Best kitchen gadgets under $20

26 Sep, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


My kitchen is filled with workhorses that I take for granted: the wooden cutting board, balloon whisk, measuring cups, microplane and razor-sharp knives. But as I’m spending even more time cooking at home during lockdown, I’m coming to appreciate all the smaller extras that I don’t strictly need, but make my cooking life easier.

After singing their praises to family and friends, I thought I’d share them with you. These are all products I actually own and use in real life and that any home cook would be happy to have in their kitchen. They’re inexpensive, versatile, easy to clean and simple to incorporate into your cooking routine (no single-use utensils like an avocado slicer or tea infuser on this list, though no shade if that’s your thing). Here are the tools I never want to be without, and how they make the act of cooking more enjoyable. Who knows, you might find your new favorite kitchen gadget on this list!

Xujia via Amazon

The wide, saucer-shaped bowl, long handle and pleasant weight make these beautiful spoons perfect for almost everything — eating soup, curries, rice dishes, spooning yogurt out of the tub, spooning anything out of any tub, really. 

My Korean friend calls them “jjigae spoons” (a type of stew) or rice spoons, but in my family, they’re known as “life-changing spoons,” which is how I first convinced my family to adopt them. I hardly ever use “regular” spoons anymore. 

You can buy long-handled spoons online or in many Asian markets. My personal preference is to get a set with round handles, not the thin kind with the flat ends. Prices vary, but they’re not expensive either way — say $16 for a pack of 5 good quality spoons, or even $15 for a pack of 8.

Amazon

I’m sure I could live without a pair of kitchen shears like this one from Henckels (also known for making reliable knives), but I don’t particularly want to. A dedicated pair of shears makes opening food bags, cutting meat and fish and trimming green beans dead-easy. Storing them with your knives or utensils keeps them accessible where you need them and eliminates cross-contamination with your other scissors. Sturdy shears can butterfly poultry and this model unhinges for dishwashing. This particular model costs under $20 on sale.

Tovolo

Bench scrapers, also known as pastry or dough scrapers or cutters, are typically used to pry dough off a work surface, though I use mine multiple times a day for either scraping or lifting items from my cutting board to a pan or bowl. I used to use the side of whichever knife I had in my hand, but this useful kitchen tool shovels more diced onions at a time and is safer anyway. 

I’ve also used straight-sided bench scrapers, but the offset design is much easier for sliding under a pile of chopped food. It’s equally adept at its intended purpose of working with bread and pastry dough. This Tovolo bench scraper is the one I use and costs around $10.

Lifver Home via Amazon

Small bowls are hardly interesting or new and I have plenty of them, especially fluted and ribbed ramekins. But these wonderful dip bowls have made cooking and serving food more of a delight. I just love them. They’re useful enough for daily prep and pretty enough to serve on. 

You can mound a surprising amount of food in the hollow, like lemon zest, olive oil, wasabi or even grated cheese like fresh parmesan. They cost $18 for a set of eight 3-ounce bowls.

Here’s how I use them:

  • Spoon rest
  • Used tea bag holder
  • Salt piggy
  • Egg holder
  • Prep bowl for ingredients like garlic, shallots, ginger
  • Prep bowl for blending spices (the mix flows into the pan really easily, without getting stuck in creases)
  • Garnish server
  • Server for individual desserts, like squares of chocolate, a brownie or a tiny scoop of ice cream
  • Sugar caddy for after-dinner coffee or tea
  • Ring valet (especially when taking off to work with slimy or sticky food)

Prep Solutions via Amazon

My dad endearingly referred to these as “rubber fingers.” This set of two — one with a pointy end (pictured) and one that looks more like a paddle, cost $8 and are awesome for scraping, scooping and pushing down all types of food. Think the last little bit of something gooey like peanut butter from the jar, or getting every little bit of beaten egg out of a small bowl. I still use full-size spatulas for large work bowls, pots and pans, but these nonstick minis work better than spoons or my finger and fit really well into drawer dividers. They’re machine washable, too.

Lodge via Amazon

I had never heard of a pan or pot scraper until my colleague Rich Brown sang its praises. I have an elaborate and finely-tuned method for steaming and scraping off stuck-on crud from pots, pans and bakeware, but I started getting a lot of time back once I began using this $5 tool — or $8 for two.

This kitchen gadget fits into your palm and easily scrapes away gunk with its flat and curved edges, which can also better reach into corners. Still expect a little sponge work, but mostly to wipe away loosened and leftover stuff. I was amazed with how my Lodge pot scraper obliterates the scum that builds up in a ring around the pan, say the leftovers of reduced marinara. 

It cuts through residue faster and more efficiently than a hard plastic spatula and it won’t gunk up the scrubby side of a sponge with cheese, egg or starchy buildup. I recommend keeping it visible on your sink, near your sponges and dish soap. I initially put it into a drawer and forgot about it, but now it’s top of mind. 

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

My friend bought a fancy new dishwasher with built-in wine holders and gave me three purple silicone tubes that help keep your wine glasses safe in the machine. “Here, you like wine,” she said. “You should use these.”

She was right. They may look derpy, but this perfect gift probably saved my wine glasses more than once. You fit one grippy end around your overturned stemware (as pictured) and slide the other end, a hollow tube, over a peg on the bottom rack of your dishwasher. A wire that runs two-thirds the length of the attachment supplies structure. 

If a glass feels extra wobbly in the center of the bottom rack, I’ve been known to clip on two of these silicone holders for extra stability, one on either side. I used to hand-wash my wine glasses and still managed to break one here or there. Not anymore. It costs about $12 for a set of eight. I’ve run them in the dishwasher on a weekly basis for almost two years.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Great for elegantly draining pasta, reaching for items on the top shelf, juicing lemons and even cleaning window blinds. A pair of 9-inch or 12-inch silicone-tipped tongs costs about $15 and has become a trusty kitchen companion that does far more for a chef than just flip browning veggies and meat. Here are seven clever uses for kitchen tongs.

Endurance via Amazon

I love a small saucepan for so many reasons, including frying perfectly round eggs one at a time and reducing broth and sauces. Melting butter and making modest quantities of caramel or hot milk and cream are also great in an itty-bitty pan, especially if you’re trying to keep a small amount of liquid from evaporating too quickly.

I bought a “cup measuring pan” that’s a lot like this one, with a long handle, and I like it, though it’s not as thick as some of my other kitchen pots. I’d also happily consider a butter melting pot for butter, sauces, warming milk and boiling single eggs, but I currently use a tiny milk frothing jug for that, intended for espresso. Whichever pan you get should cost between $15 and $25, tops. Mine was about $15. 

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