The Rational Kitchen's
Gift Shopping Guide
Here, we share our favorite kitchen-, cooking-, and food-themed gift ideas. If you have someone in your life who loves to cook, you're sure to find something for them here!
How To Use this Guide
It's a long shopping guide, so here are a few tips to getting the most out of it.
Navigation. You can use the Table of Contents (above) to click to what you're interested in. At the end of each section, you can click "back to top" to rinse and repeat.
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 more than $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.
Clicking the links. When you click a link or button, you will almost always be taken to a buying site: Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, Bed Bath & Beyond, and others. For many of these, we get a small commission if you complete the purchase; this does not add to the product's price. These commissions are how we make our living, so we are most grateful for your clicks and purchases if you've found our advice helpful.
About Buying Online
For people who hate to shop, the Internet is nothing short of a miracle. You can literally get all your shopping done--including gift wrapping, cards, and delivery--without leaving your couch.
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.
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 get).
- 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?
For holiday and gift-related articles, see:
If you're going to buy someone cookware, get them something very nice. Something a person wouldn't buy for themselves. Our picks for this category include a beautiful copper skillet if you don't need induction compatibility (or set, if money is no object), a high end cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, or a piece (or set) of top notch clad stainless.
What's a good type of pan to buy for a gift? If you know someone wants cookware but aren't sure what type of pan they want, you have a few options. You could go with a skillet, as that is typically the most-used pan in the kitchen. Or you could go with a lovely cast iron Dutch oven if they don't have one; this will definitely be appreciated. Another option is to buy an less common piece that you know they don't have and wouldn't think to buy for themselves; here, ideas include a saucier pan, a chef's pan, or a sauteuse (basically a short-handled sauté made for oven use)--all very versatile pieces that wouldn't languish on the kitchen sidelines.
Another one of our favorites is the deep sauté pan, which is maybe even more versatile than the chef's pan:
What about size? We recommend a 12 inch frying pan for the best all around size, unless only cooking for one or two people. Remember: you can use a larger pan for a smaller job, but not the other way around. And in general, go with larger sizes, unless you're buying on the small end for a specific purpose (for example, if someone asked for a 1 quart copper sauce pan).
If you're looking at sets, try to find a set with good sized pieces and no filler pieces (e.g., two small sauce pans or two small skillets instead of a small one and a large one. For example, a 1.5qt and a 2qt sauce pan are both small. You're better off with a 1.5qt and a 3qt, or larger). 8-inch and 10-inch skillets are standard, but some sets have 10-inch and 12-inch skillets. These are a great find as most people find a 12-inch skillet a more versatile all-around size.
Copper is the best cookware on the planet. It heats incredibly fast and incredibly evenly, and it's beautiful. While copper performance isn't required for most kitchen tasks, many chefs would welcome a copper frying pan--the piece which benefits the most from copper's unbeatable responsiveness.
It's definitely a want, not a need. Which is what makes copper cookware such a great gift. Just remember: Copper is not induction compatible. If you want that, you may want to consider All-Clad Copper Core, which is also very nice cookware. (See our Copper Core review for more information.)
We like Mauviel because it's been around for a long time and has a reputation for being one of the best. We also like that it states right in the name how much copper you're paying for: its two lines, 150 and 250, refer to millimeters of copper. We recommend going with the 250mm, but you will also get good performance from the 150mm pan if you want to save a few bucks.
Mauviel M'Heritage 250C 10.2" copper frying pan with cast iron handle (from Amazon).
This pan, in any size, will delight any semi-serious cook. And remember: polishing is optional, as the cookware will perform flawlessly with our without a patina.
Mauviel M'Heritage 250C copper frying pan with cast iron handle in 3 sizes.
Anyone lucky enough to get this set for a gift will remember it for the rest of their lives.
Mauviel M'Heritage 150C 12 pc set. This set from Williams-Sonoma is soooo gorgeous. It also contains great pieces, including 10in. and 12in. skillets, 2 good sized sauce pans, and a fancy oval cocette (aka Dutch oven) that's pretty enough to use for serving. The bronze handles on these pieces take them over the top.
