There are more cooking gadgets available than there are printed pages. Something new is always popping up on the market. But the best gadgets are those used often. Good knives and cutting boards are obvious. Here's a list of a few tools the king or queen of your kitchen will find themselves using more often than they might've thought.
1. Kitchen Shears: I used my kitchen shears every single day, which I never expected. But every bag or package full of ingredients gets opened with the shears. When I spatchcock whole chickens, it is kitchen shears to the rescue. I also "julienne" dried chiles and sun-dried tomatoes with them. The best can be separated via bolt for easy cleaning. Serrated edges are ideal for raw meats. Crescent shaped shears are made for poultry and less versatile.
2. Mortar and pestle: While this old world mill isn't as versatile as shears, I use them far more than I would've expected. I don't go many days without toasting cumin seeds, coriander or peppercorns and grinding them into aromatic powder with my marble mortar and pestle. I also use it to mash fresh garlic cloves into salt for a garlic-salt paste that will save you from ever buying garlic salt again.
3. Micro-plane grater: They come in a number of shapes and sizes and are so easy to use, you'll find yourself grating ingredients you'd never grated before: carrots, garlic, celery, cucumber, apples, pears … the list is as long as your creativity is deep. They also will allow you to grate fresh parmesan into the fine powder, meaning you'll never need the flavorless Parmedust found in green canisters ever again.
4. Honing steel: If the cook on your list has knives they care about, honing steel is essential. I use mine so many times a day, it's beyond counting. Replace steels with worn down grooves.
5. Instant-read thermometer: Once upon a time, food thermometers were expensive and hard to find. Digital instant-reads are accurate, quick and versatile. No kitchen should be without one.
6. Strainers: Notice the 's' on the end of that word. A chef with assorted sizes of strainers is a happy one. I have one large enough to contain a whole package of cooked pasta and one small enough to sift a half cup of flour. If you're gifting a strainer, don't worry about the fineness of the mesh, just buy a set.
7. Prep bowls: One of the biggest challenges for home cooks is mise en place, which is the practice of organizing all needed ingredients for a recipe before a burner is clicked on. Prep bowls are the perfect receptacle for small amounts of measured ingredients. How many should you buy? As many as you can afford.
8. Mixing bowls: Good mixing bowls come into play practically every day. This is another tool that you can't overstock in the kitchen. A variety of sizes is ideal for the foodie who believes in using the right tool for the right job.
— Dave Cathey