Kitchen Gifts that Really Work

kitchen giftsBiblical wisdom tells us, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”   But the challenge is to find the right item to give. Thankfully, everyone eats. Therefore, you can’t go too wrong with edible items that help the family chef handle foods more safely, easily, or successfully.  Here are our 2012 gift suggestions, gleaned from our Advisory Board scientists, various publications, online sites, and our own kitchen experiences. In this list, you may find an appropriate gift for winter holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, house-warming, even grab bags.   The prices range from inexpensive to costly.  Some prices are given in the article. Most are available online.


Equipment for making coffee, tea, and soda:


Magic tea maker:  My husband's latest gadget does convince our guests that he's a magician.  He just puts the water and loose tea into the container (see photo) and lets it brew for whatever time period the particular tea requires.  When it's  ready (here comes the magical part), he puts the container on top of an empty cup and--without the recitation of some nonsensical words-- the brewed tea drips down into the cup.  Guests--not forewarned that magic is about to occur--are awed and delighted.  To see the magic tea maker in action, go to this Youtube video.  To buy this $19.95 item, go to  (This one is a different shape and size from the one in the video, but they both work the same way.)  In addition to the magic show, the ESP Emporium gadget will give you two cups of tea.  How does it taste?  Like tea. 


Pod coffee maker: I've been told that 1) this item is all the rage, and no home should be without one; 2) prices for this item range from $70 - $700; and 3) one big advantage (and big disadvantage) is that most models brew only 1 cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa at a time.  4) It's great if one guest wants regular coffee, one wants Decaf, and one wants cocoa.  5) Except for occasional cleaning of the pod maker, there's nothing to wash except your coffee cup. No fuss.


How does it work?  You insert a pod (a small disposable cup containing your beverage of choice).  We have a pod collection to be proud of: several types of regular coffee including my favorite (French vanilla), 3 types of Decaf coffee, regular and herbal tea, and cocoa (both milk chocolate and dark chocolate). 


Pod coffee makers are available from many different manufacturers. According to ShopSmart, some (for example, Starbucks' and DeLonghi's coffeemakers) lock you into one coffee brand; others can take Keurig's K-Cup or Senseo pods, which offer many different coffee brands.  Our daughter bought a reusable K-cup filter for our machine, and that allows us to use our own coffee (not in a premade pod) in the machine.  


ShopSmart (a Consumer Reports publication with no advertising) recommends these two models:


1) Delonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Piccolo Edg200T ($100).  The publication says it's easy to clean, but it limits the user to Nescafé pods.


2) Mr. Coffee BVMC-KG5 ($80).  ShopSmart likes its "easy operation and snappy delivery of the first cup."  Also, it uses K-Cup packs, which are available in more than 200 varieties.


For more information on selecting a pod coffee maker, click here.


Soda maker:  No one enjoys lugging heavy bottles or cans of soda (pop) home from the store. This gift enables consumers to make their own carbonated water or flavored carbonated water.  In our house, we have a Sodastream carbonator.  My husband likes plain carbonated water, but for the more adventurous, the company has many different Sodamix flavors including diet ones and all-natural.  Making your own soda is a money-saver as well as a muscle-saver.  For more information about this product, click here.  Price range for this gadget: $80-$100. 


Gadgets for wine and champagne:

Epivac Stopper:  The Epivac wine stopper pumps air out of a wine bottle, acting like a bicycle pump in reverse. The removal of air helps to preserve the wine from oxidation. Its 2-way or double-action push or pull model can also extend the life of champagne by forcing air into the bottle and preventing bubbles from escaping. Find out more at this site:


Corkcicle: This item was Parade magazine’s product of the week last year. It keeps wines at the proper temperature all through a holiday dinner when you insert a gel-filled tube that had been in the freezer for two hours before mealtime.  To order this item, click here:


More useful kitchen gadgets:


