Several specialty appliances displayed

Must-Have Specialty Appliances to Add to Your Kitchen

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The next time you step into a big box retailer, take a moment to explore the appliance section of the store. You may find yourself amazed by the sheer number of kitchen tools available while wandering the aisles. After all, there’s a wide array of different specialty appliances available to suit any culinary need or preference — each designed to make cooking more efficient, fun, interesting, and inventive.

From the simplicity of a rice cooker to the sophistication of a water oven, the right specialty appliance will transform your kitchen into a culinary hub. These powerful devices can both simplify and elevate the cooking process for chefs of every ability level — and may even help motivate you to try new foods or techniques on your culinary journey. If you’re wondering which popular (and handy) gadget is worth an investment, we’ve got you covered. Based on our own first-hand experience and research, here are 15 specialty appliances you should consider for your kitchen.

Rice cooker

Wooden spoon in rice cooker

Anyone who’s been forced to painstakingly scrape a pot clean after failing to cook rice properly will understand the irresistible draw of a rice cooker. These handy machines require little more than adding rice and water … then sitting back and relaxing (or focusing on other parts of your meal) while the rice cooks to absolute perfection. There are many different brands to choose from if you don’t already own one, including Zojirushi (the company behind our pick for best rice cooker of 2023).

A rice cooker relieves the stress you may feel about whether you added the correct amount of water, for instance, or might fail to notice when the rice needs to be covered. Rice cookers do all that for you, after all — and do it well. If you’re making rice bowls, you can add precooked beans or protein after the rice finishes cooking, too. Then, simply allow a few more minutes in the rice cooker to warm everything together to cut down on your overall meal prep time.

Bread maker

Pouring mixture into bread maker

Bread is a staple food we purchase regularly from the supermarket, and there are plenty of delicious options at your favorite store. But if you’re willing to take a few extra minutes and bake bread at home instead? You can make any meal more magical.

A bread maker produces delicious loaves of bread for virtually any occasion, like a week’s worth of sandwiches for lunch or a fresh loaf to dip in soup. You can even branch out to make various types of sweet and dessert-centric breads. With a bit of creativity (and willingness to experiment), there’s no shortage of ways to use a bread maker to truly enrich your day-to-day menu. We recommend grabbing a bread maker-specific cookbook to go with your machine, as well, to assist your baking efforts (such as “The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook” by Tiffany Dahle).

However, a word of caution regarding this specialty appliance: They tend to be fairly heavy, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when choosing a machine for your home. No matter which device you choose, though, we guarantee you’ll fall in love with the smell of fresh-baked bread wafting through your house once you put the machine to work. There’s nothing quite like welcoming people into your home to that heavenly aroma.

Ice cream machine

Ice cream maker churning

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With so many different types of ice cream flavors occupying the coveted freezer space at your local grocery store, it may seem odd to keep an ice cream machine on hand. However, if you or your family members find yourself making regular trips to the store to scratch that ice cream itch, this specialty appliance could be one of the best investments for your family’s dessert life. Plus, with so many different options out there, there’s no limit to the types of flavors, milks, and additions you can utilize to create an even better batch of ice cream at home.

These machines work through the use of motors that rotate both a canister and scraper in opposite directions. Whatever you put in an ice cream maker will freeze as it interacts with the inner wall of the cold canister, creating ice cream over time. With trial and error, you’ll discover your family’s favorite add-ins to create the best flavors and consistency — which beats the old-fashioned ice cream-making process using bags of ice and salt mixed with smaller bags of milk and ingredients.

Popcorn machine

Children watching popcorn machine

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When we think of popcorn makers, our mind tends to drift toward the buttery, salty goodness that comes from those full-sized versions at a movie theater. As soon as you walk in the doors, the smell of that (presumably) faux butter instantly greets you. And just as a movie can transport us to another time and place, the scent and taste of popcorn can bring you right back to the theater — so why not bring that experience home with a popcorn machine?

Having a popcorn machine in your house will encourage you to experiment with flavors beyond the classic butter-centric options. With so many different top-notch flavors at your disposal, there’s no need to restrict yourself to any tried-and-true popcorn combinations when you have access to this appliance.

A popcorn maker is also a great appliance to have on hand if you tend to host a lot of gatherings. It makes an easy snacking option for guests while adding an undeniable party-like atmosphere. Create a self-serving popcorn station of sorts with a scoop and cups to mimic a similar setup from your favorite local dive bar, and enjoy the extra dose of excitement freshly popped popcorn brings to your next get-together.

Ice maker

Bullet ice machine with cubes

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Many people have an ice maker built into their refrigerator that dispenses cubes from one of the doors (alongside a water-serving spigot). Yet even if this ice is made with filtered water, it may not be up to your standards. If that’s the case, obtaining a portable ice maker might be an ideal alternative to create perfectly shaped cubes for your next batch of frosty cocktails.

As long as you keep your portable ice maker clean, it can provide the sort of small luxury that transforms an ordinary beverage into something delightful. Plus, there are several different types of portable ice makers available depending on the ice cube you’d like your specialty appliance to produce. Some machines make cubes called bullet ice which are on the larger side (and essentially shaped as you’d imagine). If bullet ice doesn’t suit your taste or needs, you can also purchase machines that make smaller cubes known as nugget ice which is similar to the type of crunchy ice you’d enjoy from a Sonic drive-thru.

Ultimately, which style of this specialty appliance you choose will be based on your preference. After all, if you don’t love your ice maker enough to either keep it on the counter or dig it out of the cabinet when you’re ready to use it, why even bother purchasing it?

Air fryer

Whole chicken in air fryer

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Since the mid-2010s, we’ve seen a handful of countertop appliances become more and more common, with the air fryer one of the most prominent examples. Of course, air fryers can do so much more than just french fries; from quick vegetable sides to perfectly crisped chicken wings, the possibilities are extensive.

We love air fryers because they give us the feel of freshly fried foods without the mess of a deep fryer or the heavy greasiness of the oil. Plus, you can use an air fryer to cook numerous foods you might not normally consider deep-frying. The ease of cleanup and use of an air fryer is simply irreplaceable — not to mention you’ll often find your food cooks a bit quicker, too.

Now, like any other specialty appliance, there are certain things you should do when cooking with an air fryer to help concoct a delectable and high-quality meal. Thankfully, the air fryer seems to have transcended its status as a mere appliance to become something of a social media star, so there’s a literal bevy of air fryer hacks and air fryer-specific recipes to help you craft a delicious meal every single time.

Pressure cooker

Pressure cooker on counter

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In addition to air fryers, we’ve fallen in love with pressure cookers over the last few years. The Instant Pot is definitely the leader of the pack in terms of name recognition (and the brand we see mentioned most often). Regardless of the brand, though, you can rely on a pressure cooker for stews, soups, veggie dishes, and tender meats.

Most modern pressure cookers provide more than just the ability to cook food faster, with many varieties having additional functions such as a slow cooker option (one of our favorite settings to use). Plus, if your pressure cooker has a warming option, you can use it to store already-prepared foods until you’re ready to serve.

For instance, we like to make mashed potatoes hours ahead of time for large holiday celebrations, then put them in our Instant Pot and switch it to warming mode. This feature is super handy in a busy kitchen, especially when juggling multiple dishes. The versatility of pressure cookers doesn’t stop there, though, as they can be used to make rice, yogurt, and even desserts (depending on the type you purchase, that is).

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Electric meat thermometer

Person using electric meat thermometer

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Checking the temperature of meat while it cooks is the best way to determine when it’s prepared to the tenderness you’re looking for. Since an electric meat thermometer also helps ensure meat has reached a safe-to-eat temperature, we highly recommend this specialty appliance.

You could go with an instant-read thermometer, which allows you to poke the meat and quickly discover the temperature with a digital reading. An instant-read thermometer provides fast results while giving you a chance to feel exactly what the meat is like when you insert the thermometer. Alternatively, you can opt for an electric meat thermometer that stays inside the meat while it cooks (such as Meater). This allows for consistent readings throughout the process.

Typically, this monitoring happens over an app via a smartphone, allowing you to track the protein’s progress from the palm of your hand. This type of thermometer is especially useful for longer cooking processes like roasting or smoking. It lets you keep an eye on the temperature without opening the oven or smoker, which can lead to heat loss that may increase the time it takes to cook (and impact the overall food quality).

Waffle iron

Double waffle maker with waffles

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When you roll out of bed on a Sunday morning, it’s so tempting to keep right on rolling into your car and head to the local cafe for a delicious stack of waffles. But why bother with that when you transform your kitchen into a beloved breakfast joint with your very own waffle iron? When you have one of these in your cabinet, you’re just a few ingredients away from whipping up a great breakfast. You could make the batter from scratch or keep a premade waffle mix on hand to make the process quicker (and just as enjoyable).

A waffle iron is versatile enough to be used outside of breakfast hours, as well. Chicken and waffles, for example, is a delightfully tasty Southern-style dinner. You can also use a waffle iron to create a fun spin on a typical sandwich or wrap, adding a unique texture and flavor that can’t be replicated with ordinary bread. Whether it’s a classic Belgian waffle or an innovative waffle creation, this specialty appliance turns your kitchen into a place where every breakfast feels like it has a personal touch.

Immersion blender

Using an immersion blender

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If you’ve ever made a chowder that required you to blend part of the mixture, and were forced to transfer half of your soup to a blender to get it nice and smooth before returning it to the pot? You know how much of a pain this process can be. Of course, if you have an immersion blender on hand, you can skip that step entirely and simply blend your soup right in the pot.

