NOTE: This blog post also corresponds with a podcast episode I did by the same name, but also include LESSONS FROM A KITCHEN REMODEL. Listen and learn more here.
BEST COUNTERTOP APPLIANCES
It’s true that small appliances require some space, but it’s also true that they can make it easy to prepare and eat delicious, nutrient-dense, vegan, plant-based dishes. While of course you can get along without them, I do think a couple are worth the space they take up on your counter, and their price points are really reasonable.
I also recommend — if you have space — that you keep those you use often out on your countertop. If you have to dig around a closet every time you want to use them, you never will.
If we don’t have time to be sick, we have to make time to be healthy.
In no particular order, here are my favorites and why. (Disclosure: while no one pays me to make these recommendations, if you purchase them through the links provided, I make a small commission, so thank you for using the links. I appreciate it very much.)
1. Air Fryer (Ninja)
Circulating air up, down, and all around, an air fryer is essentially a compact convection oven. I love my air fryer and use it every day, one of the main benefits of which is not having to preheat it before using. While it’s a great way to cook without oil, I still find that a little oil adds moisture and flavor to my veggies that are too dry without it. But you just need so little! Favorite things to cook in my air fryer:
- Brassicas: cauliflower, broccoli, broccolini, Brussels sprouts. Just a small amount of oil rubbed on each floret, tossed with a sprinkling of salt is all you need for crispy bites in 10 minutes.
- Carrot fries: Cut carrots into matchsticks, toss with a little olive oil, salt, and chili powder.
- Kale chips: Seriously, in just a few minutes (and on a lower heat), you will have the most glorious, nutrient-dense kale chips. Again, a little oil rubbed onto each leaf, plus salt, AND golden flakes (aka nooch; aka nutritional yeast).
- Japanese sweet potatoes: Bake them first and store in fridge. When it’s time for dinner, split them open on the top and smash down the flesh with a fork OR I just slice the potatoes up into discs — and put in the air fryer for about 10 minutes. No oil. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.
Top choice: Ninja Air Fryer (5.5 quart) – If you have the space, go for this “family size” air fryer. You can cook a lot at once, and it comes in lots of fun, pretty colors. I have the 4-quart size and wish it was larger.
NOTE: I made room to add this appliance to my pantry, but if you are choosing between a small convection oven (SEE #6) and an air fryer, you’re better off choosing the convection oven to get more bang for your buck, but I’m grateful to have the luxury for both in my kitchen.
2. Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot)
This was a game-changer in our house in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS. It is not an exaggeration to say that getting a pressure changed everything for me. Beans (without soaking!) are ready in 30 minutes and taste better than any bean in a can or even cooked on the stove for hours. The pressure just seals in the flavor and makes the world taste good.
Top choice: Instant Pot (8 quarts) I’ve had others. This is the best.
3. Blender (Vitamix)
I’m often asked if a blender is necessary when you have a food processor. My answer: yes. A blender is best for liquefying or blending liquid ingredients. A food processor is good for chopping, mincing, and pureeing. For instance, I use my blender to make smoothies, shakes, and “nice cream” on a regular basis, which the food processor isn’t meant for. I use the food processor for quickly chopping things like onions, carrots, ginger root, which the blender wasn’t meant to do.
Top choice: Vitamix. Nothing beats this blender and its tamper. Period. Full stop. Fantastic warranty (usually 5 years — for free), different colors, and time-tested reliability. There are many different models but I’ve chosen my top pick for its price and power: the Vitamix Explorian Series E310
4. Food Processor (Kitchen Aid)
As I mention below, I love my Kitchen Aid food processor because it has a large bowl with a large blade and a small bowl and blade that fits into it. I LOVE the versatility of that. I use my food processor for quickly chopping onions, carrots, and garlic; for pureeing soups; for making peanut butter; for pulsing chickpeas for Better-Than-Tuna…just name it. The only thing I don’t use it for is blending (like for making smoothies and nice cream).
Top choice: Kitchen Aid 11-cup. I have had this machine for over 20 years and haven’t had to replace any parts — ever. That’s the first reason I recommend the Kitchen Aid brand; the second is because one machine has two bowls and two blades – large and small – a convenient feature that not all food processors have.
5. Soy Milk Maker (Joyoung)
While you can make soy milk without a machine, it’s INFINITELY easier to do so with a soy milk maker.
Top choice: Joyoung Soy Milk Maker. I’ve come around to having the milk made in the stainless steel pitcher and then just straining at the end. It’s super easy to do, and you won’t have to worry about the holes in a strainer cup getting clogged. This one also enables you to make milk with unsoaked beans, but you’ll get more milk with soaked soy beans.
6. Countertop Convection / Toaster Oven (Oster)
Before we renovated our kitchen, we didn’t have space for a toaster oven, and I really really missed having one. Not a TOASTER, mind you — a toaster OVEN. Basically a small convection oven. I don’t like using my large wall oven unless I have to; it uses a ton of electricity, and the fan is loud. So, I use our countertop convection oven for everything from baking Japanese sweet potatoes and drop biscuits to toasting ciabatta!
Top choice: Oster Toaster Oven. Digital, easy to use, lots of options and settings. No complaints.
7. Popcorn Air Popper (Presto)
I don’t hide the fact that I eat popcorn several times a week, and while I grew up on Jiffy Pop, there comes a time you grow out of your childhood habits. I have had one single air popper for 25 years and while it looks a little worse or wear, it’s perfect in my eyes.
