Remember how in 2020, during lockdowns, the entire country seemed to be cooking with Instant Pots? The relatively new product went gangbusters, posting sky-high sales and creating a devoted following of people who absolutely adore cooking with it. But the company just filed for bankruptcy.
The problem wasn’t that the appliance wasn’t useful or that it was just a fad. The problem was that The Instapot was built to last. It didn’t break, so people don’t need to go out and buy a new one every year. The company messed around and made an actually good appliance that lasts, and the forces of private equity punished them for this.
There’s a lot of truth to the adage “things aren’t built like they used to be.” Planned obsolescence is a very real thing in our consumer goods, and if you’re trying to reduce your waste and carbon footprint, this can be a frustrating reality. Replacing broken appliances every year is expensive, not to mention terrible for our environment. Americans throw away more than two million small appliances every year!
As a former professional and current avid home chef, I don’t really believe in having a lot of kitchen gadgets. I don’t like wasted money and wasted space, and you can do almost anything with a knife and a good set of pans. That said, I also know that having the right small appliances can make cooking more energy efficient, easier, and more fun! So let’s talk about a few countertop appliances that fit well in an eco-conscious kitchen and how to buy the best ones that will last.
In general, here are some guidelines that I use when purchasing new appliances for home and professional use:
1) Buy items that have multiple functions so it’s worth the money and counter space.
2) When possible, look for metal construction, because we all know plastic just doesn’t last as long. If that’s not an option, opt for simple designs with as few small pieces that could break as possible.
3) Look for brands that offer repairs and/or refurbished appliances. This is usually a sign that they’re trying to build durable, reliable products.
4) To limit energy usage, look for items that can replace the stove or oven, as those use far more energy than most small countertop appliances
So with those things in mind, here are my top four kitchen appliances that are worth the space, money, and energy in my kitchen!
There’s a reason that Instant Pots developed a cult following: it’s a less-scary pressure cooker that also works as a rice cooker, yogurt maker, slow cooker, and more. They’re multi-functional, simple in design, relatively inexpensive, and they’re notably durable.
Pressure cookers basically reduce the amount of time you need to cook an item by increasing the pressure in the chamber. So, not only can you braise a pork shoulder in a fraction of the time, it takes a whole lot less energy than leaving an oven or a stovetop burner on for many hours. You can leave the oven off entirely for a lot of projects, which means you’re saving a LOT of energy.
While other brands make multicookers, it’s hard to argue with Instant Pot for quality and value. And while not necessarily known for being easy to repair, they are certainly known to last, even with very regular usage.
My favorite overall: Instant Pot Pro 8qt
Great budget option: Instant Pot Duo 6qt
Got some more space and budget? Get a good air fryer toaster oven. If you’re not familiar, these are exactly what they sound like. Air fryer, meet toaster oven. It’s your old toaster oven and your air fryer had an awesome baby.
These countertop powerhouses can do a lot! They’re typically larger capacity than an air fryer, meaning you can cook for more people at once with good results. They have a lot of different functions, from toasting bread to baking cookies to making fries. The best ones even work as a dehydrator, which can be very useful to cut down on food waste!
Much like a multicooker, a good air fryer toaster oven can often replace your full-sized oven. They heat up faster, take less energy to use, and can tackle a lot of the projects that would normally use the oven. So energy-wise (and time-wise) they’re a big win!
My advice is to avoid the super cheap options here as they often don’t live up to their promises and can’t perform all of their functions well. Try to stick to reputable brands that offer good warranties, refurbished products, and great reviews.
My favorite splurge: Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro
Great budget option: Calphalon Air Fryer Oven
A good blender is super useful, from smoothies to nut butter to baby food. While they won’t replace your oven or stove, they can be a really useful tool in zero-waste cooking, and they can make high-quality home cooking more accessible. And for a lot of tasks, they can stand in for a food processor.
After a decade in the restaurant world, I’m spoiled by high-quality blenders. Specifically, I love a Vitamix. They have enough horsepower to, you know, actually blend. (Fun fact, a Vitamix has the same horsepower as a lot of lawnmowers!) The design is simple, with little that can break. The components are metal, and the company offers repairs, extensive warranties, and sells refurbished models. These blenders last for years, even in restaurants, so for home use, one could well last your lifetime. They’re about as sustainable as it gets.
That said, they’re pricey, even if they’re refurbished! For beginner cooks or occasional blender use, budget options can be great too, just be aware that some heavy-duty projects like making nut butter might wear down the parts faster.
Best Splurge: Vitamix 5200 Professional-Grade
A great budget alternative: Ninja BL660 Professional
I’ll start here by saying that if you don’t bake much or at all, a stand mixer might be unnecessary. And a lot of baking projects work just as well with a whisk or your hands. That said, stand mixers can be super useful and fun, and they can do a lot more than mix cookie dough.
Kind of like the Vitamix situation, there’s a reason that Kitchenaid mixers are so common: they last forever, and they’re versatile and easy to use. Kitchenaid mixers are known for all-metal construction, which is the reason that they can last decades when cared for. Kitchenaids are also designed to be easy to repair, which is something that most companies actively fight these days. Even the refurbished mixers are great!
There are also lots of attachments available that can make a mixer a more central part of your kitchen. So even if you’re not baking every day, you can get attachments to make pasta, chop vegetables, shred cheese, grind meat, make ice cream, and more. Multifunctional, check!
My favorite splurge: Kitchenaid Pro 600 Series 6-Qt Bowl-Lift Mixer
A great budget option: The same thing, just refurbished from the company
Depending on how you like to cook, your favorite appliances might vary wildly from mine! I didn’t include a food processor, for example, because I know I can either use a knife or a blender for anything I’d do in a food processor. But that’s just me! Home cooking is generally cheaper, healthier, and better for the environment, so whatever makes cooking easier and more fun for you is a great purchase.
No matter what, just keep this in mind: while our economy is based on cheap, disposable consumer goods, there are always better options out there if you don’t want to play along. Think hard about what you actually want and need before buying, do a little research, and if you can, spend the money to buy something that you can fix and that will last for years. You’ll save money in the long run, help the environment by minimizing waste, and hopefully, enjoy cooking just a bit more.