5 Kitchen Luxuries That Are Worth It (and 5 That Aren't)

By Meg Favreau on 23 February 2012 (Updated 6 March 2012) 51 comments

I love cooking. It's frugal, yes. But for me, it's more than that — cooking is a way to release stress, show people I love them, and (perhaps most importantly) feed myself delicious, healthy food.

While I try to keep a pretty minimal and inexpensive kitchen, over the years, I have realized that there are certain luxuries that are well worth the cost. Here are five of my favorites — and five items that aren't so necessary. (See also: 7 Time-Saving Kitchen Tips From an Insider)

Kitchen Luxuries That Are Worth It

There are some of my favorite things to keep in my kitchen.

1. Good Cookware

There are a couple of pieces of great news about quality cookware — first of all, you don't need a lot of it, and second of all, it's often easy to find second-hand. In fact, especially when it comes to baking supplies, I tend to prefer older baking sheets and cake pans — I've found that newer non-stick baking sheets almost always burn the bottom of my cookies. As for what you're putting on the stove top, a good cast iron skillet can do wonders. And if you do want a non-stick pan or pot, I recommend something from Calphalon — it's good quality, scratch-resistant, and long-lasting.

2. A Quality Knife

One good-quality chef's knife — kept sharp — can be the only knife you'll ever need.

3. Silpats

As I mentioned above, I prefer regular baking sheets over non-stick ones, and I'll line them with Silpats — silicone liners. Silpats are easy to clean, make it so you don't need to oil your pans, and don't burn what you're cooking.

4. Garlic Press

In general, I'm against highly specialized kitchen tools. But I will admit my love for the garlic press — instead of trying to mince clove after clove of garlic by hand (I'm a big garlic fan), the garlic press smashes the clove with one easy squeeze.

5. A Few Nice Ingredients

Cooking is a lot cheaper than going out, even when you buy a few pricer ingredients. I love little items that can add big flavor — fresh herbs, finishing salts, miso, truffle oil, and good olives are a few of my favorites.

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Kitchen Luxuries I Can Do Without

There are situations when some of these are worthwhile, but here are five kitchen luxuries that I generally pass on.

1. A Dishwasher

First of all, let me say that I'm writing this as someone who currently lives alone — the more people in a house, I think, the more useful a dishwasher can be. At first, I was bummed to move into an apartment without one, but then I realized that I used fewer dishes and washed them faster if my dirty ones sat in the sink instead of the dishwasher.

2. Highly Specialized Appliances

Crepe maker. Quesadilla maker. Waffle maker. These all clutter up your kitchen for foods that you make — what, once a month? Crepes and quesadillas can be made on the stovetop, and that waffle batter will also make lovely pancakes — take your waffle craving to a restaurant.

3. Most Name-Brand Foods

Most name-brand foods are equal or very similar to generics in terms of quality; they just have a bigger price tag.

4. A Microwave

I know that the microwave is a hotly contended kitchen item — if you do certain tasks a lot, like defrosting things from the freezer, a microwave might be worth it. Microwaves do, after all, use less energy than ovens for certain tasks. For the way I cook, though, it's not worth paying for a microwave or having it clutter up my countertop.

5. Brand-New Storage Containers

I do covet those neat pop-top containers. But if you're looking for countertop and cupboard storage, there are plenty of bargains to be found at thrift stores. Mix-and-match glass jars and containers of various sizes can make for a very chic (and inexpensive) countertop. One time I even found a vintage set of flour and sugar containers almost exactly like my mom had when I was growing up.

What are your favorite kitchen luxuries — and what can you do without?

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Guest's picture
Debbie M

I agree with the good cookware and knife (and cutting board). Other luxuries I have are:
* a cheese grater (hey, I learned to cook at camp where we "grated" cheese with a knife)
* an electric griddle (yes, I do make pancakes only once a month, but I make a double batch and eat them all week and it's SO MUCH FASTER and easier to clean up than two or three pans, not to mention increasing the likelihood that the pancake will land somewhere good when I flip it rather than up the side of the pan)
* rubber spatula (my mom just cleaned out bowls with a spoon)

Five things lots of people have that I don't are:
* food processor (hard to clean; I just use a blender or grater)
* bread machine (hard to clean)
* crock pot (I don't want to wait that long!)
* stand mixer (I use a fork, a wire wisk, or manual egg beaters and occassionally, for merengue and whipped cream, electric beaters)
* electric can opener (instead of manual)

I also don't have a dishwasher, but I really want one--the boyfriend is an extremely messy cook and eats a LOT of food and uses only gigantic dishes. That will require remodeling the kitchen, because there's no place to put one now.

