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What do you get for the cook who has everything?
It may be easy to default to yet another clever tea towel, a gadget made specifically for slicing avocados, or a new and exciting sauce from the culinary adventureland otherwise known as the food aisle at TJ Maxx. But the cold, hard truth is most cooks either don’t want that stuff, already have too much of it, or more likely, both.
So, before you go buying something that will take up even more valuable space in a probably already cramped kitchen, consider these gift options: choices that will actually help even the most well-stocked kitchen and dining room feel like a better place to cook and eat.
What to Buy Instead of Tea Towels and Tote Bags with Cheesy Quotes
Loving something doesn’t always equate to wanting endless versions of that thing featuring inspirational or maybe-funny quotes. In fact, it rarely does. Take it from Bev Weidner, a food blogger in Prairie Village, Kansas who hilariously documents her approachable meals, perfectly-styled home, and adorable twins on Instagram at @BevCooks.
While Weidner loves all things linen, she prefers it plain, thank you very much: “Please, for the love, do not give me a tea towel with a nauseating inspirational quote on it (unless it's from When Harry Met Sally),” she says. “And if it's in cursive? Or Comic Sans? Done. We're done.”
Avoid the horrible fonts and just skip the word art entirely. Instead, get the linen-loving cook in your life something more understated, but still really useful.
French Linen Napkins
Most home cooks will tell you there’s no such thing as too many nice linen napkins. Who wants to be washing a small set all the time? In addition to being useful at the table, a good linen napkin can double as a tea towel, a placemat, and a prop for those who like to share their culinary creations on Instagram. Even better, gifting a colorful set of soft linen napkins in the perfect hue still says, “See? I know you! I got you something beautiful in your favorite color!” without resorting to cringe-worthy quotes.
Canvas Market Tote
Whether they’re lugging essentials from the grocery store or transporting a homemade meal to a friend, any serious cook will appreciate this stylish, roomy canvas tote with sturdy vegan-leather handles. The minimal design manages to feature six pockets—which make toting delicate items like eggs and wine easy—while little details like a built-in keyring and even an exterior “seatbelt” for flowers make it a true carry-all for a trip to the market and beyond.
Washable Cotton Pan Cover
Cooking a lot at home often means lots of leftovers. For environmentally-conscious cooks who don’t like single-use materials like plastic wrap and foil, a reusable organic cotton canvas pan cover makes a great gift. Machine washable and minimalist in design, this 13-by-17-inch cover features a drawstring to snuggly fit up to an 11-by-15-inch baking dish or pan.
What to Buy Instead of Spice Mixes and Gimmicky Sauces
Pre-mixed spice blends and jarred sauces may be fun to buy, for serious cooks, it can be less fun to be on the receiving end. That’s because people who really enjoy cooking generally like to make their own sauces and spice mixes from scratch.
“Mixing spices is such a personal thing. Say I want a chimichurri spice — I’m going to make it myself, and then I can add whatever other flavors and ingredients I want to the final product,” says Natasha Bailey, chef and turophile at Green Dirt Farm and Creamery in Weston, Missouri. “And honestly, I just don’t like being in someone else’s box. One of my favorite parts of being a chef is being instinctive and trying new things. Pre-packaged spice blends don’t really allow for that.”
To ensure your gift doesn’t end up in the back of the pantry, skip the pumpkin spice sea salt and oddly-infused oils, and give ingredients and tools cooks will want to use right away, and often!
Handheld Spice Grinder
For those who prefer freshly-ground spices, this compact cast-iron manual spice grinder allows for mixing up small batches of single spices or custom blends, and it even has an inner canister for storing extras. Pleasantly heavy and super handy, it’s smaller and more convenient than a mortar and pestle and easier to control and clean than an electric grinder. Plus, it’s pretty enough to keep on display and won’t take up too much room on the countertop or a kitchen shelf.
Box Set of (Mostly) Single Spices
Plenty of serious cooks use pre-ground spices, but because they lose their vibrancy over time (and much more quickly than whole spices), it’s good to start each new year with a fresh stash. This set of 18 spices from Spicewalla is a great place to start. It includes must-haves like cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric, as well as ginger, cloves, mustard, and more. And okay, yeah — there are a couple of blends like Herbs de Provence and chili powder. But most chefs can find a use for those, or at the very least, regift them since each spice comes in a cute little tin box.
Fancy Olive Oil Subscription
Yes, anyone who’s serious about cooking probably already has good olive oil. But if they cook often enough, they’re bound to go through it quickly. Help subsidize the cost of this very important staple with an olive oil subscription and give the gift of three liters of freshly-pressed olive oil delivered every three months for an entire year.
What to Buy Instead of Single-Use Gadgets and Small Appliances
The downside of being a “food person” is that friends and family like to buy you cooking gadgets without considering how useful they might actually be. For people who really like to cook, tools and appliances that do only one thing usually just take up valuable counter space that’s needed for more important tasks, like chopping and mixing.
Sam Hiersteiner, a Boston-based food writer who contributes to Boston Globe Food and is the co-author of a forthcoming cookbook from Eventide Oyster Co., even has a special place in his home where all that junk goes to die: "We have a cabinet in our basement that is a graveyard for single-use kitchen gadgets, and I don't want anything for the holidays this year that's going to end up down there,” he says. At his house that means “no cast iron oyster grill pans, no milk frothers, no steam-cleaning gun for the grill, no back-up Instant Pots in case the main one that I don't use breaks down, no colanders with any more than one tier, and for god's sake, no more panini presses."
You don’t want your gift ending up down there either. So don’t waste your money on something that will only get used once or twice a year (or worse, never). Instead, opt for nicer, smarter, truly useful tools and gadgets.
Sturdy Do-It-All Pan
Any serious cook will keep a variety of cookware for different uses, but most have a go-to pan for every-day jobs like frying an egg, warming leftovers, and more. Some even keep said pan on the stove for quick access. The Always Pan from Our Place could be THAT pan for somebody. With a non-stick ceramic coating, this easy-to-clean 10-inch pan is shallow enough for a sauté, deep enough for sauces (and even has two spouts for easy-ish pouring), and heavy enough for browning and frying. It also comes with a matching lid, a stainless-steel steaming basket that tucks away nicely for storage, and a fitted rest on the handle for the included wood spatula. Plus, it’s dishwasher safe and comes in three pretty colors.
Wireless Meat Thermometer
For anyone who regularly cooks meat, an accurate thermometer is an invaluable tool that can be used on a grill or smoker, in the oven, or on the stovetop. And considering we pretty much live in the future now, a sleek smart thermometer like the Meater+ is a safe bet for gifting. The small stainless-steel probe works with a free app to alert users when their meat has reached an optimal internal temp and estimates cook time. Serious barbecuists will also appreciate that the app even tracks ambient temperature and stores a ridiculously detailed log of every cook. The device charges in its compact wooden case (with the help of just one AAA battery, included) which doubles as a signal repeater to help extend the wireless range up to 165 feet.
Smart Screen for the Kitchen
Most of the promotional photos for Google’s newest gadget feature it on the kitchen counter, and for good reason. The Nest Hub Max is great for the cook who’s already embraced other smart home features and is ready for an upgrade. Users can make hands-free video calls using the Duo app, greet visitors at the front door via the Ring cam, and adjust a Nest thermostat — all with a voice command for those times they’re wrist-deep in dough. The Nest Hub Max also streams recipe and how-to videos from YouTube, Food Network, and Tasty, and like most smart devices, connects to music subscription services and checks the weather, news, and more.
Want more gift ideas? Check out our full gift guide.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious