Holiday shopping is a pain, but if you’re buying gifts for someone who enjoys cooking, you can alleviate some of that pain by choosing stuff you know they can actually use. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of things we’d love to see in our own home kitchen setups, from simple ingredients to high-tech gadgets. There’s something on this list that’s guaranteed to appeal to every level of home chef out there, many of which don’t even come close to breaking the bank.
For the seasoned baker: Odd-sized measuring spoons
If you do a lot of baking, you’ve probably noticed that the same odd quantities pop up frequently in recipes, such as two teaspoons, 1/8th teaspoon, a “pinch,” etc. Those sorts of in-between sizes can be difficult to eyeball and annoying to measure out with the standard denominations. King Arthur sells a set of odd-sized measuring spoons that’ll keep your recipes accurate without having to hazard guesses or wash spoons in between uses, which is a lifesaver. Plus, they’re cute.
For the sauce fanatic: An immersion blender
Making Homemade Mayonnaise in the All-Clad Immersion Blender
Immersion blenders are great if you don’t have a ton of space in your kitchen, or if you don’t want to lug out your entire conventional blender to create a small quantity of food or sauce. You can use this handheld appliance to puree vegetables for soup, whip cream for desserts, or make a bevy of emulsified sauces like salad dressing or homemade mayonnaise, the latter of which is difficult to do manually. If you have some extra money to spend, this All-Clad immersion blender comes recommended by the pros, while this Braun model comes in at half the price but still boasts stellar reviews.
For the cook who deserves to be spoiled: Fancy olive oil
It can be really difficult to justify buying fancy olive oil for your home kitchen, which is why it makes such a great gift. The nice stuff isn’t usually for cooking, but rather for seasoning and finishing; drizzle it straight on top of salads, bread, pasta, or use it to finish any dish off for some additional rich and herbaceous flavor. (It also makes a great component in homemade salad dressing.)
Graza sells a duo of oils, one that’s meant for everyday cooking and one that’s meant as a finisher, all for a tidy sum of $35. It’s a practical pair of bottles with screw tops, and considering how much some of the nice stuff can cost, this is a great bundled gift.
For the convenience-focused cook: Quality canned seafood
Canned seafood gets a pretty bad rap sometimes. But the truth is, the high-end stuff can be absolutely magnificent, and makes a great base for a meal, a snack, or an appetizer to serve at a party with some nice crackers. Its packaging makes it an ideal gift, because it lasts a long time and fits great inside a stocking.
We’d be delighted if any of Tiny Fish Co.’s stuff ended up in our stockings this year; the mussels are great, served up in a complex escabeche sauce. Anything from Fishwife is a thoughtful and colorful addition to Christmas care packages, and these conservas from Ramón Peña are the ultimate luxury that your recipient might not treat themselves to—making them a perfect gift.
For the everyday cook: Nice baking sheets
Sheet pans are one of the most useful things to have in the kitchen, no matter what kind of cook your gift recipient might be. You can never really have enough of these lying around; they’re ideal for roasting, baking, storing drippy stuff in the fridge (like roasts or whole chickens), and even entertaining, since they function as a shabby-chic serving tray. This set of Nordic Ware pans is affordable and endlessly usable, and a great gift for inexperienced cooks all the way to home pros.
For the hands-on cook: A pretty salt cellar
If you’re a hands-on cook, a salt cellar (sometimes called a salt pig) is an invaluable tool in the kitchen. Plus, they just look cool. This affordable one from Crate and Barrel, featuring a ceramic bowl and a wooden lid, makes a great to any countertop. Since they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles, there are plenty to pick from, but one thing’s for sure: every kitchen needs one.
For the gadget enthusiast: High-tech pepper mill
A pepper mill is a key tool in any kitchen—you’ll just never get the same flavor from a table shaker. Yet while the flavor of freshly cracked pepper is miles above the rest, not all pepper mills are equally capable of extracting those flavors. This “pepper cannon” from MÄNNKITCHEN is a strong, sturdy, and efficient option; it practically shoots out pepper, meaning your dishes are seasoned with just a few cranks.
MÄNNKITCHEN sent us a review model earlier this year, and it is easily one of the highest performing mills we’ve ever seen, one you’re likely to have for the rest of your life. That reliability comes with an enormous price tag of $200, which is why the pepper enthusiast in your life would be more than happy to see it magically appear under the tree. But if you’re looking for a more reasonable model, we’re big fans of anything from OXO, so we’d be just as happy getting this one.
For the lover of the outdoors: Portable grill
If you’re a camper or a tailgater with access to electricity, the Ninja Woodfire Grill is a handy way to cook out without dealing with charcoal or propane. It also has a very unique capability: It can smoke food via a wood pellet chamber attached to the side of the lid. Once the pellets are smoldering, you can add a flash of smoke flavor to whatever you’re cooking, and you can also smoke items like ribs and whole chickens, since there’s plenty of room. The Ninja Woodfire Grill is also ideal for someone with a very small balcony who can’t have open flame (a stipulation in many city apartment buildings).
For charcoal diehards, the Hero Grill System is a highly portable grill that uses small charcoal pods as a heat source. Each pod gives you 60 minutes of cooking time, and once you’re done, you can even take the ash and the perlite housing for composting purposes. This one’s on my wish list. It’s the right size for camping, taking to a picnic, or just for use in a small outdoor communal space like a city courtyard.
For the practical home cook: An all-purpose skillet
Good cookware is a gift that’ll last a lifetime. That’s why the gift of a good pan is always an excellent choice. I’m a big fan of my carbon steel skillets from DeBuyer, as well as those from Made-In Cookware (full disclosure: We’ve received samples from both companies). They’re beautiful to look at, can cook nearly anything, sear like a beast, and promise decades of daily use.
For the carnivore: A proper meat thermometer
I cannot stress this enough: If you cook any meat whatsoever, you need a proper meat thermometer in your home. This will ensure you hit the perfect cooking temperature for rare steak, fall-apart pulled pork, and anything else you grill/sear/smoke/etc. In short, it’s not worth it to invest in a nice cut of meat if you don’t invest in the tools to make it taste great. There are instant-read pens like the classic and accurate Thermoworks Thermapen or wireless options like Meater (which I was gifted last year by a loved one). I use both regularly, and not just during peak grilling season.
For anyone, anywhere, anytime: Cutting boards
A cutting board isn’t exactly a sexy gift, but present one to your loved ones and you’ll see a smile light up their face. There’s nothing worse than having to clean off a cutting board in the middle of a busy cooking session just because you don’t have enough of them for each task. The Material Kitchen reBoard is a popular option, since it’s manufactured with repurposed kitchen plastic scrap. And of course, kitchen stalwart OXO has a great board with grippy edges that’s designed to last and go easy on your knives.
For the detail-oriented: Mortar and pestle
A mortar and pestle isn’t just a nice countertop decoration—it’s a great tool for anyone who’s serious about cooking. Grinding small batches of whole spices can make a world of difference in your cooking and baking, and this tool makes it easy. You can also use a mortar and pestle to make emulsified sauces like pestos or curry bases, and it can help break up tough and fibrous materials like dried chiles for salsas. Serious Eats recommends a granite mortar and pestle set for its slightly abrasive quality, which helps crush up anything that needs pulverizing.
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