Smarter: Kitchen Tools That Changed CR Experts’ Lives

Kitchen Gadgets Including: Air Fryer, Stand Mixer, Frying Pan, Knife Set, Coffee Grinder, Citrus Reamer, Dehydrator, Bottle Opener, Dutch Oven, Mortar and Pestle, Blender Photos: Consumer Reports, Manufactures

Some kitchen tools are just tools and nothing more, while others can be game changers. This week I’m revealing which appliances or gadgets CR’s kitchen and food experts can’t live without. Also on the menu: the 10 least-satisfying cars of 2022, and is a plastic cutting board safer than a wooden cutting board?


THE BIG STORY:

“I Eat, Therefore I Am”

Before I lived with my boyfriend, I had never used a colander. Back in the day, my method of draining pasta could best be described as creative. It involved a lot of me using chopsticks to snatch clumps of spaghetti out of the water, and even a lot more swearing as one by one, the strands slipped from my grasp. 

That was my B.C. era. Before Colander. But then my boyfriend introduced the perforated utensil into our kitchen. Suddenly a process that used to take minutes took mere seconds. Now I use the colander more than he does.

We all have these moments in the kitchen, don’t we, those epiphanies that occur when you use a new tool and realize, where have you been my whole life? To uncover more of them, I asked CR’s food editor, kitchen appliance writers, and food and home appliance testers about the things that changed their cooking forever. Here are their personal recommendations.

Get Smarter

For tools under $100:

🌶️ ImportFood Granite Mortar and Pestle
The flavors you can get from grinding your food with a mortar and pestle are mind-blowing, says Perry Santanachote, a writer and recipe developer who fell in love with the traditional granite mortar and pestle method her Thai grandmother used to make mouth-watering chicken curries. 

“If I had to choose between a food processor or this ancient tool, I would choose the mortar and pestle every time,” Perry says, because the grinding process releases the oils and aromatics of the ingredients more effectively than by slicing and dicing food.

From $40 at ImportFood.

Chemex Pour-Over Glass Coffeemaker
“Through the years at CR, I’ve tested coffee and have learned a lot about brewing. I can’t live without my Chemex to make my morning coffee,” says Amy Keating, a registered dietitian and CR food tester who uses her Chemex twice a day and relishes the scientific knowledge required to brew a coffee cup just right. 

The Chemex method of brewing minimizes the presence of residue, unlike an auto drip, Amy says, and provides a lighter-bodied taste than a French press.

From $45 at Amazon and Chemex.

🥬 Ninja Express Chop
It’s a real time saver that can chop fruit and vegetables in seconds and is handy for making purées and sauces, says Sana Mujahid, a scientist who manages food safety research and testing at CR, including inspecting pathogens in meats and produce.

From $20 at Home Depot and Target.

🍷 Cork Pops Wine Opener
For anyone out there who has ever struggled to open a bottle of wine, this wine opener is a godsend that’s also just super fun to use, says Trisha Calvo, CR’s health and food deputy editor, who has been interested in food and cooking ever since she made her first Easy Bake Oven chocolate cake when she was 6.

The one caveat is that the wine opener uses a cartridge that has to be replaced after you open about 60 bottles.

From $25 at Cork Pops and Walmart.

🍟 GoWise USA GW22731 Air Fryer
An air fryer is the one appliance that Larry Ciufo, a mechanical engineer who developed CR’s air fryer testing program, can’t live without, because it cooks faster than an oven and doesn’t make fried food soggy when you reheat it, unlike a microwave. The GoWise USA GW22731 model he recommends was rated by us as one of the best air fryers in 2022.

Check out CR’s rating of the GoWise USA GW22731 here.

Other great picks: This Lodge cast iron fry pan (excellent at searing and browning by CR’s ratings) and Williams Sonoma citrus reamer (makes extracting lemon juice so much easier).

For tools that are over $100:

🥣 Vitamix 5200 Blender
Perfect for making smoothies or puréeing soups, the Vitamix blender has received effusive, widespread praise among the CR experts I interviewed. “Until I was blessed with [this] blender, I didn’t know homemade smoothies didn’t need to be choked down,” says Perry, who’s also the star of CR’s Instagram video about how to make the smoothest of smoothies with a blender.

It’s “the best blender I’ve ever used,” seconds Paul Hope, a home product writer and classically trained chef who also worked at several restaurants in New York City. The Vitamix is the one product that does something he truly can’t do on his own. “If my food processor broke, I could still easily chop onions and slice cucumbers with my knife,” Paul says. “But I really can’t crush ice or pulverize frozen blueberries with anything else!”

Check out CR’s rating of the Vitamix 5200 Blender here.

🍗 Le Creuset Signature Dutch Oven
The versatile product is “a real kitchen workhorse,” Trisha says. She has used her Signature Dutch Oven, given to her as a wedding gift, to make stews, pot roast, sauces, roast chicken, no-knead bread, and even popcorn for more than 20 years, and it’s in great shape to this day. 

Check out CR’s rating of the Le Creuset Signature Dutch Oven here.