All-Clad Copper Core. All-Clad Copper Core is beautiful cookware. And even though it's better to think of it as really, really nice clad stainless and not a competitor to the "real" copper brands, it's still very nice cookware. It is also induction compatible so it's one of the very few cookware brands that contain copper and can be used on an induction cooktop.
Another nice thing about Copper Core is that in addition to the standard pieces--frying pans, sauté pans, sauce pans, stock pots, and Dutch ovens--you can get just about any specialty piece of cookware known to man in Copper Core. This makes it a great option for gifting that special piece to the cook who has everything.
For more information, see our review All-Clad Copper Core: Is It Worth It?
Hint: Get a color that matches the color scheme of the kitchen.
le Creuset Dutch ovens have a light-colored interior that makes it easier to judge browning and fond development. Not all brands do.
le Creuset 5.5 qt. Dutch oven. An enameled cast iron Dutch oven is an essential piece for any cook who does oven braising, soups, or stews. The Dutch oven that came with that clad stainless set isn't going to cut it. You need a heavy pan with a heavy lid if you do any kind of braising at all. And, you need enamel so your tomato-based recipes don't taste metallic from the raw cast iron.
What's the best size? We've linked to the 5.5 qt., which is an excellent all around size. But use your best judgment: If your chef routinely cooks for large numbers, you may want to go bigger. Or, if you're buying a second pot that he/she's going to use for side dishes, go smaller.
It may not be worth the All-Clad-like prices to you, but then again, it might.
Finex Cast Iron Skillet with Lid in 2 sizes at Williams-Sonoma. 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. Just don't do it.
And the truth is, 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. If you're looking for cast iron to replace nonstick cookware, this is a big deal: that smoother surface is going to season up much closer to nonstick than a Lodge.
le Creuset 11.75in. Cast Iron Skillet in several colors. le Creuset is another option for high end cast iron cookware. There's not much else to say here, except to make sure the pan you buy matches the kitchen decor.
Much as we love clad stainless cookware here at TRK, it's very utilitarian, so it doesn't necessarily make a great gift unless someone specifically asks for it. If you have someone on your list who would love to have some clad stainless cookware, here are our favorite pieces.
Demeyere Atlantis 6 pc set. We wish the 9.4in. skillet were larger, but other than that, this is about the nicest set of clad stainless cookware on the market. Beware: this is heavy cookware--much heavier than All-Clad tri-ply. So if your cook has issues with lifting heavy objects, this may not be the best choice.
Demeyere Proline skillet in 3 sizes from Amazon or Williams-Sonoma. This is the skillet from the Atlantis set (above). If there's one piece to invest in, it's your skillet. The Proline is the best clad stainless skillet out there. But again: it's heavy, so maybe not a great option for, say, your grandmother.
Demeyere Silver7 6 pc Set. A Sur la Table exclusive, this is basically Demeyere Atlantis with double-walled lids and different handles. The two large skillets (9.5/11in) plus the insulated lids make this an excellent set for anyone looking to upgrade: no filler pieces here!
If your cook hates the handles on All-Clad (as many people do), this set is definitely a step up.
Hammer Stahl 10 pc Cookware Set. This is a lesser known American made cookware brand, but every bit as nice as All-Clad. In fact, this 7-ply cookware is closer in construction to Demeyere Atlantic, including the 3-ply exterior stainless layers designed to protect the magnetic core, which corrodes more easily. The set includes only one skillet but it's good sized at 10.5 in., plus a deep sauté pan (one of our favorite and most versatile pieces!) and a good sized sauce pan.
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, including Cuisinart Multiclad Pro and Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad.
If money is an object, these are both great options, and anyone who desires a set of stainless cookware would be glad to have it.