Food Saver®:  Recommended by food scientist Dr. Joe Regenstein, this is also one of my husband’s favorite and most often-used gadgets. This item isn’t cheap, but sometimes, honestly, you have to spend money to save money. The Food Saver lets you make a second meal out of leftovers and a good one at that. Its vacuum packaging seals food in an airtight bag so that the quality will hold up better in the fridge or the freezer. Vacuum packaging not only reduces oxidation (which affects taste and nutritional value), but it can also inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as mold and bacteria. The Food Saver system includes bags, canisters, jar sealers, and bottle stoppers (for wine, non-carbonated liquids, and oils). To see it, click here:


Color-coded cutting boards: Nearly every member of our Advisory Board has recommended these at one time or another as a safety measure (to avoid cross-contaminating).  The idea is to use a different cutting board for raw meat and poultry, fresh produce, bakery goods, etc. Sets generally have 3-5 different colors and identifying words or pictures to remind users which type of food each board is for. Just google "cutting boards," and you'll find a wide selection in price ranges from about $6 to about $39.   


Insulated dip chillers: If you want to leave your dips out for the whole evening (longer than 2 hours), you need to keep them below 40F°. Dip chillers are recommended by food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter.  Containers with a hidden plastic liner for ice or gel packs are widely available.  Here’s one source that has these with an assortment of holiday designs:


Kitchen shears: Food process engineer Dr. Timothy Bowser says that scissors are “a great and often overlooked kitchen tool.”  To find scissors for many different purposes including uses with food, check out this site:


Spray bottles: Hard to imagine giving a spray bottle as a gift, but this may be a gift you’ll want to give your own kitchen.  If you like to mix your own sanitizing spray, Dr. Bowser says the spray bottles sold online are better than the ones generally available locally. See


Programmable crock pots: Dr. Bowser recommends the Hamilton Beach model with 3 outstanding features that, he says, make it fantastic: 1. the programmable cooking feature with an optional probe and a failsafe keep-warm setting; 2. a sealed lid with clips to keep it in place for safely transporting your hot meal and 3. a clip-on spoon for serving.


Salad spinner: Dr. Cutter recommends this item for those individuals who want to wash minimally processed produce with ease.


Food dehydrator:  For drying fruits, vegetables and for making beef jerky, Dr. Cutter recommends the Excalibur dehydrator, which she's used to dry apples bananas, tomatoes, and other produce and to dry meats.  Here's the link:


Pressure canner: Your DIY (do it yourself) friends may need proper equipment for canning. Dr. Cutter recommends Presto equipment and reading the following advice from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences:


More gadgets to use with produce: The Chicago Tribune, in a Nov.16, 2011 article entitled “One-use wonders,” described the results of testing several gadgets for use with fruits or vegetables.  Among those the article gave a thumbs up to were the Chef‘n Bananza Banana Slicer and the Vacu Vin Stainless Pineapple Slicer. To see the article, click here:   Note: This article is more than a year old, so the prices may not be the same. 


Kitchen thermometers:


Every kitchen should have the following items:


1) A food thermometer to determine when your roast, turkey, ham, casserole, and so on is sufficiently cooked. Food process engineer Dr. Timothy Bowser finds a remote temperature sensor very handy.  “These are great for grilling, smoking, baking, chilling and a variety of kitchen chores. The Taylor Wireless Food Thermometer with Remote (model 14799) is available at my local Wal-Mart for under $30.”


2) A refrigerator thermometer to be sure the fridge and the freezer are at a safe temperature. If your gift is for someone whose fridge doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, this is a good gift.  Food scientist Dr. Karin Allen recommends the CDN FG80 Refrigerator/Freezer NSF professional thermometer.  Check it out on


3) An oven thermometer to tell if your oven is cooking food at the temperature you set it.  Note: the website Cook’s Illustrated points out that ovens are inaccurate. Ovens set to the same temperature can vary quite a bit. The site recommends calibrating your oven periodically but also using an oven thermometer, keeping in mind that ovens cycle on and off to maintain a certain temperature.  If you google, “oven thermometer,” you’ll find links to discussions about which type of oven thermometer is best. Cook’s Illustrated recommends the dial-face type.


