Remember when the microwave was the coolest cooking gadget in your kitchen? You young’uns may not even remember life before microwaves became the norm in American households.
At the risk of dating myself, I remember when my family first brought a microwave home. It was life-changing for all of us. My Mom nuked those hot dogs for 45 seconds or so instead of boiling them on the stove for several minutes, and even my cooking-averse Dad learned the time-saving value of throwing leftover chili in the microwave for a minute or two versus dirtying up a sauce pot and standing over our electric oven stirring. The microwave may not have made our food taste better, but it definitely made life easier.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and we’ve got all kinds of things to help us in the kitchen: Toaster ovens, blenders, food processors, and slow cookers sitting on our counters or in our cupboards. All have contributed to a better home cooking experience.
But in the past few years, several small kitchen appliances have become available to home cooks who either desire to make better food or make food more quickly. These devices have changed the way we cook food for the better.
Want to cook great food like a pro? Here are four kitchen appliances that will change your life in the kitchen. Literally. If you haven’t heard of them yet, it’s time to educate yourself.
Sous vide machines
The very first time I saw someone cook using the sous vide method was on the show Top Chef a few years ago, and my mind was blown. Basically, sous vide cooking is a method in which food is put in a bag that is submerged in water and cooked at a set temperature until it’s done. And the results are delicious (if you’ve added the right ingredients into the bag, of course). If you haven’t had sous vide prime rib or salmon, you’re missing out on a fantastic way to cook meat, vegetables — heck, even cheesecake — to perfection.
You can choose between sous vide baths, which are larger and typically cost more but provide more consistent results, or (typically) lower-cost immersion circulators, which attach to a sauce pot you already own. Check out our best sous vide machines here. The good news is that you can buy a sous vide machine for under $100, which is a steal for the promise of never overcooking a steak again.
Pressure cookers (see: Instant Pot)
While pressure cookers have been around forever (my Mom had an old green one long before the microwave ever showed up at my house), it wasn’t until the Instant Pot came on the scene that a huge resurgence and interest in pressure cooking was sparked.
Pressure cooking basically uses steam to cook food at a high temperature. But the Instant Pot does much more, from browning, to slow cooking, to steaming, to cooking rice and yogurt. Yes, yogurt. Instant Pot owners are steadfast in their love for the device with good reason: The thing does just about everything except refrigerate your food.
There’s even an Instant Pot model that works as a sous vide machine and another that also functions as a blender. And if you’re thinking, man, I wish it was an air fryer, too, good news: Ninja has successfully rolled a pressure cooker and air fryer into one with the Ninja Foodi. Other competitors on the market include models from Gourmia, Krups, T-Fal, and more.
If you buy an Instant Pot, be prepared to enjoy the cult following that comes with it: There are Facebook groups galore devoted to tips, tricks, and recipes. The biggest appeal is how these devices save time in the kitchen: You can literally throw frozen meat, some seasonings, water, and veggies into the pot and have yourself a decent meal in no time.
Regardless of whether you’re seeking an Instant Pot or just a general pressure cooker, we’ve got a list of the best to help you in your search, ranging from smart to dumb (as in, not connected). This will shave lots of minutes from your nightly cooking routine. It definitely has in my household.
Remember when deep fryers were all the rage a couple decades ago? Or was that just at my house? My mom used to make this yummy batter for fish, turn on the deep fryer, and drop the fillets into the popping, crackling oil. Once finished, she’d drop the sizzling fish on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the grease. Man, they were good, but required a buttload of extra napkins.
As we’ve become more health conscious, there are fewer deep fryers to be found in homes these days. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have fried foods, now that air fryers are all the rage.
What, you say? You haven’t heard of air fryers? Let me educate you, dear friend.
Air fryers came on the scene as a small appliance a few years ago and are a healthier alternative to deep fryers. Essentially, they use extremely high heat to crisp up foods like french fries or fried chicken but without the excessive oil. They’re similar to the broil function on your oven, except much more consistent.
Air fryers are becoming extremely popular and can change the calorie count of your meal tremendously over a traditional deep fryer. Considering one? We have a list of best air fryers to help you out. Again, you can get some models for under $100. Look for a multifunctional small appliance to save counter space, like a toaster oven that air fries, or a multicooker with a built-in air fryer. Regardless, you’ll be feeling less guilty about those crunchy, delicious fried foods.
When I say “countertop ovens,” I don’t mean toaster ovens, although those devices are pretty nifty by themselves. I’m talking about a brand-new style of oven that sits on your counter and elevates the cooking experience in interesting and time-saving ways. They still might be a little out of reach for many consumers due to price and availability, at least for now, but they might just be what you’re looking for if you want to make cooking easier.
I’m talking about devices like the Brava oven, which uses light to cook a multiple-course meal perfectly, or Suvie, an oven, steamer, sous vide, and baking machine that can cook a three-course meal. It also features a built-in refrigeration system to keep food cold before it cooks. The Tovala Steam Oven uses — you guessed it — steam to cook foods.
Many of these devices have innovative technology and are very Jetsons-like, giving you a way to cook an entire meal at once evenly. So instead of baking your salmon and sautéing your veggies separately, you toss all of it into one of these ovens and end up with evenly cooked food. The appeal of some these devices is that they come with food, too, sort of like meal kits. Tovala, for example, lets you buy entire meals to cook in the oven for extremely easy cooking and prep.
While these countertop appliances are still very new (and in the case of the Suvie, not yet available to buy), they could be game-changers when it comes to meal prep, eliminating the multiple cooking steps necessary to prepare a meal.
Regardless of whether you’re seeking a way to make cooking easier or are looking to elevate your food, these four appliances are making life easier in the kitchen.