I know we are all being especially thoughtful about being budget-conscious during these crazy financial times. At the same time, we must be mindful that many factors determine the actual value of something. Yes, the initial cost is the first place we pay attention to, but sometimes we can do ourselves a disservice focusing solely on that dollar figure. Assuming that because something is pricy, it is somehow inherently either extra-desirable or egregious or, on the flip side, because it is cheap, it is either lesser quality or superior simply for its budget-friendliness.
Exploring how and why we make decisions on a purchase can be especially useful when looking at kitchen equipment. Not the major installed appliances, but the extra bits that help us with our daily cooking practice. It can be a dangerous game coveting the fanciest piece of gear with the cult reputation or the name recognition. But just because certain items have that fetishized following doesn’t mean that all top-end luxury-priced items should be automatically painted with the bougie brush.
There is something to be said for thinking about lifetime use and how a tool might make your daily or weekly culinary activities better or easier. If you bake bread once or twice a year for the holidays? A costly electric proofing box is not an expense you need to undertake. If you bake all of the bread consumed in your home, baking once a week or more? That investment might be exactly what you need to ensure that your process is more efficient and consistent. Do you stick to burgers and dogs for your backyard BBQ? Weber will have your back. Do you host whole-hog parties for local charities or enter competitions? It might be time to get on the waitlist for a Franklin BBQ Custom Smoker.
How to decide? Assessing the ultimate expected “cost-per-use,” which decreases every time the item is put into rotation, should be a big part of how much you spend on any piece of equipment for your kitchen. It’s pretty simple math. If you divide your initial investment by the number of times you genuinely believe you will use the appliance during its lifetime, you get your estimated CPU. Generally, with small appliances, anything you honestly think you will use on a daily or weekly basis is worth considering a more significant upfront investment.
The same goes for gifting. Thinking about the major gifts, the things you might do for an odometer birthday, a big anniversary, a wedding gift for a child or grandchild. Gifting an investment piece is a nice way to acknowledge their love of cooking, as long as the item you choose suits their cooking passions. Focus on basic everyday cooking and not niche items devoted to one specific dish or style unless you’re sure they are committed.
Where is the juice worth the squeeze? Our current five favorite kitchen splurges are a major expenditure but are absolutely worth the investment.
Every home baker knows that Kitchenaid is the gold standard for stand mixers. Many of us cut our teeth on our grandmother’s classic 4-quart with the tilt head or Mom’s wedding-present 5-quart with the lift bowl. Over the years, Kitchenaid has built a deserved reputation for quality that keeps us buying their machines because those machines are a one-time investment that lasts a lifetime. So, if you or someone you love is a serious baker, going all-in on loaves of hearty sourdough for the whole neighborhood, or cookies by the quadruple batch, then now is the time for a serious upgrade to a home mixer with pro features. The 8-quart lift bowl is the largest volume available for a home machine. The best part is that the power hub is compatible with all existing accessories and attachments, so you don’t have to upgrade the pasta rollers, meat grinders, or other bonuses you have already collected.
Buy it: Kitchenaid 8-quart Commercial Stand Mixer, $999 at amazon.com
If you or a loved one have gone down the rabbit hole of homemade pizza endeavors, making your own dough, fine-tuning the exact mix of artisanal cheeses, debating metal versus wood for peels, and are still baking those gorgeous pies in your home oven, it might be time to upgrade. Ooni has become a cult favorite for home pizza makers, allowing you to make restaurant-quality pies at restaurant speeds in the comfort of your own backyard. A true wood-fired oven with a convenient gas starter, it is fully portable for camping adventures or beach pizza parties. You’ll get that perfect char and crust “leoparding” that are so desirable, and pizzas come off the deck in sixty seconds flat. Bonus: it is also great for other wood-fired cooking like meats and vegetables. Though the Ooni 3 was discontinued, the new Ooni Fyra offers great wood burning, portable features. The Ooni Koda is great for folks who would rather the fast-heating gas option.
All the Burghounds and Cork Dorks agree, there is no point in managing your wine storage temps and humidity levels, obsessively researching provenance, and stocking the varietal-specific Riedel glassware if you can’t properly preserve your precious juices once opened. Wine lovers and collectors are often looking to taste many wines during a gathering, which can leave you at the end of an evening with a bunch of half-bottles in need of protection for drinking later. The Coravin system allows you to pour wine without removing the protective cork or exposing the bottle to damaging oxygen. The argon gas that it employs as a preservative will not interfere with the flavor of the wine. This new version allows for the protection of screw-cap closure wines and is Bluetooth enabled for the Coravin App to help manage your system and give some resources for pairing wines with everything from food to music.
Buy it: Coravin Model Eleven Wine Preservation System, $560 amazon.com
If every morning at your house starts with a good hour of artisanal crafting of dark caffeinated beverages brewed at precise temperatures with small-batch free trade sourced beans for every household member? It is time to go all-in on a machine that allows you to customize to your heart's content. Our pick? The Breville Barista Touch allows you to create up to eight pre-sets, which you can name for the drinkers, each with custom temperature, grind size, and milk texture. It has a Thermojet heating system that gets water to optimal temperature in literally three seconds, so no waiting for the machine to be ready; it was born ready. Simple, intuitive touchscreen functionality, with hands-free grinding and extraction, and an automatic adjustable micro-foam milk wand.
If I were to choose my top example from personal experience? The Thermomix.
Never heard of it? Not surprising. This machine has been a beloved kitchen tool for home cooks and pro chefs abroad for decades but is still relatively new to the US market. Initially developed to make homemade baby food, the technologically advanced machine has over twenty-four culinary functions, including actual cooking, which sets it apart from many similar appliances. It is a precise blender that can range from stirring gently enough to make the creamiest risotto without damaging a kernel of rice to powerful enough to blend skin-on apples into super smooth velvety applesauce with no need to strain or sieve. The current model, the TM6, includes all the bells and whistles like sous vide, fermentation, bread proofing, slow cooking, caramelizing, sauce thickening, rice cooking, and many others. It connects via Wi-Fi to an online support site for recipes, and the large touchscreen will take you through a recipe step by step. The site can even create an ingredient shopping list for you based on the recipes you have bookmarked to cook in a given week and automatically populate your preferred shopping delivery service cart with all the ingredients. But it has the basic functions of cooking like browning, steaming, whisking, blending, chopping, and weighing that have made it indispensable in my kitchen.
The Thermomix is a $1500 machine, which makes it a serious investment. The kind of thing that requires saving up over time or skipping a vacation to afford. It is not a casual purchase. But for me? It's been entirely worth it. I have had mine for over a decade; it works as great as the day I got it and has been a complete life-changing appliance that I would save in the fire.
Not every item is always for every cook, but I would argue that the Thermomix is the rare one that fits that category. Professional chefs love it in restaurant kitchens for ultra-smooth sauces, precise heating and cooking, and fancier applications like making powders and such for molecular creations. But fundamentally, it is still that piece of equipment created to help busy moms make homemade food for their kids. While I sometimes employ it when entertaining, it gets the most use in my home on weeknights after work, when I need a meal that comes together simply and quickly so that I do not feel compelled to order takeout.
Buy it: Thermomix TM6 $1,499 at thermomix.com
Ultimately, when it comes to these kinds of purchases, I always think about my motorcycle boots. They are a super fancy luxury brand, and I bought them for myself for my 40th birthday. They cost about a month’s rent on my apartment, and I almost fainted when I handed over my credit card, even though I had received that much in “special birthday money” from my family. But despite the initial sticker shock, I have now worn them regularly from September-May for over ten years. They have been with me all over the world, and they still look great and are the most comfortable shoes I own, and hands down the single best apparel investment I have ever made. The cost-per-use is now down to pennies. I will wear them out of the house in the fire when I save the Thermomix.
It might seem counterintuitive to promote a luxury purchase of any kind right now. But I would argue that now is a perfect time to think about investing in any equipment that makes your days easier or brighter. Most of us aren’t traveling, going to the salon or gym, dry-cleaning work clothes, or spending a lot on our daily commute. We aren’t hosting parties or dining and drinking out and about. The one thing we are all doing more than ever before is cooking, and if there is something that can make that better for you? Then I say go for it. There is something particularly hopeful about buying something meant to last these days. Whether you finally buy that big Le Creuset pot you’ve always wanted, the 8-quart Kitchenaid Mixer, or even the Thermomix, they are purchases that will last you a lifetime.