Top choice: Presto Air Popper. My original air popper is so old that I can’t find it available anymore, but this one has the same features I love about mine!
8. Electric Stand Mixer (Kitchen Aid)
A stand mixer is essentially the same as a hand mixer but with more powerful motors than their hand-held counterparts. I’ve had my machine for at least 20 years — also a KitchenAid — and while I technically could live without it, I use it frequently: for kneading bread dough, for whipping up aquafaba for “egg whites,” and for making quick, large batches of cookie dough. Most stand mixers come with a variety of various additional blades, whisks, and hooks.
Top choice: Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer
9. Juicer (Nama)
You might consider this a a “nice-to-have” rather than an essential countertop appliances, but I juice at least once a week — more in the warmer months. My favorite juice combination is carrots, ginger, and apples, and my favorite juicer — by far — is the Nama. It’s super easy to clean, extracts more juice than any juicer I’ve ever had, and is portable enough for me to take on road trips. AND, because I became an affiliate of theirs, YOU save 10% ($40) when you purchase using this link and this coupon code: COLLEEN10.
10. Electric Kettle (Breville)
This is one of those small appliances you don’t think is necessary until you have one, and then you realize you use it all the time! It’s more energy-efficient than boiling water on the stove, and 10 times as fast. If you drink a fair amount of tea, it’s a game-changer. What I love about both of these is that you can change the temperature depending on what type of tea you’re drinking: green, oolong, white or black.
Top choice: Breville Variable-Temperature Kettle
Nice to Have Appliances — But Not Essential
NEXT, I wanted to include countertop “appliances” that may not be essential, but I’m happy I have them, and I definitely use them. I’m walking the line between “appliances” and “tools” here, but I make the rules, so it’s okay if I break them.
- Coffee Grinder (for grinding flax seeds): I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life, but I use this handy-dandy gadget on a regular basis for grinding up the small, nutritious flax seeds that are good for eating and using as “eggs” in baking. (see blog post)
Top choice: Krups is a good, reliable brand.
- Panini Press: Wonderful for making hot panini and even pancakes.
Top Choice: Breville is my recommended brand.
- Electric Handheld Mixer: As the name implies, this is a hand-held device, where two stainless steel beaters are immersed in the food (in a mixing bowl) to do the mixing.
Top choice: Dash has lots of great reviews and really pretty colors.
2nd choice: Kitchenaid – there are also versions that have a detachable whisk. I really like this stick blender — and those like it — where you twist to separate the body so all you have to do is put the blade part in the sink to wash it — and not the whole thing that’s attached to the plug.
- Immersion Blender also called Stick Blender: This is great for when you want to puree a pot of soup (or a portion of the soup) and don’t want to take out your entire blender or food processor. The one I link to below also has a whisk attachment, which is convenient, but there are many to choose from.
Top choice: Kitchen Aid Stick Blender
- Waffle maker: This one was pretty close to making it an essential appliance, but in the end…are waffles really essential? I dunno…maybe they are. You might want to consider this #11 in my essential countertop appliances. 😉 I searched high and low for the right one, and I love the one I landed on. I did a ton of research for this, and it paid off. I love the one I got — it’s super easy, makes perfect waffles every time, and it’s a pancake maker as well! (It comes with pancake plates you can easily replace the waffle plates with!)
Top choice: Cuisinart Waffle Maker with Pancake Plates
- Wine fridge: Because we are wine drinkers, and we are members of a few different wineries, it’s nice to have red, rose, and white wines chilled at exactly the right drinking temperature, we did buy a wine fridge for our pantry but definitely a luxury and not a necessity. We were close to getting it built in when we re-did the kitchen, but I’m glad we didn’t. We did a ton of research for this one, as well, and it suits us perfectly — exactly the size we need and sits on top of our counter in the kitchen (and my soy milk maker sits on top).
Top choice: Ivation
- Portable butane burners: So, I’ve had these for DECADES because it made teaching my cooking classes sooo easy in that I didn’t have to rely on the space I was renting to have a stove top, so I bought these little burners, and I’ve used them on picnics and sometimes even in our own back garden. It’s a bit of a hike from our kitchen to one of the outdoor spots we entertain, so I’ve brought the burners up there to make crepes or tortillas — things I wanted to serve hot when we were all outside, so in that way they’re very convenient. Now, there are definitely electric burners you can get, but I just prefer cooking over an open flame, so that’s why I gave these, and it also means you don’t need an outlet to use them! You just get little canisters of butane, and that’s what they run on. Now that I’m teaching the online cooking classes, it’s been super helpful to have my set-up such that I can point the camera down to my counter / cooking space. Otherwise, it would be awkward to constantly tilt the camera toward my stovetop. So, yeah, the little portable burner is great and a nice to have!
Top choice: Burton Butane Burner – I’ve had 3 for years; you just have to buy the cartridges separately.
2nd choice: Coleman Butane Burner — I haven’t used it, but it looks very similar, it’s a lower price point, and it’s a good brand.
* Remember to listen to my podcast of the same name that also includes lessons from our kitchen remodel. *
For more on living and cooking vegan, I’m here to help. You can check out my books, online cooking classes, or bevy of plant-based recipes and recipe packets in my store. Here are some quick links: