This week’s posts will be devoted my personal kitchen tool gift guide, starting with the big guns.

I got my first KitchenAid stand mixer 20 years ago as a Christmas gift from my mom’s boyfriend, Hap, and it was one of the best gifts I ever got. It’s the most used appliance in my kitchen. I’ve beaten the hell out of it, even flipped it off the countertop while trying to grind something particularly difficult. And it still runs.

When Donna and I began doing photography for Twenty, we wanted something a little better to look at and so now use the above “Artisan” 5-quart model (linked to above). If you’re looking for that over-the-top gift for the one in your family who loves to cook, this can’t be beat. It’s what we tested all the Bouchon Bakery recipes on for Thomas Keller’s next book, and it’s the one I used yesterday to make bread dough with my son James.

One of the five most important tools in the kitchen? Two sharp knives. A big one and a little one. I recommend these Wusthof knives. My cousin gave them to me 21 years ago and they remain fabulous knives. Biggest problem in American home kitchens is dull knives. Buy good ones, keep them sharp.

For cookware, my favorite pots are Le Creuset cast iron enamel.  Worth every penny. If you cook for a lot of people, you need the 7-quart version. For smaller stews and braises, the 3.5 quart version is really convenient.

Saute and sauce pans. I recommend All-Clad.  They’re the best (and they’re made in America!).  Again, if you’re just starting out, you need a pig pot and a smaller one, a big sauté pan and a small one.

My favorite all-clad pan is the saucier, a great all-purpose pan.

The VitaMix blender is another one of those professional caliber tools that costs a bundle but there simply is no more powerful blender you can buy, that I know of. It’s why you see this thing in every good restaurant kitchen, if not several of them. They last forever, the make very smooth purees, you can grind grains in it, make mousselines in them, great smoothies, and I’ve even seen hot soups made start to finish in them (because the motor gets so hot).

A new item this year for me is the Fagor induction burner. They’re super powerful burners that use radio waves to instantly make steel and iron pans hot. They’re super efficient (a stick of butter set next to the pan won’t melt), boiling water in half the time as my gas flame. When summer heat makes cooking oppressive, this won’t add extra heat to your kitchen. And it’s great for big cooking days when you need that extra burner, or you want to keep a pot warm in the dining room (it’s portable). I’m offering a special deal over at OpenSky on this item. You need to follow me at Opensky and click on my collection to take advantage of the Amazon price and free non-stick pan (and free shipping on all items purchased from OpenSky through today).

I can’t recommend the cheaper induction burner Fagor sells because it doesn’t have the same power, but if you’re pinched, it would probably do.

Do you have a charcutier in your family or someone who wants to make sausage? Here’s the grinder I recommend.  And this is an eminently affordable 5-pound cylindrical stuffer from Butcher & Packer.

Sausage that we put into this terrine mold, we call pâté. This cast iron enamel terrine mold is a great gift.

I don’t use a food processor very often, but a lot of people do. Certainly when you need them, they’re great to have. Here’s the one I use. (But again, it’s the stand mixer featured at the top of the paget that’s my kitchen workhorse.)

Finally, another first in the recommended gift category: the iPad2 and the Kindle Fire. They are increasingly used in the kitchen. I love my iPad (I can play music while cooking, refer to app and cookbooks, search recipes, all pretty much simultaneously—thank you Steve Jobs). I’ve just started using my Kindle Fire but I can I LOVE it. Look out iPad! Kindle Fire is hot.

Get your shopping done now, so you don’t stress later!



20 Wonderful responses to “Gift Week: The Big Guns”

  • jeff

    what do you think of the Lodge enamel products? they are a fraction of the price of the Le Creuset stuff…

      • Colin

        They describe it as “a proprietary soy-based vegetable oil” that’s applied at the foundry. The pans still need to be seasoned with use.

        Our 12″ Lodge pan (purchased when we got married) pre-dates their use of such a coating. Given that it’s not that hard to season a pan, I’m not sure what the appeal is (other than to those who don’t know better).

