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!

Turn a Handwritten Family Recipe Into a Touching Kitchen Keepsake

LaserFocusedCrafts, Etsy
LaserFocusedCrafts, Etsy

The yellowing, food-splattered note card on which your grandmother’s secret spaghetti sauce recipe is written will only last so long, and taking a photo or typing it up doesn’t quite have the same effect. Luckily, crafters have come up with creative ways to transform those cherished family recipes into keepsakes that not only last much longer, but also make heartfelt gifts for all your favorite relatives.

The Etsy shop LaserFocusedCrafts, as Simplemost reports, will engrave your recipe onto a bamboo, cherry, or maple cutting board. Prices range from $30 for an 8-inch-by-6-inch board to $75 for a 14-inch-by-11-inch board, and it’s up to the recipient to decide whether they’d like to actually use their gift or hang it on their kitchen wall for guests to admire.

If you feel like you’ve already reached your gift-giving quota for personalized cutting boards at bridal showers and birthday parties in the past, there are plenty of other objects on Etsy waiting to be emblazoned with the evidence of your nana’s culinary prowess. EmmaAndTheBeanHOME will inscribe a recipe on a white tea towel for $24, and BmoreCreative410 will put one on a pot holder for $25.

customized recipe tea towel
EmmaAndTheBeanHOME, Etsy

For $40.50, you can order an apron with the recipe from zoeysattic. The apron itself is white, but you can customize the color of the ink, if, for example, Grandma always wrote her recipes with a special green pen. For an item that’ll withstand many generations’ worth of use, we recommend zehrdesignco’s $66 recipe plate.

customized recipe plate
zehrdesignco, Etsy

If you don’t exactly have a long legacy of delicious family recipes, it’s never too late to get cooking. Start off easy with the world’s best pasta sauce or one-pot chicken noodle soup.

[h/t Simplemost]

Find Your Next Outdoor Adventure With This Scratch-Off National Parks Poster

Newverest
Newverest

Whether you’re a devoted thru-hiker, day-hiker, or a casual nature observer, America’s National Park system has something for everyone to enjoy, from wildlife to natural wonders ripe for exploration. And now one Kickstarter campaign is looking to bring your love of the parks into your home with this unique piece of wall art.

The U.S. National Parks scratch-off poster from Newverest will not only inspire your next hiking endeavor, but can help you keep track of your travels as well. If you pledge now, you can receive a copy of the poster for $25, and for $49, you can get the poster and a frame. 

A scratch-off national parks poster on the wall
Newverest

There are 60 different parks on this poster—which is available in black or white—that are represented by colorful illustrations created by local artists. When the poster arrives, though, the illustrations will be grayed-out. It's up to you to scratch them off as you visit the parks, revealing the full-color art underneath. "Think of the national parks scratch-off poster as your bucket list of National Parks,” the company says on its campaign page.

When you purchase a poster, you’ll also receive a metal mediator scratch-off tool, a microfiber cleaning cloth to wipe away any residue, adhesive stickers for easy hanging, and 62 cards that feature a hand-drawn scene of each park, along with interesting facts about them. For instance, on the Sequoia and Kings Canyon card, you’ll learn the park is home to the largest sequoia trees in the world, whereas the Arches National Park card lets the reader know the territory is home to over 2000 arches.

Scratch-off National Parks poster
Newverest

Newverest, founded in 2017, isn’t new to the poster game: The company also makes U.S. and global scratch-off maps. Alongside helping plan trips, the company hopes their newest poster will educate kids and adults alike about the beauty of the parks and why they should be preserved.

With $3257 raised, Newverest is still working to reach its $10,000 goal. But you can help bring the project to life until February 21 by heading here.

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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