10 Surprisingly Cheap Items Everyone Should Have in Their Kitchen

iStock.com/4kodiak
iStock.com/4kodiak

When shopping for certain kitchen gadgets, sometimes paying a little extra is worth it. But there are plenty of supplies that can greatly improve your cooking skills without hurting your wallet. Some of the most essential tools to have in your kitchen are available from quality brands in the $10 to $30 range. If you want to take your food to the next level on a budget, these are the products you should own.

1. Wooden Spoon; $15 for Three

Three wooden spoons
OXO, Amazon

There are many fancy kitchen utensils available to home cooks today, but the best type of spoon for cooking is one that’s been around for centuries. Wooden spoons have several advantages over spoons made from metal or plastic: They don’t conduct heat well, they won’t scratch the bottom of your expensive pan, and they won’t leach chemicals into your food. They’re also just as durable as they are versatile. Wood is naturally antibacterial, and if you care for your spoon properly, it will last you through countless meals. OXO sells a set of three different wooden spoons for under $15. (We also like OXO's single corner spoon, which is sold out on Amazon right now—but you can still get it from Bed Bath & Beyond for $6.)

Buy it: Amazon

2. Silicone Mat; $25

Silpat with macarons.
Silpat, Amazon

Neater than cooking spray and less wasteful than foil or parchment paper, silicone mats are essential for home cooks and bakers. These reusable mats turn any surface into a nonstick surface. When a baking sheet is lined with a silicone mat, temperamental items like cookies slide off in one piece. The mats are also easy to wipe down and can survive thousands of baking sessions. They can also make cleanup easier when roasting savory items like vegetables and chicken wings.

But it from Amazon

3. Kitchen Shears; $20

Kitchen shears.
Apogee Culinary Designs, Amazon

Quality knives are vital in the kitchen, but no collection of cutting tools is complete without a good pair of scissors. A home cook needs kitchen shears for butchering jobs, like spatchcocking a chicken. Kitchen shears are also useful for trimming pie crusts, snipping herbs, and even cracking open lobster claws. And unlike decent chef’s knives, a great pair of shears can cost as little as $20.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Digital Scale; $18

Digital kitchen scale.
Etekcity, Amazon

If you’re serious about baking, invest in a kitchen scale. Baking is all about precision, and it’s hard to be precise when working with measuring cups and spoons. A digital scale, however, can measure your flour and sugar down to a fraction of an ounce. It’s also great for making recipes written in metric units. (Say, if you're cooking from Great British Bake Off recipes.)

Buy it: Amazon

5. Mortar and Pestle; $25

Mortar and pestle.
Fox Run, Amazon

A bulky mortar and pestle may seem antiquated in today’s modern kitchen, but it’s necessary if you want to take your cooking to the next level. Some spices—like fennel seeds, cardamom, and peppercorns—taste much better freshly ground than they do out of the jar. Using a mortar and pestle is also the key to making professional-tasting sauces and condiments, such as aioli, pesto, curry paste, hummus, and guacamole.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Box Grater; $12

Box grater.
Cuisinart, Amazon

Think of a box grater as more than a basic cheese grater. Each of the four sides serves a special purpose, from slicing to zesting. You can use it to shred potatoes for latkes, grate nutmeg for desserts, or slice zucchini for ratatouille. Of course, the cheese-grating capabilities alone are worth it if you like to make mac and cheese at home.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant-Read Thermometer; $27

Instant-read thermometer.
Lavatools, Amazon

There are many tricks you can use to gauge if your meat is cooked properly, but none are as foolproof as an instant-read thermometer. The tool makes cooking steak, chicken, and roasts much simpler and less stressful. It’s also essential for deep frying food or making candy like caramel at home. Sometimes an extra minute of heat is all it takes to push an ingredient from perfect to inedible, so the time it saves you compared to analog thermometers is definitely worth the price.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Citrus Juicer; $15

Citrus hand juicer.
Zulay Kitchen, Amazon

Fresh citrus juice is superior to the packaged stuff, but squeezing halved fruits by hand can get messy. With a manual press juicer, you can add bright, acidic notes of lemon and lime to your meals without stinging your fingers. This tool also catches the seeds for you, making squeezing citrus juice over your food almost as easy as squeezing it from a bottle. Even if you don't use it often while cooking, it's an essential component of any good bar cart.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Locking Tongs; $13

Pair of locking tongs.
OXO, Amazon

Bare hands are underrated tools in the kitchen, but some jobs just can’t be done without tongs. If you’re flipping hot meat on the grill, tossing wings in buffalo sauce, or serving pasta, you’ll need a decent pair of locking tongs to keep your hands clean and unburnt. Fortunately, durable, stainless steel tongs with smooth, pinch-free locks are easy to find for less than $15.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Cast Iron Skillet; $15

A cast iron skillet
Lodge, Amazon

Cast iron skillets seem like they should be expensive. They’re heavy, long-lasting, and they make food taste amazing. Steaks, potatoes, and hamburgers all benefit from the material’s unique heat-conducting properties. But you don’t need to blow your paycheck to own this tool chefs swear by: Some of the best cast irons available cost less than $25. As long as you care for it properly, buying a cast iron skillet is one of the cheapest ways to improve your cooking.

