11 Small Kitchen Appliances You Don't Really Need
How many devices in your kitchen are just taking up space? A specialty appliance may seem like a functional purchase, but most are novelty items that accomplish only one job -- and many times complicate the task by adding additional steps and making cleanup more of a hassle. Most of the gadgets on this list can be replaced by basic pots and pans already in any home kitchen.
Your kitchen already has a built-in bread-making machine -- it's called an oven. Baking homemade bread from scratch is easily accomplished without a bread maker. Try a quick bread or the now-famous no-knead bread recipe from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. There's a reason why it's one of The New York Times' most popular recipes of all time. The ingredients are basic, the technique is simple, and the result doesn't require a pricey, specialized machine the size of a small child. Producing the perfect loaf comes with practice, not equipment.
It's not even worth doing the math to find out how much popcorn you'd have to eat for this appliance to be cost-effective. Instead of taking up valuable cupboard space with this single-purpose appliance, throw a bag of Jiffy Pop on the stove or reap the money-saving benefits of popping raw kernels. The popular food blog Simply Recipes offers an easy guide to kernel-popping using only a saucepan, while Alton Brown's technique calls for just a metal mixing bowl, aluminum foil, and tongs. To really impress movie-night companions, jazz up the popcorn with spices already in the cabinet such as paprika, curry powder, or an Italian spice blend. With all these options, who needs a popcorn machine?
If you're rolling out pounds of fresh pasta each night, consider investing in a pasta maker. But for the majority of home cooks, who aren't running an Italian restaurant from their kitchens, a pasta machine isn't worth the money. It takes some work to use and it's a pain to clean, so it probably won't be pulled from the closet all that much. Dry noodles are pretty inexpensive as it is, so a pasta machine isn't a major money saver. It is true that fresh noodles made from scratch are a pleasure to eat and really take a dish to the next level, but Italian grandmothers have been making fresh pasta for decades without machines. You, too, can do so with recipes such as one from Epicurious that calls for just two ingredients: semolina flour and water.
A deep fryer might sound like a fun purchase when there are visions of onion rings and funnel cake dancing in your head. But this is an appliance that definitely won't see enough use to justify its size, cost, and labor. All your deep-frying needs can be easily achieved with a heavy-duty medium or large pot (or even a wok) plus a thermometer. Serious Eats offers deep-frying instructions so you can be a pro without the machine.
This is the most controversial item on the list, as far as its usefulness in the kitchen. Smoothie addicts will insist that a blender is as essential to a well-equipped kitchen as the stove or the sink. True, if you're blending shakes for the whole family or party-sized margaritas on a regular basis, a blender might be a smart investment. However, most puréeing can be accomplished with a food processor (think pesto, nut butters, and dips such as hummus). The occasional soup or sauce can be made velvety smooth courtesy of an immersion blender, also called a stick blender. An immersion blender is far cheaper, smaller (it fits in a drawer), and easier to clean than a countertop blender.
A prime example of a useless kitchen gadget that occupies precious space on a kitchen counter, an electric can opener doesn't save money or make food taste better. If it breaks, it's a hassle and an extra cost to repair or replace. Unless you have arthritis or another debilitating condition that necessitates an electric can opener, stick to the manual version.
Making homemade baby food has a number of advantages: It's generally cheaper and healthier, and you can be confident about what's going into your baby's mouth. But a new parent doesn't need another single-purpose appliance taking up counter space and requiring special parts, cleaning, and repairs. A regular food processor is up to the task of pulverizing vegetables and fruit for the baby's meals, so ditch the idea of a dedicated baby food maker. The child won't know the difference.
This is the quintessential useless kitchen appliance, whether it's a retro fondue set from a local vintage store or a $180 version from Williams-Sonoma. It may sound fun to serve fondue, but consider the cost and the amount of space it will occupy in the kitchen cupboard (or, more likely, the basement or garage). This is a novelty item that will probably be used once or not at all. If you're nostalgic for vintage kitchenware, invest in a good cast-iron pan instead.
Making hard-boiled or soft-boiled eggs requires little more than a pot and the ability to boil water for a specific amount of time. Other egg tasks such as scrambling, poaching, or omelet-making can be done in various sized sauté pans. If it's too daunting to cook eggs on a stovetop, opt for a microwave. Good Housekeeping explains how to make poached, sunny side up, scrambled, and hard-boiled eggs in the microwave.
This appliance rates slightly higher than others on this list because it does produce a result that can't be accomplished with plain old pots and pans. Making carbonated drinks at home could be a fun project to try. Yet, given the cost and storage requirements of a soda maker, and the fact that it performs just one function, this can't reasonably be called an essential kitchen appliance. Store-bought carbonated drinks are relatively inexpensive, and what are the chances that you'll improve on the formula for Coca-Cola in your home kitchen? If you consume a lot of seltzer on a weekly basis, consider a hand-held carbonated soda maker, which is easily stored and a fraction of the cost of a countertop soda maker.
Toss a tortilla onto a lightly greased pan, add cheese and other toppings plus another tortilla, and flip after a few minutes. That's all it takes to make a quesadilla -- crispy on the outside with a gooey, melty inside. There's no need for specialized equipment, just a sauté pan and a spatula. After using a quesadilla press a few times and scraping bits of dried cheese from its crevices, you'll acknowledge that it performs the same function as a pan. It's sure to spend the rest of its life collecting dust in the garage with other single-purpose novelty appliances.