Happy Holidays 2020!
If you want to buy someone a popular gift--an Instant Pot, Air Fryer, or toaster oven, for example--you don't need our guide. But if you want to find unique, unusual items, or items that a person wouldn't think to buy for themselves, or something that's totally over the top extravagant, then our gift guide is the perfect place to browse.
We are purveyors of premium quality goods and encourage people to buy the best quality they can afford--these products are not only going to last longer, they're also more enjoyable to use. So know going in that all of our gift suggestions are top quality. Many are also fancy, expensive, and maybe even a little outrageous.
After all, if you're going to the effort of getting someone a gift, it should be as special as possible, shouldn't it?
How about a truffle mushroom for that special someone--we're not even going to tell you how much it costs. Maybe a $100 box of chocolates that are almost too pretty to eat? Or, if you've got a lover of modernist cooking to buy for, how about the complete, 5-volume set (plus recipe handbook) of Modernist Cuisine?
And don't worry if your budget can't handle such extravagance: we have plenty of items under $100, too.
This guide is full of great ideas. If we can help make your holiday shopping even a little less stressful, we'll have done our job.
If you don't find anything here, you can check out our older gift guides, too. There are some repeats (because good quality is perennial), but you'll find new ideas, too.
How To Use this Guide
It's kind of a long guide, so here are a few tips to get the most out of it.
Navigation. The easiest way to browse is to use the Table of Contents (above). You can click on anything you want to learn more about. When you're done, you can click "back to top" to come back to the TOC.
If you're not sure what you're looking for, you can just browse the whole article. We guarantee you'll find some really interesting ideas you hadn't thought of before.
Prices. While we don't list products in any particular price order, we did mark the lower cost gifts with asterisks:
- One asterisk means a product is under $100.
- Two asterisks means a product is under $50.
No asterisk means a product is over $100, sometimes considerably more than $100. Some outrageously more than $100. Since these are gift ideas, we wanted to include only the best of every category. And even if those items are beyond your budget, they're still fun to look at.
If you looked at last year's guide, you'll notice a lot of the same items. That's because we like the tried-and-true classics, and many of them hold up year after year and are great gifts for any kitchen enthusiast.
We expanded the guide quite a bit this year, though, with more creative ideas for you to fall in love with or to get your creative juices flowing.
If you want even more ideas, check out 50+ DIY, Super Easy Homemade Holiday Gifts for the Culinarily Challenged. It's full of ideas for easy yet elegant homemade food gifts.
About Buying Online
For people who hate to shop, the Internet is nothing short of miraculous. You can get all your shopping done--including gift wrapping, cards, and delivery--without leaving your couch (or bed, even). And it's not a cop-out, because online shopping provides an entire global community of options. You're not going to get that at your local mall.
Buying online is smart for your wallet, too: in a global market, competition for sales is fierce. It's easy to shop around and compare prices and be certain you're getting the absolute best deal.
The only problem with online shopping is that you're at the mercy of the reviewers to trust whether a product is any good or not. Here are a few ways to ensure you get the best quality items even if you can't see them in person:
- Buy brand name items if at all possible--now is not the time to skimp, and brand reputation is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting a good product.
- If you can't go with a brand name, be sure to read reviews thoroughly--in particular, the negative reviews. That's where you'll find the nitty gritty details that will help you make a smart buying decision. This is especially true if you do go with a lesser known brand.
- Read expert recommendations before buying if you can. (Our site is a good example of this.)
- Email or call a company with any questions, or take advantage of their Chat feature (many retail sites have these now).
- Don't click "Buy" until you're comfortable with the purchase (no matter how much you're spending).
Along these lines, know that we recommend only top quality items. Spending money doesn't always guarantee that the recipient will love their gift, but it sure doesn't hurt.
Get the Best Deal You Can
Here are a few tips to shop smart and maybe save yourself a little money:
- Go beyond Amazon. Prices may be the same everywhere, but you might find deals at a kitchen store you won't find on Amazon. For example, if you buy a KitchenAid mixer, Bed, Bath & Beyond will often throw in a free accessory; Amazon does not. Or if you buy a set of All-Clad cookware at Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table, they may give you a free piece with purchase (often a roasting pan, which is an excellent extra piece to have).
- Being a first-time buyer on a site can save you some money. Often when you sign up for a site's mailing list, they'll give you a discount on your first purchase. (This is nothing new, but we thought we'd remind you of it just in case you're in an Amazon rut.)
- Don't buy at a site that doesn't have free shipping. Unless the deal is outstanding, including shipping, keep looking.
- Use a credit card that has a buyer protection plan if possible. Shopping online is very safe these days, but you should always protect yourself every way you can.
You can also check out our articles How to Buy Online: Teach Yourself About Technical Products and Get What You Can Truly Love and Can You Trust Amazon Reviews?
We downsized our cookware list this year, but we kept many of the same--or similar items. The truth is, since cookware is such a utilitarian item, you should only buy it for someone if you know they want it--or, if it's something you know they wouldn't buy for themselves.
Our picks for this category include beautiful enameled cast iron from le Creuset, the clad stainless Proline skillet from the Belgian maker Demeyere, artisan boutique cast iron, and the beautiful All-Clad Copper Core.
Le Creuset 6.75 Qt Signature Round, Wide Dutch Oven
Hint: Get a color that matches the color scheme of the kitchen.
le Creuset 6.75 qt. Dutch oven. There are two types of cooks in the world: those who have a le Creuset Dutch oven, and those who want one.
A Dutch oven is an essential piece for any cook to have. From braises to stews to deep frying (and so much more), a Dutch oven is an extremely versatile piece. And enameled cast iron is the most versatile type to have: the cast iron body holds in heat, while the heavy lid ensures perfect braising every time. Enamel ensures you can use it for any task, and the vibrant colors add beauty, as well.
What's the best size? We've upgraded our old pick, the 5.5 quart, to this 6.75 quart, round, wide pot. It's not only just a little bit bigger, but its shape is a delight, offering way more flat cooking surface (about 113 square inches vs. about 79, or about 30% more). It's also from le Creuset's upgraded Signature line, with slicker enamel, bigger handles, and a beautiful stainless knob. Best of all, this piece, for reasons unknown to man, is one of the best cookware bargains around, running up to $100 less than its 5.5 quart counterpart. Highly, highly recommended. (See our detailed review)
Demeyere Proline Skillet (3 Sizes)
Demeyere Proline skillet. This is the ultimate clad stainless skillet. The Belgian maker thought of everything, from the rivetless cooking surface to the 7-ply core with 75% more aluminum than All-Clad D3, to the Silvinox surface treatment that keeps the pan shiny for decades. If there's one piece to invest in, it's your skillet, because it takes the most abuse in the kitchen and also requires the best performance. Just don't buy it for anyone with ergonomic issues, because this pan is heavy.
The 9" size went for $99 for years, but has recently jumped in price--so we recommend the 11" for just a little bit more. If you go any larger than that, the pan gets unwieldy because of its glorious heft.
See our article All-Clad Vs. Demeyere for more info.
All-Clad Copper Core Set
All-Clad Copper Core. All-Clad Copper Core is beautiful cookware, and any lover of clad stainless would be thrilled to have this set. While D3 and D5 are both workhorses, we think Copper Core has an aesthetic that makes it a proper gift item.
Whether you go with the starter 7 piece set or the behemoth everything-but-the-sink set, it will be the last cookware set a person will have to buy. Copper Core also has a lot of specialty pieces too, so it's easy to add to the collection year after year.
For more information, see our review All-Clad Copper Core: Is It Worth It?
Finex/Field Cast Iron
It may not be worth the All-Clad-like prices to you, but then again, it might.
Finex Cast Iron Skillet with Lid. High-end cast iron cookware may seem like a contradiction in terms. After all, a $25 Lodge skillet will last forever, too, and perform just fine.
But you can't buy someone a $25 Lodge skillet for a gift. You just can't.
And there IS a difference. The artisanal cast iron cookware that's popped up on the market in the past decade is finished differently than a Lodge skillet. It's more polished, with a smoother cooking surface--which makes it an even better substitute for nonstick cookware. And this Finex has a cool-touch handle that makes it even more practical.
If you don't like the looks of the Finex, our other cast iron recommendation is Field. It's a simpler design and also one of the lightest cast iron pans on the market.
Tramontina: Clad Stainless Cookware Set Under $300
All of our above picks are made in the USA or Europe. None are made in China. However, there is some nice made-in-China clad stainless cookware. We like the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad line. For more info, see our Tramontina review.
If money is an object, this is a great option. It's every bit as pretty as All-Clad, and it's performance, as rated by dozens of sites including Serious Eats and Wirecutter, is nearly identical.
This 12 Tramontina piece set shown here is our pick. Also comes in 8-, 10-, and 14-piece sets, but only the 12- and 14-piece sets made in China (not Brazil) have the big skillets. The Wal-Mart set may have different sized skillets (smaller).
Can you really buy someone an induction burner for a gift? We think so--but it should be a really, really nice one. The world of induction burners doesn't change a lot, so our recommendations haven't changed from last year. either: the Vollrath Mirage Pro still outclasses everything close to it on the market and the Breville Control Freak is still the best over-the-top option.
If your budget doesn't allow for one of our picks, you could go with the Mirage Cadet, or a Duxtop model, which are the best of the budget PICs. For more info, read our Duxtop induction burner review or see our review of the Mirage Cadet here.
What about induction cookware? Any of the clad stainless and cast iron cookware we recommend will work with induction. Just stay away from copper cookware because it isn't induction compatible (All-Clad Copper Core being the exception).
IMPORTANT: If you buy the Mirage Pro or the Control Freak for home use, we recommend buying an extended warranty. These are commercial products, and the warranty may not cover home use.
Vollrath 59500P Mirage Pro
Vollrath Mirage Pro 59500P Portable Induction Cooktop. If you've read our portable induction reviews, then you know how much we love the Mirage Pro. Temp range: 80-450F. Settings: 100. Accuracy: +/- 10F. No, it's not good enough to sous vide, but it's more accurate than just about any other PIC on the market, and as good as most full-sized induction cooktops. The only one better is the Control Freak, which is reflected in the price (about 3x the cost).
Breville Control Freak
If money is no object and you have a techie gadget geek on your list who's also into sous vide, home brewing, or other hobbies that require precise temps, the Control Freak would make a fun gift.
Breville PolyScience Control Freak. At about $1500, this is the over-the-top option for induction cooktops.
The exposed temperature sensor (center of cooking surface) provides instantaneous feedback, so the Control Freak holds temperatures insanely accurately. It has 397 temp settings--total overkill--and you can program it to remember your most-used settings. It has a probe you can use for instantaneous feedback that keeps temps extremely stable. This all makes it suitable for use as a sous vide device--just add a pot.
Duxtop 9600LS/P961LS: The Affordable Option
Duxtop makes several affordable induction burners, but this is our favorite. See our Duxtop review for more info.
The Duxtop 9600LS is one of the best induction burners on the market at any price. It doesn't compete with the Mirage Pro, but it can hold a simmer better than most and has 20 power and 20 temp controls for excellent accuracy.
If you want a sturdier build, go with the P961LS, which has a stainless frame (and the same controls).
Sous Vide continues to gain popularity, but our gift picks remain the same. While we are all for buying an off-brand for yourself (since all these units are made in China), we think if it's a gift, you should go with a name brand--and those are still Anova and Joule. Or, if you want to go the high-end route, Polyscience is the brand to consider.
Sous Vide Accessories: If your giftee already owns an immersion circulator, check out our article Sous Vide Accessories: What to Buy, What to Skip. We at TRK think the most important accessory is a vacuum sealer--and it's a great gift item!--but you can decide for yourself.
You can also check out our book recommendations (below), which also make nice gifts for sous vide enthusiasts.
Also: Keep in mind that people who are into sous vide will welcome a second, or even third, circulator.
Joule Immersion Circulator, 1100W. We used to love the Joule (see our glowing review of the Joule immersion circulator), but we dislike that Joule requires the use of a smart phone as it has no controls of its own: having to connect to the Internet just to heat a container of water is a bit too...Big Brotherish...for us. But if this doesn't bother you, it's a sleek, powerful immersion circulator with the most sophisticated and easiest-to-use interface on the market.
Anova has come out with some new models, and their 1000W Anova AN500 is a viable gift option. It will run you as much as Joule without the sleekness, and it's not quite as powerful, but if you don't like the idea of using your phone every time you heat water, this is the one to go with.
If you go this route, you're pretty much ensured that your recipient will have the fastest, coolest, most durable immersion circulator on their block.
PolyScience Chef Commercial Immersion Circulator, 1100W. This is a powerful, built-like-a-tank immersion circulator marketed for commercial use. It's got a nice compact design and it's going to perform better than any lower priced import, including Anova or Joule.
No, you don't need a circulator this expensive. A cheaper one will heat water just fine. So why invest this much in a circulator: Build quality for one: this circulator is built for commercial use, and you can tell the instant you pick it up. Power for another: it's going to heat your water fast. Plus, it makes a great gift, because few people would spend this much on themselves.
Modernist Cuisine. You may not know it, but Modernist Cuisine began as a handbook for using sous vide and is at the root of the sous vide trend (even though it's rarely quoted or referred to on sous vide sites). It mushroomed into a major treatise on modernist cooking, but it's chock full of sous vide recipes. If you know someone who loves to read, learn new things, and cook, this is the perfect over-the-top gift. The photography alone is so amazing, it got its own book. THE authority on modernist cooking. And even if you don't use a lot of the recipes, these make great coffee table books.
You could also go with Modernist Cuisine at Home, a fraction of the price but still an excellent--and probably more practical--sous vide manual.
Other Sous Vide Cookbooks
There are a ton of sous vide cookbooks on the market now, and in our (somewhat snooty) opinion, most of them aren't very good. What you really need are time/temperature guides. Sous vide is a great tool, and trying to use it like an extra oven kind of defeats the point of its glorious lack of time dependency (or, as Nathan Myhrvold put it, "sous vide frees you from the tyranny of the clock"). A lot of enthusiasts who love sous vide miss that major point about it, and add unnecessary steps and concerns to the sous vide process.
**Sous Vide for the Home Cook by Daniel Baldwin. Aside from the Modernist Cuisine tomes, Daniel Baldwin's guide is a good reference and guide book. You can find a lot of his information online, but it's great to have everything in one convenient place.
Another popular sous vide book is Thomas Keller's Under Pressure. This is a gorgeous book with breathtaking photography, but may not be the most helpful guide for home sous viders. It makes a great coffee table book.
A vacuum sealer is also utilitarian, and therefore may not make the best gift. But you may have circumstances where a vacuum sealer would amaze and delight the recipient, such as:
- If the person asked for one (obvs).
- If the person is really into sous vide and has all the other accessories (yes: a vacuum sealer is that much better than the water displacement method).
- If the person is really into meal prepping or prepping in general and hasn't gotten a vacuum sealer yet.
- If the person is a kitchen geek and loves techy/geeky tools.
If you think a vacuum sealer would be a welcome gift, here are our favorites. (And again, we suggest buying a really, really nice one--but if your budget doesn't allow, check out our favorite sealers under $100).
Avid Armor Chamber Sealer
Avid Armor USV35 Chamber Vacuum Sealer. This is a new pick this year. We still love the VacMaster sealers, but these Avid Armor sealers are made for home use, so they're a much more practical gift. They're a little smaller, but a lot lighter than other chamber sealers. They're great for all standard chamber vac uses, and even have an accessory port that will work with old FoodSaver hoses and containers if you have them lying around.
It's super practical, yet also very cool--any hunter, fisherman, gardener, or sous-vider would love to have this!