🎂 KitchenAid Classic Stand Mixer
This mixer is described as a game changer by Perry, who learned how to bake before she learned how to cook. It whips up cakes and cookies far fluffier than her hand mixer ever could and churns out bread dough more tender than her hands could ever hope to knead.

Check out CR’s rating of the KitchenAid Classic Stand Mixer here.

🔪 Zwilling J.A. Henckels Pro S 7-Piece Knife Block Set
A good knife set and sharpening stone ($99 for a set at Misen) are some of the most important tools in cooking, as a sharp knife will make chopping vegetables or deboning a chicken go so much faster, says James Rogers, the director of food safety research and testing at CR who also regularly fields food safety questions from his own children, including whether you should wash your chicken. 

If you’re on a budget and don’t want to buy a whole set, you can purchase this Misen chef’s knife for under $100.

From $350 at Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Williams Sonoma.

Other great picks: The Oxo Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder (eliminates static electricity so that coffee grounds don’t fly off when you’re using the grinder) and the Ninja AG301 Foodi 5-in-1 Indoor Grill (from $170 at Amazon and Target, it grills food in a short amount of time and provides functions like an air fryer).

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DOUBLING DOWN

Cutting board 1/2 wood 1/2 plastic with tomatoes and knife on top

Illustration: Consumer Reports, iStock Illustration: Consumer Reports, iStock

A cutting board is one of the most essential tools in a kitchen, but when it comes to food safety, is a plastic cutting board safer than a wooden cutting board?

Previously, food experts said wooden cutting boards were more likely to harbor bacteria than their plastic counterparts, but new research shows that both can be safe if you follow these steps. 

Use at least two cutting boards. One exclusively for raw meat, fish, and poultry, and the other for ready-to-eat items such as bread and fruits to help prevent cross-contamination.

Clean your cutting boards after every use. Don’t skimp on washing your boards with hot, soapy water every time you use them. Most plastic boards can also go in the dishwasher.

Sanitize them periodically. Use a diluted bleach solution made from 1 tablespoon of bleach with 1 gallon of water. Also, don’t forget to rinse them with plain water afterward! I personally have never known the taste of bleach and would like to keep it that way.

Watch out for scarring. Deep scratches on your cutting board can trap bacteria that might spread to your food, so make sure you replace your boards once they get too scarred.


QUIZ

An acquaintance (your aunt) keeps sending you annoying messages, so you decided to block her. Congratulations; you made that first step. But here’s the awkward part: What if she finds out you blocked her?

Which app do you think tips off the other person that they’ve been blocked?

1. Apple iMessage

2. Android Messages

3. Twitter

4. Facebook Messenger


BY THE NUMBERS

Consumer Reports December 2021 nationally representative survey of 2,075 US adults. Questions asked about the most recent product break among those who had each type stop working in the past five years.

Source: Consumer Reports Source: Consumer Reports

When’s the last time you were able to get your smartphone repaired when you broke it? According to a recent nationally representative survey conducted by CR, only 16% of Americans who had a phone break in the past five years say they got it fixed the last time this happened, while 25% tried to get their phone repaired but ended up replacing it, often due to costs or inconvenience. 

It’s becoming increasingly tricky for people to get their broken stuff fixed. Manufacturer instructions on how to repair products are more rare these days, and replacement parts are often hard to find. When it comes to the smartphone, one of the most widely used consumer electronics, designs such as nonstandard screws and glued-in batteries (excuse me?? how is this a thing?) also make it difficult to access the batteries and fix phones.

But all of this might soon change. Congress and lawmakers in nearly 20 states are considering bills that would make it easier for consumers to fix things on their own. My laptop, which is suffering from a battery drain, would love for that to happen, but my phone, which barely survived another death drop this morning, needs it to happen.


THE SHORT ANSWER

How long should I keep the files of my tax records? 7 years, at least.


THE GOOD STUFF

Here are the 10 least satisfying cars of 2022, including a model that a CR tester described as, “in a word—awful.”

@consumerreports Has your car lived up to your expectations? 🤔 These cars are predicted to be the least satisfying 2022 models, based on data from the latest CR member survey. #cartok #carsoftiktok #carreview ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

QUIZ ANSWER

The answer is Twitter, which makes it glaringly obvious to the other person that you’ve blocked them. If they try to message you, they’ll receive a “Message failed to send” error, followed by an alert that says “You can no longer send messages to this person.” In case that doesn’t drive the point home, when they go to your profile, it’ll say, simply, you’re blocked. Subtle.

The other messaging platforms are a bit more discreet than that. If you’ve blocked someone on Apple iMessage and Android Messages, they’ll see the messages they send to you as sent but not read. Same thing goes for Facebook Messenger, if you’ve blocked them on Facebook Messenger only and not all of Facebook.


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"I’m just a girl standing in front of a blender, asking it to love me."


Headshot of CR Author Pang-Chieh (BJ) Ho

Pang-Chieh Ho

I'm a newsletter writer who likes looking into the different ways we can live smarter. The topics I cover typically explore unanswered questions we have about the products we use every day and bridge the gaps between what owners' manuals advise and what we actually do. In my spare time, I like to take photos, critique movies out loud while I watch (at home!), and take care of my ever-increasing plant "children."