10 Surprisingly Cheap Items Everyone Should Have in Their Kitchen

ARTindividual/ iStock via Getty Images Plus
ARTindividual/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

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 you can find on Amazon for $6.)

Buy it: Amazon

2. Silicone Mat; $22

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.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Kitchen Shears; $17

Kitchen shears from Gidli sold by Amazon.
Gidli/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; $20

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; $24

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; $25

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; $13

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!

Wayfair Is Offering Up to 75 Percent Off on Furniture, Rugs, and Pet Essentials Through Tuesday

Wayfair
Wayfair

If you’re looking to upgrade your home furniture in the new year, turn to Wayfair. From orthopedic dog beds to convertible couches to luxuriously soft bedding, the online retailer has just about anything you can imagine to spice up your home décor. And through Tuesday, January 21 at 9:00 a.m. EST, shoppers can save up to 75 percent on hundreds of items. Check out some of our favorite deals below.

Living Room Furniture

- Corwin Twin Convertible Sofa $134 (Save $16)
- Swiger Sleeper $481 (Save $57)
- Spraggins Armchair $195 (Save $135)
- Oday Wingback Chair $297 (Save $72)
- Luper Tufted Storage Ottoman $127 (Save $212)
- Tannis Futon Chair $183 (Save $11)

Pet Essentials

- Ginny Pet Crate $88 (Save $83)
- 72-Inch Mya Cat Tree $64 (Save $165)
- Bernice Quilted Orthopedic Dog Sofa $22 (Save $28)
- Cathey Wooden Litter Box Cabinet $142 (Save $9)
- Ian Double Bowl Elevated Feeder $82 (Save $50)
- Boris Ultra Plush Cooling Gel Foam Pillow $23 (Save $27)

Dining Room Furniture

A Wayfair stool
Wayfair

- Marni Bar & Counter Stool $54 (Save $9)
- Boyes Dining Table $187 (Save $13)
- Chelsey Four-Piece Solid Wood Dining Set $256 (Save $256)
- Eaman Dining Table $215 (Save $45)
- Abbey Extendable Solid Wood Dining Table $847 (Save $910)
- Abbey Solid Wood Dining Table $727 (Save $744)

Extra Storage

- Petrone Combo Laundry Center $42 (Save $51)
- Cubeicals Shoe Storage Bench $69 (Save $17)
- Caryl Overdoor Six-Shelf Cabinet Door Organizer $35 (Save $17)
- Arapahoe 24-Inch-By-32-Inch Cabinet $102 (Save $83)
- Wicker Oval Double Laundry Hamper $60 (Save $10)

Bedroom Furniture

-Geraldine 4 Drawer Chest $195 (Save $15)
-Fuente Upholstered Panel Headboard $75 (Save $64)
- Eichhorn Platform Bed $102 (Save $150)
- Kemmerer Vanity Set with Mirror $206 (Save $303)
- Rossford 6 Drawer Double Dresser $263 (Save $42)
- Amher Adjustable Bed Base $271 ( Save $129)

Rugs

Wayfair flower rug
Wayfair

- Brandt Blue Area Rug $26 (Save $52)
- Abstract Multicolor Area Rug $25 (Save $73)
- Shiflett Flatweave Dark Gray Area Rug $31 (Save $29)
- Meador Hand-Braided Natural Area Rug $38 (Save $40)
- Geometric Gray/Ivory Area Rug $34 (Save $25)

Bedding

- Adena Ultra Soft Down Alternative Reversible Comforter Set $33 (Save $97)
- Eldon Solid Color Sheet Set $25 (Save $35)
- Kiril Duvet Cover Set $25 (Save $75)
- Arrington Ruffle Skirt Bedspread Set $61 (Save $89)

Outdoor Décor

- Marquis Vertical Hello Non-Slip Outdoor Door Mat $14 (Save $10)
- Arden Welcome Paw 36-Inch-By-24-Inch Non-Slip Outdoor Door Mat $33 (Save $10)
- Midori Planter Box $73 (Save $37)

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!

These Grass Straws Are an Eco-Friendly Alternative to Plastic

Kickstarter
Kickstarter

We know plastic straws have created an incredibly serious environmental issue, and while many alternatives have been introduced, there are definitely some drawbacks to each of them. Paper straws, for example, tend to dissolve faster than you can finish your beverage. Some companies have tried to get around the issues paper and plastic straws present by introducing a special lid to sip cold beverages through. But they’re still made out of, well, plastic.

A Kickstarter campaign is offering a solution by producing sturdy grass straws that work perfectly in hot or cold drinks and decompose in just 15 days. With $3606 raised, the startup La Couleur Monochrome is still working toward a $27,877 goal, but you can back this project until January 31. For as little as $6, you can receive 100 straws in a reusable, eco-friendly zip-up bag, and the more expensive tiers offer bigger rewards.

The straws are made from hollow-stemmed grass that is grown and hand-harvested in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. After the grass is harvested, it is cut into 20-centimeter pieces and disinfected through a boiling process, rather than with harsh chemicals. Buyers have the option of selecting either dried-out straws, which can last for up to one year when stored at room temperature, or fresh straws, which can remain in the fridge for up to six weeks. According to the startup, both straws are suited for hot and cold drinks, but when using the fresh straws, you’ll get “a slight scent of fresh cut grass without changing the drink's taste.”

Grass straws
Kickstarter

If you’re worried about the environmental impact of harvesting the field, there’s no need. According to the campaign, the grass regenerates itself within a year. Currently, the startup is producing 1 million straws a month, but they hope to up it to 10 million by July 2020. Also beginning in July, the company plans to only send out orders once a month to create a more sustainable shipping program.

With so many large-scale changes that need to happen to help the environment, starting with a simple straw may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. Estimates have put the number of straws littering the world's coastlines at anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion.

If you want to visualize how much plastic humans have produced, it's equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. And of all that plastic, only 9 percent has been recycled. At this pace, some have predicted that the amount of plastic in the ocean may outweigh the ocean's fish by 2050.

Cutting out straws is a great way to start reducing single-use products in your everyday life, and you can head here to find out more about the Kickstarter.

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!

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