The Best Cooking and Baking Tools Under $50
Upgrading your kitchen can be expensive and overwhelming. There’s so much out there that you could buy, but more importantly, there’s so much out there that you don’t need. With our equipment reviews and recommendations, we do our best to sort through the clutter, so you can outfit your kitchen with cookware you can rely on. Our job isn’t just to identify the right tools that’ll help you cook better, but also to identify the best of those tools.
I’ve put together a pretty sizable list of cookware—all of it under $50 and all of it vetted by the culinary team—with the goal of helping you outfit your kitchen so it’s primed for successful culinary adventures. Grab ’em all or start slow. In good time, your kitchen may start to look just like ours. (The office test kitchen…not my personal one, which admittedly still needs some work).
For Better, Faster Prep
Say goodbye to sad, watery salad with a salad spinner, like this one by Zyliss, which took home the gold in our review. Sure, some may consider it to be a hulking unitasker, but we disagree. Not only is a salad spinner the only way to efficiently fling water off your leafy greens and herbs (using centrifugal force!), it can also be a great stand-in colander. Rinse your greens right in there and then take them on a spin. Once they’re all clean and dry, they’ll be ready for any salad dressing recipe in your arsenal.
If you look in your spice cabinet right now, I bet there are quite a few expired spice bottles in there. And when they’re that old, spices just don’t work as they should. Instead of a bright, pungent garam masala, you’ve got a mouthful of lifeless dust. This is why we recommend using a spice grinder. Grinding whole spices when you need them ensures you get the best flavor. It’s what you do with your pepper, right? So why not grind up the rest of ’em? We reviewed a wide range of spice grinders out there and picked two that are easy to use and easy to clean. Pick one up, and then do yourself a favor and toss out any spices in your cabinet that you can’t remember buying.
The other day I tried to open a bag of frozen peas with a bread knife and cut myself. This is why everyone should own kitchen shears. (To be fair, I do own a pair of shears. I just didn’t use them, and I deserve what happened to me.) But kitchen shears don’t just open bags of peas; they can also cut parchment paper, spatchcock a chicken—for which you could also use poultry shears—snip herbs, and even break down all those boxes in your kitchen. (Like the box your new shears will come in.)
We reviewed the best shears on the market and, sadly, our top pick has been discontinued. The good news is our runner-up works just as well, just with fewer bells and whistles (like a nutcracker or bottle opener). And should you want to pick up a pair of poultry shears, too, we love these super-sharp affordable ones from OXO. And repeat after me: Don’t use a bread knife to open anything…ever.
We’ve written a lot about why honing your knives is important. The main takeaway is this: Honing your knife is like adding a fresh coat of gel to a floppy mohawk. (Thank you, Daniel, for the mohawk imagery. It’s perfect.) A few swipes on the honing steel and the edge of your blade will be straighter and thinner, ready to powerfully slice through anything.
There are several different types of honing steels, but if you find yourself feeling lazy about sharpening your knives, go for a ceramic honing steel, which can have a slight sharpening effect while also straightening out that microscopic knife mohawk.
There’s no point in getting a nice honing steel if you don’t have any knives. Finding the right knives can be extremely difficult. The good news is that, with enough trial and error, we’ve settled on a few favorite chef’s knives (both Western- and Japanese-style) in a range of prices to suit any budding or experienced cook. The one that lands squarely in this under-$50 category is Mercer Culinary Genesis Chef’s Knife. This guy comes nice and sharp out of the box, its price is just right, and it has a rubber and plastic grippy handle that’s easy to wield.
While Japanese knives can be on the more expensive side, we’ve found a santoku (a classic Japanese workhorse knife) that is also pretty affordable. This one is also by Mercer Culinary. It’s sharp, versatile, and affordable enough that you can lend it to someone who you wouldn’t trust with a fancier knife.
There are a lot of reasons to pick up a wooden cutting board. Aside from the fact that they’re pretty lovely to behold, the material is gentle on your knives and difficult for bacteria penetrate (unlike glass or marble ones). Unfortunately, a lot of wooden cutting boards are expensive, though Kenji doesn’t mind this one, which comes in at under $50. Just make sure you take the time to season and maintain it.
For a little less maintenance, you can always pick up a plastic cutting board, which won’t damage your blade too much. Just don’t expect it to last forever; they can get dinged up from heavy cutting or butchering jobs. I use our recommended one from OXO—and I relish being able to toss it into the dishwasher without a second thought.