This 12 Tramontina piece set shown here is our pick because it comes with two large skillets (10/12 inch) The smaller sets have 8/10 inch skillets. Also comes in 8-, 10-, and 14-piece sets, but only the 12- and 14-piece sets have the big skillets. We recommend buying from WalMart, which tends to have the best prices. You can see the set at Amazon and Bed, Bath & Beyond, but WalMart has the best buying options. Tramontina makes this same cookware in China and Brazil, but we recommend the Chinese sets: they are identical and lower-priced.
The Cuisinart Multiclad Pro is also a really nice set. The skillets are smallish at 8/10in., but the sauté pan is extra deep and the steamer insert is a nice piece, too. We prefer the larger frying pans in the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad set, but if the smaller skillets here don't bother you, it's the best quality you'll find in Chinese-made clad stainless cookware. Also available in 7- and 10-piece sets. Other sized sets may have glass lids, so if you don't want that, be careful.
Nonstick Skillets (Just Say No--If You Can)
We don't recommend buying someone a nonstick pan for a gift, primarily because we discourage you from spending a lot of money on nonstick cookware, and who wants to give a $25 pan for a gift? However, if you're in the unfortunate situation where someone has asked for nonstick cookware, you still shouldn't spend a lot, as these pans just do not last. And if someone asks for a nonstick set, please consider not buying them one.
Skillet: Yes. Entire Set: Get clad stainless! (You can skim our Cookware Archives to learn more about nonstick and clad stainless cookware.)
If you're going to buy someone a nonstick pan for a gift, here are our recommendations.
All-Clad HA1 nonstick frying pans offer a durable anodized aluminum exterior, with a cast aluminum body thick enough to provide excellent heating properties. These pans are also induction compatible and surprisingly affordable at about $30 apiece if you buy the set of two.
Can you really buy someone an induction burner for a gift? We think so--but it should be a really, really nice one; one that they wouldn't buy for themselves.
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.
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 buying either of the induction burners below for home use, we recommend buying an extended warranty. These are commercial products, and the warranty won't cover home use.
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).
If money is no object and you have a techie gadget geek on your list who's also into cooking or home brewing, the Control Freak would make a fun gift.
Breville PolyScience Control Freak. We haven't tested this induction cooktop yet, so we can't vouch for it 100%. At about $1500, we assume that it's built like a tank and does what it says it will do.
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.
10 years ago, no one had ever heard of "sous vide" or "immersion circulator." Today it's practically a kitchen mainstay, and just gaining more and more popularity. Immersion circulators have been a popular gift item for kitchen geeks for the past several years now.
Anova and Joule are the circulator brands that dominate the market. Both are Chinese imports and, in truth, really nothing special, although they'll get the job done. We used to love the Joule (see our glowing review of the Joule immersion circulator), but now 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. We much prefer it to the Anova, which is a bit overpriced (we think) for what you get: you could do just as well with another Chinese knockoff for a considerably lower cost (see our picks in our article on the best vacuum sealers under $100).
Sous Vide Accessories: 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, but you can make up your own mind about that.
What if your sous vide lover already owns a circulator? Many will welcome a second (or third) immersion circulator or water oven. Different foods have to be cooked at different times and temperatures, so with added circulators or water ovens, people can cook entire meals sous vide. (It also solves the light meat/dark meat dilemma beautifully.)
If you want to get someone a really special, fancy, upscale sous vide gift that they probably wouldn't buy for themselves, here are our picks:
Tribest Sousvant SV-101Complete Sous Vide Circulator. 1000W. We haven't tested this product yet, and some of the bad reviews give us pause. But we love the concept, so you may, too: a compact, self-contained water oven that will take up about as much counter space as a drip coffee maker. If you go in this direction instead of an immersion circulator, you don't need to invest in any more infrastructure--it's in there!