Guest's picture
Guest

We use our secondhand crock pot almost every week. It saves us a time and money. We also use our secondhand bread maker almost every week and it is saves us time and money and is super easy to clean. You may want to try to get rid of 1/3 or of you dishes and fill the extra space with a crock pot or bread maker. I agree with you on the can opener though.

Guest's picture
Megan

The only person I know who prefers an electric can-opener to a manual one is my grandma, and that's because of her arthritis. Electric can-openers are dirty; I can't stand them.

Guest's picture
Guest

I could not do without a microwave. I use mine all the time. And never for defrosting food. I cook in bulk on the weekends and use the microwave to rewarm easy, home cooked meals during the week. In addition, I cook most of my vegetables in the microwave.

I agree on the good cookware, quality knive (chef's and paring), iron skillet, an decent array of herbs, spices and condiments for flavoring food and a well stocked pantry. And a blender.

I use parchment paper rather than silpats. Although they are on my wish list, they are not multipurpose as parchment paper is. On the other hand, they are reusable. Parchment is not.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

We seem to have similar uses for a microwave. Mine went out a while back and it was a week before I could buy and install a new one. I greatly disliked having to make oatmeal and heat vegetables on the stove. Although some of the "leftovers" did taste a bit better when reheated in the toaster over than in the microwave.

I too use parchment paper rather than silicone mats. I have both and I think my cookies turn out better with the parchment rather than the mats. Personal preference I guess.

Guest's picture
Jamie

I also make frequent use of my microwave - from boiling water for tea to cooking vegetables as well. And since I do use it, the timer function allows for the microwave to pull double-duty instead of having a separate timer. That said, I've lived abroad without a microwave and have no problem without one. I'd rather forgo a dishwasher than a microwave - cooks many things faster with not just less energy, but also less heat in my shoebox of a kitchen.

Guest's picture
Guest in CA

Favorite luxury - full sized food processor. It took me a long time to decide to get one; once we bought it about 5 years ago, we use it at least several times a week. And an electric kettle (we both prefer tea to coffee).

Do without - full sized stand mixer, microwave, coffee maker, dishwasher, high-end stove/oven.

Guest's picture
Guest

Can agree on most of the items listed.

Dishwasher - I am currently redoing my kitchen (refurbishing, not replacing those 1950's cabinets). If it weren't for the gaping hole that would be left I would not replace this item. The original homeowner had this device installed. I'll never use it but not many other options but to replace.

Microwave - I didn't have one for years but I broke down and bought a cheapo unit mainly to heat water and leftovers. I'd now prefer to have one.

Waffle maker - I have to go against the grain on this. I used to have one and used it nearly every weekend. I just bought another one for under $20 and plan to start up that tradition again. Besides, going out for breakfast is a real hassle. And expensive....

Guest's picture
Ash

For a small amount of money you could probably build a shelf box to put in the space the dishwasher previously occupied and have more storage. You could even make a little curtain to cover it all up, or find some doors to match what you have on the other cupboards.

Guest's picture
Guest

My house came with a broken built-in dishwasher - got rid of it - hung a cute curtain and the trash now sits there.

Guest's picture
Canyak

I disagree on the waffle maker. True, if you almost never make waffles, it is an item you can easily do without. The pancake excuse is where I have the problem. Pancakes are nothing like waffles. They do not use the same batter unless you are doing it very, very wrong. Just because Bisquick says you can make waffles, pancakes, biscuits, pizza dough, and shortcake out of the same mix doesn't mean you should or that any of it would be worth eating. Waffle and pancake batter are no more interchangeable than any of the other things Bisquick claims it can make.

