It isn't always easy to come up with gift ideas for the people on your list, but there are some "cheats" that don't involve gift cards. Everybody need to eat, for example, which means most of us also need to cook. That in turn means that kitchen gifts are almost always welcome. Those who love to cook will appreciate cool gadgets and high quality kitchen tools, while those who hate to cook will appreciate things that make it easier and more convenient. To get you started, we've put together a list—chosen by a chef!—of 10 of the best gifts for the home cooks on your list.
A Better Spice Grinder
Finamill Battery Operated Spice Grinder
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Spices represent a bit of a conundrum for home cooks. Ground spices are easy to use, but lose flavor quickly. Whole spices last a long time, but you have to grind them (an extra step, and a bit of a pain) before you can use them. This innovative hand-held spice grinder from Finamill, with its award-winning design, is the answer.
The batteries and motor are in the handle, but the actual grinding takes place in interchangeable "pods." Just push the handle onto a pod to snap it into place, press the button at the top for one-handed grinding, and push down again when you're done to release the pod. The two supplied pods work for salt and pepper, or any other spices you want. The optional Pro Pods (sold separately) add the ability to grind oily seeds like sesame, chia and flax, and there are more special-purpose pods coming. It's a great gift.
A Batter Dispenser
OXO Good Grips Precision Batter Dispenser
Is your favorite cook a real breakfast/brunch kind of person? Busy restaurants use batter dispensers to churn out pancakes, crepes and waffles in volume, and this is a home cook's equivalent of that commercial tool. Just fill it with any batter that's thin enough to flow under its own weight, hold it over your griddle or baking pan, and squeeze to release the batter. It works for cupcakes, popovers, Yorkshire puddings—you name it! The dispenser has markings like a measuring cup (that's the "Precision" part of its name) so you can control your portioning.
A Pair of Good Kitchen Shears
OXO Good Grips Kitchen & Herb Shears
Kitchen shears are a surprisingly useful tool, better than a chef's knife for a lot of tasks (especially if you're not super-confident in your knife skills). Use them to cut pizza, split lobster tails or even butterfly a chicken! This set from OXO was featured in our recent Best Kitchen Shears roundup, where we selected it as the best value. The soft handles are super-comfortable, the stainless steel blades are good and sharp, and there are even notches for stripping herbs from their woody stems. If you're looking for something a little more impressive, our top-pick shears from Global use top-quality Japanese steel and would make a good complement to a high-end knife set.
A Compact Sous Vide Circulator
Anova Nano Sous Vide Precision Cooker
Sous vide cookery is hugely popular right now with foodies and aspiring home chefs, so a circulator is the perfect gift for any enthusiast who doesn't have one yet. It's a simple concept: Seal your food in a bag, and cook it at precisely your desired end temperature in a water bath. Getting that water to move around your food at the correct temperature requires a sous vide circulator, and Anova are the kings of that market niche.
So why the Nano model, when it didn't make the cut in our roundup of best sous vide devices? Well, the Nano does the job handily and comes in at a more budget-friendly price than our top pick Anova Precision Cooker or the tinier but more powerful Breville Joule. They're all excellent machines, so let your budget be your guide.
A Kitchen Torch
Jo Chef Refillable Kitchen Torch
Food lovers know a kitchen torch is useful for a lot more than just caramelizing crème brûlée (though that alone is a good reason to have one). You can use it to blister the skins of peppers or tomatoes for easy removal, sear the foods you've cooked via sous vide, clean those last few stubborn pinfeathers from a chicken before roasting it, or even use it as a DIY fire starter for your grill or fireplace.
This sleek model from Jo Chef is a great starter torch for any home cook, with its pleasing appearance and safety features. If the cook on your list cares less about appearances than functionality, Iwatani's Culinary Professional kitchen torch is not at all sleek or pretty but it is indeed loved by culinary professionals, and was the Top Pick in our recent kitchen torch roundup.
A Lifetime Piece of Cookware
Le Creuset Dutch Oven, 5 Quart
If you really want to show a loved one how much you care, selecting a premium piece of cookware that will last a lifetime (or several lifetimes) should do it. The obvious choice is Le Creuset, the legendary French manufacturer of enameled cast iron. It's outstandingly durable, even by cast-iron standards. You can use it on the stovetop, in the oven or even on an induction cooktop; and the company is absolutely serious about that lifetime guarantee on its enamel finish (which is naturally, if not perfectly, nonstick).
It's undeniably pricey, but it will easily outlast several lesser pots. When averaged over a period of decades, the purchase price actually represents a pretty good value. If you don't want to spend that kind of money, a good cast iron skillet offers similar longevity (with, admittedly, a bit more maintenance).
A Good Mandoline
Benriner Classic Slicer
A mandoline is the kind of thing that works for both enthusiastic and reluctant cooks. For the enthusiast, it means you can turn out perfectly sliced or julienned foods in volume (and create restaurant-beautiful dishes), regardless of your knife skills. For reluctant cooks, it means trimming your prep time for your veggies to a fraction of what it would be if you used a knife.
Either way, this handheld mandoline from Benriner is a solid pick (it was Best Overall in our mandoline roundup). It's much lighter than countertop models, has a good hand guard, is desperately sharp, and it's even dishwasher-safe. If you're concerned about the potential for injury (we weren't kidding about the blades being sharp) you can make it an even better gift by adding in a good pair of cut-resistant gloves.
A Fermentation System for Preserving Vegetables
Home fermentation is right up there with sous vide among the most popular trends among food lovers. Creating your own naturally-fermented pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi is rewarding and healthy (gotta love those probiotics), but it can also be messy and smelly. These E-Jen "kimchi containers"—essentially a vacuum-sealed fermentation environment—address both issues.
You won't need to buy complicated fermentation lids for mason jars, or deal with heavy crocks. Just load your ingredients into the vacuum-sealed container, close it, and put it away. Anywhere. No smells, no spills, no fuss. We've chosen the 0.9 gallon size as our example, but it's available in 10 sizes ranging from 0.45 to 4.4 gallons.
Five Two bamboo Cutting Board (The Happy Medium)
A good cutting board is an excellent gift for someone who's wary (or weary) of kitchen gadgets. It's an everyday item, one that can be used for other purposes (charcuterie board, cheese plate) as well as cutting. This one from Food52's Five Two brand was designed in collaboration with the site's community of avid cooks, and it's a winner. It's made of sustainable bamboo, which is naturally antimicrobial and water-resistant, and it's reversible for different uses.
One side has a handy groove to catch drippings when you carve cooked meats, or juices when you cut raw ingredients. The other side is perfectly flat, except for the 21st-century addition of a slot to hold your phone so you can read a recipe or follow a demonstration video while you work. There are three sizes, but we've chosen the Happy Medium as our pick. Relatively few cooking gifts will see daily use, but this one is a definite contender.
An Upgraded Immersion Blender
KitchenAid Variable Speed Cordless Hand Blender
Immersion blenders won't break up ice or match a heavy-duty blender for raw power, but that's okay. They're still super-handy for lots of uses around the kitchen, from pureeing soup to getting those pesky lumps out of your gravy. Most of us start with a relatively basic model, so an upgraded "stick" blender makes a pretty good holiday gift.
We like this handheld model from KitchenAid a lot, because it's cordless but still offers lots of power and features (it was one of the picks in our roundup of the best immersion blenders). If you're prepared trade cordlessness for more power and features, our top pick Breville Control Grip is another outstanding option. Finally, if you're in the market for a real professional-quality splurge, chefs swear buy Bamix blenders like this one.