Jan 10, 2024

9 Cheap(ish) Kitchen Workhorses Made to Last

When you’re buying something new, it can feel like you have to make a trade-off between cost and longevity. Sure, items that will last a lifetime are often investment pieces—a $130 All-Clad skillet, for example, or a $400 Le Creuset Dutch oven. But certain smaller investments can go a long way, too, especially when it comes to tools you use often.

We’ve rounded up nine workhorse items that cost less than $100 and will serve you for the long haul, which is great for your wallet and for avoiding the landfill.

Some of these items will even have ripple effects on your consumption. For example, a wooden cutting board is easier on knives than a plastic one, so you won't have to replace expensive cutlery as often. Buying and using good kitchen towels can cut down on your paper towel purchases over time.

One trade-off to be aware of: Most of these items require maintenance, which comes at a real cost, in time and in some cases money for materials. Ultimately, these aren't sustainable or money-saving investments for people who aren't able to put in the work. So be realistic—it's okay to bypass some of these recommendations in favor of something that fits your life and your kitchen better.

This handsome knife strip is made of strong magnets encased in wood. It keeps knives in place while being gentle on their blades.

If you want to store your knives in a drawer, protect their edges (and your fingers) with knife guards.

This fine-grained ceramic hone keeps the edges of knives in shape between full resharpenings.

Investing up front in caring for your knives will help them last for decades—and keep you safe. Sharpening your knives regularly is obviously the most important thing, and how you tackle that task (whether you buy an electric sharpener, learn to use sharpening stones, or seek out a reputable service) depends on your knife and how much time you want to invest. But there are a couple of important little things that you can do to keep your knives in good shape as long as possible between sharpenings: store them properly and hone them regularly.

Before putting away your knives, wash them gently by hand and dry them thoroughly. Never throw them in a drawer unprotected; we recommend using a magnetic strip like the handsome Benchcrafted Mag-Blok, which mounts to a wall and comes in multiple wood finishes. Or, get an inexpensive blade guard, which allows you to store your knife in a drawer without risking nicks or wear to the blade (or cuts to your hands).

Though honing is not a substitute for actual sharpening, honing your knife before each use will keep it sharper for longer by smoothing out the tiny dents in the blade that occur with everyday use. The task takes only a few seconds. We prefer ceramic honing rods because they are harder than steel but very smooth, so they don't introduce dings. The Idahone Fine Ceramic Sharpening Rod is gentle on blades, and it worked well on both Japanese- and German-style knives in our tests.

This beautiful teak board requires more careful cleaning than a plastic board, but it feels better under a knife and is easier to maintain than the other wood boards we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $67.

This teak cutting board is a smaller version of our main wood pick.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

Plastic cutting boards need to be replaced about every two years or as soon as they develop scratches or cuts deep enough for bacteria to grow. A thick wooden cutting board, on the other hand, can last decades with proper maintenance since cuts in the wood tend to self-heal, and you can sand down the surface once it gets really rough.

We recommend Teakhaus's Edge Grain Professional Carving Boards, in either small or medium. The larger board is better for people who cook regularly. The smaller board might feel cramped in comparison, but it does the trick for routine chopping—and it's 2 pounds lighter, so it may be easier for some people to handle.

Both boards are thick enough to resist warping, and both look nice enough to double as charcuterie boards or serving platters, so you get more bang for your buck.

In addition to having a longer lifespan than plastic cutting boards, these boards can help extend the life of your knives, as teak is gentler on a blade than plastic and certain other hardwoods or bamboo.

The biggest trade-offs: Wood cutting boards are heavier and thicker than plastic boards (though they are more attractive, so you might be okay with leaving yours on the counter), and they require some special care and regular maintenance. To prevent your board from warping or cracking, you should wash it by hand—never in the dishwasher—never let it soak, and make sure that it's completely dry before you put it away.

You also need to oil and wax your board occasionally. How frequently depends on how often you use and wash it, but once a month is a good starting point. For what it's worth, teak has inherent moisture-repelling qualities, so our picks require less maintenance than other wooden boards. Though maintenance takes only a few minutes, it requires some specialty materials that you might not have on hand, such as mineral oil and a food-safe wax, plus some that you might have, such as a clean dish towel. (Luckily, none of these items are expensive.)

This affordable pan is lighter than a traditional cast-iron skillet and a little shallower. It's an ideal shape for searing, roasting, and sautéing.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.

This carbon steel pan is lighter than cast-iron, but boasts the same high-heat tolerance and longevity.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $80.

Even the best nonstick pan, meticulously maintained, will have to be replaced every few years (we recommend three to five years) as the nonstick coating wears out. Pre-seasoned cast-iron skillets, like the $40 Lodge skillet we recommend, are a great inexpensive alternative that can last for generations. Though they do not offer the same slickness out of the box as nonstick pans do, they are true heirloom pieces available for well under $100. And the nonstick seasoning, made from baked-on, polymerized oil, will only get better with time, allowing you to fry eggs or flip pancakes with ease. Cast iron also works well at high temperatures, so it allows you to sear or roast things in the oven, whereas nonstick coatings break down fast at high temperatures.