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Make Taking Out the Trash Your Easiest Chore With This Self-Sealing Trash Can

townew
townew

“What died in here?” is a question most homeowners (and renters) have asked themselves at some point after discovering that their kitchen trash can is no match for the festering odor of raw chicken trimmings, rotting cantaloupe rinds, balsamic vinaigrette runoff, and everything else that they've discarded that week.

The folks at Knectek Labs have invented a trash can that’ll ensure you never have to ask yourself, or anyone else, that question again. The multi-talented gadget, called townew, not only seals in odors, it also seals and changes the trash bag for you. All you have to do is press a button, wait a few seconds for townew to seal the bag, then toss it in the dumpster while townew replaces the bag for you.

Townew is also smart enough to detect when the trash can is overflowing (which is always your roommate’s fault and never yours, of course) and will lift the entire top compartment in order to seal the bag without any spillage.

To open the lid, simply wave your hand over the top of townew; it’ll stay open for several seconds and close automatically. Need it to stay open for longer? Tap the button on the front of the machine and townew will keep its lid open until you tap the button again. When the bin is full and it’s time to take out the trash, hold the button for three seconds, and townew will seal the bag for you.

Townew is manufactured with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, an engineering-grade plastic built to withstand humidity and temperature changes as well as chemical and physical impacts, so it won’t let a mid-summer heat wave stink up your kitchen and it won’t get demolished by your mischievous dog. It’s the same plastic that LEGO uses for many of its bricks—and if you’ve ever stepped on one of those, you know just how durable it is.

Just once a month, you’ll have to do two small tasks: replace townew’s recyclable refill ring, which contains 25 trash bags, and charge its 2000 mAh battery for 10 hours.

A townew trash can in an office
townew

The 15.8-inch-tall trash can comes in teal or white, and its sleek, tech-chic design will blend seamlessly with the decor of any room. Indiegogo’s early bird special includes the trash can and four refill rings for $70—shipping is free, and estimated delivery is scheduled for this September. Check out other buying options here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

7 Useful Products With a Lifetime Guarantee

iStock.com/billnoll
iStock.com/billnoll

It’s worth it to splurge on a new pair of shoes or a set of good knives if you know they'll last forever—or if they don't, that their maker will repair or replace them for free. Here’s a round-up of seven useful everyday items that come with a manufacturer's lifetime guarantee.

1. Le Creuset Cookware

A Le Creuset cookware set
Le Creuset's five-piece cookware set in cherry
Le Creuset, Amazon

We know that $350 seems like a steep price to pay for a 5.5-quart Dutch oven. However, plenty of cooking enthusiasts are willing to shell out top dollar for iconic French cookware manufacturer Le Creuset’s enamel cast-iron pots, casserole dishes, and skillets.

The colorful kitchen tools are attractive and durable, plus they distribute heat evenly. An added bonus? Each item comes with a lifetime limited warranty. "Defective cookware will be replaced free of charge, or replaced by a similar product or one of equivalent value if the product is no longer in production," Le Creuset’s website states.

Of course, you can’t just swap your grandmother’s ancient Le Creuset casserole dish (or the one you bought on eBay) for a new model if it chips or breaks. You have to be the item’s original owner. The warranty also "does not cover damage from abuse, commercial use or other non-consumer use, neglect, abnormal wear or tear, overheating, or any use not in accordance with the cookware instructions provided with the utensil." In other words, it needs to be obvious that the cookware has worn down with consistent use (and that you didn't accidentally scorch it in a kitchen fire).

Get one of the brand's signature Dutch ovens (or a five-piece set) on Amazon, Sur La Table (which regularly runs sales on its pricier cookware) the Le Creuset website, or at these other retailers:

2. Zippo Lighters

A black Zippo matte pocket lighter
Zippo, Amazon

We’re not endorsing smoking, but portable butane lighters can be useful if you’re camping and need a quick and easy fire source. Plus, many people find flicking a lighter’s tiny switch to be less intimidating than lighting a match.

If you do plan on purchasing a lighter for household or outdoor use, make it a Zippo. Founded in 1932, the iconic company’s trademarked slogan is “It works or we fix it free." No matter how old or damaged your pocket lighter, you can ship it to Zippo. They’ll promptly repair or replace it—but keep in mind that this warranty only extends to real Zippos, and not toward counterfeit lighters. (Factories in China reportedly make around 12 million fake Zippos a year.) Wondering if you own the real thing? The Wall Street Journal produced a handy video back in 2011 that teaches you how to distinguish a genuine Zippo from a fake.

Get one of Zippo's genuine Windproof Lighters on Amazon for $10 and up.

3. JanSport Backpacks

A black JanSport backpack
JanSport's SuperBreak backpack
JanSport, Amazon

If the trusty JanSport backpack you purchased in high school is starting to look a little threadbare, you can send it—or for that matter, any one of the brand’s packs, bags, or luggage items—back to its warranty center in Alameda, California. Depending on the damage, JanSport will repair it, replace it, or refund it.

