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.
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.
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, like the Chefman Precision Electric 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).
Another benefit of the Chefman: You can always see how full it is at any given time. The included tea-infusing attachment doesn't hurt, either.
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, the Breville Fast Slow Pro, 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.
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 ChefSteps Joule—paired with some vacuum bags 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. The SodaStream Soda Maker satiates our need for bubbles without all the wasted plastic and money. Plus, this machine doesn't require battery power or plugging in, so you can save your precious countertop outlets for your other appliances.
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.