Waffle makers are a bit like cappuccino machines. If you want the end product, there is no substitute for the right equipment. Unfortunately, TONS of substandard devices are sold that are simply incapable of producing proper results. Most consumer cappuccino machines sold cannot physically produce the pressure necessary to make a proper cappuccino and most consumer waffle irons sold do not have anywhere close to the heat output necessary to make a proper waffle. If those are the only ones within your budget, DON'T BUY THEM. You are wasting your money and will always be disappointed with your results when using them. In the long term, they will sit unused, taking up space.

Guest's picture
DARA

I would not want to give up my food processor, HD mixer or microwave (I use it for everything, but defrosting). I have a broken dishwasher and would love one that works. The other items are worthy to be mentioned.

Guest's picture
Guest

Bought Calphalon 10" pan at Goodwill for $3.00, sent it back to company asking for a replacement. Got $45.00 Calphalon 10" pan and a glass lid in mail a few week later. True story

Guest's picture
scoutmaster

WOW....Thats sooooo not a honest move!!!

Guest's picture
Disgusted

True story? If so, it's a sad, unethical one.

Guest's picture
Seriously?

If they're guaranteed for life, how the heck is this remotely "dishonest"? Someone, at some point, paid full price for this pan. It's not like someone stole it out of a truck, sold it to Goodwill, and then this other person paid $3 for it and screwed over Calphalon.

Unbelievable mentality.

Guest's picture
AC

A good stock pot or slow cooker. I love slow cookers because I don't have to worry about watching the clock or worrying about timing. I can do without gadgets...pizza cutters, vegetable slicers, hand choppers, etc. They look convenient and easy to use, but really they just clutter up my drawers and are a pain to clean.

Guest's picture
Purchase Wisely

As someone who loves to cook, and lives alone, I can see both sides of this idea. There are certainly some specialty items that I can't live without - my breadmaker, since I bake a whole-grain loaf a week (requires a double rise that I don't have time to stay home to monitor); my slow cooker, since I use that about every two weeks and with my schedule I can't be home to do baked beans/chili/sauerbraten/whatever on the stove; my microwave, since I cook in large batches and reheat portions every day; my coffeemaker, since I'm picky about my coffee.

That said, I do have a lot of "stuff" in my kitchen that I could probably live without but comes in extremely handy when I want it - specific sized bakeware/springform pan, baking stone, lime squeezer (mojitos, anyone?), standing mixer (every time I use it I think "thank you!" to the person who gave it to me). I wouldn't cook nearly the variety of lovely dishes that I do if I didn't have the right tools. Fortunately, almost all the specialty stuff was given to me over the years, so I just take care of it so I don't have to replace it. I did get rid of the waffle maker, though, when I realized I'd used it once in 15 years!

Guest's picture

It's ridiculous the amount of kitchen gadgets available these days. I agree, my garlic press, my knives and my pots & pans are the most important.

I refuse to get a stand mixer though. I don't want to give up the precious counter space - and I think it's nice to get a good work-out beating and mixing things by hand!

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and love it. I don't store it on the counter though. I don't store any small appliance on the counter. I get them out and use them as needed.

Guest's picture

I definitely agree with good cookware. It directly affects your quality of living - who doesn't need food, and well prepared food, at that?

Guest's picture
Long

I also agree with having good cookware. When we first bought our house, we bought a cheap set of pots and pans. The handles would always get loose and the non-stick coating was already failing. The lower upfront expense is not worth the constant replacement cost.

I recently purchased All Clad copper core cookware. It was very expensive, but I believe with the right care, it will last us the rest of our lives.

I'm glad you brought up the skillet. I will have to invest in a good one to keep around.

Guest's picture
Guest

Guess luxury is in the eye of the USER. I absolutely LOVE my dishwasher and microwave. They get lots of use. PS . . . I also do NOT want to give up my trash compactor! In my kitchen, these appliances are all necessary and worth it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I can't think of a single kitchen item that is more useless than a garlic press.

I've been without a microwave for a couple months now and don't think I really need to replace it. One thing that I do miss, though, is that my microwave was also a toaster oven. I definitely need a toaster now.