Repairs will take anywhere from four to six weeks, depending on the season, and while you pay the initial shipping charges, JanSport absorbs the bag’s return costs. However, JanSport doesn’t claim responsibility for “direct, incidental or consequential damages." Your pack's wear and tear should stem from good old-fashioned use—not because, say, it got shredded by a luggage carousel.

Get one for yourself from JanSport's website or on Amazon, where the classic SuperBreak model is currently $33. It's also available at Backcountry.com ($36) and Walmart $32 and up).

4. Craftsman Tools

A 193-piece tool set
Craftsman 193-piece mechanic’s tool set
Craftsman, Amazon

While Craftsman also makes work clothing and lawn and garden equipment, the brand is most famous for its hand tools. Most of them are advertised as having an unlimited lifetime warranty, meaning they'll be repaired or replaced free of charge if they're no longer in tip-top shape. (For a full list of which tools qualify, visit Craftsman’s website.)

Stores take Craftsman's warranty pretty seriously. In 2009, Consumer Reports’s website, the Consumerist, wrote that a California man was refused a full warranty when he visited Sears and tried to trade in some of his grandfather’s old Craftsman tools. (At the time, Craftsman was controlled by Sears Holdings, though it has since been acquired by Stanley Black & Decker.) The man was reportedly denied replacements because some of the tools had rusty sockets.

He sent an angry letter to Sears, and one of the corporation’s vice presidents, David Figler, replied by issuing a statement to the Consumerist: "Craftsman tools have a heritage of performance and trust,” Figler wrote. “I want to assure you and your readers we stand behind the warranty—complete satisfaction—period.” He assured the website that he had communicated with Sears's sale associates to rectify the error.

Check out Craftsman's products at Amazon, Lowes, or Sears. You can get a 230-piece Craftsman mechanic's tool set on sale for $99 at Sears right now.

5. HARDENCO Jeans

A pair of denim jeans
HARDENCO's 010 Jean

Founded in 2010, HARDENCO (also known as Hartford Denim Co.) is a small, old-school clothing manufacturer in Connecticut that produces raw denim jeans. Made by hand on antique sewing machines, they're designed to last forever. However, since all jeans rip and fray, the company's clothing also comes with a lifetime of free repairs. (On their website, the company. explains that it gets the chance to “improve our work and get to know our customers a little better" by mending your pants gratis.) And if you own a pair of worn jeans that weren't made by HARDENCO, they'll still fix them up for you for a charge.

The company's classic jeans are $285.

6. Eagle Creek Bags

An Eagle Creek cargo backpack
Eagle Creek's 60-liter Cargo Hauler

All products sold by the California-based outfitter Eagle Creek—which happens to be one of our favorite eco-friendly brands—comes with what it calls a "no matter what" warranty. "Eagle Creek is synonymous with quality," the company's warranty page assures customers. "Every buckle, zipper, and fabric choice is meticulously selected and then analyzed after rigorous lab testing. After it’s built, we take it to the road to make sure it can handle real-world travel abuse. And it does." If anything does go wrong with your bag, you can send it back to Eagle Creek, which will repair or replace it for you. (However, the guarantee doesn't apply to accidents that fall outside the scope of "normal use" of your duffel bag or pack: " For instance, Eagle Creek wheels can withstand cobblestone streets, but are not built to be run-over by a train," the company warns.)

If you're not sure where to start with Eagle Creek, our favorite product is the Cargo Hauler duffel bag, a water-resistant duffel with removable backpack straps, an inner divider to keep your stuff organized, and lockable zippers. When it's not in use, it can be folded up to fit in its own front pocket, making it easy to throw in a larger suitcase if you're planning on returning with more stuff than you're taking. (It also makes it a cinch to store once you get home.) It comes in 40-liter, 60-liter, 90-liter, and wheeled 110-liter options.

Eagle Creek also makes a ton of other travel essentials, from packing cubes to airplane pillows to laptop bags. You can check out all its offerings here.

7. L.L. Bean Boots

If you own a pair of L.L. Bean boots, chances are they’ve outlasted every other pair of footwear in your closet. The durable rubber-and-leather shoes are hand-stitched in the company’s Brunswick, Maine factory. They’re designed to survive every single camping trip, rainy day, or hiking excursion—but if they don’t, L.L. Bean will let you trade them in for a new pair, no questions asked, for up to a year. In fact, this policy extends to every single store purchase.

"We stand behind all our products and are confident that they will perform as designed," the company writes on its website.

Up until early 2018, L.L. Bean's famously generous return policy—which didn't even require a receipt—was good for the entire lifetime of the company's products. Apparently, enough unscrupulous customers abused the program (buying items from garage sales and then returning them for full credit, for instance) that it cost the company as much as $250 million in one five-year period. As a result, the no-questions-asked lifetime guarantee now only applies to products purchased before 2018.

However, when it comes to product defects, L.L. Bean is still true to its original policy. If you bring a product in that has a defect or has broken down due to poor craftsmanship, the company will still consider it for a return regardless of the purchase date.

Shop the company's beloved boots for men, women, and children here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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