Weston Pro 2300 Edge Sealer
Weston Pro 2300 Edge Sealer. This continues to be one of the biggest sellers on TRK. If you want an edge sealer, this is one of Weston's most popular models. It's got an extra long sealing bar and is built for commercial use. Unfortunately, it hasn't been available on Amazon, but we hope that changes before the holidays. If you find it, don't pay more than $400. (See our review of Weston vacuum sealers for more into--if the Pro 2300 is sold out, you may find another model that works for you.)
Don't forget the bags.
Vesta Handheld Sealer (for Reusable Bags)
**Vesta Precision Handheld Vacuum Sealer. Who says you have to spend a small fortune on a vacuum sealer? This handheld sealer from Vesta Precision--the new kids on the block in the world of sous vide--is a great gift even for someone who already has an edge or chamber sealer. It's a slightly different concept than the long-term sealing the bigger vacuum sealers are designed for. This little handheld uses resealable (and reusable!) zip-top bags with a special opening made just for use with this sealer.
Use your bigger sealer for long term storage, but use this one for leftovers, for items that you'll want to open and re-seal a number of times, and, of course, for sous vide. The vacuum isn't as strong as you'll find on a bigger sealer, but it's perfect for reusablility, and you still get the added freshness that comes from vacuum sealing.
Plus, it's adorable.
Don't forget the bags!
Gifts for the Baker in Your Life
If you have a baker on your list, consider one of these baking-themed gifts. (Your generosity will no doubt be rewarded with a scrumptious homemade dessert.)
Kitchen stores sometimes have deals where they throw in an accessory (pasta maker, juicer, meat grinder, etc.). We recommend checking all the links--and be on the lookout for deals.
KitchenAid Mixer, 5 qt. (Amazon) If the baker you love doesn't have a KitchenAid mixer yet, then this may be the year to get him or her one! Keep an eye out for deals, which will be abundant leading up to the holidays. Not only from Amazon, either: you'll see them on sale at Best Buy, Sur la Table, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and maybe even Home Depot and Lowe's.
The link above to one of the best prices we've seen on Amazon--with your choice of colors--but stay vigilant for even better deals.
See KitchenAid mixers at everythingkitchens.com (usually has the most colors and the most accessories).
See the Artisan Custom Metallic Series at everythingkitchens.com: If you want to go all out, these are gooorgeous mixers.
Kenwood Kitchen Machine
Kenwood Kitchen Machine. If you want something different, consider the multi-functional Kenwood Kitchen Machine. In addition to mixing, it can also heat/cook food and has numerous other functions and available accessories. It's also more powerful than a KitchenAid, more durably built, and comes with a 5 year warranty.
Baking Steel Stainless Baking "Stone." Yes, it's made for pizza, but it will improve and simplify baking tasks, too: no blind baking pie crusts with this steel! Cookies finish faster (though you have to keep an eye on them). And if you do use it for pizza, too, well, that's great, too! Also: what a fun gift to open (who's ever going to guess what's inside that huge, heavy box??).
Vanilla Bean Paste
**Nielsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. Vanilla has skyrocketed in price in the past few years, so any baker would appreciate a gift of artisan vanilla bean paste. It has more complexity than vanilla extract, and it's almost certainly something they wouldn't buy for themselves.
Stainless French Rolling Pin (with Measurements!)
**Stainless French Rolling Pin with Measurements. Though last year's pick was classic wood, we think this one is multitudes better. It's cooler, so better for pie crust; it has measurements on it to help you size your dough perfectly; best of all, you can throw it in the dishwasher.
It's the perfect gift for anyone who bakes a lot and still has an old school cylindrical rolling pin. The tapered ones are so much easier to use, the difference is shocking.
It's also one of the least expensive gifts on this list--yet still super cool.
Ateco Revolving Cake Stand
**Ateco Revolving Cake Decorating Stand (several size options), cast iron. If the baker in your life loves to make fancy layer cakes, then he or she is probably secretly dying for a cast iron cake decorating stand.
Why cast iron? You need that stability! And it will last forever!
Bravetart American Desserts Cookbook
**Brave Tart's Iconic American Desserts Cookbook. Anyone into baking knows who Stella Parks is--the resident baker at Serious Eats. This cookbook is full of fabulous, educational information--not just how you do something but why you do it--plus cool recipes like homemade Oreos. That's just tough to beat.
Modernist Bread (Book)
Modernist Bread. If someone is into bread baking and modernist technique, this 5-volume tome may be the ultimate gift for them. The photography is stunning, the techniques: let's just say they're like no other bread baking book you've ever seen. As awesome as this set is, the person really has to be into bread, or these books are more likely to be coffee table conversation pieces (which is okay, too).
Bread Baker's Apprentice (Cookbook)
Emile Henry Pie Plate
Williams-Sonoma usually has the best price--about $10 less than on Amazon.
Oxo Good Grips Scale
**OXO Good Grips Kitchen Scale. Again, not the most romantic gift, but a serious baker needs a good scale. Weighed measurements are much more accurate than the by-volume measuring that's more common in the US.
You might be surprised that we went with OXO, which is known for practical, affordably-priced kitchen tools. Kitchen scales have a tendency to die after just a couple of short years, but not this one. It's easy to use, with a readout that extends outward for easy viewing of oversized objects; and easy to clean, with a waterproof panel and removable top. Its design hits all the important marks.
