When the going gets tough, the tough order takeout. Last year Americans spent about $720 billion at restaurants, a 19 percent increase since 2012 and nearly half of what we spent on food overall. But restaurant meals—and the frozen ones we heat up when we’re pressed for time—are often high in fat and sodium, which means that what we gain in convenience we often lose in terms of a healthy diet. “The only way to have complete control over ingredients and portion size is to cook at home,” says Maxine Siegel, a CR dietitian. “But finding time for that can often be quite a challenge for people.”

More on Countertop Appliances

One way home cooks are bucking the takeout trend and eating more healthy foods is with countertop appliances that reduce prep and cooking time and do more of the work. “Sales of multi-cookers, air fryers, pressure cookers, and toaster ovens are up,” says Joe Derochowski, an industry analyst at the market research firm NPD Group. “This is due in part to consumers’ desire to eat healthier.”

But in a field crowded with appliances that manufacturers claim can save the consumer time and effort (like the Instant Pot,  $100, that “speeds up cooking by 2 to 6 times” or the All-Clad Prep & Cook, $1,000, that’s supposed to act as “your very own sous chef”), it’s hard to tell what’s worth the investment—and the precious real estate on your counter.

To guide you, we’ve put a collection of trendy, time-saving specialty kitchen appliances to the test, along with the blenders, food processors, toaster ovens, and microwaves we evaluate throughout the year. Read the related articles (listed above) to learn which small appliances really will save you time, which ones provide convenience, and which ones will make a worthwhile addition to your countertop arsenal.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the November 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.