EDITOR’S NOTE: Yesterday, appliance expert Meghan Stewart told you the five appliances you need (Oprah be damned). Now here are the appliances she can’t stand. This time, she contradicts some other folks.
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, countertop appliances are the clogged arteries.
Every once in a while, you have optimistic visions in the store of how this one tool is totally going to change your life and you’ll use it all the time.
So, you drop the cash, take your new baby home, and proceed to watch it gather dust on the counter, possibly alongside other under-performing kitchenware.
I’ve done it too, but never again. To keep money in your pocket and clutter off your counters, here are the worst small appliances, ones I think that even most foodies can live without…
1. Toaster oven
Want an oven that won’t fit your cookware and a toaster that never toasts anything right? Buy a toaster oven! I thought this was going to be really useful when I bought it. I even went for a large-capacity model to make sure everything would fit.
Yet still, almost none of my cookware worked. When it did, I had to cut my recipes. Cutting a recipe in half is fine, but into a third or a fourth to fit a tiny oven? Good luck.
I also underestimated my pickiness about toasting. I was even warned by an actual home economist. Enter the voice of reason I should’ve listened to…
“No toaster oven is going to toast evenly — because the two heating rods on the top and bottom will always cause light and dark spots. Even if you use convection, it won’t cook evenly,” says Marianne Langan, a Florida-based home economist (yes, that’s an actual career and not just a class) and food stylist for brands like Heinz and Walmart. “The manufacturers also overestimate capacity, especially the six-slice models. So they rarely fit the number of slices they say.”
What you need instead: Langan did say a toaster oven can be one of the most useful appliances if you eat a lot of prepackaged frozen dinners, but I rarely do since I like to cook. Instead, buy a good toaster and use your regular oven for baking, broiling, etc. A toaster takes up less space and you can get a good model for less than $100.
I worked for an appliance company and never met a juicer that was easy to clean. Sure, almost every juicer package in the world will claim “easy cleaning” — I know, because I often wrote that. But they’re not being honest. It’s only easy cleaning relative to scrubbing your home’s grout with a toothbrush.
The hassle usually drives even the most dedicated enthusiasts back to the juice bar. In addition, fruit and veggies — especially specialty produce — can be expensive. So, you might not save money even if you drink juice all the time.
“There’s so much pulp that’s always left over, and it rarely gets used,” Langan confirms. “A juicer is just not cost effective. You buy so much produce to get so little juice. You only use a very small portion.”
What you need instead: Just buy all-natural juice at the store or find a good juice bar near your home. Let someone else deal with the hassle of cleaning pulp out of a machine.
3. All-in-one anything
Jack-of-all-trades products may do many things, but they usually don’t do any of them well. You end up with mediocre results on everything they do, so you’re never satisfied. It’s the same reasoning that made the toaster oven my No. 1 waste.
“Forget it,” Langan says. “Whenever you combine things like that, it’s never going to be great at anything. It’s like dinner theater: The food is so-so and the entertainment is mediocre at best.”
This includes almost any combo product. The juicer/blender/mixer/food processor products of the world… the grill/baking/pizza maker stations… They’re all pretty useless.
What you need instead: If you have multiple problematic tasks, invest in individual products that do each task well. Otherwise, you’re always going to be dissatisfied with the results.
One exception to my own rule: I was once given a Russell Hobbs 3-in-1 immersion blender. I fully expected to hate it, but the thing actually does (almost) everything well — I only use the chopper bowl for things like chimichurri and bread crumbs; more on my peeves with electric prep machines below on No. 4…
4. Food processor
Consistent chops and slices cook evenly, look better on the plate and make for better finished recipes. I’ve used several different processors, but never once have I found one that I trusted to chop and slice the way I wanted. I end up back with a mandolin / knife and cutting board. For other tasks like making chimichurri, I just use my trusty mini-chopper.
Now let’s be clear – I’m in a house where it’s just two of us and we’re not planning on ever adding kids into the mix. I also don’t do big family dinners at my home. If I had more people in my household or hosted a lot of big meals, I might be singing a different tune. But in my world, I can’t even imagine a meal where I’d use a mammoth 10- or 12-cup processor.
What you need instead: Most households can survive with a much cheaper mini-chopper instead.
Behind the marketing curtain: Fun fact — when photographing a food processor to show those even chops and slices, the stylist will almost always fake it! They chop or slice everything by hand and then layer it into the machine to make it look perfect.
5. Ice cream maker
This is one of those tools that appliance companies try to make you think you need, but it’s almost always going to get buried at the back of a cabinet. It’s usually even marketed to be an impulse buy — displayed in a way to make you buy it on the spot. Resist the urge.
Our expert home economist extends this to all dairy product makers, especially yogurt makers. “In some ways, it’s actually even more useless than the ice cream maker,” Langan argues. “You spend 18 hours to get a few cups of yogurt. Are you kidding?”
What you need instead: Again, just find a favorite brand at your grocer, or a good ice cream shop in your area.