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If you’ve spent much time perusing the kitchen section at IKEA or any other big box store, you’re all-too-familiar with how many different — and highly specific — kitchen gadgets exist. Do you really need a “smart” can opener? Or a special slicer specifically for… bananas? Of course you don’t, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of surprisingly useful kitchen gadgets out there.
If you’re curious which ones are actually worth taking up precious space on your kitchen countertop or in your cabinets and drawers, we’ve pulled together 20 of our favorite surprisingly useful tools to keep around. And the best part? They’re all under $20.
A garlic twist
Price:$18 Peeling and chopping garlic is one of those subtly tedious things that can slow you down mid meal-prep (and stink up your fingers), which is where this nifty tool comes in. It’s essentially a spice grinder, but for garlic. Just toss in a couple unpeeled cloves and twist, and it’ll mince it up in moments. Plus, it also works for other annoying-to-cut ingredients like shallots and ginger.
A basic rice cooker
Price:$20 If you’ve never used a proper rice cooker, you’ve never known the joys of being able to perfectly cook a whole batch of it without doing a single thing. This simple machine uses a clever mechanism to cook rice to the perfect fluffiness, then automatically shuts itself off when it’s finished.
A julienne peeler
Price:$16 Slivering vegetables into thin strips — a technique known as julienning — is a simple way to elevate the look and texture of your salads and side dishes, and this special blade makes it exceptionally easy to pull it off.
An electric kettle
Price: $17 Sure, you could boil water the old-school way in a stove-top kettle, but if you’re looking for a speedier way to get tea-ready H2O you’d be wise to invest in an electric version like this one, which can heat water much, much faster.
A fish spatula
Price:$9 Whether you’re whipping up pieces of delicate or flaky fish, making an omelet, or otherwise need to maneuver fragile food carefully, a super-thin and flexible slotted fish spatula gives you more control than a traditional hard-edged version can.
A garlic press
Price: $17 Like the garlic twist above, this press makes it simple to crush full cloves of garlic directly into a recipe, though it’s also great for other pungent and tough-to-mince ingredients like ginger, capers, anchovies, tiny peppers, and more.
Price:$13 A traditional cheese grater works just fine, but they can be bulky — and annoying to clean. A microplane, on the other hand, takes up less space, performs the same task (grating cheese, spices, citrus rind, etc.), and is much easier to rinse and clean afterwards.
Baking mats (2-pack)
Price:$14 Since they’re totally non-stick, baking mats are essential countertop prep stations when you’re making clingy doughs and breads, and otherwise messy recipes. And when you place them atop a baking sheet they’ll also keep you from burning the bottom of baked goods, veggies, and more in the oven, thanks to their special heat-dispersing surface.
An avocado slicer
Price:$10 Avocado slicing-related injuries are responsible for more hospital visits than you’d believe (just as any ER doctor), which is why you owe it to yourself to invest in a safe tool to get the most out of the delicious fruit. This three-in-one gizmo features a dulled plastic blade just sharp enough to cut through an avocado’s skin, a special pit-removing grip, and even a special section that’ll let you slice and scoop out each half in one swift motion.
A cast iron grill pan
Price:$19 We’re big believers in the fact that a solid cast-iron pan is the one truly necessary piece of cookware in any kitchen, since they can turn out everything from perfectly grilled steaks to gloriously fluffy eggs — and they’re crazy durable as long as you treat them right. Lodge Manufacturing has been making some of the best versions out there for generations, and this particular model is available for a cool $19. Not bad for something that’ll last you a lifetime.
A clip-on strainer
Price:$15 When you’re trying to do 10 things at once to get a meal ready, even a few seconds of spared time can make a difference. That’s where this clip-on strainer steps in by seamlessly snapping onto any size pot or bowl and letting you drain out liquid without having to remove whatever pasta, vegetable, or other ingredient is in there.
An instant read thermometer
Price:$16 Spare yourself the agony of slicing into a big piece meat you thought was finished only to realize it needs a solid 20 minutes more in the oven (or worse, is way overcooked) by investing in a solid instant-read thermometer. This one will give you what you need to know in seconds, unlike traditional dial-face thermometers that can be tough to read and take a while to adjust.
A meat tenderizer
Price:$11 Loosening up the muscle fibers in a cheap piece of meat can do wonders to elevate its texture and flavor, and a meat tenderizer like this makes it easy. It features both a flat and texturized side, so you can easily flatten chicken breasts and pork chops, or tenderize typically tougher cuts of beef like London Broil or hangar steaks. Plus, it’s also a great tool to have in your arsenal when you need to smash things like ice, potatoes, or spices.
Artisanal ice molds
Price:$14 The key to a perfect cocktail is as much about the quality of the booze you use as it is the ice you put in it. To that end, keeping some fresh cocktail-caliber cubes at the ready is a wise move, and these large square and sphere molds from Ticent are just what you need to do it.
A stainless steel chopper
Price: $17 Spare yourself the trouble of tedious veggie chopping and dicing by using one of these setups, which functions a bit like a manually powered food processor. Just place it over whatever you want chopped, forcefully push the down repeatedly, and a twisting blade will do all the work for you in a matter of seconds.
A cheese knife
Price:$14 A traditional knife can quickly make a mess of pricey cheese, but this unique blade makes a shockingly quick and clean slice through any of them. Its patented drafted edge is engineered in such a way that it cuts straight through both hard and soft varieties without clinging to anything or getting gunked up, so you can rest assured your charcuterie spread will look as good as it tastes.
A mesh sieve
Price:$16 Whether you need to rinse rice or quinoa before cooking (which, by the way, you should), sift flour for baking, strain pulp and seeds from fresh fruit juice, or wash anything else that would likely slip through a traditional strainer, a sturdy mesh sieve is the tool to use.
Silicone brushes (set of 2)
Price:$7 A must-have for any grilling or roasting enthusiast, silicone brushes are the best way to baste meat and veggies with marinades, oils, and other flavorful liquids while they’re over the coals or in the oven. Plus, they make it incredibly easy to brush on an egg wash when you’re baking,
A veggie spiralizer
Price: $10 Although we take issue with the term “zoodles,” there’s no denying that spiralized veggie “noodles” have become a mainstay for folks trying to cut down on carbs. Whether you throw them in salads, or sub them in for actual pasta, zucchinis, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and more take well to being spiralized, and this small handheld device makes it easy.
A misto sprayer
Price:$8 A spray is a super convenient way to spritz your salads, veggies, or meat with flavor without overdoing it, and this convenient re-usable non-aersol system lets you do it with any liquid of your choice. Just fill it up with any oil, vinegar, wine, salad dressing, fruit juice, or any custom combination thereof, pump it 10-15 times, and spritz to your heart’s content.
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