Help them take their cooking to the next level with these exciting kitchen upgrades.

By Stacey Ballis
December 09, 2020
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Buying gifts for the cooks in your life? Remember this: Every good cook and pro chef will tell you that quality equipment makes a difference, whether it is a seriously sharp chef’s knife, a perfectly weighted skillet, or an item that is specifically designed to do one task brilliantly. The right pieces can be a long-term investment in a lifetime of good cooking. These are not inexpensive pieces, but if properly cared for, can last literally generations.

So, if your kitchen is still half mom-and-dad-me-downs or inexpensive pieces picked up at big box stores, or if you have someone special in your life who would love an upgrade, here are the 7 pieces that are worth seeking out this season.

Lodge Cast Iron Skillets

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Cast iron skillets are a magical way to cook, ideal for things like searing steaks and chops or making killer cornbread. Having at least one great cast iron skillet in your life will make everything better. If you are going to invest, I suggest Lodge’s two-piece combo cooker for maximum flexibility.

Buy it: Lodge Cast Iron Combo Cooker ($39.99), amazon.com

Made In Cookware

Credit: Courtesy Made In

If it is time to up the ante on your pots and pans, check out this buzzy brand that has taken the culinary world by storm. Developed with chefs to affordably compete with high end luxury brands like All-Clad, these pieces are very well designed and wonderful to cook with. If you are gifting, they have some fun items like perforated skillets you can use on the grill, an adorable butter warmer that will make those brown butter cookies easier to achieve, and a paella pan that can double as your favorite new chicken or vegetable roasting pan. The gateway pan for me was the award-winning wok, which I use for everything from stir fry to pastas. I’ve been an All-Clad girl for literally decades but find myself reaching for the Made In with more frequency the longer I cook with it.

Buy it: Made In Wok ($99.00), madeincookware.com

MAC Kitchen Shears

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

A good pair of kitchen shears, not to be confused with scissors, can be indispensable in good cooking. Whether you need to quickly cut a chicken into parts, or snip delicate herbs over a dish, the more you discover what these useful tools can do, the more you will reach for them. Need to cut a slice or two of bacon into lardons? Shears do it faster and easier than knives, and with less chance of injury. Scallions for a stir fry? Shears make quick work of them. I have had my set of MAC shears for almost 10 years, and they are still sharp as the dickens. My favorite part is that they easily come apart for proper cleaning.

Buy it: MAC Knife Kitchen Shear 8 ½ Inch ($69.94), amazon.com

Made In Chef’s Knife

Credit: Courtesy Made In

Yep, we’re back to Made In, because the other thing they are doing really, really well is knives. The company partnered with a 5th-generation knifemaker to design their knives, and that history is reflected in the product. So, if it is time to get your knife skills on point, or if you have a cook in your life who is ready for a piece of real gear, a great chef’s knife is the place to start. The 8” chef’s knife is perfectly balanced, with a great curve for proper rocking motion when you cut, and is terrifically sharp. Even better, for a premium quality knife that functions as well if not better than the luxury brands, the price is similar to more mid-point lines of the famous brands.

Buy it: Made in 8 Inch Chef Knife ($89.00), madeincookware.com

Great Cutting Board

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

It’s easy to keep using hand-me-down cutting boards and thinking you’re fine, but it’s a game changer to discover what a difference a proper cutting board makes. Every chef deserves a board made from wood, heavy enough to withstand chopping, but not so heavy you can’t move it easily for use and washing. And if the board is a beauty (like this one), you’ve just gifted a charcuterie server as well. I love this option from  Fab Slabs, a company out of Australia making beautiful boards from anti-bacterial camphor laurel wood.

Buy it: Fab Slabs Natural Wood Camphor Laurel Large Cutting Board ($74.99), amazon.com

Dutch Oven

Credit: Courtesy Great Jones

An enameled iron oval Dutch oven might just be the single most useful pot in your kitchen, and while I am a Le Creuset girl from way back, they require some serious capital outlay. Great Jones has taken everything we love about this style of cookware and given us terrific quality at prices that are less gasp-worthy. Their best-selling Dutchess is a 6 ¾ quart oval that comes in seven fun colors, and is the ideal size and shape for everything from braises to roasts.

Buy it: Great Jones Dutchess ($155.00), greatjonesgoods.com

KitchenAid Stand Mixer

Credit: Courtesy Amazon

I cut my culinary teeth on a KitchenAid and still love and appreciate it some two and a half decades later. So, when it was time to explore a stand mixer that would be an upgrade for my current heavy duty sourdough production as it would be for delicate meringues and whipped creams, I simply went bigger and slightly more industrial. This beefy version has a generous 8-quart bowl that can accommodate a quadruple batch of my bread dough or whip a couple dozen egg whites at once. It also employs many of the same accessories as the smaller KitchenAid, for everything from pasta to meat grinding, so if those are already in your cabinets, you’re ready to roll! For the serious baker, especially one who works in larger batches, this is the investment piece. If your giftee (or you!) doesn’t yet have a stand mixer, but don’t need quite this much volume or power, go with the original 5-quart model. It’s a classic for a reason.

Buy it: KitchenAid 8-Quart Commercial Countertop Mixer ($749.99), amazon.com