Silicone began its spread into American kitchens in 1993, when nonstick SilPat baking mats were introduced from France. Heat-safe to varying degrees, depending on the thickness and rigidity, silicone is naturally nonstick, nonslip, nontoxic, and nonbland. It can be produced in any color of the rainbow. There are silicone muffin pans at this point. And tongs, spoons, and spatulas that don’t scratch nonstick surfaces. And flexible, grippy oven mitts and cutting boards that won’t go slip-sliding away. And colanders and steamers that collapse into space-challenged drawers or cabinets. One superhelpful application: silicone pastry and basting brushes. They clean up a lot better than the greasy boar-bristle brushes of yore.
3 of 11Nespresso’s newest model, the U, is available now ($199, capsules $6–$7per 10).
2. The rise of the single-cup home espresso machine
Although having a pricey Italian espresso machine in the home kitchen has long been supercool, we’ve seen many languish after the initial excitement because it’s simply a lot of fuss being your own barista. The habits of the groggy American coffee addict don’t mesh with a machine fussier than a Ferrari. But that was the price of entry—until, after Keurig’s big success with single-cup coffeemakers, Nespresso introduced its nifty pod machines. Sales of these units, which dominate the European market, are up 20% here in the last two years. Little wonder, because for less than $200, you can get a handsome, simple machine that produces real espresso—in short or long shots, complete with crema on top—at the touch of a button. Nespresso practically owns the market right now, but Starbucks is jumping in this holiday season with its Verismo machine, a single-cup capsule unit that has espresso and milk pods for making lattes.
4 of 111. Miyabi 8" Birchwood Chef’s Knife ($280) 2.
3. Supersharp, beautifully balanced knives
Elegantly slender, exquisitely detailed, breathtakingly sharp, and flat-out sexy: The Japanese-style knives that began appearing in American kitchens in the late ’90s turned the simple act of chopping into one of meditative pleasure. The knives are less bulky than previous European designs. There’s no bolster (the thick junction of blade and handle) to get in your way. Stronger steel alloys allow the blades to be lighter, thinner, and honed to a keener edge— a 15-degree angle versus the 20 degrees found on most Western knives. There are styles for every culinary application, with prices dropping. Yes, professional sharpening is required—but that’s true of any good knife.
As American cooks have become more sophisticated, gadgets have kept pace, going beyond carny-barker/infomercial gimmickry to a much more useful zone. As with personal electronics, real form-and-function strides have been made. Exhibit A: surgical-sharp Microplane tools. The original handheld Microplane rasp’s acid-etched, laser-sharp blades—a legacy from the brand’s woodshop origins—make zesting a lemon a pleasure. Microplane’s box grater—cool enough looking to keep on the counter, not to mention stable and comfortable under the hand—is the best of its kind, reducing a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano to piles of lacy shavings in mere moments. Our own Test Kitchen grates frozen ginger with Microplane graters, and even frozen buns for instant breadcrumbs.
6 of 11Bialetti Aeternum Evolution Pans ($40–$60).
5. Nonstick cookware becomes durable, beautiful
Healthy cooking in the modern era has always emphasized nonstick cookware. That’s why the latest generation of nonstick pans is such a welcome development. These new pans have harder, glass-based ceramic enamel surfaces that are downright slippery. They have higher temperature tolerances, too, and none of the environmental worries that haunted traditional nonstick cookware in the past decade. (The coatings in older pans released toxins during manufacture or when heated to high temperatures.)
If you’re ready to buy, choose a ceramic nonstick pan with some real heft. Thin ones are too flexible and can chip or crack the nonstick surface. Don’t nest them with other pans when storing. And use nonmetal utensils that won’t damage the surface.
7 of 11Caesarstone surfaces (from $75 per square foot).
