Val McCauley listed 10 Best Kitchen Gifts Under $25 recently over at Living on the Cheap. They are terrific gift ideas for any cook!
Val’s ideas inspired me to list a few of my own favorites. These basic kitchen tools help me prepare great meals quickly and inexpensively, and they are surprisingly affordable! As much as possible, I’ve included links to the exact items I use and love myself, or the nearest I could find.
- Silicone spatula with flat wooden handles – My favorite ones also happen to be the cheapest, because they just seem to be the easiest to handle and they are wonderful for scraping every last bit of cheese sauce, cookie dough, or whatever else you happen to be making out of the pan. I don’t know how I lived cooked without these. My first set came from Le-Walmart, but they don’t carry that exact set anymore. This set from Bed, Bath, and Beyond look the most similar, and guess what? Only $4.99 for the set of four!
- A good knife – It’s no Wusthof, but my Farberware santoku knife ($9.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond) cuts easily and sharpens well. Thanks to a gift from last Christmas, I also now have a set of Chicago Cutlery knives that cut nicely. If you’re still trying to dice tomatoes with a steak knife (or if you know someone who is), buy this. (Or buy the expensive Wusthoff and tell me what you think of it.)
- A knife sharpener – It’s on my to-do list to get my knives professionally sharpened, but good intentions don’t help me when I have a veggie tray to assemble. I’ve had this Rada Cutlery Quick Edge Knife Sharpener with Hardened Steel Wheels (approx. $8) for many years, and it’s great for a quick honing/sharpening. You set it on the counter and pull the blade back through the wheels. I’ve also used this AccuSharp 001 Knife Sharpener (approx. $9); one of the plus-sides of this one is that it’s better for sharpening scissors and other blades that would be awkward – or impossible – with the countertop sharpener. Oh – and it sharpens serrated edge knives.
- Instant read thermometer – Cooking temperatures are important for many reasons – cooking meat to proper temperatures keeps it safe for your family to eat, and some recipes call for very specific temperatures. I used to have a drawerful of different types of thermometers – frying and candy-making both require very high temperatures; yogurt and yeast both need temperatures in the lukewarm range – but now my Acurite instant read thermometer works for them all. Digital thermometers can also work, but go with waterproof if you get one. I ruined a brand new one when a tiny bit of water got in and fogged up the display (permanently).
- This Taylor Gourmet Stainless Steel Digital Thermometer with Probe is my latest kitchen love. You can walk away and let it beep at you when the turkey or roast is has reached the right internal temp. ($19.99 at Target) I got this from my son one year and loved it so much that I bought he and his new wife one as a housewarming present.
- A medium-size cutting board. Although I have a wonderful large butcherblock cutting board (that my husband made for me!) and it’s a pleasure to work on, I use the smaller poly cutting board almost daily. It’s just easier to wash, and fits better when the counter is covered with the ingredients for a meal. Mine looks almost exactly like this one at Amazon, and I would buy it again in a heartbeat.
- One thing I consider an essential is a good pressure cooker. But wow – the price of these has sure skyrocketed over the years. If you can find a Presto or another good brand at a garage sale, snap it up. The sealing ring, overpressure plug kit (which you will definitely want to replace before using a used pressure cooker) is about $10. The regulator – the little metal hat that sits on top of the cooker – starts at around $6. I can’t speak for the fancier, expensive brands, but I love the Presto pressure cooker I inherited from my parents. A similar but newer model can be had at Walmart for under $30.
- Nested stainless steel mixing bowls – or at least stainless bowls in two different sizes – are still essentials in my opinion. You can use one inside your pressure cooker to cook brown rice (in 10 minutes) or set it over a medium saucepan as a makeshift double-boiler. Most recipes for crusty bread call for placing a bowl of water in the oven along with the loaf, and your stainless steel mixing bowl will work perfectly for that. Again, mine came from my parents’ house, and new ones seem quite expensive. I suggest Goodwill, garage sales, or your own parents’ house. One other thing stainless bowls are good for: pouring off hot grease when you cook sausage or ground beef. A plastic bowl will melt.
- Heavy pots and pans. Unfortunately, most good cookware sets are expensive, and they are probably worth buying when the money is in the budget. But who says you really need a set? You’ll be pressed for space if you have a small kitchen, and you only have four burners anyway! I use a large, family-size skillet, a large-ish stockpot, and a medium size saucepan for most of my cooking. The saucepan and stockpot should be heavy and conduct heat well without scorching, but beyond that they really don’t need to be super-special. A good non-stick skillet will be worth a little more money, if you can afford it. A wok or wok-shaped pot is great if you want to make your own fried rice.
- Freezer-to-microwave storage containers are great to have for frugal cooking. Save leftover cooked chicken or pork for the aforementioned fried rice, or make extra servings of everything you cook, and store them in the freezer for future meals. I like the Rubbermaid containers with Easy-Find lids, and I’ve seen some good sales on them recently. A 40-piece set at Walmart is about $20 right now.
Having the right tools in the kitchen will help you make your own healthier, frugal meals faster than Rachel Ray can say EVOO, and is key to helping you avoid expensive prepared foods in the grocery store. Plus, it’s just kind of fun.