10 Surprisingly Cheap Items Everyone Should Have in Their Kitchen

iStock.com/4kodiak
iStock.com/4kodiak

When shopping for certain kitchen gadgets, sometimes paying a little extra is worth it. But there are plenty of supplies that can greatly improve your cooking skills without hurting your wallet. Some of the most essential tools to have in your kitchen are available from quality brands in the $10 to $30 range. If you want to take your food to the next level on a budget, these are the products you should own.

1. Wooden Spoon; $15 for Three

Three wooden spoons
OXO, Amazon

There are many fancy kitchen utensils available to home cooks today, but the best type of spoon for cooking is one that’s been around for centuries. Wooden spoons have several advantages over spoons made from metal or plastic: They don’t conduct heat well, they won’t scratch the bottom of your expensive pan, and they won’t leach chemicals into your food. They’re also just as durable as they are versatile. Wood is naturally antibacterial, and if you care for your spoon properly, it will last you through countless meals. OXO sells a set of three different wooden spoons for under $15. (We also like OXO's single corner spoon, which is sold out on Amazon right now—but you can still get it from Bed Bath & Beyond for $6.)

Buy it: Amazon

2. Silicone Mat; $25

Silpat with macarons.
Silpat, Amazon

Neater than cooking spray and less wasteful than foil or parchment paper, silicone mats are essential for home cooks and bakers. These reusable mats turn any surface into a nonstick surface. When a baking sheet is lined with a silicone mat, temperamental items like cookies slide off in one piece. The mats are also easy to wipe down and can survive thousands of baking sessions. They can also make cleanup easier when roasting savory items like vegetables and chicken wings.

But it from Amazon

3. Kitchen Shears; $20

Kitchen shears.
Apogee Culinary Designs, Amazon

Quality knives are vital in the kitchen, but no collection of cutting tools is complete without a good pair of scissors. A home cook needs kitchen shears for butchering jobs, like spatchcocking a chicken. Kitchen shears are also useful for trimming pie crusts, snipping herbs, and even cracking open lobster claws. And unlike decent chef’s knives, a great pair of shears can cost as little as $20.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Digital Scale; $18

Digital kitchen scale.
Etekcity, Amazon

If you’re serious about baking, invest in a kitchen scale. Baking is all about precision, and it’s hard to be precise when working with measuring cups and spoons. A digital scale, however, can measure your flour and sugar down to a fraction of an ounce. It’s also great for making recipes written in metric units. (Say, if you're cooking from Great British Bake Off recipes.)

Buy it: Amazon

5. Mortar and Pestle; $25

Mortar and pestle.
Fox Run, Amazon

A bulky mortar and pestle may seem antiquated in today’s modern kitchen, but it’s necessary if you want to take your cooking to the next level. Some spices—like fennel seeds, cardamom, and peppercorns—taste much better freshly ground than they do out of the jar. Using a mortar and pestle is also the key to making professional-tasting sauces and condiments, such as aioli, pesto, curry paste, hummus, and guacamole.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Box Grater; $12

Box grater.
Cuisinart, Amazon

Think of a box grater as more than a basic cheese grater. Each of the four sides serves a special purpose, from slicing to zesting. You can use it to shred potatoes for latkes, grate nutmeg for desserts, or slice zucchini for ratatouille. Of course, the cheese-grating capabilities alone are worth it if you like to make mac and cheese at home.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant-Read Thermometer; $27

Instant-read thermometer.
Lavatools, Amazon

There are many tricks you can use to gauge if your meat is cooked properly, but none are as foolproof as an instant-read thermometer. The tool makes cooking steak, chicken, and roasts much simpler and less stressful. It’s also essential for deep frying food or making candy like caramel at home. Sometimes an extra minute of heat is all it takes to push an ingredient from perfect to inedible, so the time it saves you compared to analog thermometers is definitely worth the price.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Citrus Juicer; $15

Citrus hand juicer.
Zulay Kitchen, Amazon

Fresh citrus juice is superior to the packaged stuff, but squeezing halved fruits by hand can get messy. With a manual press juicer, you can add bright, acidic notes of lemon and lime to your meals without stinging your fingers. This tool also catches the seeds for you, making squeezing citrus juice over your food almost as easy as squeezing it from a bottle. Even if you don't use it often while cooking, it's an essential component of any good bar cart.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Locking Tongs; $13

Pair of locking tongs.
OXO, Amazon

Bare hands are underrated tools in the kitchen, but some jobs just can’t be done without tongs. If you’re flipping hot meat on the grill, tossing wings in buffalo sauce, or serving pasta, you’ll need a decent pair of locking tongs to keep your hands clean and unburnt. Fortunately, durable, stainless steel tongs with smooth, pinch-free locks are easy to find for less than $15.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Cast Iron Skillet; $15

A cast iron skillet
Lodge, Amazon

Cast iron skillets seem like they should be expensive. They’re heavy, long-lasting, and they make food taste amazing. Steaks, potatoes, and hamburgers all benefit from the material’s unique heat-conducting properties. But you don’t need to blow your paycheck to own this tool chefs swear by: Some of the best cast irons available cost less than $25. As long as you care for it properly, buying a cast iron skillet is one of the cheapest ways to improve your cooking.

