Cooking gadgets & must-haves that make holiday dinner easier

20191113 - Gadgets - FI
Photo credit: Sandra Hutter/Getty Images/Chef'n/Ninja/OXO/Amazon; Tiberius Catinas/Grateful

One thing seems to connect all the things that make the holidays a magical time of year: food. It brings us together. It’s what we circle around in the kitchen while we laugh and catch up with our favorite cousins. It comforts. It nourishes. It’s the segue between lively conversation with loved ones and some of the best naps we’ll ever take. In short, holiday dinner is kind of a big deal. 

It’s also kind of a time-consuming deal. Anyone who has ever cranked out a holiday meal and all its accoutrements knows that it isn’t for the faint of heart. Is it worth it? Yes. Is it a lot? Also yes. And if it’s your first time preparing a holiday dinner, get ready for an intense adventure. But don’t worry: If it goes comically awry, you have a story to tell at the holiday table for years to come. 

Regardless of whether you’re a holiday dinner first-timer or a seasoned host, having a few cooking gadgets in your arsenal will make your efforts easier. To that end, we went straight to the experts: Reviewed’s Cooking Editor Cassidy Olsen and Managing Editor of Core Categories Meghan Kavanaugh. 

The experts at Reviewed‘s lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, rely on objective, hands-on testing to find products that are worth your time and money — and when the holidays roll around, they focus on meal prep and cooking. Olsen, Kavanaugh and staff spend thousands of lab hours each year testing products so they’ll be confident when recommending them to the rest of us. 

Along the way, they discover tools and cooking gadgets so good that the experts deem them must-haves in their own homes. So, we asked, and they shared: Here are some of the items Olsen and Kavanaugh recommend to make holiday dinner easier. 

Our editors & writers only recommend products that we think are awesome and you’ll love. We do occasionally use affiliate links, which means that we may make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Must-get cooking gadgets

The Ninja Foodi

ninja foodie cooking gadgets cropped
Photo credit: Ninja/Amazon

We all know about the Instant Pot right now, but Olsen says another jack-of-all-trades is worth checking out if you like its ease and convenience.

“We found [the Ninja Foodi] performs exceptionally well as a pressure cooker, air fryer and slow cooker. Plus, it can steam, sauté, broil, bake and dehydrate,” Olsen told us. 

Says Reviewed’s Sharon Franke, who formerly worked as a professional chef in New York City restaurants, “For around $200, it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely a bargain and a space saver compared to all the appliances it can help you replace — including your Instant Pot.” 

MORE: I asked 7 CEOs how they manage holiday stress & this is what they said

ThermoWorks ChefAlarm cooking alarm thermometer

You probably never realized that different kinds of cooking thermometers exist. But they do, and Olsen explains why this one’s a smart buy.

The ThermoWorks ChefAlarm is a probe thermometer, as opposed to a standard meat thermometer. Probe thermometers make your life easier a few ways,” she elaborated. “If you’re cooking multiple dishes at the same time, a probe thermometer can prevent you from needing to set many multiple timers, because the probe will remain in the dish the entire time it cooks and will sound an alarm when it’s time to take it out (i.e., when it’s reached the desired internal cooking temperature you’ve programmed).” 

Olsen continued, “There are single-probe thermometers (like the ChefAlarm) as well as others that can monitor multiple dishes simultaneously. With normal meat thermometers, you have to remember to manually take out your dish, check it, and then decide to put it back in our not. In that way, the probe thermometers can also save you wasted time stopping, checking and placing your dish back in again. Although we have found that all the ThermoWorks products we tested are incredibly accurate, probe thermometers are also generally more accurate because they don’t require a quick read, and there’s less room for user error.”

The Breville Smart Oven Pro

During our chat with Olsen, she referenced the versatility of a convection oven several times. So, what gets her vote for the best of the best models?

“I myself don’t own a convection oven (which is sad), but I adored my time using the Breville Smart Oven Pro, our favorite toaster oven that’s also a convection oven,” she said.

As for what it makes, Olsen raved about its utility around the holidays: “It’s basically a second oven, and its convection setting is perfect for all sorts of holiday baking and cooking.” 

Cooking tools to try

Chef’n Freshforce potato ricer press

potato ricer cooking gadgets edited
Photo credit: Chef’n/Amazon

Mashed potatoes are a crucial part of any holiday meal — and Olsen says this tool will turn you into a mashed potato pro.

“The potato ricer might save you a bit of time when preparing mashed potatoes, but more importantly, it’s going to make your potatoes as fluffy as possible,” she said. “If you’re trying to avoid gummy or runny mashed potatoes, you’ll want a potato ricer.” 

The magic lies in the way potato ricers, which look like giant garlic presses, break up potatoes. The starches in potatoes are released as soon as you start to mash them. If those starches get overworked, they start gumming up, which leads to an unpleasant mouthfeel. TL; DR? Potato ricers make fluffier (read: dreamier) mashed potatoes.

OXO Good Grips Good Gravy fat separator

gravy separator cropped
Photo credit: OXO/Amazon

You know what perfectly fluffy potato-riced mashed potatoes need? Gravy. And if you want to elevate your gravy-making to an art, you need one of these bad boys.

“Without a fat separator, the process of skimming fat is time-consuming and tedious. If you don’t try at all [to skim the fat], your gravy will be too lumpy and fatty to even use,” said Olsen. 

MORE: Ask the pros: How to find the best holiday deals

The classics you might be overlooking (but shouldn’t)

Lodge 12-Inch preseasoned skillet & grill pan

When we touched on the subject of making veggies, Olsen turned us on to a clever twist on a culinary staple: ribbed skillets.

“I would definitely recommend having both regular cast iron pans and a grill cast iron on hand at all times, particularly during the holidays,” she said. “I love the grill specifically for getting nice sear lines on steak and burgers. But around the holidays, it’s great for things like roasted asparagus and carrots, and even grilled desserts (pears — yum!).” 

Pyrex Ultimate storage containers

We can’t all be Julia Childs in the kitchen. The greatest strength in the kitchen for some of us is cleaning up, and these storage containers make it so much easier..

“As someone who doesn’t do much holiday cooking, quality food storage containers are a must. I’m able to take leftovers home and enjoy a great holiday dinner all over again,” Kavanaugh told us. “Glass is more durable than plastic, and it keeps food fresher for longer. Plus, you can reheat everything right in the same dish.”

Pyrex glass baking dishes

There’s a reason some things are classic: They just work.

“If I am doing a little cooking, whether for the holidays or just a regular weeknight, these Pyrex baking dishes are a go-to. They’ve lasted in my kitchen for years as I bake chicken and assorted vegetables, or a dessert. The best part is that you can also serve directly out of the container, so you don’t need to find or dirty another dish,” Kavanaugh said. 

Bonus: A tricky technique (that’s also fun to say)

One of our favorite recommendations from Olsen wasn’t actually a cooking gadget but, rather, a technique.

“I am a huge proponent of spatchcocking meats, especially large birds,” she told us.

With traditional roasting, large poultry tends to get dry. But spatchcocking — removing the spine and butterflying the bird so it lies flat — keeps the meat moist while creating a crispy, delicious skin. Plus, a flat turkey cooks more evenly, so it can handle higher heat and takes far less time to cook.

Both Reviewed and Grateful are owned by Gannett, part of the USA Today Network.