If you're here, we're going to assume you're looking for the perfect gift for the home chef in your life. This is the friend or family member who brings at least three side dishes to every event, or has a list of restaurants you "absolutely need to try." They're an expert in all-things food, and they can be hard to shop for. Why? They likely already have everything they need. And cooks tend to be very particular about the tools they use in their kitchen.
Which is why we called upon on several experts in the culinary space to break down some of the most practical (but actually good!) gifts that all cooks can benefit from using and owning.
Best gifts for cooks, all pro chef-approved
Silicone mats definitely deserve a spot in the kitchen—they’re incredibly useful and versatile, and can be used for both cooking and baking. They’re non-stick and allow you to cook a variety of foods without making a mess, says Stephen Chavez, chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. This one from Food52 is also has the easiest clean up. Just toss it into the dishwasher and you’re good to go.
When preparing a meal that requires you to drain sauces, a regular colander is not going to do the trick. Instead, Chavez recommends getting a Bouillon Strainer, like this one from New Star Food Service. Its extra fine mesh allows you to separate tiny food particles, like the pulp from your orange juice and the minced vegetables from your gravy.
Okay, the cook in your life likely already has a cast iron skillet. They probably have multiple. But that’s the thing—one can never have too many skillets, and Lodge has an affordable one that’s just as good as the luxe stuff. Recommended by Chavez, this Lodge skillet can really do it all, from sautéing and baking, to broiling and frying. “I think in terms of cookware, a good cast iron pan is super essential. I mean, nothing heats up as well. Nothing sears as well. Cast iron is great,” he tells us.
If you really want to make a cook jump for joy, consider getting them a proper peeler (because the one they have is likely dull from being used so many times). Though small, a peeler can be a huge time-saver in the kitchen.”The majority of people, especially for the holidays, just use the wrong peeler and they make work so much more difficult for themselves,” Chavez says. Many people naturally stick to a swivel peeler, which has a narrow and straight handle. But a Y-peeler has a wider handle that allows to cut your food in a more precise manner.
Another gadget that can make a difference in a cook’s life, is a food scale. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned chef, having an efficient (and more precise) way to measure quantities of food is crucial to the cooking process. “In professional cooking we really don’t use cups and teaspoons,” Chavez says. “We weigh everything. That way it’s more accurate. Plus, you can scale up and down your recipes.” And this OXO scale is a chef-favorite. “So a scale is really great, but the OXO brand is really good,” Chavez says. “You can put a big bowl on there because the little display pulls out. It’s a great, great tool. I love it.”
If your chef pal already has an air fryer, good for them. If not, it’s time to introduce them to one. And Drew Berrymore’s (from her cookware line) is worth adding to your kitchen. “Not only is this piece of equipment an excellent cooking device, it is a perfect example of design-thinking,” says Stephen Kalil, executive chef at Quorn Foods. “There are no nobs or dials, it has a sleek silhouette, and it comes in a variety of colors. It’s one kitchen appliance that you will be proud to keep visible on your counter.”
For Adrian De Leon, chef and culinary director at Tarbell’s restaurant in Phoenix, AZ., it’s all about having a food mill in your cooking arsenal. It’s a type of device that finely purées, refines and strains ingredients. “[It’s] a time-saving tool that helps home and professional chefs prepare a range of recipes,” he tells us. Ask any chef (literally any chef) and they will very likely tell you that their go-to brand for anything is All-Clad. And even if your giftee has a food mill, you’d be making their lives by giving them one by All-Clad.
When it comes to underrated kitchen gadgets, a food dehydrator is a tool that Chavez swears by. This one from Hamilton Beach comes with five stackable drying trays and a 48-hour timer. You can use it to dehydrate some of your fave fruits, veggies and even jerky.
A chef’s knife collection is probably their most prized thing, so if you’re shopping for a seasoned chef, it’s likely they don’t need additional knives (plus, chefs are very, very particular about their knives). However, a cook-in-training could totally benefit from a high-quality knife set they may not buy for themselves. “The set is the best knife set for home use and is reasonably priced and made from steel that will stay sharp and can take a beating from everyday use,” says chef and former Top Chef contestant, Sara Hauman. “The set includes three knives that are really all you need to tackle any kitchen task.”
The easiest and fastest way to know whether or not your meat is done (without cutting into it) is by using a thermometer. But not just any thermometer: A probe thermometer like this one from Taylor Precision Products is the one you should get. With it, you can check the status of your meal without ever removing it from the oven, thanks to the probe that sticks inside the meat.
If your home chef really want to beef up their cooking skills, and learn tried-and-true recipes, The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook is the way to go, Chavez says. It’s great for beginners who want to know the ins and outs of classic meals.
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