Now, an immersion blender isn’t nearly as powerful as a regular blender. But it’s still an incredibly convenient tool that simplifies the blending process for certain recipes. And since immersion blenders are also much smaller than other blenders, they can fit right in your drawer. This makes them easily accessible while eliminating the need to constantly pull your regular blender out of storage.

There are plenty of uses for an immersion blender, and it’s a fantastic tool for making smooth soups, sauces, or even emulsifying dressings and mayonnaise. The simplicity of submerging the blade into your pot and pressing a button will be a game-changer in the kitchen.

Breakfast sandwich maker

Breakfast sandwich maker working

Hamilton Beach

Rolling up to a fast food window for a breakfast sandwich is a surefire way to start the day — in part because these delicious bites seem like a difficult breakfast to make at home. At the very least, a breakfast sandwich normally includes toasted bread of some kind, egg, meat, and cheese, after all. Since the number of tools required to create these various items separately can be extensive, why not consider a breakfast sandwich maker to drastically simplify that process?

The best part of these all-in-one breakfast sandwich makers (like our favorite version made by Hamilton Beach) is that you can customize your sandwich however you’d like. We, for example, love adding hot sauce, salt, and pepper on top of our fried egg. Learning how to add additional ingredients and operate the different plates will likely take at least one sandwich to master, but you’ll catch on in no time — just like with every other beloved specialty appliance on this list.

Soda maker

SodaStream soda makers displayed

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Look in your refrigerator: Is it stocked with soda and sparkling water? If that’s the case, your new favorite specialty appliance should be a soda maker. These handy machines take plain water and transform it into sparkling water. Then, you simply add whatever flavorings or syrups you want to create a tasty, bubbly soda beverage.

For families that drink a lot of soda or sparkling water, these devices can help save space by reducing the sheer number of soda bottles or cans on hand. If your family is one that regularly keeps a stocked fridge, a soda maker (like the SodaStream) could also end up saving you hundreds of dollars throughout the year.

Soda makers are cost-effective, and they’re also environmentally friendly. By reducing the need for bottled sodas, you’ll be contributing to less plastic waste. Plus, the customization aspect is a game changer. Whether you prefer a classic cola flavor or something more adventurous, you’ll find your perfect fit in no time.

Water oven

Person dropping meat into pot

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If you’re unfamiliar with the term water oven, you may be more familiar with another: sous vide. This technique involves securing food in a vacuum-sealed bag and then submerging it into a bath of hot water to cook. Your food remains in the airtight bag while the hot water evenly cooks your meal. We find these machines make food very tender; and though sous vide meat isn’t always the prettiest after it emerges from the bag, it looks just about perfect after a quick sear in a pan.

Additionally, water ovens (which cook food in this manner) typically come with a rack at the bottom where you can arrange the food so it doesn’t float to the surface. This method of cooking ensures a precise temperature throughout the cooking process, leading to consistently excellent results. Just be aware: Water ovens tend to be on the more expensive side, so this specialty appliance may not be the best choice for bargain hunters.

Pasta maker

Person making pasta

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Some meals feel so special that they end up being requested over and over again. Along those lines, if you can learn to make pasta from scratch in your own home? Freshly made pasta (tossed in sauce) will quickly become one of those dishes. In its most basic form, a pasta maker rolls pasta dough super thin, then cuts it into your chosen pasta style. The type of machine you choose will determine whether the pasta is cranked by hand or done electronically.

Aside from making sure you never wash your pasta maker, keep in mind that pasta-making can be a difficult task to master. Yet the satisfaction of creating pasta from scratch in your kitchen is unmatched. The difference in taste and texture is immediately noticeable, and with time, you’ll surely catch on — and even perfect the skill. Since scratch-made pasta is so delicious, your family will undoubtedly enjoy the various dishes you learn to prepare along the way with this specialty appliance.

Stand mixer

Person using stand mixer

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Perhaps the main specialty appliance you’ll want to consider above all others is a stand mixer. Sure: These machines make mixing drastically easier. But many varieties are also designed to be repurposed as other specialty appliances, as well. For example, with a pasta machine attachment, you can transform your stand mixer into an entirely different device — meaning you can mix your dough and prepare your pasta with a single machine by simply switching out parts.

Want to make ice cream? Use an ice cream maker attachment and discover your newest favorite flavor. You can also find attachments for grinding meat, making shaved ice, slicing or cutting foods, or spiralizing veggies to create a tender veggie pasta. The versatility of a stand mixer makes it a powerhouse in the kitchen, allowing you to expand your culinary repertoire without cluttering your counters or cabinets with multiple gadgets. Whether you’re a veteran baker or just starting out, a stand mixer can simplify complex tasks and inspire you to attempt new recipes.

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