Or see a bigger version at Williams-Sonoma:
Fancy Foods (That No One Would Buy for Themselves)
Fancy food is a fun gift for everyone, because everyone likes to eat. There are so many options, you could spend days picking something out. And since everyone enjoys eating, it's a great option for people you don't know very well (your boss, your neighbor, your new in-laws), or are at an absolute loss about what to get for someone.
There are way too many artisanal foods (and food websites) to list here; instead of trying to be complete, we're just going to give a few of our favorites, plus some really fun sites where you can shop.
Onine Meat, Seafood, and Goodies
Alaskan Seafood Company. If you have a fish--especially salmon!--lover in your life, anything from this website should delight them. All of their fish is wild-caught with sustainable practices. It's also delicious.
Allen Brothers Steakhouse Steaks. Known for their prime cuts of beef, this is a company that's been supplying restaurants for decades. If you have a beef lover on your list, this is something they would likely never buy for themselves. We suggest you stick with the beef, although all of their meat and seafood is top notch.
Harry and David. If you've never had a Harry and David pear, buy yourself a gift box from Harry and David. These are pears for people who don't like pears--you will love them. Their chocolates, popcorn mixes, cheeses, crackers, and pretty much everything else is equally scrumptious. Gift boxes come in all shapes and sizes with a little something for everyone. It's a top quality food gift that anyone is sure to appreciate.
There are tons of artisan chocolate makers out there. Here we list two of our favorites. If neither of these are quite what you're looking for, just get on the Google. Your options are staggering.
*Kate Weiser Chocolates. This is chocolate-as-art, and some of the most beautiful candies you'll ever see. Expensive, yes, and almost too pretty to eat. But worth it if you love someone with a serious chocolate habit and great taste (both aesthetically and culinarily speaking). With flavors like pistachio peach, mango habanero, and passion fruit, these are truly unique chocolates. Note: The prices are pretty reasonable, but the shipping is high--and someone has to be home to receive the package because it has to be refrigerated. A special gift worth every penny.
Condiments, Oils and Spices
**Smoked Salt Sampler Package. This is another lovely gift for a chef. These types of gifts can really get the imagination flowing. If smoked salt doesn't float your boat, there are several other options on this page.
**Olive Oil Lovers.com Tasting Kit. For the second year in a row we're recommending this tasting kit from Olive Oil Lover's.
This 6-pack from Olive Oil Lovers is more than a sample pack: it has six olive oils that range in flavor from mild to strong that are meant to teach you what type you like best. Follow the instructions and you will never again have to guess again at which olive oil is your favorite. And since their site is organized by flavor profiles, it's easy to buy your favorites.
If you're an olive oil lover, know someone who is, or just want to be sure you're getting the quality you're paying for, we can't recommend this site highly enough. Top quality oil is guaranteed.
**Elsa Balsamic Vinegar. If you've never tried this balsamic, you should buy a bottle for yourself and gift it to every food lover you know. It's good enough to drink. And it's sweet enough that you can make a vinaigrette without added sugar. Drizzle it over tomatoes or drizzle it over strawberries: either way, it's one of the best balsamics you'll ever taste; we think the best.
**50 Year Aged Sherry Vinegar. If you've never tried sherry vinegar, you should: it's got a unique flavor that enhances any salad and is excellent for finishing any number of savory dishes. If you go with this 50-year aged stuff, it will spoil you for other sherry vinegars. A truly sublime taste experience!
Truffle Mushroom. Truffle is kind of the ultimate gourmet foodie gift. Don't mess around with truffle oil, truffle salt, or truffle butter, which will almost certainly contain artificial flavoring: go for the real thing, a genuine truffle mushroom imported from Italy. (Or, if you'd rather get the salt or oil, you can find them on this site, too. It's Italian, so it's probably authentic.)
**Luxardo Cherries. These are not like any maraschino cherry you've ever had before. Don't waste them on top of a sundae; they belong in Old Fashioned's made with properly aged whiskey, or rye. If you have an old fashioned fan on your list, Luxardos are a must-have. If you don't want to buy them by the pound on Amazon, you can get the 14-oz. jar from Williams-Sonoma.
**Chile Crunch condiment. You've probably never seen the words "condiment" and "life-changing" used in the same sentence before, but this condiment could be described that way. It's amazing on anything savory, adding a mild heat and a toasted garlic flavor. It's considered Mexican, but works with any cuisine and is especially delicious on eggs.
Food Making/Growing Kits
**Mozzarella Cheese Starter Kit. If you know someone who's always wanted to make their own cheese, there's no better year to start than 2020. This kit from Williams-Sonoma has everything you need except the milk.
Shiitake Mushroom Log Kit. For the cook who has everything, or just wants to grow some of their own food. Shiitakes are meaty, earthy mushrooms that add umami flavor to any dish. This log is about a foot tall and 3.5 inches in diameter. Handmade in Georgia.
The Best and Most Fun Small Kitchen Appliances (Outlet Required)
Here are some of the coolest small appliances that require an outlet. Some are common gifts (Vitamix), while some you've probably never thought of.
See also the Modernist Cuisine section below for more ideas.
Robot-Coupe MagiMix Food Processor
Robot-Coupe MagiMix Food Processor. Made in France, 30 year warranty. You've tried the rest: now buy the best! Robot-Coupe is to Cuisinart as Rolls Royce is to Chevrolet. If your loved one has asked for a food processor, surprise them with this top notch, super powerful brand. It's as easy to use as a Cuisinart, but it's just better. Comes with recipe book and spatula.
