Our gleaming kitchens are filled with all manner of pressure cookers, panini makers, toaster ovens, and Bluetooth-connected cookery today. Some may feel all the switches, buttons, and settings have made the whole cooking process too complicated. For many of us, however, our varied and prolific kitchen gadgets are the only things preventing a Super Size Me–style fate.
When you’re crunched for time, luxurious-seeming kitchen gadgetry can mean the difference between making a healthy dinner at home or grabbing takeout. The first gadget that changed my home-cooking landscape was a rice cooker (this one, to be exact). For years, my homemade meals were almost entirely pasta-based—I didn’t have the mental or temporal capacity to contrive much of anything else. With the rice cooker, I could start heating the rice once I got home from the office, go for a workout, and then sauté some vegetables and meat afterward for a healthy—and quick—dinner. My repertoire of grain-based meals has noticeably expanded since the rice cooker joined my growing army of kitchen gadgets.
There’s the waffle maker—because without it, Sunday mornings are incomplete. And in the summer months from January to December, my Margaritaville Bahamas frozen concoction maker sits as the crown jewel in my kitchen, always at the ready to blend the perfect margarita or daiquiri or piña colada. (It is never too cold for a frozen beverage.) The crockpot is there for slow-cooking needs and delicious stews. For a while, a roommate had a panini maker and the world’s best toaster oven. And my food processor was terrific for making salsas and hummus before I lost it in a move.
My own collection is meager. I have friends who swear by sous vide cooking and others who own a vast array of pressure cookers. And now, the Instant Pot seems to be the culmination of years of evolution of kitchen gadgetry. While they’re reasonably priced—on Amazon, models range in price from $79–$159—their real value is in time savings: The device lets you cook an eight-hour crockpot dinner in the time it takes to binge a couple reruns of Parks and Recreation. “You can cook frozen meat in it and have a meal ready and on the table in 30 minutes,” according to the blog the Holy Mess. Every newlywed I know is getting one.
And then there are all the connected kitchen appliances: water kettles, toasters, refrigerators, ovens, stovetops. When Bluetooth-connected versions of these staples started cropping up, I wrote them off as absurd, unnecessary, and overpriced. But their value—if they’re done right—is in how they can save you time and stress. At Thanksgiving this year, a connected meat thermometer allowed our resident turkey chef to monitor the bird’s progress without having to constantly pull open the oven. For a while, I used a smart travel mug to keep my morning caffeine warm at my desk during meetings and deadline-fueled writing marathons.
Our lives are complicated. Our attention is constantly being pulled a dozen different places at once, and there are always three things you should be doing instead of whatever you are doing at a given time. But modern kitchen inventions make it possible to spend a little—and sometimes a lot—less time in the kitchen when you could be helping a child with homework, playing with a pet, or getting a little more work done. Most items don’t cost an arm and a leg. And they often make a task that’s grown tiresome and repetitive feel fun and new again—Instant Pots, in particular, have a learning curve.
As we look toward the holidays and their abundant consumerism, I implore you to look at the frivolity of modern kitchen tech in a new light. These products may seem unnecessary because so many focus on cooking one specific type of dish—you could fill your kitchen with cake-pop makers, breakfast-sandwich makers, and Magic Bullets. But it’s not frivolous if you make post-workout smoothies, love a homemade Egg McMuffin, or are constantly making treats for kids’ parties. And even if it is on the exorbitant side, like my margarita maker. Buying that glorified blender isn’t going to change the world, but it will save you time and peace of mind knowing that you are making the world’s most perfect frozen beverage every time. And you can take joy and satisfaction in that—whatever your guilty-pleasure cooking gadget may be.