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

The New York Times's Latest Book on Travel Will Help You Plan the Perfect Weekend Getaway

TASCHEN
TASCHEN

Getting a full sense of a new city while traveling can be tough—especially if you only have a weekend to explore it. But since 2002, The New York Times’s "36 Hours" column has been breaking down destinations all over the world into bite-size pieces, allowing travelers to see the big attractions while still experiencing the city like a local. Now, you can get the best of the column's North American destinations with the fully updated and revised edition of 36 Hours: USA & Canada for $40 at TASCHEN or on Amazon.

Even if you have the original, it’s worth purchasing this updated copy, as this version features 33 new itineraries from Anchorage, Alaska; the Berkshires in Massachusetts; Boulder, Colorado; Miami; Oakland, California; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and many more.

36 Hours: USA & Canda from the New York Times
TASCHEN

The 752-page book also offers more than 5400 hours of travel itineraries, 600 restaurants to dine at, and 450 hotel options. Each city featured includes a brief history, a list of popular destinations, and tips on how to experience it all like a local. For example, the New Orleans guide encourages travelers to start at the French 75 Bar for happy hour and order a Sazerac, a cocktail close to an Old-Fashioned that's a local favorite. Whereas the Miami guide takes you to the Buena Vista Deli, a bistro known for its take on classic French dishes. The travel book also features detailed city maps that pinpoint all the stops, and it's accompanied by nearly 1000 photographs.

Once you've picked your destination, check out some tips on how to craft the perfect itinerary.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

9 Brilliant Gifts for the Gardener in Your Life

AeroGarden/Amazon
AeroGarden/Amazon

A proven method of relaxation, gardening can ease the stresses of daily life and provide a rich resource for giving homes a unique and colorful identity. If you know someone with a green thumb, consider these nine gift ideas sure to plant a seed of gratitude.

1. Succulent Gardens Living Picture DIY Kit; $105

Succulent planter DIY kit
Amazon

Vertical gardening is a conversation-starter, and you can help a friend ignite one with this do-it-yourself kit. The redwood frame uses a thin layer of mesh to keep succulent plants—included in the kit—hanging in there.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Burgon & Ball Coated Galvanized Steel Long Reach Indoor Watering Can; $46

Watering can
Uncommon Goods

Sure, your loved ones could use an empty jug to water their plants—if they enjoy drowning the greenery. But this watering can has a slender spout that prevents the needless mess that cans with wider openings can make. Plus, that longer spout makes it easy to get water to those hard-to-reach plants you may have hanging indoors.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller; $115

If you know someone looking to seize more control over their sprinkler system to help conserve water, the Rachio system is the one to beat. The module can replace virtually any existing central command center, connecting to the Rachio app and allowing for on-the-go control of the timer. Rachio will even sync the system to weather forecasts, easing up when it’s expected to rain.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Gardener’s Tool Seat; $36

Foldable for storage, this seat cures two of gardening’s most annoying demands: not having a place to sit and not having the right tool within reach. A small stool saves wear on the knees, while 21 pockets and a large pouch under the seat offer room for any implement you need.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

5. "The Taxonomy of Fruits & Vegetables" Poster; $40

This sprawling 24-inch-by-36-inch guide, detailing more than 300 varieties of produce, can be hung on a kitchen wall for easy reference. Your giftee will never again have to guess how a cantaloupe or mangosteen is related to other fruits and vegetables.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Aerogarden Harvest Elite 360; $130

the indoor AeroGarden
AeroGarden / Amazon

If you know someone who wants to keep a supply of fresh herbs for the kitchen but gets lost in the details, AeroGarden's indoor growing system is a perfect solution. The soil-free bed can grow basil, parsley, dill, and other seasonings using a fool-proof on-board display that offers care instructions in real time.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Hanging Terrariums; $13

This set includes two glass plant homes plus rustic jute rope for hanging them from the ceiling or window frame. And the flat bottom also allows them to sit on desk. Your giftee will need to supply the plants and other decor—may we suggest a couple of Tillandsia, a.k.a. air plants? They can thrive with almost no water or soil, making them ideal for these petite orbs.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Bokashi Kitchen Composter; $55

If making compost from food scraps sounds unappealing, it’s probably because you haven’t come across the right tool for the job yet. This Bokashi-style composter fits neatly under a kitchen sink and accepts food waste to mix with an all natural accelerator to create topsoil for gardens. The airproof lid guarantees no funky smell; the included spigot can also produce liquid fertilizer for houseplants.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

9. Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Work And Gardening Gloves; $10

The biggest inconvenience of gardening: trying to scrub the dirt off your hands. The second-biggest: dealing with the sweat produced by rubber-coated gloves. Solution: bamboo, which allows the gloves to breathe, is naturally antibacterial, and ensures a snug fit.

Buy It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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