Vitamix Ascent Blender
Vitamix Ascent Blender. If you go for the top-of-the-line, this is the one you want: the carafe is "low profile," meaning it will fit under an upper cabinet, which is the most practical design for anyone who doesn't have a lot of storage space and plans to leave it sitting out. It's the best of the best, so if someone in your life is asking for a blender, this one is tough to beat.
Vitamix has come up with a genius idea: You can now buy a food processor attachment for your Vitamix Ascent or Venturist blender--one device, two practical machines. This is a game changer!
Smeg Toaster. A toaster may not seem like a good gift, but these Smeg toasters have a retro aesthetic that adds flair to any kitchen. They come in several colors, and might even be a gateway to years of other Smeg product gifts, including juicers, coffee makers, electric kettles, and more. They're all gorgeous, just a little bit whimsical, and there's probably someone on your list who will fall in love with them.
Buy the 4-slice:
Buy the 2-slice:
Zojirushi Rice Cooker
Zojirushi Rice Cooker, 3 cup. As you might imagine, the Japanese have got rice cooking dialed in. This rice cooker is an amazing product! If you know anyone who struggles with cooking rice, or just needs an upgrade to their old style rice cooker, this is the one to get. You can size up to 5.5 cups (still a convenient, easy-to-store size) or upgrade to the induction model, which is nice but probably not necessary if all you want is a rice cooker. We're not sure what the fuzzy logic is, but we know it makes perfect rice every.single.time.
Cuckoo Rice Cooker
We also like the Cuckoo 6 cup rice cooker, also with fuzzy logic. Either one will ensure you never have gummy, pasty, or undercooked rice ever again! (Serious Eats picks the Cuckoo over the Zojirushi, but we get excellent results with both.)
Cuckoo Q5 8-in-1 Multicooker
The Cuckoo Q5 Multicooker is like an InsantPot on steroids. It's got a ton of features that make it so.much.cooler than an InstantPot, we're not sure where to start. Let's see...it's got a 2-ply stainless/aluminum inner pot for even heating; a hydraulic lid; a super-quiet steam-release system--and maybe best of all, it's self-cleaning. Oh, and yeah: it can make yogurt. At 5 quarts, it's the perfect size for most people.
Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker
Breville Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker. It's big, bulky, and weighs 30 pounds, but it's the last ice cream maker you'll ever buy; no freezer required because it has its own! With 12 hardness settings and automatic functioning, it makes homemade ice cream as easy as pressing a couple of buttons (well, almost). People love this thing. At about $500, though, be sure your giftee will use it--and has a place to store it.
The Best and Most Fun Small Kitchen Tools (No Outlet Required)
As big as this category is, encompassing every kind of tool or utensil that doesn't require a power outlet, we list only our absolute favorites. Because the truth is, it's hard to find truly exceptional tools.
Here, you'll probably also find the least expensive options that are still really practical, useful, or fun.
See also the Modernist Cuisine section below for more ideas.
*Rosle Utensils: If you want to get someone a practical gift that has beautiful style, Rosle tools are hard to beat. They're made of high grade stainless steel and stay shiny and beautiful for decades. They have a beautiful heft that feels luxurious in your hand.
Bonus: if you get someone started down the Rosle path, you've got potential gift items for years to come--they make everything from serving spoons to instant read thermometers to milk frothers. Dozens of fabulous gift options.
*ThermaPen MK4. There are dozens of instant-read thermometers on Amazon, but Thermoworks doesn't sell on Amazon, so if you click this link, we won't even get a commission--but they're really that.much.better than other brands. They go on sale throughout the year and will definitely have a Black Friday mark down. If you find one under $80, it's a good price (though we've seen them as low as $59).
The MK4 is durable and water resistant. It has a huge, backlit display that's easy to read in any circumstances (no reading glasses required). It's also extremely durable--and comes in a bunch of different colors. If you've got a baker or griller in your life, they need this thermometer.
Marble Utensil Holder
Handblown Glass Olive Oil Pourer
Chef's Portable Multi-tool
**Chef's Portable Multi-tool. A gorgeous and practical tool for anyone who loves camping or otherwise cooking away from the conveniences of a kitchen. Stainless steel and acacia wood, with 12 tools including grater, garlic crusher, carving fork, and paring knife.
Hand Carved Cookbook Holder
Aarke Carbonator. A carbonator is a great gift for anyone who loves carbonated beverages. The Aarke is beautiful, too: the main reason we picked it over SodaStream (which is easier to use: Aarke has a screw-in attachment). They've expanded their colors from silver and brass to also include black and white, so they'll work with any decor.
If you want to take a look at the SodaStream products, which are just as durable but not quite as pretty, we love the Penguin. And SodaStream is an excellent company to work with should you ever need customer service. So while we recommend the Aarke carbonator for beauty, we recommend the Penguin just as enthusiastically.
Fancy Mortar and Pestle
*Olivewood Mortar and Pestle or Molcajete (for guacamole). There are some foods or spice blends that require a mortar and pestle to get the results you want. The olivewood shown here is a great all-around m&p, while the Molcajete is bigger and designed for making guacamole. Most cooks would love either one of these (or maybe both!).