Oliso Smart Top and Smart Hub Induction/Sous Vide Cooking System, 11qt. Same concept as the Tribest Sousvant, with an added feature (at a higher price): a built-in induction plate. So when you're done sous viding, you can remove the "Smart Top" and sear your meat on the "Smart Hub" induction burner. At 1500W, this is one of the most powerful water ovens on the market (although, full disclosure, we haven't tested this unit either, so that 1500W may only apply to the cooktop and not the water oven). The Smart Top is insulated to prevent heat loss, a nice little extra that may save you a few cents on your power bill.
You can read more about the Oliso Smart Top on Oliso's website, and also on the Sur la Table Oliso page.
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 by its heft and solidity. Power for another: it's going to heat your water a lot faster than a 900W or even 1000W circulator can.
**Sous Vide for the Home Cook by Daniel Baldwin. With the popularity explosion of sous vide, a ton of sous vide cookbooks have flooded the market. Aside from the Modernist Cuisine tomes (see the Modernist section below), which are our primary choice for sous vide technique, Daniel Baldwin's guide is a good reference and guide book. You can also 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, but the recipes may or may not wow you.
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).
We really like VacMaster products, even though they're made in China. (It's hard to find a chamber sealer under $1000 that isn't made in China.) VacMaster and Weston vacuum sealers are both Chinese imports--but with a good reputation for quality.
VacMaster VP112S. It's a chamber sealer that you set below an upper cabinet and it will still fully open. Read our VP112S review for more information. There's a rumor that VacMaster is going to update their lineup, so our pick may be different next year. For now, this is the one to get.
Prices have jumped around but have remained stable for the past few months. Amazon is typically the best place to buy, as the VacMaster website prices will be considerably higher.
Note: Chamber vacuum sealers are a bigger initial investment, but the bags are quite a bit cheaper than edge sealer bags, so you save money in the long run. If you do get someone a vacuum sealer, don't forget the bags!
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. Why? Because 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 for leftovers and sous vide purposes, it's perfect: reusable, 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.)
NOTE: Kitchen stores like Williams-Sonoma and Bed, Bath & Beyond often have deals where they throw in the accessory of your choice (e.g., pasta maker, juicer, meat grinder). So be on the lookout for those kinds of 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).
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 the 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??).
**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.
**J. K. Adams French Rolling Pin, maple, made in USA. If your grandmother (or any other baker in your life) is still using an old-fashioned cylindrical rolling pin, you should buy them one of these immediately. Don't even wait for a holiday or birthday--do it now. The difference in ease of use is shocking. It just may result in more homemade pies in your life.
**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!
**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. 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).
Williams-Sonoma usually has the best price--about $10 less than on Amazon.
**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; 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:
We have a lot of ideas for homemade gifts in this article. It's pretty comprehensive, so whether your thing is baking, making candy, homemade liqueurs, or signature seasoning blends, you'll probably find something good (and easy) here.
Fancy Foods (That No One Would Buy for Themselves)
Fancy food is a fun gift for anyone, and 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 mailman), or are at an absolute loss about what to get for someone (your picky mother-in-law).
It's really great if you can find something they've never had before, and of course, something they wouldn't buy for themselves.
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.
*Zingerman's. Whether you're looking for bread or pastries, elaborate gift boxes, cheeses, candies, or something else entirely, Zingerman's is sure to have a gourmet version of it. We list some of their fancy vinegars and olive oils below, too.
It's the high-end gourmet shop you wish you had in your city.
There are tons of artisan chocolate makers out there. Here we list two of our favorites, plus an old standard, Godiva. If none of these is quite what you're looking for, just get on the Google. Your options are staggering.
**Xocolatl Chocolate. Probably the fanciest chocolate bars on the planet. With terms like "single batch" and "flavor inclusion" all over their website, you know you're getting the ultimate chocolate foodie gift. And, the chocolate is really, really good. From exotic chocolate bar flavors to drinking chocolate to elaborate gift baskets, there are a ton of options for the chocoholic in your life. (Best for dark chocolate lovers!)
**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, too. But worth it if you love someone with a serious chocolate habit and great taste (both aesthetically and culinarily speaking). Note: The prices are reasonable, but the shipping is high--and someone has to be home to receive the package.