A more expensive but just as durable option is a carbon-steel pan. It's a lighter-weight alternative to a cast-iron skillet, though it's still heavier than a nonstick pan. Wirecutter editor Gabriella Gershenson has used the Made In Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan since 2019 and prefers it to her cast-iron skillet most of the time. Made In also sells a pre-seasoned carbon-steel pan, which we haven't tested. Like cast iron, carbon steel can tolerate high heat and will develop a slick surface as it's seasoned with use. Both cast-iron and carbon-steel pans require some care to prevent rust and maintain the seasoning, but regular cleaning should necessitate only one or two minutes of work, with re-seasoning taking two to three hours (mostly hands-off).

This sturdy, inexpensive pan bakes evenly and will last for years.

The Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Commercial Baker's Half Sheet is under $20 and almost impossible to destroy. It's amazingly versatile—great for roasting meat and vegetables, baking cookies, or even making a grandma-style pan pizza. It also comes in a couple of smaller sizes (quarter sheet and eighth sheet) that are handy for smaller tasks and fit most toaster ovens.

And the longer you use your pan, the better it gets, as it develops layers of seasoning just like on cast iron. It may not look pretty, but a well-seasoned baking pan releases food more easily and absorbs heat better thanks to its dark color, producing more browning. (Of course, if that isn't what you want, you can restore sheet pans to their former glory with tools that you likely have on hand.)

Maintenance is easy. While we find it most effective to scrub these sheet pans by hand, you also can stick them in the dishwasher; the detergent will discolor the bare aluminum, but Nordic Ware says the patina "is merely cosmetic and will not affect baking properties or safety of the pan." We’ve thrown our trays in the dishwasher in the test kitchen, and it hasn't affected their performance.

With terry cloth on one side and waffle weave on the other, this towel combines absorbency, utility, and attractiveness.

High-quality kitchen towels may cost more than a pile of cheap bar mops, but they’re still relatively inexpensive and can hold up to a lot more use over time. We’ve been using several of our pick, the Williams Sonoma All Purpose Pantry Towel, for six years in the Wirecutter test kitchen, and they’re showing few signs of wear (though they have picked up some stains).

Of course, the maintenance cost of kitchen towels lies in the need to launder them. Ideally, you’d clean them after you’ve used them to prep one meal. Realistically, you might just throw them in the wash before they start to take on odor. If longevity is your goal and looks matter to you, get the towels in a darker color that won't show stains as easily.

Even if you know that a tool can't last forever, small differences in what it's made of can have a big impact on its lifespan. For example, although our top-pick vegetable peeler, the Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler, will eventually get dull, its carbon-steel blade is harder than stainless steel, so it should stay sharper longer. Many Wirecutter staffers have been using this peeler for eight to 10 years at home.

Our favorite drinking glasses and glass storage containers are made of durable tempered glass, which holds up to regular use without chipping and can even survive being dropped. (The lids on the containers may wear down, but you can easily replace them.)

For small electric appliances like toasters and electric kettles, consider choosing a simpler model without many bells and whistles; it may have the same lifespan or an even longer life than a pricier option with lots of features. For example, our research on toasters suggests that cost does not always equal longevity—often, more expensive models have the same basic electronics and heating elements as cheaper toasters. The same is true of many electric kettles we’ve tested, and our analysis of Amazon reviews for those kettles suggests that those with simpler controls (namely, without temperature control) may be less likely to break. The most extreme version of this idea is going analog, such as using a Dutch oven rather than a slow cooker, or heating water in a stovetop kettle.

How companies handle warranties and replacement parts can make a big difference in the longevity of a product. Look for companies that offer long warranties (which reflect how long they expect their products to last), repair programs, and replacement parts. Some examples: Espro, which makes our French press pick, the P3 French Press, sells replacement parts for almost every component of the press; with small investments, the P3 could last decades. Vitamix, maker of our top-pick blender, offers long warranties and some replacement parts, and it will repair blenders up to 20 years old. OXO has a reputation for great customer service and guarantees many (but not all) of its products for life; anecdotally, we’ve heard of OXO sending replacement parts for our top-pick coffee maker even out of warranty. Baratza, which makes our favorite coffee grinders, has a repair program and also sells replacement parts. Cuisinart and KitchenAid make it pretty easy to find and purchase replacement parts even for discontinued products on their websites.

This article was edited by Marguerite Preston and Marilyn Ong.

Anna Shults Held

Anna Held is a writer and editor based in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in Vox, The Cut, Buzzfeed, and Runner's World, among other publications. Despite her expertise as a barista and a coffee editor, her husband is the one who brews their morning cups.

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