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!

Friends-Themed Monopoly Lets You Invest in Central Perk

Amazon/Hasbro
Amazon/Hasbro

Central Perk was a key location in the hit sitcom Friends. It’s where Rachel Green got her first job, where Phoebe performed the hit song “Smelly Cat,” and—most importantly—where the group of six New Yorkers spent an exorbitant amount of time sitting on the cafe's well-worn orange couch drinking coffee. But now, you can play as one of the six characters and finally invest back in Central Perk with Friends Monopoly, which is available on Amazon for $25.

In the box you’ll find six tokens, each one representing a different "friend." The purse is Rachel, the sweater-vest is Chandler, the pizza is Joey, the chef's hat is Monica, the acoustic guitar is Phoebe, and the dinosaur is, of course, Ross (though we would have settled for the Holiday Armadillo).

The game operates like regular Monopoly but with a few key Friends twists: To start, rather than invest in hotels and houses, players invest in coffee mugs and orange couches. The train stations have been replaced by modes of transportation from the show, such as Phoebe’s grandmother’s taxi, the boat Joey accidently bought at an auction, and the (slightly creepy) Relaxi Taxi. You’ll also pick up the Central Perk tab rather than pay an “income tax.” And as players go around the board, they’ll find squares with iconic moments of the show, like when the gang fashioned a "very long poking device" to check on Ugly Naked Guy across the street.

If you can't get enough of the fictional Friends cafe, you can always check out this LEGO set that allows you to build your own Central Perk, complete with six mini-figures of the whole gang—plus Gunther.

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!

This Book of New York Times Articles Celebrates Over 150 Years of Historic Women

UncommonGoods
UncommonGoods

For well over a century, The New York Times has reported on countless historic moments in the fight for women's rights. And while there’s still plenty of progress to be made, you can look back on how far we’ve come with New York Times - Women Making History, an 87-page coffee table book that reprints articles on the major milestones in the women's equality movement just as they appeared in the paper over the decades. The book is available on UncommonGoods for $50.

This title has more than 150 years’ worth of articles detailing major marches, laws, and social movements, from coverage of the Equal Rights Convention of 1866 and suffrage marches of the early 20th century, all the way through the #MeToo era and the Time's Up movement from 2018. (You can check out the rest of the table of contents online [PDF].) The book also features an introduction by Susan Chira, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Gender Issues editor at The New York Times.

Women Making History book from UncommonGoods.
UncommonGoods

But this book won’t just help you learn more about important historic figures and events, because $5 of every purchase goes to Women for Women International, a nonprofit that advocates for women around the world. Started back in 1993, the organization helps women in eight different countries that have been afflicted by war or conflict. Their outreach enables women to earn and save money, get access to better healthcare, and much more. To date, they’ve given aid to more than 478,000 people.

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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