After spending years in restaurant kitchens, it never ceases to surprise me which unnecessary cooking gadgets home cooks are enamored with. Meanwhile some of the tools that I could never live without but are rarely seen in homes.

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So many gadgets, so little need

Hot dog toasters, tortilla makers, slow cookers, panini presses, and herb snippers. Avacado knives and pineapple cutters and apple slicers and strawberry hullers and grapefruit sectioners. There are crazy, decorative, single-use gadgets for every food under the sun. And yet 9 times out of 10, the effort of finding storage space and cleaning the gadget are way more than the supposed “convenience” is worth. A few versatile and good quality items are all you need to cook like a real chef.

1. A really good knife

It may seem strange, but the shape of food has a big impact on the taste. Uniformly cut vegetables will cook more evenly and smaller pieces can be better distributed throughout a dish. Besides that, sharper knives are actually much safer because they will not slip and cut you instead of your food. And chili with no thumb in it is definitely better than chili with a thumb in it, wouldn’t you agree? Pro tip: Learn to keep it sharp, and it will last you many years.

My choice: Victorinox all the way.

A standard chef’s knife can be used for 99% of cooking tasks, so what may seem like a steep price for a single knife will actually provide much more value and usefulness than an entire set of 20 dull and oddly shaped knives. I find the 10-inch easiest to use, but many people prefer the 8-inch for even more versatility.

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2. An instant read thermometer

For a long time, I thought that thermometers in the kitchen were only for the most hardcore germaphobes. Never being one to be overly worried about slightly underdone meat, I never bothered getting one. But then one day it hit me, the purpose isn’t to keep you from UNDERcooking meat, it’s to keep you from OVERcooking meat. If you’re guessing, you are much more likely to err on the side of caution and end up with dried-out meat. But if you stop cooking the second the food is ready, you can say hello to delicious, juicy, tender steak and chicken instead of dry flavorless bricks. Plus, if you’re interested candy making, this is a must.

My choice: Sinotron

Tons of small things make this thermometer so convenient. A large range of temperature, a handy meat temp chart, a long probe that folds for storage, a magnet to keep it on the fridge or stove, a backlit display, and a fantastic price.

3. A digital scale

To be honest, I rarely even measure anything when cooking, so this is another tool that I did not see the point of until I started cooking professionally. I thought that weighing food instead of haphazardly scooping it into a bowl was especially fussy, but it turns out that using a scale is a win-win. It is actually is LESS effort to add everything directly into the mixing bowl instead of having to dirty a dozen different measuring cups and spoons, plus you get more consistent results. Baking is a completely different beast than cooking is — any really good bread or cake recipe will give you measurements by weight, and if you want it to turn out, you will follow them religiously.

My choice: Ozeri Pronto

Just a nice straightforward no-frills scale. All of the necessary features and none of the unnecessary ones. It has a sleek and compact design, but the weighing pan is raised, which means it can accurately weigh extra large items.

What are you waiting for?

For under $100 total, you can get all three of these products that will make your cooking easier and tastier than ever before. They also make wonderful gifts for the aspiring chef in your life!

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