As Deputy Food Editor on America’s Test Kitchen’s cookbook team, staying informed about new kitchen appliances is a part of my job. That means trying out—and developing foolproof recipes with—the latest trending kitchen gadgets that will help home cooks prepare quick, tasty, reliable meals. That is to say, I’ve spent a lot of time in the test kitchen cooking with sous vide machines, Instant Pots, and air fryers.
However, when it comes to my own home kitchen, I'm definitely a minimalist. Sure, sous vide is a really cool way to cook a steak and yes, it's pretty amazing that you can prepare a classic Ragu alla Bolognese in an hour with an Instant Pot, but that's not enough to make me want to buy those machines. Instead, I look for equipment that is durable and easy to clean, and able to multi-task with ease. So, whether you're looking to Kondo your kitchen or are furnishing one for the first time, here are my top two essentials that you might be on the fence about (I was!) but even a kitchen minimalist should have on hand.
A Food Processor
For the longest time I thought the food processor was just a bulkier, more expensive, less adaptable immersion blender that wasn't worth my time or money. I was hand-chopping vegetables, kneading pasta dough by hand, and buying store-bought hummus—until I started working at America's Test Kitchen. Fast forward seven years and I've used food processors while cooking through hundreds (yes, hundreds) of recipes. In the test kitchen, we use our food processors to chop, slice, shred, and whip far more than any home cook, and I can’t remember a time we’ve ever been let down.
Now I don't know why I didn't jump on the food processor bandwagon sooner, as it has expanded my usual cooking repertoire by leaps and bounds. I use it all the time at home to chop mirepoix in a flash; make pizza dough, pie dough, and dips; and even whip cream and make cakes. (Yes, I said make cakes. See our Food Processor Perfection cookbook for proof.) And like any other piece of kitchen equipment, the actual product matters. America’s Test Kitchen’s longtime favorite, the Cuisinart Custom 14 Cup Food Processor, has truly made my kitchen life better and easier.
Cuisinart Custom 14 Food ProcessorWith a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design, our longtime favorite surprises us time and again by outshining pricier, more feature-filled competitors.
A Cast-Iron Skillet
Nonstick skillets are probably one of the most ubiquitous pieces of equipment in an average American kitchen. They're entirely necessary for a lot of reasons (ever tried making scrambled eggs in a traditional skillet?) but I've always had beef with them: I can't put them in my oven above a certain temperature and the nonstick coating scratches off if I so much as look at them wrong.
Enter the cast-iron skillet. This heavy-duty skillet is the opposite of new and trendy, but it’s made a comeback in recent years thanks to its superior ability to retain heat and produce beautifully seared meats (among other things) while also acting as a durable nonstick skillet.
However, I had been on the fence about cast iron for a long time. I love making a mess in the kitchen, but I’m super lazy when it comes to cleaning up and I'd heard that cast iron needs special care. I had also heard horror stories about scorching and I wasn't so sure about sliding a heavy, metal object around on my glass-topped electric cooktop. But a couple years ago, after spending a few months in the test kitchen developing recipes for our Cook It In Cast Iron cookbook, I realized just how wrong I was.
Cast-iron skillets are the gift that keep giving, literally. I was gifted a set from my grandmother, and I see no reason why it won't live to see another 50+ years of use. It does all the things that normal Teflon nonstick pans can't, and it just gets more seasoned—and more nonstick—every time I use it. As for my lazy instincts, it turns out that cleaning cast iron isn't so daunting. (Here’s the best way to do it.)
Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.
Le Creuset Signature 11 3/4" Iron Handle SkilletWith flaring sides, an oversize helper handle, wide pour spouts, a satiny interior, and balanced weight, this expensive but beautifully made pan is a pleasure to cook in.
What pieces of kitchen equipment can't you live without? Let us know in the comments! And for more equipment coverage, check out these articles: