The Rational Kitchen’s 2018 Ultimate Gift List for Cooks and Food Lovers

Kitchen items don't always make the greatest gifts. They can be seen as too practical and unromantic to be gift material. So before you buy a loved one a kitchen-themed gift, make sure it will be appreciated. 

Having said that, there are a ton of really wonderful kitchen items that can make fabulous gifts. If you're going to buy someone a gift in the "practical" vein, like a kitchen tool, try to make it something that's actually a little impractical, in the sense that it's not something the person would buy for themselves. 

For example, few people would throw down for a $500 portable induction cooker--but they would love to own one. Or few people would spend over $300 on an  enameled cast iron Dutch oven for themselves--but they would love to have one.

These are the types of "practical" items that make great gifts: things that are wonderfully usable, but more expensive than people would typically spend on themselves.

With that in mind, here are our favorite cooking related gift idea for 2018.

Cookware

Don't buy somebody a piece of cookware unless you know they want it or that it's something really special...like the ones we list here. 

These are all top-of-the-line pieces. They're also top-of-the-line price wise---but isn't that what the holidays are all about? 

Demeyere Proline Skillet

The Demeyere Proline skillet may just be the most perfect pan in the world. Here's why:

  • It has almost twice the heat-spreading aluminum of an All-Clad tri-ply skillet, making it one of the top performing pans in the world.
  • It has a special proprietary coating ("Silvinox") that makes it easier to clean than other stainless cookware.
  • No rivets to clean around: handles are welded on, so the cooking surface is completely smooth.
  • Designed especially for use with induction--flat bottoms and heavy construction, which makes it excellent with gas and electric, too.

Learn more about Silvinox in this 3-minute video:

Cons: it's almost as heavy as cast iron, so you may want the 9.4 inch rather than the 12.6 inch.

For detailed reviews, see also All-Clad Vs Demeyere: Which Is Better? and A Guide to the Best Induction Cookware.

Buy the Demeyere Proline skillet on Amazon now:

Le Creuset Dutch Oven

We at TRK are huge fans of clad stainless cookware, but a heavyweight Dutch oven is a really valuable kitchen pot. It's great for soups, stocks, stews, and all sorts of braises. 

Even if you own a Dutch oven--maybe one came with your cookware set--the enameled cast iron is superior to any lighter weight version of this pot. Here's why:

  • The mass of the cast iron makes it ideal for long, moist cooking processes (braising, stock-making) because it hangs onto heat like nothing else can. 
  • The heavy lid lets very little moisture escape. 
  • The enamel coating makes it pretty, but it also makes it more durable, easier to clean, and less reactive with certain foods.
  • It comes in dozens of colors, making it perfect for any kitchen!
  • Also comes in many sizes--we like the 5.5 quart for most versatile all-around use. The larger ones are also great, but they start to get pretty heavy. 

All le Creuset enameled cast iron pots are hand-made in France. The quality is unbeatable. (Note: This is only true for the enameled cast iron. Other le Creuset cookware and bakeware is made in China.)

Every cook should have a big enameled cast iron pot in her repertoire. If you buy a top notch brand like le Creuset or Staub, it will last forever. You'll probably get your money's worth out of a cheaper brand, too, but they're not as pretty, and the enamel is going to show wear and chipping sooner. (And higher-end brands make better gifts!)

Cons: Expensive, heavy.

Buy the le Creuset 5 qt dutch oven on amazon now:

Small Appliances and Kitchen Tools (In Alphabetical Order)

Here are our favorite small appliances in alphabetical order--easiest if you're just browsing for ideas. 🙂

Aarke Carbonator

Carbonators are the up-and-coming must-have small appliance. Not only are they cool and fun as heck, they save you money and generate less plastic waste. While the Soda Stream is the most well known brand here in the US, the Aarke Carbonator makes a much better gift. Here's why:

  • It's gorgeous: All appliances sitting out on your counter should be this stunning.
  • It's built like a tank and will last forever (comes with a 2 year warranty).
  • It comes with a PET bottle, but also fits Soda Stream glass bottles (like those used with the Soda Stream Penguin).
  • Comes in brass (pictured here), stainless, black and copper.

We used to prefer the Penguin (now a Williams-Sonoma exclusive), but the Aarke's design is pretty spectacular. As one reviewer put it, it's a "conversation piece" in their kitchen.

If you have an environmentally-conscious person on your list who likes to drink fizzy beverages, the Aarke makes a great, unexpected gift.

Be sure to buy the CO2 cartridge as well--it does not come with the unit! Extra bottles are also a necessity, so you can always have cold water ready to go right from the fridge.

You may also want a variety of flavors for your fizzy water.

Cons: Expensive, CO2 cartridges sold separately.

Buy the Aarke Carbonator ​​on Amazon now:

Baratza Burr Grinder

The Baratza Encore burr grinder has thousands of reviews on Amazon with an average rating of over 4 stars. That's saying a lot. But just as important is that we've tested this burr grinder, and it's fabulous. It's the perfect size for a home user, it's solidly built, and it provides the perfect grind.

Why spend so much more on a burr grinder? Because a burr grinder provides a consistent grind size, while a cheap blade grinder merely pulverizes the coffee beans into powder--a powder made up of inconsistent sizes, which is disastrous for any kind of artisan coffee maker. The different-sized grains are going to brew at different rates, and if you're using a French press, the tiny grains will pass through the filter, causing muddy, gritty coffee. 

Nobody wants that.

If you have a coffee lover in your life, they need a quality burr grinder. The Baratza Encore is our choice for best home burr coffee grinder. (Don't forget the stainless French press!)

Buy the Baratza encore burr grinder on amazon now:

Benriner Mandoline

This mandoline is probably the most utilitarian item on our gift list. But if you're buying for someone who loves to cook and loves kitchen gadgets, this is a creative, out-of-the-box idea. And if you're buying for someone who asked for a mandoline, then the Benriner is one of the best options out there. It's got more than 800 reviews with an average rating of 4.4 stars. That's because this is a top quality product. 

The Benriner mandoline has a simple, elegant, usable design. There are more expensive mandolines available, with heavy duty construction, but that's not what you want in a mandoline. You want something nimble, lightweight, easy to use, easy to wash, and easy to store. 

That's the Benriner

And, the extra blades are included, so you can make all the cuts shown in the photo above without shelling out any more dough.

What does a mandoline do that you can't do with a regular knife? Technically nothing--but it can do it waaaay faster, and way more evenly. Look at the slices in the photo above--very few people have the knife skills to get that done. Even if you're slicing potatoes for a scalloped potato dish, a mandoline can do a whole potato in less than 5 seconds, even if you're not a skilled user. With a knife, it's going to take you 5-10 times as long!

It's a fun tool for any kitchen geek, and a must-have for anyone who makes a lot of Asian dishes.

Don't forget the safety gloves--they're a necessity, because this thing is sharp!

The Benriner mandoline comes in a few sizes. We recommend getting the largest size, as it is the most versatile, without being unwieldy or unsafe to use.

NOTE! Keep an eye on the prices: none of them should go over $60 or so. If they're higher than that, look for a different seller (there are a lot of them on Amazon).

Buy the Benriner Mandoline on amazon now:

Cuckoo iCook 5 Quart Multicooker

While other folks are going crazy for the Instant Pot, the Cuckoo iCook Multicooker has been quietly building a following on Amazon. It's a Korean-made multicooker that's a direct competitor to the Instant Pot, but it's built like a tank. It has so many cool features, we're not going to list them all here. Instead, see our detailed review of the Cuckoo in this article

Sure, the Instant Pot is the safer bet, but the Cuckoo is better in just about every way. The Koreans are pros at these machines, having a long history of electric rice cookers in just about every shape and size and with every feature imaginable. They've developed complex software algorithms that result in perfectly cooked rice, no matter how you like it. From this background comes the Cuckoo, with its highly sophisticated software and easy-to-use features.

It's also cute as heck, isn't it?

We don't expect you to just take our word on this. Do the research. We think you'll fall in love with the Cuckoo just like we did.

Comes in black, too!

Cons: If it needs servicing, you'll probably have to send it to Korea.

Buy the cuckoo icook multicooker on amazon now:

Joule Sous Vide Immersion Circulator

An immersion circulator has been a popular kitchen gift for the past few holiday seasons. The prices have come down enough to make them accessible, and the market has exploded with different designs. They're great gifts for people from a lot of different cooking backgrounds: barbecue, modernist, and those just looking for a fun new kitchen tool.

Among all the players in the market, the Joule is by far the coolest option. It's one of the smallest yet one of the most powerful circulators around (half the size of most other circulators). It's got a magnet that holds it in place. It will operate in less than two inches of water (important for long cooks). And its software is a breeze to use, even if you're not all that computer savvy.

Its only drawback is that you must use it with a smart phone, because it doesn't have an interface on its own. (That's how they made it so compact.) 

At 1100W, the Joule is more powerful than most other circulators in its price range. This means faster heating. You'll appreciate that more than you think you will, because it takes a lot of power to heat water, and a little extra wattage makes a big difference in speed.

But mostly, the Joule just has an amaaazing cool factor. Like all the items on our gift list, we love its design: it's not only extremely functional, it's also sleek, minimalist, and gorgeous. 

For more information, read our detailed review of the Joule.

Buy the joule immersion circulator on amazon now:

Secura French Press

The Secura French press may not be the prettiest one on the market, but if you own one, you will have learned to love it for its utilitarian...perfection. If you've used a glass French press for any period of time, you almost certainly have had to replace it at least once. 

This stainless press could be the last one you ever buy.

It's not the most expensive one on the market, but even so, it's one of the very best. It's better than presses that are 5 times the price. Here's why:

  • Durable, all stainless construction--long lasting and easy to care for.
  • All internal parts are stainless--no plastic to degrade from contact with acidic coffee.
  • Simple, non-gimmicky, easy-to-use design.
  • Double-walled to keep coffee warm.
  • No-drip spout, easy grip handle, wonderfully balanced.

If you're buying as a gift, you may be tempted to spend more--don't do it! More expensive presses are either fragile glass or gimmicky without adding any more functionality. This is the French press you want.

Cons: None. This is the perfect French press.

Buy the secura french press now on amazon:

Thermoworks Thermapen

The Thermoworks Thermapen is such a great product, we're promoting it without an affiliate link: as far as we know, you can only buy them on the Thermoworks website, who we don't have an affiliate agreement with (yet, anyway). You might be able to find a Thermapen reseller on Amazon, but will likely pay way too much if you do.

If you've been through a number of inexpensive instant-read thermometers, then you might be willing to spend a little more and get a heavy-duty product that's going to last. 

Here are some of its great features:

  • 2-3 second readings
  • Backlit (so you can read it in the dark)
  • Large, easy-to-read display
  • Water-resistant
  • Auto On/Off (no buttons, just flip the probe out)
  • 1,500 hour battery life.

The Thermapen is a heavy duty, super well made tool originally designed for industrial and professional use. Once you've used one, you'll hate to go back to anything else--no other instant-read thermometer is as robust as the Thermapen.

See the Thermapen on the Thermoworks website

Vollrath Mirage Pro 59500P Portable Induction Cooker

The Vollrath Mirage Pro 59500P might be the world's best portable induction cooktop. It has a wider temperature range than any other PIC, including other commercial PICs: 80F-525F. It has stellar low-end temperature control, which is the one thing that few PICs do well. The Mirage Pro does it better than even many full-sized induction cooktops.

Check out our detailed review of the Vollrath Mirage Pro here.

If you know someone who wants a PIC and you have a generous budget, this is the PIC to get. You'd have to spend thousands more to even come close to the performance of the Mirage Pro.

Cons: It's made for restaurant use and the warranty does not cover home use. To protect yourself, buy the extended warranty from Amazon.

buy the vollrath mirage pro 59500P on amazon now:

Weston Pro 2300 Vacuum Sealer

The Weston Pro 2300 vacuum sealer is a powerful, commercial grade sealer that's going to last for decades. It has an extra long seal bar so you can use bags up to 15 inches long. It's an excellent, excellent vacuum sealer.

Buy the weston pro 2300 vacuum sealer on amazon now:

Cookbooks

There are so many great cookbooks out now, choosing one or two can be mind-boggling--especially for a gift. Should you go with a certain cuisine? A famous or celebrity chef? A specific area of cooking or food, like gluten-free or baking or low carb?

Those are all choices best made by you. But if you want some great, classic cookbooks that teach not only recipes but techniques--books that will make you a better and more knowledgeable cook--we have a few suggestions.

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking

Modernist Cuisine began as a study of sous vide cooking and ended up being a 5 volume tome full of not only recipes but food history, technique, theory, and so much more. The photography alone is so gorgeous, it was worthy of it's own follow-up book

Modernist Cuisine is many things: it's a treatise on modernist cooking, an encyclopedia of food knowledge, and a beautiful coffee table tome. It's a cookbook that you will love and refer to over and over, even if you never use a single recipe out of it.

buy modernist cuisine now on amazon:

Modernist Cuisine at Home

Modernist Cuisine at Home is a one-volume version of Modernist Cuisine meant for home use. The recipes are simpler and require only a few simple "modernist" tools (sous vide, vacuum sealer, pressure cooker). The photography and print quality is just as spectacular, with recipes that are actually easy to re-create at home.

It's a beautiful, useful book with tons of useful information. You don't have to be into modernist cooking to appreciate it.

Buy modernist cuisine at home on amazon now:

Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Mastering the Art of French Cooking made French cuisine accessible to middle-class Americans at a time when people were cooking with canned soup and boxed gelatin. Julia Child singlehandedly changed the landscape of American food. 

Some of the techniques are a bit dated, but you will love learning about them, and about the French cooking lineage from which so many of our American dishes come from.

buy mastering the art of french cooking on amazon now:

Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking

If your loved one is really into the chemistry and science behind food, this is an excellent book. More an informational trek than a cookbook, On Food and Cooking is a fascinating read that will make you better at whatever type of cooking you enjoy. Through this book, you will come to appreciate the unseen reactions that create the food we love.

buy on food and cooking on amazon now:

The Flavor Bible (by Karen Page)

The Flavor Bible is less a cookbook than a study of flavor combinations. Probably more than any other book around, the Flavor Bible will hone your cooking instincts and make you a better cook. Rather than provide a list of recipes, it equips you with the understanding and technique to flavor-pair your way to being a better cook.

buy the flavor bible now on amazon:

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