Guest's picture
Tyler S.

Wish I would have read this before starting out fresh in the new apartment! We probably went a little too cheap on some of our cookware, and we're starting to pay the price for that now.

Guest's picture
Janine

I would personally love a kitchen aid mixer, they are expensive which is why the bf and I are splitting the cost! I agree with you on the knives though!

Guest's picture
Michele

I could not live without my KitchenAid Mixer! I make pizza dough once a week, I use it to make fresh pasta and ravioli at least a couple of times a month, I make my own sausage (yes, I have the attachments) and I use it for all kinds of baking. Oh, and my coffee maker.

Guest's picture
Fin

I need to get me a garlic press. I have to do it by hand every time, yet I still forget to buy one.

I'd have to add a good coffee machine and smoothie maker. Oh yeah!

Guest's picture
Oopon

I'm stoked that you mentioned the microwave under the Kitchen Luxeries you can live without. A few months ago I went from having a microwave to not having a microwave. The first week was kind of funny. A few times I found myself putting cold food on a plate and then going to microwave it, only to realize I didn't have a microwave anymore.

I don't miss my microwave. I don't mind waiting a few extra minutes while my food heats up. It gives me a nice break and a few extra minutes to relax while my food heats up.

Guest's picture
Mamato2

A lot depends on life stage. As a mom to two disabled little boys, I absolutely love my dishwasher and microwave. When you spend 40 - 50 hours a week running to various therapies, being able to cook up all the meals on Sunday and then reheat on the weeknights is a godsend. I also bought two sets of brand new storage containers ($5/set) at IKEA, and having all the lids for the storage containers, and having it all fit together in one cabinet, is wonderful (and makes storing all those pre-cooked meals and fixing lunches for school much easier). For one person on their own, these are probably unnecessary luxuries. And obviously, families get by without any of these things (my parents STILL don't have a dishwasher!). But, in my stage of life, they make it much, much easier to get healthy, inexpensive meals on the table in front of my family.

Guest's picture
Greg G.

Great topic!

It's interesting to me that a microwave and slow cooker would be two items on my top 5 list, but they didn't make your list. You're a superwoman if you can live without a microwave! :)

I'm with you on the chef's knife -- one good chef's knife and you're all set. I find my blender pretty handy too.

My absolute favorite kitchen appliance, however, is a non-essential espresso maker. Mmm, love that espresso.

Tara Struyk's picture

I'm with you on everything but the dishwasher. If I had to wash all those dishes, I'm not sure I'd be doing much cooking!

Guest's picture
Guest

My husband is not a cook by any means, but he is all for having good tools. So when we were married, we decided to save up all of our money and gift cards and invested in a good set of Calphalon after doing research and talking with some foodie friends. It is totally worth every penny. Not having to worry about buying pans, handles being loose, screws coming apart, etc. Yes, it is money out, but good pans will make for great results and making cooking a lot less tedious.

When I was single, I did not need a dishwasher. After our son was born, we were so glad we had it. Though there is sometimes something to be said for washing dishes by hand...sometimes it is very therapeutic for me.....

A good knife set - with a sharpening tool, is a great investment too. If you can't cut veggies easily, you won't eat them.

I could go either way with the microwave, but I decided that the toaster oven is out. It's great if you are single, but for me I grew up with a toaster and an oven and with a small family, it just didn't make sense to have both a microwave or a toaster oven.

I love my breadmaker now, and I use my 14 cup food processor all the time to make homemade pizza doughs and breads.

The waffle maker is probably the only thing I have that I 'don't need', but we enjoy waffles a lot and our local IHOP just closed and it's just nice to have that fresh waffle.

Since I've been cooking from scratch more and more, I've invested in a lot of tools over the years, but I have to choose wisely so I don't get into overkill or get something I won't use.

Happy cooking!

Guest's picture
Guest

CALPHALON. It's spelled CALPHALON.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks for the catch! It's been fixed.

Guest's picture
Guest

I coveted a set of Calphalon pans for years, and when I got married 10 years ago, we had enough items to return that I was able to purchase a very nice set. I've regretted it ever since. They do not last. Follow the instructions (avoid high heat, and obviously no metal utensils), baby them, but the non-stick coating will wear off anyway. Two of the pans from the set lost so much non-stick coating that I had to return them to Calphalon, who have long touted their "lifetime warranty." It's true that they did replace the pans...but in both cases it was with a much, much cheaper pan from a more consumer-oriented line. I would never buy from them again, and I would never recommend anyone buy from them. I am slowly replacing them with Le Creuset pans, which I believe will outlive me.

Guest's picture
HereticalM

Cast Iron pans. I can't say it often enough. Cast iron pans will out live you, you can beat to hell (AKA use metal utensils on), will hold heat better than any pan out there, don't have toxins that will kill your pet bird (unlike teflon), and with a good season on them are more non-stick than the best non-stick out there and just as easy to clean.

Guest's picture
Charles

I'm surprised that no foodies have excorciated you for conflating pressed garlic vs. minced garlic! Personally, I'm sure I couldn't tell the difference in a finished dish, and I'd be skeptical that anyone else could either, but some people draw a very definite distinction... something about oils and juices escaping, I think.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with the good cookware & knife, and I don't own/have given away most specific appliances such as sandwich maker, bread maker, espresso maker. I make my own bread & if I want espresso I go out for it. I do own a waffle maker--it's an awesome thing we use at least twice a month--I love it. I also really like my single serve coffee maker (use it every morning) and I keep a regular large drip coffee maker in the cupboard for parties.

I also agree that special re-usable storage containers are totally not needed--If I want to freeze leftovers I use a disposable tupperware that I later toss (you can never get them clean after using them anyway-they always smell of whatever was in them previously), if I want to save leftovers in the fridge for a few days I just put the food in the bowl we would later eat it in, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. To eat, just take out the bowl and microwave it and put it on the table. I do store flour, rice, sugar in sealed plastic bins but I keep them in a cupboard so they don't have to be cute, just functional. If you store them on the counter they just get dusty/dirty.

But I love my dishwasher! And my microwave! I have children & I work full time--they are huge time savers.

The microwave is awesome for quickly making mac n cheese or chicken nuggets from frozen single-serves for the kids when they get randomly hungry. It's also awesome for making baked potatoes in 6 min, warming pastries, re-heating anything, thawing frozen meat so I can cook dinner etc.

I lived without a dishwasher for years but that was before I had kids. Washing dishes all the time is a huge pain.

Guest's picture
Guest

Not having a microwave is a lifestyle choice, just like most possessions. I know you indicated you live alone, and out of the indirect impact its absence might have on your perception of healthy living I can sorta see that if your life revolved around cooking.

But for most who work outside of one's home, and whom have multiple people living in the dwelling, it's faintly ridiculous. The amount of time a microwave saves is incalculable. I don't revolve my life around 'saving time', but eschewing a microwave is like hearing you prefer to always wash clothes by hand.

Guest's picture
Ash

Since going back to work full time with two little ones and a husband to feed, I do not think I would enjoy working in the kitchen without a dishwasher. I do bulk cooking on the weekends and I'm already spending enough time there that washing every dish by hand is not a viable option for me. Our dishwasher uses less water than it does to hand wash in a single sink, and we only run it once a week so I'm not freaking out about water waste. Small items get hand-washed, usually the kids cups and plates, but overall the dishwasher has been a much appreciated investment.

As for cheap storage options at thrift stores, it's pretty hit and miss. Value Village ridiculously overcharges for plastic storage wear and most of it is pretty scratched up. [Salvation Army charges a lot less, but almost never has any.] Dollar store containers are reusable and the cost is really, really low. I do re-use glass containers from things like pickles, jams, etc. The lids are primed and spraypainted matte black, and then I use stencils on the jar to label what's inside.

I wish I had a good knife, but I console myself with a good mandolin which helps immensely when chopping several pounds of carrots, celery, potatoes, etc, at the same time.

My stock pot is a hand-me-down from a family member and it probably gets more use than every single item in my kitchen combined, with the exception of my cast iron pan. All the trimming and peelings from prepping veggies for meals get done in to the pot, which goes right on the stove to make vegetable stock for soup.