When you’re looking to cook or bake with real precision, we generally recommend a scale, but that doesn’t mean you should shun dry measuring cups forever. They can be useful if you need a cup here or there of diced onions or half a cup of rice—especially when precision isn’t absolutely necessary. There are also plenty of recipes out there—not from us, of course—that only have cup measurements, so having a good set on hand is still important. The winning set in our review of the best measuring cups is by NorPro. They’re shovel-shaped, ideal for scraping flour and sugar out of a canister. They also have easy-to-grip rubber handles for maneuvering quickly.
For measuring liquid ingredients, dry measuring cups can be pretty inaccurate, since you’ll need to fill them to the very brim. This is why we prefer liquid measuring cups. The most precise liquid measuring cups (and the easiest to read) are these glass ones from Anchor Hocking. But if you’re worried about breaking them, the plastic measuring cups from OXO are our runner-up pick and a lot more durable. No one ever really cries over spilled milk, but spilled milk from a shattered measuring cup is pretty miserable.
A scale! This is probably the one tool that changed the way I cook and bake the most. Since receiving one in culinary school, I rarely go for volume measurements anymore. It’s definitely an essential for any new kitchen. I’ve been using the OXO kitchen pull-out scale since long before we produced an actual equipment review for it. But I was happy to find that my chosen scale is also a Serious Eats favorite, with consistent accuracy and a long battery life.
You don’t need to spend a ton of money on fancy glass or ceramic mixing bowls. (You could and they’re so pretty!) But aesthetics aside, a good set of stainless steel mixing bowls will do wonders for your kitchen, whether you need to set up your mise en place, throw together a big bowl of brownies, mix dough for trapizzino, or make a DIY double-boiler. This set has six bowls—all of which are easy to clean (throw them in the dishwasher!) and easy to store (they nest!).
In my first (and only) professional kitchen job, I had to spend hours slicing potatoes, carrots, and parsnips to make this elaborate gratin in the shape of a rose. I thanked my stars every day that I was given a mandoline to complete the project. It created perfectly thin, uniform slices, no matter how oddly shaped those veggies and tubers got. If I had to do the same with a knife, I definitely would’ve had a meltdown, cut myself, or gotten fired.
But mandolines aren’t just for professional kitchens. They make creating uniform slices at home, whether you’re frying potato chips or roasting a gorgeous hasselback potato gratin, simple. We reviewed the best inexpensive mandolines and this V-blade slicer from OXO beat out the competition, with four thickness settings and a fold-down stand for slicing over a cutting board or a bowl. One thing they won’t tell you in a professional kitchen is to use the safety guard. But you should because a sliced finger is not cute, no matter how uniform the cut.
Whether you plan on cooking with wine or just drinking it, your first task is always to open the bottle successfully. Little bits of cork floating around in there don’t make it taste any better. This is why you need a reliable corkscrew. We reviewed a whole mix of wine-openers and found this lever model to be easy to use and handsome enough to live right on your bar cart. Of all the types of corkscrews we tested, it opened bottles the quickest, which is useful because when I want a glass of wine, I want it as soon as humanly possible.
For Cooking and Baking
Maybe a wok isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of essential cookware, but woks are surprisingly versatile. You can deep-fry, steam, and stir-fry in them. Sure, they take a little maintenance, but so does your cast iron pan. And you love that thing, right? There are many woks out there made from a variety of materials, but we prefer this heavy-gauge carbon steel model from Joyce Chen. At just under $35, it’s a steal for such a useful piece of cookware.
Stock pots are useful for everything from making stock (obviously) to serving a crowd at a lobster boil. Unfortunately, these big pots can get really expensive, and for something you may not use too often, that price tag just doesn’t seem worth it. Luckily, our favorite budget pick from our review of the best stock pots is just under $34. It has rubber handles that’ll keep you from burning your hands and it boils water just as quickly as some of its far more expensive competitors. Insert joke on stocking up on this stock pot here.
Instant-read thermometers are crucial for cooking confidently. We wrote a whole post about why you need a thermometer. For me, it’s all about reliability. When I take the temperature of a roast chicken, I can know firmly that it won’t poison me or my boyfriend. (I assume poisoning a loved one is a paranoia that many people have.) While we recommend the Thermapen quite often, the ThermoPop offers similar reliability and accuracy with a much better price tag (as does the Lavatools Javelin).
Both of these were winners in our review of the most affordable digital thermometers. I think they make great wedding gifts for budding cooks and are wonderful stocking stuffers.
You should own an immersion blender. The other day I was making chocolate pudding, and it was coming out pretty lumpy. The lumps were my fault, of course. Instead of panicking, I asked Daniel what to do. “Use an immersion blender,” he said. And I did. As soon as I did a few blitzes, all those corn starch clumps disappeared, leaving a super-creamy, luscious pudding behind. The moral of this story is an immersion blender can save you in a clumpy pinch. It can also whirl together a pretty good homemade mayo, blend an excellent smoothie, and purée creamy broccoli-cheddar soup.
We did test quite a few immersion blenders, and while the All-Clad version reigned supreme, the Hamilton Beach one—at just $31 (a third of the price of the All-Clad)—did a helluva job. Should you run into my same pudding fiasco, it will definitely serve you well.
Keeping a cast iron pan in your kitchen can require a little maintenance, but it’s well worth it. A 12-inch skillet is useful for all manner of sweet and savory recipes, whether you’re looking to sear the perfect steak, throw together a comforting pasta dish, or bake a rich, chocolaty cake. I have made said cake several times for dinner and birthday parties, and it’s always a hit. Plus, carrying the skillet to the party location is a good little workout.
We have quite a few angel food cake recipes on the site, like this one with maple sugar and this gluten-free one. If you want to make them (and make them well), use this aluminum tube pan. While you might be tempted to buy a nonstick pan for this bake, don’t! It won’t offer enough traction for your batter to climb and rise properly.
Along with being affordable, this aluminum pan has a removable bottom, so you can simply remove the cake when it’s cool. It makes baking cakes like this one even more effortless.
Stella raves about this brownie pan in her essential baking tools post. Why? Well, it’s anodized aluminum (meaning it’s nonreactive), so when you’re making something acidic like lemon bars, you won’t need to worry about them picking up a gross metallic flavor. It also has a removable bottom, so you can easily extract all sorts of delicate desserts, whether you’re doing for glossy fudge brownies or hot cross buns.
You may recognize this brand as the one that also makes Stella’s favorite cake pans. In Fat Daddio’s we trust for our baking needs.
It’s common knowledge at Serious Eats that inexpensive skillets can often work as well as fancy ones, and this one by Cooks Standard is no exception. With a wide cooking surface, it offers plenty of space to sauté vegetables or sear a piece of meat. While it doesn’t have a warranty, like many other more expensive pans, at under $35 it’s a pretty safe bet.
In our review of the best baking dishes (or casserole dishes), we found the glass model by Anchor Hocking to be a reliable and affordable purchase. The large handles make it simple to transport the pan from the oven to the table; the tall sides are ideal for thicker bars or a many-layered lasagna; and it’s nice and lightweight. Just know you can’t use it under the broiler because it may crack or shatter.
There are many uses for fine-mesh strainers, from dusting powdered sugar over a cake to poaching eggs and sifting flour. You can use it to steam vegetables; even to make your own cheese. This set of three will serve you well in all sorts of cooking and baking projects.
One thing I learned in culinary school is that there is absolutely no comparison between pre-cracked pepper in that little metal container and freshly cracked pepper from a pepper mill. I guess if I had to describe each of them, respectively, I’d go with something like “sawdust” versus “rich, vibrant, floral, warm seasoning.” Which one would you want to use?
We reviewed the best pepper mills on the market and Fletcher’s pepper mill took home top marks. It not only made the finest powder of all the mills, but it also was the most efficient mill we tested (meaning fewer grinds produced a higher yield). The fact that it also looks great on a table was not lost on any of us.
And while this model is certainly more expensive than that tin of pepper from the supermarket, it’ll pull its weight, helping you to make flavorful and balanced pasta alla gricia, cacio e pepe, and anything else that requires a few good cracks of pepper.
Daniel wrote at length about why every kitchen needs a salt pig. In short, you need an easy-to-access container with a nice large opening so that you can get a nice pinch of salt whenever you need it.
Sure, this one from Emile Henry is a bit on the expensive side. You can always store your salt in a pint container or ninth pan. But for a little extra money, this salt pig looks great on the counter—and serves as a reminder that you should be seasoning everything you make throughout the cooking process. Pro tip: It also makes a great gift for someone who is already fully stocked on knives and fancy cookware.
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