Kitchen appliances

How to Choose Countertop Kitchen Appliances Based on Your Budget and Space

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We often hear from readers looking for suggestions on what appliances and equipment they should have in their kitchen. Of course, we have our opinions, shaped largely by our own needs and experiences. Ultimately, however, what works for me won’t always work for you.

There are many considerations to take into account. How much money do you want to spend? How much space do you have? What kind of cooking do you want to be able to do?

To help you sort through these questions, I’ve found some things to ask yourself when choosing between some common pairings, especially when resources or shelf space are limited. These are blenders and food processors; hand mixers and stand mixers; and slow cookers and multicookers, i.e. Instant Pots. (If you want to learn more about cast iron skillets versus nonstick skillets, read here!) You may want or need both items, or neither. Like I said, the decision is entirely up to you.

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blender vs food processor

At first glance, these two mainstays of the kitchen seem to have a lot in common. They break down or puree food. They both use a blade. Ask yourself:

Do I want to make frozen drinks? If you love smoothies, frozen cocktails, and milkshakes, a blender is the way to go. Manufacturers generally do not recommend breaking ice in a food processor.

What if I want something to help me cook? While stand mixers get a lot of attention, food processors are unsung baking heroes. A food processor can make pie crusts and cookie dough. It can knead bread or pizza dough. It also makes a creamy and stable whipped cream.

Which makes a good soup? For simple pureed soups, either device will work well. Due to its faster speed, a blender will generally give you smoother results with less smudging. A powerful blender, like the Vitamix, excels at making even the toughest ingredients (fibrous vegetables, nuts, beans, etc.) silky smooth in no time, without the need for additional straining. A food processor, however, can help you even more in the early stages of preparation, as you can use the pulse function with the blade to chop or slice vegetables.

Which takes up less space? It’s a bit of a washout. Unless you have plenty of space under your cabinets or high shelves, you’ll probably store both types of appliances in two parts: the base and the jar/bowl.

Which costs less? It really depends. If I had to make a general generalization, I would say that blenders are generally less expensive than food processors, with the exception of high-end models. If you don’t have the space or money to invest in full-size models of both, especially if you’re a one or two householder, you might consider pairing a good blender with a mini food processor or food processor. full size. with an immersion blender (stick).

Hand mixer vs stand mixer

Despite their vastly different shapes and sizes, these cooking tools can actually accomplish a lot of the same things, but not always and certainly not at the same price. Ask yourself:

Do I want something to make bread? With very few exceptions, you cannot knead bread dough with a hand mixer. They just aren’t powerful enough. That’s not to say you can’t knead bread dough if you don’t have a stand mixer – you can knead on the counter, in a food processor, in a bowl with periodic creases, or not at all. (i.e. no-knead breads). But if you want a mixer that does it for you, the stand is the way to go.

What can I use to make cakes and cookies? The good news is that much of your daily cooking can be done in either type of blender. Cake and quick bread batters, including muffins and breads, are no problem. You can cream butter and sugar in both, for cakes or cookies. If you are making cookie dough that is particularly dense or loaded with additives (chips, nuts, etc.), you may need to switch to mixing by hand with a flexible spatula or wooden spoon near the end to avoid overload a hand blender. I still like to do a final mixing by hand, even with a stand mixer, to make sure all the ingredients from the bottom and sides of the bowl are well incorporated.

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Do I have any physical or mobility limitations? A hand mixer reduces the amount of manual work you have to do, but it still requires holding the device over the bowl and moving it around. This can be difficult if you have arthritis or other conditions, so if you really need a hands-off option, go with the stand mixer. Keep in mind that a stand mixer is very heavy, so consider your counter space if you don’t think you can easily move it around whenever you need it.

Which takes up less space? Hand blender, hands down.

Which costs less? Again, hand mixer, far from it. If you’re hoping to get a stand mixer cheaper, start researching prices around the holiday season, especially near Black Friday/Cyber ​​Monday. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed great sale prices on KitchenAid mixers at Target, and Costco often carries them as well. Other option: Refurbished. You can buy refurbished KitchenAid mixers through the company itself or other retailers.

Read more: Don’t underestimate your hand mixer. Here’s how to put it to work for you. | How to knead bread dough without a stand mixer

Slow Cooker vs Multicooker (i.e. Instant Pot)

While electronic multicookers, especially the Instant Pot, have gained a passionate following in recent years, pressure cookers and slow cookers have been around for generations. Both have improved over the years and now feature some, but not total, overlap of functions. Ask yourself:

Do I want to cook fast or slow? Pressure cooking, the most popular feature of multicookers, speeds up cooking by creating an airtight environment where water boils at 250 degrees instead of 212 degrees. It helps put dinner on the table in a snap, ideal for people who are short on time or planning. Slow cookers go in the opposite direction, working at lower temperatures for long, no-rush recipes that can stretch overnight or from before to after work. If you prefer slow cooking, don’t assume you can just rely on this feature on a multicooker. Most multicookers have a heating element at the bottom of the base, while some slow cookers also include a strip on the sides. This, and the fact that multicookers have less surface area than a typical slow cooker, can result in unevenly cooked food when using the slow cook feature in a multicooker. The Instant Pot, in particular, has a reputation for heating up in the slow cook mode.

What kinds of dishes do I want to make? You can cook many of the same types of foods in slow cookers and multicookers – meat, beans, oatmeal, broth, soups and stews. The differences are how you get there and the ingredients you might use. Due to their shape, slow cookers can accommodate large, tough chunks of meat, braising them for many hours until tender to perfection. A multicooker can also tender tougher meat, although it may need to be cut into small pieces to fit. Due to the sealed environment and shorter cooking time, you generally need less liquid for pressure cooking, otherwise you risk chewy and bland dishes. Pressure cooking is ideal for reducing the cooking time of ingredients such as firm vegetables, beans and grains, while it can wreak havoc on more delicate ones, such as seafood, oats fast or rolled and dairy products. Decide what types of dishes you are most likely to use your appliance for and let it guide you in your choice.

How many functions do I need? Multicookers offer a range of possibilities. Beyond pressure cooking and slow cooking, you can get functions for yogurt, rice, steaming, sautéing and sous-vide. Some slow cookers have settings for steaming and making yogurt, but these are largely single-use devices that let you choose a heat level and time. Sautéing is also not a standard feature.

Which takes up less space? Slow cookers tend to have a larger footprint, with their elongated oval shape, while multicookers are tall and narrow. However, the difference is not enough to give a clear advantage of one over the other. Assess your cabinets and counter space and decide where a slow cooker or multicooker might be best suited.

Which costs less? As with size, there’s no clear winner here, which means I’d base your decision largely on your cooking style and what you plan to do. For less than $100, you can pick up a capable model of either type of device, though more bloated options can be priced as high as $150 or more.