Condiments, Oils and Spices
**Olive Oil Lovers.com Tasting Kit. Olive oil can be tricky to buy. Even if you're just looking for a daily use cooking oil, you never know for sure what you're getting when you buy at the grocery store.
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 have to guess again at which olive oil is your favorite.
Then, once you know what you like, you can shop by the oil's profile on this site, and never have to worry again whether you're getting what you're paying for.
Since olive oil does have such a wide ranging profile, we decided not to recommend any particular oils. If you know what you like (buttery? robust? fruity? grassy?) and what you're going to use it for (salads? cooking? finishing? dipping?), you can find it at Olive Oil Lovers.
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.
**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 balsamic 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 better yet, 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.
Cheese Maker's Kit
**Mozzarella Cheese Starter Kit. If you know someone who's always wanted to make their own cheese, maybe this is the year they do it. This kit from Williams-Sonoma has everything they need to do it--except the milk.
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. Made in France, 30 year warranty. You've tried the rest: now try 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 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. It's the best of the best, so if someone in your life is asking for a blender, this one is tough to beat.
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.
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.)
Thermomix TM6. This multi-functional kitchen machine mixes, blends, sous vides, boils water, ferments, and even has a cleaning cycle that makes it a breeze to maintain. If money is no object and you want the ultimate kitchen gadget that actually does everything it claims, Thermomix is the answer.
Kenwood Kitchen Machine. If the Thermomix is too much for your budget, consider the Kenwood Kitchen Machine. While most people will use it like a KitchenAid mixer, 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.
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.
*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.
K&K Keramik Fermentation Crock. Made in Germany. If someone you love wants to improve their gut health or just loves sauerkraut, a fermenting crock is a great gift. This K&K model is big at 2.6 gallons, but it's German made and top of the line quality. If you'd prefer one made in the US, this Ohio Stoneware crock is a classic design--but even bigger at 3 gallons.
**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.
Aarke Carbonator. A carbonator is a great gift for anyone who loves carbonated beverages. It's beautiful, too: the main reason we picked it over SodaStream (which is easier to use: Aarke has a screw-in attachment, while the Penguin just has you pop it in and pull the lever). They've expanded their colors from silver and brass to also include black and white, so they'll work with any decor. And they look great sitting on a counter.
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.
Great Gifts for Coffee and Tea 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.
Breville 1 Oracle Touch Dual Boiler Expresso Maker. It's got a color touchscreen and its own burr grinder. It's also very, very pretty. If money is no object, there's not a coffee lover alive who wouldn't want this machine. (You can read more reviews of this machine at Williams-Sonoma.)
It's a crazy amount of money to spend, so if you want some assurance that this is the one to get, check out home barista's review. By all accounts, this guy knows what he's talking about, and he thinks this is the one to get for serious home espresso making.
If you want something a little less expensive, check out Breville's Barista Express machine. Still automatic everything plus a grinder, but brews one cup at a time.
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.
**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. 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, 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 it's 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" with their cutting style for it to be a good gift.
We also recommend not getting entire sets of 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.
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. While not only for modernist uses, a whipping siphon is useful for all sorts of foams, gels, infusions, and just plain old 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, and--a reviewer favorite--bourbon for a smoky old-fashioned. Yum.
Modernist Cuisine. 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.
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 least). The photography is just as gorgeous.
Ultimate Molecular Gastronomy Starter Kit. Everything a person needs 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 wanna-be! Non-GMO, gluten free, and certified Kosher. Includes a 250 page recipe/technique book, too.
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; those can both 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. 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. A classic first published in 1931, Joy of Cooking is one of the most comprehensive recipe-and-technique cookbook 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 would be the one to have.
**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. 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 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.
**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.
everythingkitchens.com. This is a great site for the practically-minded cook. They have everything from OXO utensils to Demeyere cookware. This is usually the best place to find KitchenAid mixer accessories.
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.)