Buy the olivewood mortar and pestle:
Buy the Molcajete mortar and pestle:
**Benriner Mandoline. If you do any kind of cooking that requires a lot of veggie prep, a mandoline is a fabulous tool. It's easier to pull out and wash than a food processor, and the results are stellar. With a knife, scalloped potatoes (for example) take about 10 minutes to slice, and the slices aren't all even. With a mandoline, the job takes less than a minute, and the slices are perfectly uniform. We suggest Benriner, and we like the extra wide one pictured here--but there are lots of other options.
If you do buy someone a mandoline, be sure to get the protective gloves, as well--you do not want to cut yourself on those razor sharp blades.
These **Shun Classic Kitchen Shears are a great gift for anyone who loves to cook, especially if you don't know if they already own a pair of kitchen shears or not, because it's one of those items that everybody can use more than one of. If they do already own a pair, this is almost certainly an upgrade, too. Super useful and made to last forever.
Or see other options on Amazon:
Great Gifts for Coffee Lovers
Coffee is a category unto itself, and it's a rabbit hole that you can follow for as long and as deep as you are able to stand. Here we offer some great ideas, some fun tools, and some of the best beans on the Internet for the coffee lover(s) in your life.
Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine
Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine. Rated by enthusiasts as one of the best beginner machines for home espresso making. At about $450, it's even somewhat affordably priced.
Don't forget the grinder--you need a good burr grinder, or this machine is useless. The Baratza (below) is one of our favorites.
ROK Manual Espresso Maker
ROK Manual Espresso Maker. If you want something a little less automatic, this all-manual espresso maker gets excellent reviews and is fun, too. You'll get a bit of a workout pressing the coffee, but a lot of people enjoy this aspect of it. Our recommendation: Buy it for someone young and strong.
The Best French Press
**French Press. If espresso is a little too fancy, or just out of your price range, a French press may be the right option. This one is sold on Amazon in all different store fronts, but this is the first one we've seen in copper finish. It's nothing fancy, but it's a solid press that will stand the test of time (no glass to break!) and make great coffee. The all stainless parts are also exactly what you want, as plastic parts will get eaten away by the acids in the coffee. You can spend more, but you're not going to get more. This is the one you want!
Baratza Virtuose Burr Bean Grinder
Baratza Virtuose Burr Bean Grinder. Is a burr grinder really better? Absolutely. Why? Because it makes a uniform grind, which is very important for pressed, pour over, and espresso drinks. And why is this the best burr grinder? Actually, there are a lot of great grinders out there, but this one gets consistently high reviews from buyers and coffee review sites.
One thing we love about it is that coffee mess is mostly contained inside the machine. If you've used a burr grinder, you know this can be a real problem. Not here.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Beans
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee Beans, 5 lb. Supposedly the best tasting coffee in the world, you can buy 5 lbs for roughly $16 per pound. This is a great deal! Or, if you don't want 5 lbs., Lavazza Super Crema beans are almost as good--some even think they're better. Three Pillars is right up there, too.
Knives can be a popular gift item, but we don't think they're always a good idea. Why? Because knives are a very personal item, and what one person loves another one may hate. What fits perfectly in one hand can feel awkward and uncomfortable in another. A flat santoku blade might be perfect for one person's cutting style and be horribly wrong for someone else's style.
So unless you know what a person likes, we don't suggest buying a knife for a gift. No matter how nice a knife it may be, you have to be sure it fits a person's cutting style for it to be a good gift.
We also recommend not getting entire sets of knives--unless it's steak knives--because it's hard to know if all the knives will be useful. A small set of two knives, on the other hand, can be a lovely gift. For example, a chef's knife and a paring knife, or a set of carving knife and fork.
If you do want to gift someone a knife, here are some of our favorites.
Our Favorite Knives
Precision Knife Sharpener
TSPROF K03 Precision Knife Sharpener. Okay: this is a total geek tool, totally over-the-top. But if you have a knife lover in your life who also loves using precision tools, this is a one-of-a-kind gift that you can be sure he or she doesn't already have. It allows you to get the perfect angle so you never have to wonder if you got it right or not. You can swap out stones and sharpen just about any tool with a blade. There's even a Facebook group for enthusiasts!
If you don't want to spend this much, check out their Amazon store for other options--but we guarantee you that no one will ever use a whetstone again once they have this thing.
Here we tried to stick to anything a modernist cook would love. Some of these could also have gone in other categories (food, appliances) but they fit best here.
*ISI Whipping Siphon. This is a super fun gift for any cook. Not only for modernist uses, either: a whipping siphon is useful for foams, gels, infusions, and just homemade whipped cream (that lasts for weeks in the fridge!). The link is to the pint size, which is a useful all-around size, but you can go quart or half-pint, too. Don't forget cartridges!
...if you're not sure how useful a whipping siphon can be, check out 20 Ways to Use a Whipping Siphon. It's not just for whipped cream anymore!
PolyScience Breville Gun Pro Smoke Infuser. A fun toy from the makers of immersion circulators, the Control Freak (above) and other lab-equipment-like kitchen toys. To use this, you just add a small amount of wood chips to the chamber, spark them, then direct the smoke into any container that will hold it. Takes just a few minutes to smoke cheese, veggies, fruits, meat, or bourbon (a reviewer favorite) for a smoky old-fashioned. Yum.
Modernist Cuisine at Home
Modernist Cuisine at Home. Basically the condensed version of Modernist Cuisine, with simplified recipes that any home cook can make (although you'll want to have an immersion circulator and a whipping siphon at the very least). The photography is just as gorgeous.
