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Small Wonders

Best Buys in Specialty Kitchen Appliances

Today’s specialty kitchen appliances can handle a variety of tasks with less chance for error than ever before. But you might find that some of the prices for accomplishing these tasks are not to your taste.

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If you ever wished that you had a fairy godmother who could make things easier in the kitchen, today’s specialty kitchen appliances fill that role—minus the fairy dust.

Since we last reported on these appliances 4 years ago, manufacturers have improved them with a focus on making it easier than ever before to get better results when you cook. Today you’ll find, for example, slow cookers that have extra-long timers and contact grills that have increased temperature recovery—how fast the temperature returns to the proper level after you place food on the grill. (That functionality translates into better searing, which means that more of the juice stays in your meat for better flavor.)

Manufacturers also continue to modify their appliances to give you more healthful options. There’s even a fryer that makes French fries by using only a tablespoon of oil!

MULTIMANIA. Multitasking remains a major trend in specialty kitchen appliances. Manufacturers continue to introduce products that are multifunctional, and there seems to be no limit to possible combinations. You even can find rice cookers that can bake bread and cakes.

Although contact grills that have plates that change the appliance from a grill to a griddle are nothing new, their interchangeability has increased. For instance, a few George Foreman models have plates that let you make waffles or cakes. The company’s newest model—the Evolve Grill—has plates for making muffins and cupcakes.

In the past 3 years, there has been an increase in the number of multicookers—an industry term for all-in-one electric cooking appliances that perform several functions, such as a steamer that also works as a stock pot, pressure cooker and rice cooker. The bulk of multicookers start at about $120. Because electric pressure cookers alone typically cost about $100, these added features can save you anywhere from $50 to $100 (not to mention precious counter space) compared with the purchase of single-function appliances to accomplish the same tasks.

But not all multitasking appliances are worth the investment. The multifunctional appliances that work best are those that have similar cooking methods, says A.J. Riedel, who is a housewares market-research expert.

For instance, rice cooking, slow cooking and pressure cooking are all types of wet-heat cooking; and grilling, griddling and baking cakes or brownies are all variations on dry-heat cooking. Consequently, models that carry out several variations of one or the other tend to work well. And we found this to be the case.

LAPPING UP LUXURY. Although it might seem to be a curious strategy in this still-lagging economy, manufacturers continue to roll out ultra-premium specialty kitchen appliances that set the pace in innovation. These models stand out from other models because of their sleek designs and fancy materials—and their gaudy price tags. For example, Breville’s Smart Grill, which was introduced in late 2009, has a sensor that recognizes when cold food is placed on the grill and automatically adjusts the heat for quick searing. You’ll pay $300 for that level of intuitiveness.

Meanwhile, All-Clad makes a slow cooker that has an aluminum insert that can be used to sear or sauté ingredients on the stove beforehand. You then pop the insert back into the slow cooker, so you don’t have to transfer ingredients from a separate pan. The slow cooker also has a cooking time of 26 hours, which is 6 hours longer than that of any other model. You’d probably rarely need to cook something for that length of time outside of French onion soup or brisket. (The $280 price tag, though, might give you a slow burn.)

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