Photo (cc) by e skene
Would you buy a $1,900 stand mixer hand-painted with zebra print? While KitchenAid is sure someone will (you can buy six different custom-made stand mixers on their site), I’m betting you wouldn’t spend that kind of dough just to make your own dough.
But you could still be overpaying for some of your small kitchen appliances.
As a foodie, I’ve been guilty of overpaying for a small appliance or two. But when I realized I couldn’t afford to outfit my kitchen with the top-of-the-line, I began purchasing what I considered the “cheap brands.” I expected them to disappoint me, but they didn’t. Turns out, there are some great gadgets out there that won’t empty your wallet.
We scoured reviews, ratings, and factored in our opinions after test-driving appliances to compare some expensive gadgets with their cheaper – but just as competent – cousins. Here’s what we found:
1. Stand mixer
According to Consumer Reports, KitchenAid has about 50 percent of the stand mixer market, with Hamilton Beach also one of best selling brands. Here’s a comparison of popular models from KitchenAid and Hamilton Beach:
- 325-watt motor with 10 speed settings
- 5-quart stainless steel mixing bowl
- Includes shield lid, flat beater, dough hook, and wire whisk
- $350 on Amazon.com
- 400-watt motor with 12 speed settings
- Orbiting mixing bowl
- Includes pouring shield, flat beater, dough hook, and wire whisk
- $143.99 on Amazon.com
Both stand mixers have an average 4-star rating on Amazon, and having owned both, I agree with the reviews. The KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer does a near-perfect job mixing ingredients and kneading dough and the different speed settings come in handy. But it is also a large and heavy appliance. I sold mine after a year because it took up too much space in my kitchen and was too heavy to move in and out of storage between uses.
The Hamilton Beach stand mixer also works great for basic jobs like churning cookie dough or kneading bread dough. It’s also a bit smaller, lighter, and a lot cheaper ($206 less) than the KitchenAid.
2. Food processor
A food processor can be an indispensable cooking appliance. However, a good processor doesn’t have to run you more than a couple hundred bucks. Breville’s BFP 800XL Sous Chef Food Processor touts a 4.5-star rating on Amazon and carries a somewhat steep $395 price tag. Cusinart’s DLC-10S Pro Classic processor also has a 4.5 average rating, and it’s $295 cheaper. Let’s compare the two:
- Comes with five slicing discs including a variable slicing disc, mini blade, dough blade, and micro-serrated S blade
- 16-cup large bowl and 2.5-cup mini bowl
- LCD auto timer
- Extra-wide feed chute
- 25-year warranty on the motor
- $395 on Amazon.com
- Comes with a plastic dough blade, 4mm slicing disc, shredding disc, and stainless steel chopping/mixing blade
- Full five-year warranty on the motor and a three-year limited warranty on the whole appliance
- 7-cup, dishwasher-safe work bowl
- Pulse control
- $99.95 on Amazon.com
If you’re not looking to slice your own French fries (the Breville has a slicing disc for that) or need that huge container for extra-large meals, the Cuisinart might be your best bet. It has enough options to slice and shred food and is powerful enough to make your own peanut butter.
The Breville has some awesome bells and whistles, but keep in mind that this product is marketed for more than the casual cook; I mean, it does say “Sous Chef” in the name. Unless you love to often cook a variety of meals for a packed dining room, the Cuisinart will suit you just fine.
3. Toaster oven
A toaster oven serves multiple purposes for cooking, reheating, and, well, toasting. I like to use my toaster oven as a mini-oven for smaller food portions. What’s the point in buying a big, boxy countertop appliance when you’ve already got a full-sized oven in the kitchen? Toaster ovens are relatively simple appliances that use electric coils to heat and cook food, so they shouldn’t run you too much. But like all the other appliances in this article, the more options you add, the more expensive it gets. Here are two well-reviewed toaster ovens to consider:
- 1800 watts with “Element IQ” heat regulation technology
- Measures 18.5” x 16.25” x 11.25”
- 20 pounds
- Nine pre-set heating functions, backlit LCD display
- Includes crumb tray, pizza pan, baking pan, and broil rack with three rack positions
- Five quartz heating elements
- Limited one-year warranty
- $249.99 at Amazon.com
- 1800 watts
- Measures 15.9” x 11.8” x 7.9”
- 17.2 pounds
- Includes baking pan, broiling rack, and wire rack
- Limited three-year warranty
- $63.99 at Amazon.com
The Cuisinart is slightly lighter and a lot smaller and cheaper than the Breville. You won’t be getting five quartz heating elements to help cook your food, but you will be saving $186 and a decent amount of counter space if you opt for the Cuisinart. The Breville might have an edge with customer satisfaction with a 4.5-star average review at Amazon but only by half a star. At 4 stars and $63.99, the Cuisinart should be all you need for a toaster oven. Just remember to use your main oven for the main courses.
4. Coffee maker
Keurig machines are the big thing in home coffee makers lately, but I found a cheaper brand I actually prefer over the Keurig. For example, my sister recently purchased a Keurig Special Edition Brewing System. It makes a great cup of coffee, but I can’t justify the $149.95 cost – especially when you factor in buying the individual K-Cups required for brewing. Alternatively, I picked up a Mr. Coffee 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker for $38.27 on Amazon, and it works great. Here are the specs:
- Automatic off feature
- Removable water reservoir
- Three possible cup sizes – 6 oz., 8 oz., and 10 oz.
- $149.95 on Keurig.com
- 2-hour automatic shut-off feature
- Self-cleaning feature
- Brew strength selector
- Water filtration feature
- Makes up to 12 cups of coffee
- $38.27 on Amazon.com
I saved about $111 on my coffee machine, and ended up getting more features than I’ll actually use. For example, the brew strength selector has come in handy when I have guests over who prefer a stronger coffee than I do, and the self-cleaning feature frees up a lot of my time. Brew-wise, I don’t taste any difference between a K-Cup brewed in a Keurig and a cup of special-blend coffee brewed in my cheaper machine.
One pricey appliance I actually received as a gift and ended up returning was the Vitamix 5200 Standard, which retails for $449 on the Vitamix site. Then I turned around and bought an Oster 8-Speed Glass Jar Blender for $49.95 on Amazon with a 4-star average rating on the site. The Vitamix blender promised a lot, but popping $400 in my savings account and still having a blender to use felt a lot better. Here’s the comparison that helped me make my choice:
- Can chop, blend, cream, heat, and grind
- Semi-self-cleaning feature by running the blender on the highest setting with water and dish soap
- 64-ounce container
- Online recipe database
- $449 on Vitamix.com
- 8 speed settings for churning, blending, and chopping
- Stainless steel blade that crushes ice
- 450-watt motor
- 6-cup jar
- $49.95 on Amazon.com
Vitamix’s advertising hook is the blender’s ability to do almost anything, from making hot soups to blending a smoothie, and it does it quickly. The manual claimed I could process most foods in two minutes or less – but who really needs to do all of that? I use my blender to chop up fruit and make the occasional frozen drink. In my case, the Oster blender does everything I need. Sure it doesn’t have features like an online recipe database, but there are plenty of foodie sites for that. In the end, saving $400 was a way better deal.