These tools can elevate your cooking game.David Priest/CNET
The coronavirus pandemic has us all making more food than ever in our own kitchens. For cooking enthusiasts, that may feel like a treat. But for the rest of us, cooking can quickly become another on the long list of daily chores. And if the food you're making isn't exciting, that just makes the whole exercise feel even more frustrating.
Luckily, a few kitchen tools can change how the meals you're already preparing look and taste -- and they don't have to destroy your bank account. Here are six tools that can seriously elevate the quality and aesthetic of the food coming out of your kitchen.
The single best investment in my kitchen over the past four years has been a mandoline. Essentially, it's an adjustable slicer for fruits and veggies, and it makes preparing salads a breeze. All the intricate slicing you normally have to do for good salads is so much easier with a mandoline, and prepping veggies for pickling is just as easy. Not only does this make everything you slice look uniform and beautiful, it also gives you fantastic opportunities to punch up textures in your typical dishes.
If you cook steak with any regularity, you probably already have a cast-iron skillet. But those skillets are just as helpful for making all kinds of meat, from chicken to octopus. One of my favorite recipes I've been honing over the years is an octopus-lime bagna cauda -- and well-seared baby octopus is one of the most important components. When it's too cold, or I'm too lazy, to use the grill, my cast-iron skillet is perfect for searing those tiny tentacles.
A good chef knife isn't cheap, but it's an investment that'll last you years. The problem is, many of us settle for mediocre knives because our old ones get dull and we don't want to shell out for a $150 knife every couple of years. The tool that helps you keep your knife as well-performing as possible is a sharpener. You can pick up a sharpener that works decently well for as little as $6 on Amazon.
One of the biggest roadblocks to preparing complex dishes is the prep. If you have to mince, dice or roughly chop a half dozen ingredients, having a spacious cutting board makes a world of difference. Yes, you can pick up small, plastic cutting boards for crazy cheap on clearance at T.J. Maxx, but it's a better investment to just spring the $20 for a board that's at least in the range of 18 inches by 14 inches. You'll immediately be grateful when you can keep three separate piles of herbs on it, plus chop carrots without the slices rolling onto the floor.
If you really want to get into baking high-quality breads or desserts, a kitchen scale is a must-buy. You can get one for a little over 10 bucks on Amazon, and it will make your recipes so much more precise. As the saying goes, cooking is an art and baking is a science. Science depends on math, and good math starts with accurate measurements.
Five degrees can separate a good steak from a perfect one, and unless you're a seasoned chef, cooking by eye isn't a reliable way to get those perfect results. Especially if you're experimenting with different meats, a meat thermometer will be one of the most-used tools in your drawers. Three years after buying my first one, I honestly don't know how I attempted to cook meat without it.
More cooking coverage at CNETGet a smart kitchen without buying new appliancesThe best blenders of 2020
The best electric kettles for 2020
The best rubs you can buy for grilled steak, chicken, pork and fish
The best direct-to-consumer kitchen knives in 2020: Made In, Material, Brigade, Aura and moreThe best toaster oven is the one you'll hate the least
Forget smart fridges, the smart kitchen needs a brainBest air fryer of 2020: Ninja, Philips, Cosori, Dash and more7 tips for using an air fryer
The best meal kit delivery services of 2020The best food processors of 2020: Braun, Cuisinart and more comparedHow to use your Instant Pot: Everything you've wanted to know
The best Instant Pots of 2020Best Dutch oven in 2020
The best fresh seafood to buy online for 2020Best waffle maker of 2020