I was recently gifted some silpats and a silicone pastry sheet, both of which are used often and help make clean-up very speedy.

Oddly enough some of the things I DON'T use are my mixing bowls! I find them really bulky and useless. If I'm baking I use the large bowl from my stand mixer and that's really about it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree having a way to easily mince garlic is helpful, I'd even say essential. However, instead of a garlic press I use a microplane. It's so much easier for garlic and is a lot more versatile a tool - works as a cheese grater - really an anything-grater, zester, etc., etc. - and a good one costs no more than any one of those tools.

Guest's picture
Stabby Chic

I tend to evaluate teh containers that foods I buy are already in for potential storage use. Most of my bulk items are stored in containers that other stuff came in and I washed out for reuse.

Guest's picture

A garlic press is useless; use a good knife, instead, and get a decent cutting board. And skip the Silpat (it's nice, but butter does the same trick) and get the best exhaust fan you can. If culinary school taught me anything, it taught me it's all about the heat, baby.

Guest's picture
Megan

My luxury that has saved me a ton of time an money is a stand alone freezer. I buy frozen veggies and meat when it's on sale, managers special rolls and bread, and save a ton of money. Fish for example is cheap this time of year because of lent. I've saved on that and will eat it throughout the year. The freezer attached to the fridge is used for leftovers. I cook a double or triple batch of food and put it all in containers as single servings. Label it with masking tape, and you can eat a variety of food while only cooking twice or thrice a week.

This is good for families or couple on the go.

Guest's picture
Drew Custer

Love my Cutco knife! I've had it for 9 years and it's just like it was the day that I bought it. I do think a microwave is very useful, however. I make food in bulk sometimes, and a microwave is great for heating up those leftovers!

Guest's picture
Guest

My splurge was my Shun knife a few years ago- makes prep work fun! I also can't live w/out my Lodge dutch ovens- use them almost everyday!

Guest's picture
Guest

The best investment for me was a coffee grinder. I use it regularly not only for a mug of fresh coffee but also for making caster sugar, instant cocoa powder. Also anyone can experiment with a new marinade seasoning or any other spice mixture. We use it for homemade peanut butter preparation and it is also good for poppy seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds etc.
The only hassle is to properly clean it after use. It's a generic type, I bought it on supermarket sale (the only thing I checked is the performance/power consumption). It uses very little splace in my kitchen and I store it along with my food containers in my cupboard.

Guest's picture
Guest

We don't like the same kitchen . . . simple. I MUST have a dishwasher (I'd really like two but not enough room). I MUST have a microwave. I MUST have a trash compactor. I'd really like a recycling cabinet (again, no room). There are some products I cook with that have Brand names. For some recipes, only the brand name product will work or the food doesn't taste the same. As for your "cookware and knife," I'm not really particular with these items. If it cuts, it's an okay knife. So, we agree to disagree on what is needed in a kitchen. I do, however, agree with you on the single purpose appliances. They just take up way too much space!!!

Guest's picture

I agree with buying generic. I started to buy more store brand foods when I bought my house and money was tight. For the most part, I found the store brand to be comparable to the name brand. In some cases, I still liked the name brand more while with others, I actually enjoyed the store brand more.

I also agree with waffle makers, quesadilla makers, etc. too. They are totally overrated. You use them a few times a year and the rest of the time they just take up space.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a large family - 8 of us live here with 3 high schoolers a grade schooler and a 21 year old - we haven't had a microwave in about 4 years. I don't miss it at all. My kids sometimes get nostalgic for things like frozen burritos that only taste right in the microwave evidently. ;-) I could not live without my cast iron pans (garage sale finds) and my Bunn coffee maker, my good knives, my microplane zester, my big stainless steel pans and my BIG le creuset dutch oven. What I like but could do with out is my stand mixer and my food processor. The dishwasher is wonderful but not 100% necessary. I agree with the lady that said - depends on your life -when my kids were all at home (we have 8) and we were running every night here and there it was a necessity. And my kids would pitch a fit if I got rid of the waffle maker - you can make cinnamon rolls in it (if you need it to have multiple uses). I love reading everyone's list!