  • Attrill

    The knives are a definite must have. If someone already has those two a sharpening steel, and a bread knife are good gifts to get. A 6″ semi flexible boning knife comes in very handy too, especially for butchering and parting out chickens.

    Wusthoffs are great, but if cost is an issue Forschner makes some great knives for the price. They take and keep an edge very well, and much better than any other knives in that price range.

  • cherylK

    I’m so glad you mentioned All-Clad! I need new pots and was puzzling over which to buy. We have a couple of Vita Mix blenders and you are absolutely spot on about them. This post is a wonderful resource. Thanks!

  • Jessica/ Green Skies and Sugar Trips

    Kitchen aid’s can’t be beat.

    All through my time at the CIA, they were the go to for pretty much everything we made in the bakeshops.

    **Great tip** when reconstituting buttercream from a cold stage, you can actually take a torch to the outside of the bowl to heat it up. A LITTLE AT A TIME, no prolonged periods since we’re not trying to clarify the buttercream! 😉

  • Elisabeth

    The terrine pan looks beautiful.

    I wouldn’t recommend the old Kitchenaid food processors. The work bowls are made with polycarbonate which contains BPA, if you’re concerned about that. Also, they leak like crap when you put in a sizable amount of liquid or semiliquid food, like tomato sauce or soup (which is what I use it for most). My old model 760 just died after 4.5 years, too; won’t spin any more. Their new 13 cup (KFP1333OB) model is made with a BPA free work bowl and says it is leak free, so obviously they recognized the problems in their old model (good for them!) I’m thinking of buying one of the new ones, or maybe asking santa to bring it.

  • Elisabeth

    Also I totally agree about the Kitchenaid stand mixer. If I could have only one kitchen tool (besides the knives) that would be it. The old ones are better than the new ones, sadly. I bought one of those big new ones and hardly ever use it. But fortunately my 10 year old plus Artisan model is still going strong…

  • k

    Couldn’t agree more with the Kitchen stand mixer. My mom had one when I was growing up and you couldn’t hurt that thing, no matter what three kids did to it. My dad surprised me my senior year of college (1992) and gave me the classic stand mixer. I love that thing to death. It made many cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls just last week! I have tried the lift models, but I love the old tilt back head of the 4.5 qt models. Definitely the best gift my dad ever gave me (ok, aside from the obvious life thing).

    Elisabeth, I agree with you on the age issue. When Hobart stilled own Kitchen Aid those things were built to withstand any abuse hurled at them (and trust me we hurled much and often).

  • Martin

    Hey, don’t forget the Barnes & Noble Nookcolor and Nooktablet, and I won’t forget to recommend “20” when I sell books this month! Equal or better to Kindlefire.

  • Julia

    I completely agree about the Kitchenaid stand mixer. Do you know if the quality has changed much in the last ten years? (as opposed to 20) I have a roughly 10 year old artisan mixer, but the motor is giving some indications that it miiightt be dying soon (mostly surging while at higher speeds). I’ve been thinking of trying to convince someone to give me a new one this Christmas, but seeing everyone say that the older ones are better makes me think that maybe mine is able to be fixed/serviced back into shape!

  • Dave

    Great list! I agree 100% on the KitchenAid mixer (I have the same model in imperial black), Wusthof knives, and All-Clad pans (particularly the D5). I would add that Wusthof makes a great sharpener keeps my 16-year-old chef’s knife sharp enough to make short work of ripe tomatoes.

  • Lee B-S

    Just a technicality, but induction burners use magnetism to create heat in the pan, not radio waves.

  • Andrew

    For anyone interested in the All Clad 3 qt saucier, you can find it for $15 less at (no affiliation/referral fees/financial interest).

  • Jay

    Ruhlman, up there where you’re talking about AllClad pots and pans you lost me. I had to go over to the AC website and see for myself; only I could not find what you recommend. So, what is a “Pig Pot”?

  • Joe

    KitchenAid products are high quality and durable but 20 years is a long time! Lots of other good recommended kitchen gifts though. Got to go looking for some of them for my mom.


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