Often, the kitchen gear we get the most excited by is something *flashy* and *expensive,* like an outdoor pizza oven, an espresso machine, or a do-it-all air fryer toaster oven.
However, great things can come cheaply. And it’s nice to reflect on the inexpensive (sub-$40) kitchen gear and tools from our equipment reviews we think make for significant upgrades. Whether you own a similar piece of gear already and feel your current model is just kind of “eh” or you don’t have one at all, you’re in for a treat.
If you don’t already own an instant-read thermometer (or, gasp, you have one that’s inaccurate!), let us convince you to get one. Our favorite, inexpensive thermometer is the ThermoWorks ThermoPop 2. It’s about $35 and has a blisteringly fast response time, a large, rotating screen, and a backlight, amongst other features.
Our favorite vegetable peeler costs just $8 and is nimble and effective, and easily curves around apples, potatoes, squash—you name it. It has a carbon steel blade that starts out and stays sharp, too. And if you’ve yet to try a y-peeler, it’s “categorically superior” to a swivel peeler, or so we say.
While this isn’t the cheapest of the cheap chef’s knives we recommend, it did well in all of our tests and is just $40 (not bad in the slightest for a knife you’ll use every day). It has a grippy handle, too, and is available in a range of blade lengths. We recommend the 8-inch one for most cooks.
If your bread knife stinks, you’ll know it: cutting bread requires ample sawing, slices are jagged, tomatoes are torn—you get the gist. Our favorite bread knife from Tojiro is wicked sharp, incredibly nimble, and just $25. Everyone who gets one loves it. It’s a fact.
You shouldn’t spend a lot on a paring knife (it’s important, but not nearly as versatile or splurge-worthy as a chef’s knife), but that also means you can get a really great one for not a lot of cash. Take our favorite from Victorinox: it’s $15, has a grippy, textured handle, and is incredibly sharp.
A lot of citrus juicers work poorly or are just a pain to use—they send juice splattering all over your countertops and hands. Our favorite citrus juicer of many years is this model from Chef’n. It features a dual-gear design and a bowl-shaped stainless steel press that really squeezes the living daylights out of citrus. It has centralized perforations that effectively direct juice downwards, too.
Our favorite bench scraper from OXO is the kind of thing you’ll buy and subsequently use every time you cook. It begs the question: why don’t you already have one? Its wide, stainless steel rectangular blade easily transfers ingredients from a cutting board to a prep bowl, clears off surfaces, and cuts and portions doughs (biscuit, gnocchi, etc.).
We strongly believe you can cook most skillet recipes in a cast iron or stainless steel pan, which means getting a good one is quite a significant upgrade. And our favorite model from Lodge (after testing 22 of ‘em) costs just $20. It performs exceptionally well and will literally last forever. Just read up a little on how to season and maintain it.
Rare is it to cook something and not add at least a pinch of salt. Which makes a good salt storage bin an essential, easy, and fairly inexpensive (sub-$30) upgrade. This one from ZEROJAPAN has a hinged lid made from Hinoki wood and can hold a lot of salt. It also has a large opening (so you can really stick your fingers/hand in there) and a looped handle.
A real bummer is that not every kitchen scale is accurate. But, you might be thinking, isn’t that their one job? And you’d be correct! An accurate kitchen scale is mighty helpful for baking, portioning, and making sure you have the right coffee-to-water ratio. While our favorite kitchen scale from OXO is more than $50 (over the price cap for this article), our budget-friendly recommendation from Escali is under $30 and even comes in some fun colors, like Tarragon Green.
Did you know plastic cutting boards can be tough on knives, causing them to prematurely dull? ‘Tis true! A great plastic cutting board is durable but still soft enough not to destroy your blades. Our favorite boards from OXO fit the bill—and they even have non-slip feet. You can get two boards (the small and medium) for under $25, while the larger board is a smidge more at about $33.
For cooks who’ve used exclusively glass mixing bowls, metal ones are a bit of a revelation. They’re lightweight, shatter-proof, and stackable. Plus, they’re incredibly cheap. You can go to a restaurant supply store to stock up on bowls of all sizes or buy a cheap set online.
If you frequently drink coffee or tea on the go, you need a great travel mug that actually keeps things hot, doesn’t spill, and fits in a car’s cup holder or backpack’s drink compartment. This one from Zojirushi fits the bill: it’s vacuum-insulated, keeping liquids far hotter for far longer than you’ll need, and also has a lock on its lid and a slim body.
Do you experience too-pale pies? Well, you might be using the wrong pie pan. For consistently golden, browned crusts, opt for a cheap, metal plate like our favorite from Norpro. For less than $30, you can even buy two and easily stack them for storage.
Squeeze bottles are ubiquitous in restaurants and you won’t regret adding some to your kitchen. They’re excellent for storing oils and sauces, frosting, and adding a squirt of oil to the surface of a skillet or the bottom and sides of a wok.
A good balloon whisk with plenty of wires and a grippy handle will make it easier to whisk together sauces, emulsify oil and vinegar for salad dressing, bring together pastry cream, aerate whipped cream, and more. And one of our favorite balloon whisks, from OXO, is a mere $12.
Did you know graters can go dull? It’s true! This means if you haven’t replaced yours in some years, you’re probably due for a new one. Behold its new, super-sharp serrations that tackle whole garlic cloves, ginger, fresh nutmeg, and hard cheeses! Our favorite model from Microplane also features a soft-grip handle that comes in various colors, including floral patterns (fun!).
What’s the most popular kitchen gear right now?
Well, we can’t speak super broadly, but we can tell you what the most popular gear from our reviews is. In fact, we have a whole article devoted to it, featuring an air fryer, sous vide machine, coffee grinder, vacuum sealer, and more.