Molecular Gastronomy Starter Kit
Ultimate Molecular Gastronomy Starter Kit. A super fun gift for a cook who loves to experiment. Everything you need to get started with modernist cooking (minus the immersion circulator). Spherification? Check. Foams? Check. Gels? Check. It's like a kitchen chemistry set for the modernist cook! Non-GMO, gluten free, certified Kosher. Includes a 250 page recipe/technique book, too.
El Bulli (book)
El Bulli 1998-2002 by Ferran Adria. Adria was a pioneer in modernist technique, and his El Bulli restaurant was world renowned as the center of molecular gastronomy. This is more a fun coffee table book than a guide, but it will awe and inspire. See also El Bulli 1994-1997 and El Bulli 2003-2004. Learn about the ideas behind the biggest cooking revolution since Escoffier.
**AWS Gram Scale. If you're making any modernist recipes or using any modernist ingredients, an OXO kitchen scale isn't going to cut it: oh yes, you need the OXO scale for sure--but you also need a gram scale. Many modernist ingredients are used in gram-sized amounts--this includes every ingredient in the starter kit above--so you need a scale for these, as well. A gram scale is also great when you need precise amounts of everyday ingredients like salt, spices, and baking soda (or powder), just to name a few.
This scale is accurate to 0.1g and has an upper limit of 600g. You can find scales accurate to 0.01g if you need it, but these scales have a lower upper limit (e.g., 50g). Here's the Amazon page for gram scales if you want to keep shopping.
Books Every Cook Should Own
We aren't big on trends or celebrity chef recipes; celebrity recipes can be found online in droves, anyway, so why pay for a cookbook? There are good books to be found, for sure (Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, for example). You'll just have to look elsewhere for them.
On the other hand, we are huge believers in classics--those volumes that follow the long lineage of Western culinary methods. (Eastern, too; we just don't aren't experienced enough with Eastern cooking to recommend any.)
The books that really get our juices flowing share not only recipes, but technique and background information. Because as important as learning the hows of cooking is, learning the whys is what will take your skills to the next level. We love anything that discusses the science of cooking, because understanding what's happening while you cook will result in more creativity and, for lack of a better word, bravery in the kitchen.
Here's a list of our must-haves. (They're on most other people's must-have lists, too.)
Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
*Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Hundreds of recipes as well as granular detail about technique. Yes, some of the information may be dated, but this 2-volume set is a classic that will educate you about the lineage behind Western cooking technique and improve basic cooking skills. Child's style is serious but entertaining, and we highly recommend it for everyone who loves to cook and wants to improve their skills.
Joy of Cooking
**Joy of Cooking. A classic first published way back in 1931, Joy of Cooking is one of the most comprehensive recipe-and-technique cookbooks ever printed. It's updated regularly and the latest version, released in November 2019, contains more than 600 new recipes, plus the 4,000 or so existing recipes in this amazing, a-little-something-on-everything guide. The new edition also has info on popular topics from sous vide to fermentation to food waste. You get the best of both worlds: Joy's classic recipes that have stood the test of time, and all the newest food and cooking research pertinent to the home cook. Anyone would love to have this cookbook-and-reference guide, even if they never need to skin a squirrel properly.
If you could only own one cookbook, this is a great option.
On Food and Cooking
Salt Fat Acid Heat
**Salt, Fat, Acid Heat. Fast becoming a classic, this book talks about what makes food taste great and how to learn how to incorporate these elements into your cooking. Another meta-technique book that will revolutionize your cooking.
The Flavor Bible
**The Flavor Bible. Another classic designed to teach you how to put different flavors together with the goal of enhancing creativity in the kitchen. An excellent reference book for any cook looking to up their game.
Essentials of Italian Cooking
**Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. There are so many Italian cookbooks out there, we hesitated to recommend one. But this cookbook just kept coming up. Everywhere we looked, every "best of" list, everyone loves this two-volume set. It's just a fabulous all around cookbook for anyone who loves Italian food.
Rick Bayless Authentic Mexican
**Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless. Like we said, celebrity chefs aren't really our thing, but Bayless' recipes are easy, nearly flawless, and, like the title says, authentic. This is a fabulous volume for anyone who's into Mexican cooking, or wants to be, and is looking to bring Mexican authenticity into their kitchen.
And for Everyone Else...Gift Certificates
If you just don't know what to get someone, relax...there's a solution for that: gift cards! They come in multiple denominations from many different retailers, and they ensure that everyone who receives them gets exactly what they want.
Don't think of it as lazy gifting. Think of it as problem solving.
Amazon: Who wouldn't love an Amazon gift card? They have everything, and virtually everyone shops there. From food to clothing to books and everything in between, Amazon is now the biggest retailer in the world.
So whether it's your mailman, your babysitter, your delivery guy, your boss, or your grandkids, Amazon gift cards are a great idea.
Sur la Table: You can find some gorgeous products here, including their in-house Demeyere Silver7 cookware, Shun knives, and much more. A great option for the picky cook in your life: let 'em buy for themselves! Just as thoughtful, but without the stress!
Williams-Sonoma: A great gift for anyone who loves kitchen products but rarely buys here because it's just too fancy. It can actually be a practical gift, too, because when W-S has sales, you can find some grrrreat deals. (Some of their stuff is actually cheaper than you'll find on Amazon, too.)