Master meal prep with these new kitchen crazes

by Melissa Martin

Let’s face it. When it comes to meal prep you’ve either got it or you could use a little help.

The good news is no matter if you’re Martha Stewart or just out to impress your friends and family around the supper table, three of the most popular kitchen tools on the market these days are designed to help everyone achieve a nod of approval from your guests without breaking the bank.

Start with the drinks

What’s a good party without ice-cold beverages? Whether it be a glass of lemonade or iced tea or an aperol spritz, almost every concoction you’re going to serve has one common denominator – ice.

If your refrigerator icemaker is not up to the task, there’s a new gadget to keep you from running out for ice. Countertop icemakers, which typically retail for under $300, are capable of making ice at an alarmingly fast rate. Many of the units can turn out the first cubes in less than 10 minutes, which is amazingly fast compared to in-freezer ice makers that can take days to completely fill a bin.

If the pace isn’t impressive enough, the ice can be produced in a variety of shapes – from cubes and nuggets to pellets or bullets – depending on the model. Likewise, because the water freezes fast, the ice isn’t rock hard, making softer, more chewable ice. It’s also not going pick up other smells from your fridge or freezer, guaranteeing that your iced beverage will always taste fresh.

Add convenience to meal prep

If you’re looking for a quick, easy way to whip up dishes for a family of four or more, a large air fryer may be worth considering. Though some ovens come equipped with an air fryer setting these days, countertop units have become popular as an efficient way to cook crispy foods like fries and chicken tenders.

But the convenience doesn’t stop with appetizers. In fact, air fryers can cook pretty much anything from corn dogs to Cornish hens, all using little to no oil. After all, they’re basically countertop convection ovens and can turn out whole chickens, cakes, juicy steaks and even pizza. The only factor limiting what you can cook in them is their size.

Fortunately, air fryers today come in multiple sizes, starting as small as 1 quart and working their way up to 5 quarts or more, which can handle quite a bit more food than the old small-capacity air fryers that kicked off this cooking craze. According to Consumer Reports, many of the highest-rated units on the market today are priced under $100 and score highly when it comes to ease of use and noise.

Infuse flavor

If the wow factor is what you’re shooting for in your upcoming dinner party, then definitely check out the new sous vide cooking tools. The technique, once restricted to restaurants, involves vacuum-sealing food in a bag and cooking it in a precisely regulated water bath. This low-temperature, long-time cooking method produces results that are impossible to achieve through any other cooking method.

While many higher-end ovens feature the technology, there are other ways to produce flavorful meats in the home kitchen. All you need is a specialty piece of sous vide equipment to create a water bath.

Some more sophisticated and more costly units include special containers and vacuum sealers to cook, although those pieces are not required, according to Consumer Reports. Instead, you can use the displacement method to seal your ingredients in regular zip-top bags. There are all kinds of YouTube videos that will show you how to do this. Additionally, any large container can be used with most sous-vide units, so a large pot or heat-safe food container will work fine. Simply fill the container with water, set up your circulator according to package directions, seal up your ingredients and get cooking. 

Sous vide stations are available at all price points; however, experts say many high quality, effective units are available for less than $200. If it’s just the cooker you’re looking for and not the entire station, devices with extremely high ratings can be purchased for $130 and up. ∞