For more information about thermometers for the kitchen, click below:—what-you-need-know




Some tips on selecting a cookbook:

  1. Consider what the recipient likes to cook.  If he goes into the kitchen only to mix cocktails, don’t buy a book on grilling.  If she never bakes, try one on soups or chicken.
  2. Consider the recipient’s dietary preferences and requirements, such as gluten-free, vegetarian, organic, halal, or kosher.
  3. Consider the recipient’s special food interests: ethnic, historical, American regional, etc.
  4. Check the publication date, and buy a new cookbook. The recipient is less likely to have it.


You might want to buy this cookbook just for its wonderful title--Crazy Sexy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution, which was released on Oct. 30, 2012.  Its author is Kris Carr, who also wrote Crazy Sexy Diet. According to, this latest book is "filled with inspiration, education, cooking tips, and over 150 nourishing, nosh-worthy recipes." It's also, says Amazon, "infused with the author's signature humor, style and personal stories."  Sounds like a nice gift to me.  Amazon has the hardcover edition for $18.88 and the kindle edition for $9.88. 


For the cook that seems to have every cookbook the day it comes out, Dr. Allen recommends the following: The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.  Dr. Allen says it's one of her most used resources.  "It's basically a dictionary of every culinary/food-related term you’ve ever heard, plus several thousand more.  There are great appendices showing meat cuts, ingredient substitutions, conversions, high altitude adjustments, etc., without a single recipe."


Food by mail:


Of course, you could order something ordinary like candy, cookies, or fruit.  But how much more exciting to send seafood, even live lobsters. Check out these sites. DQAodngi69A  


For the hermit, camper, or mountain climber in your life, freeze-dried food also makes the perfect gift. Long-term food is also a great gift for friends who want to be prepared for the next weather disaster that cuts off power and/or water supply.  Here are some sites that sell food with a really impressive shelf life:


Freeze-dried cans:  Mountain House Freeze-Dried Foods (30-year shelf life).


Long Term Food Supply: Long Term Food Supply Freeze-Dried (25-year shelf life)  


Every kind of jerky you can think of:  Dr. Bowser recommended, which sells jerky made with beef, turkey, venison, elk, ostrich, alligator, pineapple, and other foods.  It also sells beef sticks.  Here's what Dr. Bowser says about this company: "We (the Oklahoma State University Food and Ag Products Center) have worked with (they office in Oklahoma and Texas) and have great confidence in the quality of their products. Also, for those looking to prepare for disasters and emergencies, their products have a long shelf life."


Homemade specialties:


Perhaps there’s no gift that says love as well as one you’ve made yourself.  Holiday cookies or fruitcake or any other edible you make that’s truly delicious AND something the recipient can and will eat.  (Consider dietary and religious limitations as well as taste.)  


A government website offers good advice about mailing foods and handling food you’ve received by mail. Check out this link:


A gift idea that doesn't cost much:


If you're on a tight budget or have a person on your gift list who doesn't like kitchen gadgets (Is there really such a person?), high-quality, attractive pot holders are a useful gift that will remind the recipient of your thoughtfulness every day. To spend a little more, get towels to match.  If you know the color of the person's kitchen decor, get that color.  If you know the recipient's big love (cows?  flowers? French cuisine?), get pot holders or towels that pick up on that theme.


Happy holidays!




Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science


Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences


Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D.  Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science


Parade, November 6, 20ll.


Chicago Tribune  “One-use wonders,” November 16, 2011.


Cook’ “Oven Thermometers”


ShopSmart  "Best coffeemakers," January, 2013.  "How to Pick the Right Single-Cup Pod Coffee Maker"



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