In my dreams, I cook in a vast, fully fleshed-out kitchen with tools and accessories that would make Gordon Ramsey jealous. When I wake up, I cook on a countertop that’s barely big enough for my cutting board and a range with three functioning burners.
These restrictions haven’t kept me from cooking, but they have made me selective about what I follow in my kitchen. Everything needs to earn its keep, whether it’s a necessary kitchen scale or a high-powered stand mixer. At the same time, I’ve had to figure out ways to make the most out of my space without doing major construction in my apartment.
Below, you’ll find the tools I use to trick people into thinking I have a big kitchen and the handful of tools and appliances I use often enough to justify keeping them. It takes a little effort, but the results are fulfilling and tasty! If having a small kitchen has prevented you from getting into the kitchen, use these recommendations as a guide to making it work.
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A smart sous-vide tool that lets me effortlessly cook restaurant-quality meals
Why I love it: If my kitchen has a “secret weapon,” it’s ChefSteps’ Joule Sous Vide. The tool lets me make perfectly cooked meat and vegetables without much effort, and it has smart features that make sense. If you’ve never cooked sous vide, here’s how it works. First, you take the food you want to cook and seal it inside a plastic bag. Next, you fill up a container (a dutch oven will work perfectly) with water. Then you clip the Joule onto the pot, open its app, and select the food you’re going to prepare. The Joule will kick on and start circulating water to get it up to that exact temperature. When it’s ready, the app will tell you to insert your sealed food and set a timer to alert you when it’s done. This might sound not very easy, but Joule makes it simple. Once the food’s done, you’ll get an alert on your phone. I’ve used the Joule several times, and it’s never failed me. My food is always perfectly cooked, and I never had to worry about a pan overheating or forgetting to turn the oven off.
A waffle maker that I use very often
Why I love it: Krups’ waffle maker is one of the few super niche appliances that I use very often. It has a knob that lets me set my waffles’ doneness — from pillowy soft to nice and crispy — and a loud bell that alerts me when its grates have come to temperature and when the waffles are fully cooked. Once I’m done, I can pop the grates off and wash them off in the sink. The grates are dishwasher safe, too. I always felt like waffles were one of the few foods I’d always have to order out, but Krups’ waffle maker has turned them into one of my Sunday morning staples.
A powerful, compact kitchen mixer that makes baking less messy
Why I love it: I don’t have a lot of space in my kitchen for bulky appliances, but I’ve made an exception for Kenmore’s Ovation stand mixer. Its five-quart glass mixing bowl is large enough to accommodate big batches of bread dough, cookie batter, or cake mix with ease, but its design is what sold me. Instead of pouring ingredients into the mixing bowl and hoping nothing flies out, the Ovation has a sealed bowl and a hole on top. When I bake, I put my dry ingredients in the bowl, seal it, and pour wet ingredients through the hole on top. The system works wonderfully and has cut down the time I spend baking because I never have to think about cleaning flour or sugar from my floor.
A cast-iron skillet that’s easy to clean
Why I love it: If I were transported to a desert island and could only take one kitchen tool, it would have to be Milo’s cast iron skillet. The direct-to-consumer startup wowed me with its Dutch oven, but its skillet takes things to the next level. The cast-iron skillet is flat and heats evenly, so I’ve never noticed any hotspots or scorch marks on my meat or vegetables. I’ve used it to sear food on my stovetop, bake it in the oven, and transferred it from one to the other without any problems. My favorite thing about this skillet is that its cast iron is enameled, so you can clean it off in a sink or dishwasher without it getting rusted.
A movable island that lets me extend my kitchen
Why I love it: I live in a tiny New York City apartment, which means counter space is premium real estate. Lennon’s kitchen island has allowed me to extend my kitchen without having to do any construction. What I like best about this island is that each of its four layers serves a different purpose. The bottom layer is flat, so it’s perfect for holding bowls, plates, or bakeware. Its produce basket can hold a surprising amount of fruits and vegetables, and it’s high enough that you can easily grab them. The four-bottle wine rack is a good place to store alcohol or a few extra bottles of sparkling water. Finally, the top layer is made out of granite, making it the perfect surface to keep a cutting board. If you’re trying to make a small kitchen feel bigger or less cluttered, I can’t think of a better investment for less than $100.
A simple kitchen scale that lets me get my ingredient amounts just right
Why I love it: For years, I wondered, “does measuring your ingredients make a difference in the final result?” The answer is yes. It does. Eternity’s digital scale lets you weigh things in ounces, milliliters, pounds, and grams, which are the basic measurements you’ll need. This is a kitchen essential most people put off getting, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. An expandable shelf that’s allowed me to double my cabinet space