the time, mainly for these quick and easy recipes.
Whether you go for the Instant Pot or a simple stovetop pressure cooker, like the Kuhn Rikon Duromatic, it'll become your go-to to break down meats for braises and chilis, cook dried beans without a long soak, and even make gelatin-rich chicken stock in just one hour. So long, slow cooker!
A Food Processor
Even if your knife skills are excellent, a food processor is a useful tool that will save you time and energy. In our review of the best food processors, the Magimix 14-cup food processor came out on top.
While it's an expensive purchase, you can use it for so much, like this fruity (and stable) version of whipped cream, ground beef, and hummus. And if you're looking for a more affordable option, we got you: Cuisinart's 14-cup food processor will serve you well, at about half the price.
A Stand Mixer
I can't think of a better piece of kitchen eye candy than a KitchenAid stand mixer. It comes in a wide range of colors, and its functionality and versatility can't be beat. Use the dough hook for the perfect crusty loaf of bread, the paddle for all sorts of cookies, and the whisk for fast and easy cream cheese frosting.
And that's before you even get to the attachments. Our two favorite attachments by far are the KitchenAid meat grinder (for vastly superior burgers) and the pasta roller (which makes homemade pasta a cinch). And if you're making a bucket of margaritas, Kenji's a big fan of the citrus juicer.
A Toaster Oven
A toaster oven might take up more real estate on your counter than a classic two-slice model, but it pulls its weight in increased functionality. It can toast your English muffins, of course, but it can also cook salmon and do a decent job of heating up frozen pizza. In our toaster oven review, the Breville Smart Oven Toaster Oven was our top pick. Not only did it turn out a crisp-crusted, warmed-through chicken pot pie and an evenly browned batch of cookies, it's also a pretty good-looking machine.
Not into toaster ovens? We also reviewed the best toasters.
An Ice Cream Maker
The construction is simple: There aren't many moving parts to confuse you, and the wide mouth at the top makes it easy to add chocolate, nuts, hot fudge...really, any mix-in you can imagine. That mouth is also pretty handy when you're looking to get in there with a big spoon to taste the finished product.
An Immersion Circulator
People ask us all the time if it's worth it to get an immersion circulator. The answer is generally a resounding yes. Sous vide cooking gives you an unparalleled degree of control over whatever you're making and removes the uncertainty of oven and stovetop cooking, which can be unreliable.
An immersion circulator, like our preferred Breville Joule—paired with some vacuum bags (and a vacuum sealer set up) or zipper-lock bags sealed airtight, a Cambro container, water, and maybe some ping-pong balls—will heat your food to the precise temperature you want, from edge to edge, every single time. Check out our immersion circulator review to learn more about the models we recommend, and read our guide to getting started with sous vide cooking if you're new to the method.
The ability to turn regular water into sparkling water is almost more impressive than turning water into wine. All of us at Serious Eats are seltzer obsessives, and we've found that keeping up our habit can get pretty expensive. A seltzer maker satiates our need for bubbles without all the wasted plastic and money.
A Waffle Iron
Whether you're waffling something silly, like ramen noodles, or something traditional, like Stella's vanilla buttermilk waffles, you'll need a good iron to get the job done. In our waffle maker review, the Breville round-waffle iron turned out nicely crispy, browned American-style waffles, with the most consistent color of all the batches we produced. If you prefer a thicker, Belgian-style waffle, the All-Clad Stainless Steel Belgian Waffle Maker delivers delicately crusted, fluffy beauties, with extra-deep divots for holding all that butter and syrup.
What will we waffle next? Only time will tell.
A Countertop Pizza Oven
Essential? Definitely not. But if you're crazy for homemade pizza and you just got a bonus, or won the lottery, or otherwise have excess cash to burn, all of us at Serious Eats highly recommend adding the Breville Pizzaiolo pizza oven to your countertop-appliance lineup. It gets hot enough to achieve that signature leopard-spotted exterior and soft interior in the crust, along with melty cheese and just-charred toppings, making it the best way we've found to produce Neapolitan-style pizza in your home kitchen. If you do end up getting one, please invite us all over for a pizza party.
What's the best way to store kitchen appliances?
This is a tricky question! And dependent on what kind of space you have. Serious Eats staffers store their appliances in cabinets and on metro shelves. Of course, there are some appliances (like stand mixers and coffee makers) you'll likely want to leave out on your countertop at all times.
What brand of kitchen appliances is best?
As you can see from our top, tried-and-tested picks above, there's no one brand that makes the best of everything. In general, though, brands with solid warranties and customer service are a good bet.