How to choose countertop kitchen appliances for your budget and space


We often hear from readers looking for suggestions on what appliances and equipment they should have in their kitchens. Of course, we have our opinions, shaped in large part by our own needs and experiences. Ultimately though, what works for me won’t always work for you.

There are a lot of considerations to take into account. How much money do you want to spend? How much space do you have? What kind of cooking do you want to be able to do?

To help you answer these questions, I’ve come up with a few things to ask yourself when choosing among some common combinations, especially when resources or shelf space are limited. They are blenders and food processors; hand mixers and stand mixers; and slow cookers and multicookers, i.e. Instant Pots. (If you want to know about cast iron vs. nonstick pans, read up here!) You may want or need both items, or neither. As I said, the decision is entirely yours.

6 kitchen appliance setups you should be using in your oven, Instant Pot, microwave and more

Blender vs food processor

On the surface, these two kitchen mainstays appear to have a lot in common. They break down or puree food. They both use a blade. ask yourself:

I want to make frozen drinks? If you like smoothies, frozen cocktails and shakes, a blender is the way to go. Manufacturers generally do not recommend breaking ice in a food processor.

What if I want something to help me bake? While stand mixers get a lot of attention, food processors are unsung heroes in baking. A food processor can make pie crusts and cookie dough. It can knead bread or pizza dough. It also makes a creamy, stable whipped cream.

Which makes a great soup? For simple pureed soups, either appliance will work just fine. Due to its faster speed, a blender will generally give you smoother results with fewer spots. A high-powered blender, like the Vitamix, is great for turning even the toughest ingredients (fibrous vegetables, nuts, beans, etc.) into silk in no time, with no extra straining required. However, a food processor can help you even more in the early stages of preparation, as you can use the pulse function with the blade to chop or slice vegetables.

Which one takes up less space? This is a bit of a wash. Unless you have a lot of space under your cabinets or tall shelves, you’ll probably store both types of appliances in two pieces: the base and the jar/bowl.

Which one costs less? It really depends. If I had to make a sweeping generalization, I’d say that blenders are typically less expensive than food processors, with the exception of high-end models. If you don’t have the space or money to invest in full-size models of both, especially if you’re a household of one or two, you might consider pairing a good blender with a mini food processor or full-size food processor. with an immersion (stick) blender.

Hand mixer vs stand mixer

Despite their very different shapes and sizes, these baking tools can actually accomplish many of the same things, just not always and certainly not at the same price. ask yourself:

I want something to make bread? With very few exceptions, you cannot knead bread dough with a hand mixer. They just aren’t powerful enough. That’s not to say you can’t knead bread dough if you don’t have a stand mixer; you can knead on the counter, in a food processor, in a bowl with periodic folds, or no knead (i.e. no-knead breads). But if you want a mixer that will do it for you, the base is the way to go.

What can I use to make cakes and cookies? The good news is that much of your daily baking can be done in any type of mixer. Doughs for cakes and quick breads, including muffins and loaves, are no problem. You can cream butter and sugar in both, for cakes or cookies. If you’re making cookie dough that’s particularly dense or loaded with add-ins (chips, nuts, etc.), you may need to switch to hand-stirring with a flexible spatula or wooden spoon toward the end to avoid overcrowding. hand blender. I like to do a final batter by hand anyway, even with a stand mixer, to make sure all the ingredients from the bottom and sides of the bowl are well incorporated.

6 tips for baking a better batch of cookies, every time

Do I have physical or mobility limitations? A hand mixer reduces the amount of manual work you have to do, but still requires holding the appliance over the bowl and moving it around. That can be a challenge if you have arthritis or other conditions, so if you really need a hands-off option, go for the stand mixer. Keep in mind that a stand mixer is very heavy, so consider your counter space if you don’t think you can easily relocate it every time you need it.

Which one takes up less space? Hand mixer, hands down.

Which one costs less? Again, hand mixer, by a long shot. If you’re hoping to get a stand mixer for less, start looking at prices during the holiday season, particularly around Black Friday/Cyber ​​Monday. In recent years, I’ve noticed great sale prices on KitchenAid mixers at Target, and Costco often offers them at a discount as well. Another option: Refurbished. You can buy refurbished KitchenAid mixers through the company itself or from other retailers.

Read more: Don’t underestimate your hand mixer. Here’s how to put it to work for you. | How to knead bread dough without a stand mixer

Slow Cooker vs. Multi-Cooker (ie Instant Pot)

While electronic multicookers, particularly the Instant Pot, have gained a passionate following in recent years, pressure cookers and slow cookers have been around for generations. Both have improved over the years and now have some overlapping features, but not total. ask yourself:

Do I want to cook fast or slow? Pressure cooking, the most popular multicooker feature, speeds up cooking by creating a sealed environment where water boils at 250 degrees instead of 212 degrees. This helps put dinner on the table in a flash, ideal for people who are short on time or planning. Slow cookers go in the opposite direction, operating at lower temperatures for long, leisurely recipes that can stretch overnight or from before to after work. If you prefer slow cooking, don’t assume you can rely on that feature in a multicooker. Most multicookers have a heating element at the bottom of the base, while some slow cookers also include a band around the sides. That, and the fact that multicookers have less surface area than a typical slow cooker, can cause food to cook unevenly when using the slow cook feature on a multicooker. The Instant Pot, in particular, has a reputation for getting hot on the slow cook setting.

What kind of dishes do I want to make? You can cook many of the same types of food in slow cookers and multicookers: meat, beans, oatmeal, broth, soups, and stews. The differences are how you get there and the ingredients you might use. Due to their shape, slow cookers can accommodate large, tough cuts of meat, cooking them for many hours until perfectly tender. A multicooker can also tenderize tougher meat, though it may need to be cut into smaller pieces to fit. Due to the sealed environment and shorter cooking time, you generally need less liquid in pressure cooking, or else you risk making dishes that are soggy and tasteless. Pressure cooking is great for reducing cooking time for ingredients like firm vegetables, beans, and grains, while it can wreak havoc on more delicate ones like seafood, quick or rolled oats, and dairy. Decide what type of dishes you are most likely to use your appliance for and let that guide you in your choice.

How many features do I need? Multicookers offer a variety of possibilities. Beyond pressure cooking and slow cooking, you can get functions for yogurt, rice, steam, sauté, and sous-vide. Some slow cookers have settings for steaming and yogurt making, but these are mostly single-use appliances that allow you to choose a heat level and time. Sautéing is also not a standard feature.

Which one takes up less space? Slow cookers tend to have a larger footprint, with their elongated oval shape, while multicookers are tall and narrow. Still, the difference is not enough to give one a clear advantage over the other. Evaluate your cabinets and counter space, and decide where a slow cooker or multicooker would fit best.

Which one costs less? As with size, there’s no clear winner here, which means you’d base your decision largely on your cooking style and what you plan to do. For less than $100, you can buy a good-performing model of any type of appliance, although more upgraded options can be priced at $150 or more.

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