6. Countertops catch up
When it comes to food, it's generally true that the less processing, the better. Countertops, not so much. Granite, despite the rock-solid rep, needs periodic resealing. Marble, even when sealed, will etch and stain—heartbreaking when you remember the cost. Synthetic countertops have come a long way from the plastic laminate and seamless acrylic surfaces that can melt beneath a hot skillet set down sans trivet. Quartz composites like Caesarstone and Silestone are functional and forgiving. They don’t scorch, stain, or etch. They’re nonporous, antimicrobial, and don’t require resealing. No specialty cleaners required; ordinary soap and water do just fine. Some patterns echo natural stone, but others flaunt their composite origins: They don’t look like any rock found on Earth—in an attractive, futuristic way. Starting prices, including installation, are moderate.
8 of 11KitchenAid 5-Quart Tilt-Head Artisan Series Stand Mixer (from $430).
7. Iconic appliance predicts the color revolution
Kitchen design went through a bit of a color-wary phase after the curvy, pastel ’50s groove and the avocado greens and harvest golds of the ’70s. From then on, the colors of the day— almond, white, and black—weren’t really colors at all. Now stainless steel—another noncolor—signals the kitchen of a chef-inspired modern cook. Praise be, then, that splashes of color have returned in the design of small appliances: coffeemakers, toasters, blenders, even waffle machines and slow cookers. Setting the color pace, and keeping it, has been the KitchenAid stand mixer. New shades have been introduced every year like fashion statements. This year’s cool new hue: Crystal Blue. Today, a rainbow of 40 colors and finishes is available. The machine is a classic of form and function, but color is part of its DNA: The company was a pioneer of colorful appliances in the kitchen, debuting 1955-model mixers in Petal Pink, Sunny Yellow, and Island Green.
9 of 111. KitchenAid Architect Series II 30" FreeStanding Dual-Fuel 5-burner with convection (from $2,499) 2.
8. Mid-priced ranges get high-end features
Restaurant-style ranges are the #1 dream item for many cooks. Prices can be cruel, though, and some features are actually better suited to restaurants (which have galley slaves) than home. Enter the new units, which pack a lot of high-end appeal into price tags of about $2,500 or less. Dual ovens are now common-place, so you can roast salmon and bake cookies at the same time—and all in a 30-inch footprint for small kitchens.
Convection, a must on gas ovens, has become standard no matter the fuel source, so heat circulates evenly. Burners on all-electric models are hidden under smooth ceramic surfaces. Ranges with sci-fi speedy induction burners have reached mainstream price points. There are even a few reasonably priced dual-fuel options available, allowing cooks to enjoy the precision of a gas cooktop and the consistency of an electric oven all in one.
Josephine Cochran invented the dishwasher in 1886, and for a century, the machines gushed and clanged like something from the steam age: not exactly suited to today’s open-concept home design. Now, they whisper. European brands began their silent assault on the U.S. market in the late 1980s, and low noisemaking was a key selling strategy. Because these models use less water, there’s less sloshing. They use less energy, too—two small motors wash and drain simultaneously instead of one larger, louder motor performing each task separately. Also, there’s no noisy disposal to grind food particles and no electric heating element (drying occurs through condensation on the insulated stainless interior panels). Bosch reached a new low with the 39-decibel 800-series dishwasher earlier this year. The hum of your fridge is probably louder.
11 of 11Lodge Cast Iron 10" square enamel grill pans ($72).
10. Cast iron makes a comeback
We swing a lot of pans in our Test Kitchen, and one of our worth-its-weight favorites is the old-fashioned cast-iron grill pan. We’re always looking for ways to infuse foods with smoky grilled flavor, and in the months when you can’t grill outdoors, a grill pan is the best—really the only—way to do it. Cast iron gets screaming hot, for excellent grill marks, and when it does come to temperature, heat is even and lasting. That’s why it’s also the preferred material for another kitchen standby, the Dutch oven, which can cook food at barely bubbling temperatures that slow-cookers can’t match. A good cast-iron pan lasts forever, too, when it’s conditioned and cleaned properly.
Sales have grown to 10% of the total cookware market in the past decade. And it’s not just the fancy French stuff that’s selling, though we love Staub and Le Creuset. Every station in our Test Kitchen has a cast iron grill pan from Lodge, the Tennessee-based manufacturer.