Mother’s Day is around the corner and there are just a few days to get a gift for the moms in your life. For those living on the edge and have yet to pick up something, we have you covered with last-minute gift ideas that can be ordered, delivered, and presented, right in time for Mother’s Day. If you’re cutting it close, we also have recommendations for subscriptions and gift cards that can be purchased and gifted on the day of.
Here are 23 of the best last-minute Mother’s Day gifts that will arrive by May 9
Let’s start with the Mother’s Day basic — a beautiful bouquet. UrbanStems offers a range of fresh, modern bouquets and other arrangements that are a step above the average flower mix. They were the best flower delivery service we tested, and the best part: they offer next-day delivery for 48 states and same-day delivery in New York City and Washington, DC.
A clothing subscription to switch up mom’s wardrobe
Amp up the traditional blouse you get mom with a Stitch Fix subscription, which will deliver a customized wardrobe based on a style quiz and the plan you choose. There’s a $20 styling fee, and then you can personalize your picks after.
A sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner set for salon-looking hair
If healthy and shiny hair is important to mom, sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, like Kristin Ess’ The One Signature line, won’t dry out hair, so it’s perfect to gift — especially with summer coming up. When ordering online from Target it will arrive by the weekend, or you can pick it up at a local store.
A clothing subscription to switch up mom’s wardrobe
For frequent tea drinkers, the Amazon Prime-eligible Smarter Electric iKettle boasts Wi-Fi and voice activation with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant — you can control the temperature from the Smarter app on your phone. The iKettle is wonderful for new moms for hassle-free nighttime feeding.
Walmart is known to sell almost everything under the sun, and gifting mom a Walmart+ subscription adds the convenience of items shipped directly to your door. We tried it out and, whether shopping for groceries or video games, Walmart+ is a practical idea.
From grocery store runs to walks in the park, moms are frequently on the go. The Allbirds Women’s Wool Loungers are some of the comfiest shoes we’ve reviewed, and the brand appeared not once, but three times in our best white sneakers for women guide. The shoes will arrive in two business days or can be expedited in one business day.
If you have an all-I-want-is-a-card type of mom, the Knock Knock Vouchers for Mom is a fantastic, sentimental idea. It’s Amazon Prime-eligible and contains 20 “coupons” that you fulfill, ranging from breakfast in bed to a day without complaints (two things that mom will adore).
If the kitchen is your mom’s most-visited spot, gifting a cookbook is thoughtful and will offer inspiration for whipping up more sweet treats. The Amazon Prime-eligible “100 Cookies” cookbook highlights — you guessed it — 100 cookies, brownies, bars, and other yummy recipes to bake over the weekend.
For a really last-minute gift idea, Audible is an instantaneous subscription after ordering. The platform serves as a digital audio library of popular books — play them as you would your favorite podcasts. You can pair the subscription with some bestselling audiobooks.
A beauty and grooming subscription box to switch things up
Birchbox packages makeup, hair, and skincare products, which is perfect for providing mom with new products to try. It’s a perfect IOU to include in a card, so you’ll have something ordered in time for May 9.
A gel manicure kit if you can’t get to a nail salon
If you’re chipping in with your siblings or simply want to splurge on mom this year, the Dyson Airwrap styler is your best bet. We tested it alongside a celebrity hairstylist and found it to be a quality, versatile tool that produces gorgeous salon looks with its air-and-no-heat technology.
A sleek essential oil diffuser for a fresh-scented room
Does mom want to stay active while working from home? The FitDesk Bike Desk 3.0 is a laptop desk and exercise bike hybrid that will get her feet moving while in meetings. Even better: it’s Amazon Prime-eligible and something that will boost productivity.
If your gift recipient is always running to Dunkin’ or Starbucks, the Nespresso VertuoPlus will be much appreciated. It’s Amazon Prime-eligible, and it comes with a milk frother and a coffee pod sampler to get started.
Fluffy robes are great for winter, but a waffle robe is perfect year-round — especially to throw on after a relaxing bath or shower. It’s Amazon Prime-eligible, comes in three colors, and feels like one you’d find at a hotel.
A meal delivery service to take some stress off cooking
Designer for less than $30? The Kate Spade New York Idiom Bangle is a classic, gold-plated bracelet proven to match any outfit. It’s also Amazon Prime-eligible and makes for a simple and dainty jewelry piece.
Interior design trends are always changing, and it’s normal to want to spruce up your own space after living in it for a while. Black kitchens are becoming increasingly popular. From cabinetry to appliances and paints, people are gravitating towards the sophistication of a darker cooking space.
If you’re interested in darkening up your kitchen, there are lots of great products to do so on Amazon. Whether you’re moving to a new home and looking to design a kitchen from scratch or you’re just in the mood for a sleek spring refresh, we’ve got you covered. We rounded up 10 pieces to add a modern touch to your kitchen, from faucets to pot racks, all with rich black finishes.
A great faucet is a fixture in any kitchen. This one has a pull-down sprayer with has 3-functions — spray, stream, and pause — so you can avoid splashing and get the right stream for whatever you need to do.
Replacing outdated appliances and hardware with new options in fresh finishes is an easy way to renovate your kitchen without doing a complete overhaul. Whether you’re looking for a few finishing touches to spruce up your space or are in the process of a whole remodel, we’ve got you covered.
From hardware to appliances, we’ve been rounding up products to help make your decorating process a little easier. If you’re looking for pieces with a bronze finish, this article is for you. Below you’ll find 11 quality kitchen picks we love, from faucets to cabinet knobs, all with a rich bronze finish.
Light fixtures can add a lot of personality to your space. This industrial-style hanging pendant lamp goes well with a variety of decor aesthetics and the height can be adjusted to make sure it fits the look you’re going for.
You don’t need a holiday to thank Mom for all she does for you, but Mother’s Day is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to show your gratitude. While there’s nothing like time spent together, we know that it can be hard for many families to do that this year. That’s why we’ve come up with plenty of great gift guides to help you find gifts your mom will love.
If Mom loves to cook, keep reading. We rounded up 10 great gadgets, pieces of cookware, and fun additions to her kitchen. All of the options are available on Amazon and cost $200 or less. Whether her passion is cooking, baking, or entertaining, we think this list has something she’ll love.
There’s something about foods being mini that just makes them taste better. Not only is this device adorable and easy to use, but Mom can use it to make all sorts of food — waffles, cookies, paninis and more.
We named it the best microwave overall after testing several for our guide to the best microwaves.
My favorite features include the Sensor Reheat preset for leftovers and the beverage warmer.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickyNN-SN65KB Microwave Oven (small)
If you thought cooking food in the microwave couldn’t get any easier, microwaves now come with tons of presets, and some are even smartphone connected. When it comes to picking out the best microwave for your household, you want something that heats food well and is dead simple to use.
After many hours of research, interviewing experts, and testing five microwaves from reputable brands in our guide to the best microwaves, I’ve learned what sets a great microwave apart from an average one. Key features like even heating, useful preset buttons, and high power output are just a few characteristics essential to the best microwave. The Panasonic NN-SN65KB microwave was our best overall pick out of the five I tested. I’ll tell you why below.
Design and specs
The first thing I noticed about the Panasonic microwave is that at 1,200 watts power, it cooked food faster than any other model I tested. It’s compact yet spacious inside, with dimensions of about 21 inches by 12 inches by 16 inches, and comes with 11 power levels and five presets, including Sensor Cook Reheat, Coffee/Milk, Turbo Defrost by the pound or kilogram, Popcorn, Frozen Foods, More and Less buttons that add or subtract 10 seconds to the cooking time, and a 30-Second button for quickly adding time.
The buttons themselves are easy to press, and the microwave chimes loudly when it’s done cooking. At first glance, this microwave has everything and anything you would need in a standard microwave.
Now, it was time to test how well it cooks food. I experimented with the marshmallow test – an actual industry-standard experiment to check for hot and cold spots by heating marshmallows for a set period of time. To conduct this test, I cut parchment paper to the size of the microwave’s glass tray and completely covered it with mini marshmallows, leaving no blank spaces. I cooked the marshmallows in the microwave for two minutes on high to see how they expanded and cooked. I noticed they all expanded evenly in this microwave, and at the end of two minutes, there was only a bit of burning in the very center of the marshmallows, which was to be expected since it’s the only part that doesn’t move as the turntable is spinning.
The microwave’s power levels start at P10, the highest cooking level, and go down to P0, the Keep Warm level. P10 is the default setting and the one I used regularly for heating and cooking. I tested the Keep Warm level with a small bowl of stir fry sauce that I left in the microwave on P0 for 20 minutes, and it kept the sauce warm without changing its consistency. You can even set up to three stages of cooking, a great feature if you want to cook food and then automatically keep it warm for a few minutes, or if you are defrosting food and then want to cook it immediately after. This three-stage cooking process really comes in handy when you’re multitasking because you can just set it and focus on your other tasks at hand.
Aside from cooking food, the microwave also has a Sensor Reheat feature that works well for reheating leftovers. A chart in the manual tells you what sensor level to select for different types of foods, and I tried it with oatmeal, which is Category 2. I selected the corresponding sensor level and started the microwave. Once cooking, it detects the humidity level of the food inside and starts counting down the cooking time. The oatmeal was perfectly warmed and didn’t burn or spill over.
The microwave also comes with a Coffee/Milk preset that reheated my cup of coffee perfectly. As someone who despises when my coffee gets cold, I am constantly reheating it, but nothing is worse than the burnt taste it gets after nuking it in the microwave. I was really pleased to find this preset warmed my coffee up to the perfect temperature while keeping its original flavor.
If you want to make popcorn, this microwave makes it super easy. The Popcorn button features three levels based on the amount of corn you’re popping. I tested this with a 3.2-ounce bag of popcorn. None of the popcorn burned and only 23 kernels were left unpopped, so I was pretty pleased with this preset feature.
Cons to consider
I was less impressed with the Frozen Food preset that categorizes food groups into numbers, much like Sensor Reheat. I used this when making frozen mac and cheese and found that the microwave grossly overestimated the amount of time needed to cook it. By the time the microwave chimed, the mac and cheese was overcooked and burned at the edges, so I’d stick to package instructions when cooking frozen foods in this microwave.
I also found the light inside to be too dim, so it was difficult to monitor food while it was cooking. However, the preset buttons heat pretty accurately so I didn’t feel the need to constantly monitor my food. Another minor downside is the noticeable fingerprint smudges on the control panel. If you’re someone who is vigilant about keeping your appliances smudge-free, you may find yourself wiping this microwave down frequently.
We didn’t test over-the-range or built-in microwaves as part of our most recent guide, so if that’s something you’re after, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The bottom line
At a reasonable price of around $180, the Panasonic microwave is a great option because it has more preset features than your average microwave and it heats food the best out of the microwaves we’ve tested. It’s a great option for your household, even if you have small children since it comes with a child-safety lock, and will fit most, if not all, your needs.
Pros: Five useful preset buttons, 1,200 watts of cooking power (more than most microwaves), includes a child-safety lock button
Cons: Fingerprint smudges are visible, the light inside isn’t bright enough to check food while it’s cooking, it’s loud, Frozen Foods feature doesn’t cook accurately, doesn’t have Express Cook buttons
It has a powerful 220-watt motor, easy one-handed speed adjustments, and a snap-on storage case.
When it comes to heavy-duty mixing, you can’t beat stand mixers. However, these behemoths are expensive and a bit unwieldy for lighter tasks.
This is where hand mixers are most useful. Hand mixers are ideal for jobs like combining ingredients for batches of cookies, creating a delicious meringue, and breaking down vegetables.
Space is rarely an issue with hand mixers since they are lightweight and compact enough to fit in the smallest of cupboards. While our top picks include models in a wide range of prices, the more expensive hand mixers provide added versatility and often come with accessories. Also, look for a good warranty if you plan on using your hand mixer frequently.
We spent hours researching the top hand mixers based on functionality, value, and consistent performance. Our list is based on an analysis of the most common positives and negatives associated with the top models available on the market.
Cons: You need to be careful when you first turn it on
The Cuisinart HM-90 Power Advantage Plus hand mixer is ideal for heavy-duty tasks thanks to its 220-watt motor. You can control the nine speed options with the same hand that’s gripping the mixer so you may use your other hand for important tasks like holding the bowl. There are three slow start speeds to keep ingredients from splattering.
The device comes with a spatula, chef’s whisk, dough hooks, and beaters that store easily in the snap-on storage case. This mixer also comes with a three-year limited warranty.
When you first turn the mixer on, the motor will “overspin” before settling to the speed setting you choose.
Other features worth mentioning include an LCD screen, a lengthy cord, and a latch release for the beaters, which keeps them in place unless you intentionally remove them.
This 250 watt mixer is the least expensive we’ve seen; normally priced at around $15 on Amazon and other retailers. It comes with everything you need to mix betters, frostings, and soft doughs: six speeds, traditional beaters, and a whisk. All the components store easily and compactly in the snap-on case.
While this is a great option for those who only bake occasionally, you do get what you pay for. A number of purchasers report durability issues with the mixer after just a few months of use. That said, you’d have to replace this mixer four times before you even come close to the price of our other top mixer picks, so it’s a good choice if you’re just starting to dabble in baking.
Cons: Doesn’t come with dough hooks, location of the swivel-locking cord holder may make it difficult to set the unit down
KitchenAid has 3-, 5-, 7-, and 9-speed hand mixers. Generally, the more speeds there are, the more features will be included. For instance, the KitchenAid 7-Speed Digital Hand Mixer has many of the same features as the 9-speed mixer, except it lacks the blending rod, dough hooks, and storage bag. The 7-speed mixer is also significantly less expensive.
Other aspects of this mixer worth noting are the soft start, which prevents the splattering of ingredients by gradually increasing the speed of the beaters. The unit also comes with KitchenAid’s Stainless Steel Turbo Beater II Accessories. These beaters have a unique, streamlined design that allows the mixer to blend heavy ingredients. Plus, the device is lightweight, weighing in at two pounds.
The requisite for cafe drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, espresso is a concentrated form of coffee that’s made using pressure to force near-boiling water through tightly-packed coffee grounds. And, if you want to brew cafe-quality drinks in your kitchen while building your skills, a home espresso maker is a necessity.
To achieve a perfect pour, you’ll need a good machine that can produce and maintain roughly 8 to 10 bars of pressure, and hold up after being turned on and off hundreds (and ideally thousands) of times.
For our guide, we looked at semi-automatic machines as well as manual and fully-automated pod-based devices that are made for home use. In order to find the best for most people, we consulted a handful of experts and baristas, conducted extensive testing, and held multiple blind taste tests. We also tested budget semi-automatic machines and professional units, but we passed on these because they didn’t meet our criteria. (Read more about our methodology.)
It’s important to note that making quality espresso can be expensive and time-consuming. In addition to the machine, you’ll need a good burr grinder, which can cost at least $250 for one that is suitable for espresso. You’ll also need to factor in top-grade beans, accessories, and lots of trial and error if you’re a newbie. Expect to pay at least $400 for a capable automated machine, not including the grinder; a manual device is cheaper, but it will still add up.
When it comes to picking the gear that’s right for you, “you get what you pay for, but you should also take your own level of experience into consideration,” said Jordan Rosenacker, the executive creative director of Atlas Coffee Club. “If you’re just learning the ropes, get an affordable machine that won’t break your heart when – and yes, when – it breaks down.”
The Gaggia Classic Pro is compact, powerful enough to turn out rich, full-bodied shots, and is as simple as espresso machines get without compromising quality. While it takes some practice to nail the perfect pour, it’s well worth the short learning curve.
Cons: No dedicated hot water spout, could have fewer plastic parts, learning curve, portafilter basket sticks in machine if you don’t remove while hot
The Gaggia Classic Pro — an updated version of the original Gaggia Classic, which has been around for almost three decades — is slightly less forgiving than our recommendation for the best machine with a built-in grinder, but it’s also markedly more capable of producing a flavorful, nuanced shot.
If you’re just starting out, this is about as basic as espresso machines get without compromising quality. There are three buttons with corresponding lights (letting you know when the machine is primed) and a steam valve. The fact that there’s no adjusting can seem a bit limiting at first, but fewer variables are a good thing for the budding barista.
It’s a single-boiler model, which means it’s going to take a while to switch between pulling shots and priming the steam wand (although this shouldn’t be a problem if you’re only making a few drinks at once). And while Gaggia claims that this machine puts out 15 bars of pressure, you really only need nine to achieve true espresso.
It also includes a small dosing spoon and a plastic tamping device, which — I have to admit — feels a little cheap considering that the Classic Pro used to come with a nicely-weighted stainless steel tamper. That being said, you don’t need to put much muscle behind tamping in the first place, and those plastic parts do get the job done.
While the Gaggia Classic Pro was a little less forgiving than the Breville Barista (both Express and Pro), I found that when I took my time, I was able to get a much more sophisticated shot. On my first few tries, I produced some bitter over-extractions — which at least prove that the machine is up to the task when it comes to pressure — but when I nailed it, which was around the 30-second mark for a one-ounce pour, I was rewarded with some of the best espresso I’ve ever made. Here, I should mention that I’ve also tested machines in the $2,000 range.
That’s not to say that this model isn’t without its shortcomings. The plastic tamping device I mentioned earlier falls a couple of millimeters short of fitting the portafilter baskets (although tampers are easy to upgrade). I also wish there was a dedicated water spout, but you can get water out of the steam wand and the brewing head, provided you purge them of milk and coffee grounds first.
One last gripe: The portafilter baskets tend to stick to the group head if you don’t remove your portafilter right away. This is a bit annoying, but it does show what a great seal you get between the group head and basket, and it’s nothing you can’t manage: If you do end up forgetting to remove it, just turn the machine on when you’re ready for another shot, let it warm up, and it should come off easily enough.
You get a two-year limited warranty with this machine, but it doesn’t cover user error. It’s important to descale — or remove limescale deposits from — the Classic Pro regularly, which goes for all espresso machines and can be done at home with a simple vinegar solution.
If you want to put time and effort into learning how to make espresso like a professional, don’t have a lot of counter space, or on a relatively tight budget, invest in a Gaggia Classic Pro and a good burr grinder and you’ll have a long way to go before you outgrow your setup.
Equipped with Breville’s Smart Grinder Pro and everything you need to make espresso save for the beans, the Breville Barista Pro is among the easiest and fastest ways you can get a close-to-café-quality pour at home.
Pros: No need to buy a grinder, user-friendly, quick prep time
Cons: Doesn’t include the pressure gauge found on other models, built-in grinder could have more settings, probably not repairable out of two-year limited product warranty
A faster, quieter, and more digitally advanced version of its predecessor the Barista Express, the Barista Pro is equipped with the brand’s excellent Smart Grinder Pro, which would run you $200 on its own. A high-quality burr grinder is essential when it comes to making espresso, and this conical, stainless steel version comes with 30 fine grind adjustments, not to mention the dozen-plus internal grinder adjustments you can make if the fine ones don’t do the trick. (Note: This is something you’ll only have to do if you drastically change the beans you’re using.)
In addition to a burr grinder, the single-boiler Barista Pro has all the basics: 15 bars of pressure (again, you really only need nine), a 67-ounce water tank (enough for a week’s worth of espresso), a convenient water spout, a half-pound sealed bean hopper, a steaming wand, a frothing pitcher, and a satisfyingly heavy magnetic steel tamper that fits into a slot beside the grinder. For more detailed stats, you can check out my full review at the link below.
While the Barista Pro should last up to 10 years on your countertop, outside of the two-year limited product warranty, repairing it is probably out of the question, and you’ll simply have to buy a new one. Breville does have several other options, and while upgrades are on the pricey side, they’re worth it if you have the budget.
The LCD interface includes a timer and single- and double-shot volumetric control for both the grinder and the brewing head, while the ThermoJet heating system quickly brings the Barista Pro to the optimal extraction temperature and allows for smooth shot pouring. Still, if you want to save a few bucks and prefer the experience of using a pressure gauge — which is, in my opinion, a valuable learning tool — the Barista Express is a little more affordable, if slower.
In my blind taste tests, one of the tasters who tend to prefer coffee over espresso favored this machine over the top two contenders, which were the Flair Espresso manual device and the Gaggia Classic Pro. While the Breville Barista Pro was consistently rated “good,” it rarely won out against the others due to the shots’ relative lack of complexity. Still, everyone enjoyed the espresso it produced, and by putting slightly finer grounds through it compared to other machines, we were able to achieve results nearly on par with the Gaggia’s.
Some minor pitfalls: Having the hopper over the boiler is a potential problem, since coffee needs to be stored in a cool dry space, and while we appreciate the built-in grinder for convenience, there could be more grind settings to accommodate different beans. Again, a pressure gauge is a very helpful learning instrument, and we wish it was included. Still, the timer is handy, and you’ll be able to dial this machine and your grounds to produce an espresso that’s to your liking.
In the end, while you might not get a shot of espresso’s full potential from the Barista Pro, you’ll come pretty darn close, with a very small margin for error.
If you want to make the best espresso you possibly can at home (or on the road) without breaking the bank, a manual device like the Flair Espresso maker is an excellent option.
Pros: Budget-friendly, portable, comes with a case, five-year limited warranty
Cons: Takes longer to prep a shot, not great for making more than one or two espressos at a time
Manual espresso makers like the Flair Espresso are not only affordable, they offer more control than most budget machines that don’t allow you to adjust temperature or pressure.
Just know this before buying: using the Flair is slightly more time-consuming than making espresso with a machine by about two minutes. And, you’ll still need a grinder. Again, though, if time is a real constraint, you may want to look to pod machines, or perhaps the Breville Barista Pro, which offers a relatively quicker shot.
When I mentioned the Flair to Dan Kehn, former SCAA Barista World Championship judge and founder of Home-Barista.com, he agreed that it’s an excellent bet for anyone new to the espresso world who wants to learn how to pull a full-bodied shot. Why? Again, it’s about control. You pour water directly from a kettle and adjust the pressure manually until you get a steady golden flow of thick, crema-rich java. Machines in the same price bracket as the Flair often start out with excessive pressure and end a little on the light side.
What makes this device relatively foolproof is the fact that the cylinder has a maximum water capacity of 60ml, so controlling extraction time for somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds (for espresso and more concentrated ristretto, respectively) is actually much easier, and you can get the hang of maintaining the right pressure pretty quickly.
This maker weighs just under five pounds and it’s portable, which means you can use it anywhere so long as you have a way to boil water. And, unlike most of the machines we tested, the Flair comes with an impressively long five-year limited warranty.
Sure enough, Kehn was right. During a series of five rounds of blind taste tests, the Flair won four times — three unanimously. There’s something about being able to control the pressure with your own hands that allows you to deliver a steady flow. Everyone involved in the blind taste test agreed that the intensity of flavor, viscosity or texture, and strength was favorable to almost every other shot we pulled from the other machines, save for the Gaggia Classic Pro a couple of times.
The only caveat here is that when we adjusted the grinder to finer settings to find the threshold of each device, the Flair was the first to choke and we could not physically pull a shot without breaking the device — a sticker on the lever warns not to exceed 70 pounds of pressure. (Even if we had, the resulting espresso would have been unpalatably bitter judging from the drops we were able to manage.)
The Flair requires a little more effort and time to operate than your average espresso machine, but it is the easiest and most budget-friendly way to get the best possible shot you can, especially if you’re new to the espresso game. The fact that it doesn’t take up much counter space is another bonus. If you want to step up and spend a little more, Kehn recommends the Cafelat Robot, which he says is the “same animal,” but heftier and made with all metal components.
Pros: Easy, convenient, affordable, small footprint
Cons: Pods can get expensive, on the lower end of espresso, pod grounds are not fresh
Turn the Nespresso Pixie on, pop in a pod, press a button, and within under a minute you will have an espresso-like drink, foamy crema and all.
The Pixie has just two settings: one for espresso and one for a lungo, which is just a long, or more diluted pour of an espresso. Take it easy on this machine and don’t demand more than a few shots at a time, and it will last you.
Nespresso claims that this machine offers 19 bars of pressure, but our TDS readings fell consistently around the 5% to 7% mark, which is just shy of espresso. In other words, you can’t expect “true” espresso from this machine, but you can count on a strong, frothy drink. That is, in fact, quite a feat. And with the added convenience and price point for the machine, we were willing to make an exception.
Further to that point, the machine is primed (heated up) within 25 seconds, and all told, your shot is ready in under a minute. To save energy, the machine turns itself off automatically after nine minutes.
These machines come with a one-year limited warranty through Breville, but I have personally (and simultaneously) owned two for more than five years and haven’t had a single problem to date.
Against the other machines and the lone device in our testing, the Pixie didn’t really stand much of a chance where intensity and texture or viscosity were concerned. Even if you buy the freshest pods you can, they’re no competition for freshly roasted and ground beans from a good local roaster.
Still, the crema was certainly present. And everyone in the testing group agreed this machine does the trick in a pinch, which is how most coffee is made at home anyway.
When you use the Pixie, you’re mostly limited to what comes in pods, which is where the device falls short of espresso machines with group heads and portafilters. There are refillable capsules (see our guide to coffee and espresso pods), and you can get much better results by using fresh beans and grinding them yourself, but that eliminates the point of a pod machine. That said, if this is the route you want to go, it’s manageable, if somewhat frustrating to fill and tamp tiny little capsules with a teaspoon of grounds.
Take this machine for what it is, considering its compact size, convenience, and price. Using pods can be expensive but there’s no way you’re going to get espresso (or espresso-like drinks) into a demitasse any faster than this, which is almost certainly the way to go for the convenience crowd.
Breville Barista Express ($699.95): It was almost a tossup between the Express and the Pro, and while we lament the loss of the pressure gauge on the Pro in favor of an LCD interface, it’s a faster, smoother machine. That being said, if you want to save a couple of hundred dollars (price varies on this machine a lot), the Barista Express is a great alternative. Note: We’re also in the process of testing the Breville Bambino, which is a great consideration if you already have a good grinder.
De’Longhi La Specialista ($799.95): A very close contender with the Breville Barista Express, the De’Longhi La Specialista is designed almost identically but comes with a built-in tamper that removes a lot of potential for user error, which we do like, but a lot of people prefer to use a tamper and/or leveler. Still, it’s about the same price and comes with a three-year warranty instead of the one-year warranty Breville offers. This is another machine to be seriously considered.
Gaggia Brera ($617.15): We found this automatic machine to be fairly good, but its shots didn’t compare to the Gaggia Classic Pro’s due to the built-in grinder that allows for minimal adjustments. Still, if you want an all-in-one automatic machine that can do it all in the way of espresso drinks, it’s markedly more affordable than much of its competition, and passable, if large and clunky.
La Pavoni Europiccola ($925): Lever machines with built-in boilers are among the best on the market for two reasons: they’re affordable (relative to commercial machines) and they’re built like tanks, so they’ll outlast just about everything. The problem is, it is a bonafide challenge to learn how to pull a good shot of espresso out of one of these things, and it takes time. If you’re willing to go through the motions, we recommend it, but you have a long journey ahead.
What else we considered
Over the past several years, we have tried about a dozen of the most popular espresso machines and another handful of Nespresso and Illy pod machines. Since there are currently more options in the way of third-party pods and refillable capsules for Nespresso machines (currently, there are no refillable Illy capsules), you should go with Nespresso. The model we recommend above is among the most affordable, and there’s little point in splurging when you decide to buy a pod machine. If you want frothed drinks, consider investing in a frother separately, which is easier to use and clean.
Aeropress ($29.99): Aeropress is a great coffee-making tool that many a coffee snob keeps on their kitchen counter, where it is their sole coffee-brewing device. What you get out of an Aeropress is something like a finely pressed French press coffee with a generous layer of foam, but not quite espresso. For many, this simple little plastic device will suffice. Plus, its portability makes it handy for outdoor use.
Breville Bambino Plus ($499.95): This machine worked almost as well as the Breville Barista Express or Pro, but it didn’t seem to bear as much power and is more designed for those stepping up from a capsule machine. Considering the price and difficulty of repairing a Breville machine that’s out of warranty, we think the Gaggia Classic Pro is a better bet. Still, we’re testing the new Bambino (not to be confused with the Bambino Plus we’re discussing here) and we’ll discuss our findings in the next update.
Cuisinart EM-200 ($205): This machine almost made espresso, but we couldn’t produce the thick elixir we got out of machines in the $450 and up range. If you’re going to top out around $200, it’s best to go with a manual device or a pod machine. That said, some might find it passable in a cappuccino or latte.
De’Longhi Stilosa ($99.95): This machine replaced the De’Longhi 155 15-Bar, which made decent, foamy coffee. However, like the Cuisinart, the Stilosa delivered something a little more watery than espresso, and more akin to French press or AeroPress coffee. Like the Cuisinart EM-200, it might be passable in cappuccinos or lattes, but a pod machine or a manual device will get you better espresso for the same price.
Rancilio Silva Pro PID ($1,690): This is a professional machine for the home, but much like a professional race car, it operates best in the hands of a pro, and might be something you’re better off working up to, not starting out with. It also didn’t seem to let lighter roasts shine, on which we consulted our expert, Dan Kehn, who agreed. Still, it’s a powerful machine that will allow you to ultimately make superlative shots, but with lots of practice and bad espresso poured down the drain.
Saeco ($1,099): We’ve tried a couple of machines from Saeco, and while they did what they were supposed to, the price, especially compared with the Gaggia Brera, didn’t seem warranted. For something along the lines of a programmable machine that’s borderline automatic, Decent Espresso is a favorite and recommended by Dan Kehn of Home-Barista.com.
Smeg ($489.95): This is a cute little machine and certainly has counter appeal, but it pumps out more watery shots than we’d like, and for the price, it’s just not competitive.
To test a machine’s performance, we put each through the following. In addition, we factored in pricing to determine a machine’s overall value.
Noting TDS measurements
We wanted to make sure we were getting true espresso, which is generally agreed to be somewhere between 7% and 12% total dissolved solids (TDS). To measure this, we used a device called the Atago Pocket Barista, which gave us concrete proof that some machines are better able to churn out a thicker, richer, more viscous potion without over-extracting than others.
Holding taste tests
We held several side-by-side blind taste tests and used the freshest roasts we could get our hands on from Atlas Coffee Club, Stone Street Coffee Company, and Counter Culture Coffee. These taste tests involved dialing a grinder to prepare grounds for 30-second extraction times, then having five participants taste shots from four machines that became our final contenders.
Pulling shot after shot to check for consistency
Dozens of hours were spent grinding and pulling shots from more than 10 pounds of fresh coffee beans. We paid close attention to the consistency of brewing to see if we could pull the same four shots in a row. With almost every machine, we got very close, but the “machine” that seemed to work the best was the Flair Espresso Maker, a manual lever device. Chalk it up to the fact that we were better able to control the flow of pressure ourselves.
We found that the sweet spot for a reliable entry-level home espresso machine is around $400-$500. But remember, you’ll still need a good burr grinder.
Anything less, and you’re probably investing in a machine that might be able to produce the standard nine bars of pressure, but won’t necessarily maintain it throughout the brewing process. We did test several machines in the $100-$300 range but found that they fell short in producing thick, full-bodied, and crema-rich espresso. Likewise, you can step up into the four figures, but according to Kehn, “At some point, there are diminishing returns.”
Do I need an espresso machine?
The best way to approach home espresso is to consider it an investment in a new hobby. On top of the financial commitment, it’s going to take time and patience. Be prepared to dedicate a good section of your kitchen counter to your kit, accept that you’re going to make plenty of mistakes along the way, and know that it is part science and part art. Above all else, dedication is everything.
If you’re just getting started, expect to spend a lot of time pouring bad shots down the drain, fussing with settings as you learn to dial in your machine, and cleaning up coffee grounds. It costs about $700 to $800 just to get up and running with a machine and a burr grinder. If you’re willing to go the manual route, you can get a portable device and a burr grinder for under $500, but that’s still costly.
Making espresso is one of the most time-consuming and messy ways to produce a cup (let alone demitasse) of coffee. If, in the end, you need something quick and easy on your way out the door in the morning, you may want to consider the Nespresso system. On the flip side, know that are few things as rewarding in the world of home coffee as achieving an immaculate shot of velvety espresso all on your own.
What do I need to make espresso?
Fresh coffee beans: Paramount to making espresso are coffee oils, so you need freshly roasted coffee beans. If you’re buying months-old coffee and putting it through an espresso machine, you’re not going to get a lot of the coveted foam or any of the nuanced flavors associated with espresso. Simply put, get the best, freshest coffee beans you can find. If you like traditional coffee with chocolatey-nutty flavors, go with a medium-dark roast. If you like brighter, more nuanced flavors with floral, citrus, and fruit profiles, go with a light roast.
A burr grinder: Okay, here’s where many of us make our most crucial mistake. Any old grinder simply will not do.
The coffee grinder you choose is possibly more important than the device itself. For espresso, you’ll want a burr grinder, which is made up of two serrated pieces of ceramic or steel that uniformly grind in a way that blade grinders, which indiscriminately chop like blenders, do not. Uniform grounds are always superior, but they’re paramount when it comes to espresso. Our guide to coffee grinders is in the process of being updated, but we like the Baratza Sette 30 or Baratza Sette 270 for now.
No matter the beans you use, you want to wind up with grounds that are somewhere between white flour and table salt. If it’s so fine that it’s almost comparable to dust, the machine is likely going to choke and pour next to nothing. If your grounds are too coarse, you’ll get something more like watery coffee, which will have no crema.
An espresso machine: Here’s the thing: If you’re not willing to put in the time to learn how to pull a shot like the professionals, you don’t want a machine like the ones professionals use. Consider something more pared-down, like our top recommendation, the Gaggia Classic Pro (don’t let the “Pro” intimidate you here, though), or something completely automatic.
What are the different types of espresso?
Normale, or standard espresso: A standard espresso is the most traditional form of the drink, and it’s usually defined by size at about one to 1.5 ounces (30ml-45ml).
Ristretto: A ristretto is about three-quarters of an ounce (20ml-25ml) and an even more concentrated version of espresso where flavor profile is concerned. The caffeine amount is the same, or less because you’re pulling a shot from the same amount of grounds.
Lungo: A lungo is a slightly diluted espresso, somewhere between three and four ounces (90ml-120ml), which is between a normale and an Americano.
Americano, or long black: An Americano is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water to fill out a cup.
Why are espresso machines so expensive?
An espresso machine contains a powerful motor that pumps near-boiling water through a chamber and out the group head (the part of the machine that receives the portafilter). Everything needs to be expertly sealed so that it can contain piping-hot water under immense pressure, or the machine won’t work at all.
Good espresso machines are assembled by hand and are designed to be repaired. Just like your car’s engine, the motor of an espresso machine needs a little care, and unfortunately, the very thing most of us do with at-home espresso machines is among the worst things one can do with a motor: repeatedly turn it on and off. This wears down on the motor and will require some level of repair after a few hundred shots.
They’re also built using expensive components usually made of steel. Espresso machines need to be able to generate and maintain about nine bars of pressure at roughly 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and higher-end machines will allow you to control the temperature. On top of that, every component has to be able to withstand vastly changing temperatures, pressures, and levels of humidity since there’s also steam involved.
Can you make regular coffee with an espresso machine?
This depends on your idea of coffee. The closest thing you can get to drip coffee is going to be an Americano, or a long black, which is an enjoyable way of stretching out that precious little ounce that is a shot. Simply pull a shot of espresso and then add whatever amount of hot water to fill out your cup.
If you’re really looking to drink drip coffee most of the time, you may want to save your money and buy a regular coffee machine. Consider a stovetop moka pot to have on hand for an espresso-like drink.
Espresso: A concentrated form of coffee made by forcing near-boiling water through finely-ground coffee using roughly seven to nine bars of pressure. A 1-ounce shot of espresso has 60 to 65mg of caffeine and a standard 8-ounce cup of coffee has anywhere from 95mg to 120mg.
Burr grinder: A set of two abrasive surfaces capable of uniformly crushing coffee beans to a much finer form than a blade grinder.
Group head, brew group, or brew head: The fixture on the front of an espresso machine that brings water from the machine and into the portafilter
Portafilter: The holder for the basket and coffee grounds that attaches to the group head.
Portafilter basket: The basket that fits into the portafilter and into which beans are ground and tamped.
Portafilter basket (non-pressurized): Lined with a grid of tiny pinholes, these baskets allow the tamped grounds to generate their own pressure resistance to the group head, resulting in rich, foamy espresso.
Portafilter basket (pressurized): Specially designed for pre-ground coffee and ESE pods that don’t pack as tightly as fresh grounds, these have fewer holes and help build pressure resistance.
Shot: A pour of espresso.
Tamper: The device used to tamp down grounds into the portafilter basket.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS): This is the percentage of solids dissolved into a solution. In the case of espresso, 7%-12% TDS is generally considered the threshold.
Who we consulted
To determine non-negotiable espresso machine features and narrow down my list of recommendations, I asked these coffee professionals to lend their expert advice:
Dan Kehn, a former SCAA Barista World Championship judge and founder of Home-Barista.com
If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.
For baking crusty, rustic loaves of bread at home, a Dutch oven often gives the best results.
The Challenger Bread Pan is the Cadillac of bread-specific baking vessels – a supercharged Dutch oven.
I’ve baked hundreds of loaves in mine, and can say it’s an essential tool for anyone serious about making great bread at home.
Bread Pan (small)Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
I have been baking bread seriously for going on 15 years now, and created countless bread recipes for home bakers, in magazines such as Cook’s Illustrated, classes at places like King Arthur Baking Company, and my own bread-instructional newsletter, Wordloaf. I lost count years ago, but if I had to guess, I’ve probably baked a few thousand loaves of bread over all these years.
And the vast majority of those loaves have been baked inside an enameled, cast iron Dutch oven, because it is unquestionably the easiest way to achieve bakery-quality results in a home oven. That’s because great loaves with an airy, open crumb and a crackly, blistered crust rely on two key things: Heat, to power good oven spring, and steam, to keep the crust soft and supple while the loaf expands. Dutch ovens can provide both, because their heavy mass pumps loads of heat into the bottom of the loaf, and their tight-fitting lids trap the steam that is produced when water in the loaf evaporates as it bakes.
But there are two major drawbacks to Dutch ovens for bread baking. One, most Dutch ovens are round, while breads come in all shapes and sizes. My favorite style of loaf to bake is a long, narrow bâtard, since it yields uniform, evenly-sized slices from one end to the other; no Dutch oven can accommodate a long loaf, no matter how roomy it might be. And two: A Dutch oven’s high walls shield the sides of the loaf from the oven’s heat, inhibiting rapid browning, and they make getting loaves in and out of the pot without burning yourself a real risk.
Enter the Challenger Bread Pan, which – literally and figuratively – turns Dutch oven baking on its head. Instead of a deep pot and a flat lid, the Challenger has a shallow, 1-½ inch tall “pot” and a 4-inch tall “lid” that, once removed, allows air to freely circulate around the loaf. Better yet, the Challenger is rectangular and roomy, allowing it to accommodate loaves of nearly all shapes and sizes. I’ve been baking in a Challenger Pan for nearly a year now, and can say without reservation that it is a game-changer for any serious home bread baker.
Design and specs
The Challenger Bread Pan is made from black, un-enameled (but pre-seasoned) cast iron. It has two sets of handles: A matching pair built into the short ends of the base and lid, used for moving the entire kit in and out of the oven, and another pair on opposite sides of the top of the lid, for easily removing it at the midway point during the bake, once the loaf has fully sprung and steam is no longer warranted.
The nearly-13-pound lid fits snugly onto the base, serving to hold onto nearly all the steam released by the dough, for maximum oven spring and a crisp, blistered crust. And at 22 pounds all-told, the Challenger weighs nearly double what the average Dutch oven does. All that extra mass makes for rapid and maximal oven spring and an open crumb. (It also means that the Challenger requires a fair amount of brawn to move around, something to keep in mind before investing in one.)
Since it has curved inner edges, the Challenger’s effective inside dimensions are 11 inches long, 8-¼ inches wide, and 5-¼ inches tall, which make it more than adequate to accommodate even the largest of artisanal loaves, whether round boules or elongated bâtards. (I routinely bake 2 pound loaves in mine, with room left to spare.)
That said, the Challenger is too short to bake the average baguette, since those loaves typically run 15 inches and more. However, it’s plenty large enough to accommodate one or two (side-by-side) 10-inch long “demi” baguettes.
Baking with the Challenger Bread Pan
As for how to use the Challenger, those used to working with a Dutch oven will likely need to adjust their approach slightly, owing to its unique design. While many Dutch oven bread recipes have you preheat your pot for as little as 30 minutes at 450 Fahrenheit, the Challenger’s instructions suggest doing so for 1 hour at 500 F, because of the pan’s increased mass. (I’ve had good results preheating at 475 F for 30 minutes myself.) And they recommend lowering the oven temperature to 425 F once the bread has been loaded.
Because of that extra mass and the pan’s heat-radiating black color, loaves tend to cook about 30% faster than in a light-colored and lighter-weight Dutch oven. (My usual approach is to bake the bread for 20 minutes, covered, and 15 to 20 minutes, uncovered.) For the same reasons, loaves can sometimes burn on the underside before the top and sides are fully browned. (My workaround for this issue is to remove the loaf from the pan entirely once it is close to fully baked, and finish it on the bare oven rack for 5 to 10 minutes.)
But once you get the hang of working with the Challenger Pan, you’ll quickly turn out beautiful, bakery-caliber loaves in no time. In the 10 months I’ve had one in hand, I’ve made loaf after loaf of super tall, crackly, and blistered-crust loaves of all shapes and sizes.
Care and upkeep
Since the Challenger comes preseasoned, it is ready to use right out of the box. Re-seasoning it is as easy as coating the pan inside and out with a thin film of any sort of oil before use, but it’s rarely necessary. (In the 10 months I’ve owned mine, I think I’ve only re-seasoned it four times.)
Cons to consider
At $224.95, the Challenger Bread Pan is considerably more expensive than all but the most pricey Dutch ovens, so it’s definitely an investment, especially if you are new to bread baking. And even the most experienced baker will need to adjust their technique to make it work with a Challenger Pan.
The manufacturer suggests that you can also use the Challenger Pan for cooking things other than artisan loaves, such as pizza, buns, cinnamon rolls, even freeform pies. While the base of the pan can serve as a stand-in for a ceramic baking stone for pizza and other flatbreads, there are two reasons it’s not ideal here. For starters, it’s considerably smaller than the average baking stone, limiting the size of the pizza you can put on it. And its raised lip makes loading and unloading a pie with a pizza peel impossible, so you’ll have to take the pan out of the oven, load and top the pizza and then return the pan to the oven. As for using the base to bake buns, rolls, or pies, it would certainly work, though I don’t really see any advantage to doing so, especially since none of these products require the added mass of the Challenger for best results.
The bottom line
I personally think the Challenger is a must-have for anyone who is serious about baking crusty, artisanal loaves of bread, especially if it is within your budget. It’s not an all-purpose replacement for an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, so if you don’t have one of those yet and are just getting started on your bread baking journey, I’d suggest starting there. But anyone who wants to take their bread baking to the next level will eventually want to make the Challenger Pan upgrade, especially if it’s within their budget.
Pros: Retains steam for bread with a crackling, crisp crust; lots of mass for excellent oven spring; ergonomically placed handles for easy maneuvering
Cons: Takes some experimenting to get good results, extra mass in the base can cause the bottom of the loaf to burn without the right baking approach, pricey
I tested the smart technology and could check the status of my food from my smartphone or by asking my Google Home Mini.
You can instantly warm up pre-packaged food by using your smartphone to scan the package’s barcode.
Smart Microwave Oven (small)
Cooking food in the microwave is an easy, quick way to get dinner on the table, and it’s now even easier. The GE Smart Microwave Oven works with Amazon Alexa and more recently Google Assistant so you can warm up food simply using voice commands, as well as monitor your food from your smartphone.
After many hours of research, interviewing experts and testing five microwaves from reputable brands in our guide to the best microwaves, I’ve learned what sets a great microwave apart from an average one. Key features like even heating, useful preset buttons, ease of use, and high power output are just a few characteristics of a great microwave. The GE Smart Microwave Oven has many of those features plus smart technology capabilities. Not only can you use it from your smartphone and by voice command, but it also features scan-to-cook technology where you can scan barcodes on pre-packaged foods to instantly display the correct cooking time and settings, so all you have to do is say or press “Start.” You won’t find another microwave on the market that has these smart functions at a reasonable price of around $150.
Design and specs
The GE Smart Microwave Oven looks like any ordinary microwave on the market. It has 900 watts of power and includes your normal buttons along with useful preset buttons you can find on many microwaves including Dinner Plate, Pizza, Defrost (by weight and time), Reheat, Potato, Popcorn, Beverage, Vegetables, an Add 30 Seconds quick button, and even a child-lock safety feature. It’s sleek and relatively compact, but a dinner plate still fits nicely inside.
At 11 inches high, 19 inches wide and 14-½ inches deep, the microwave fits nicely in a small kitchen. It features 10 power levels. Level 1 keeps food warm, while level 10 is the highest and default power level. The microwave is not too noisy while it’s cooking your food, and it beeps five times to let you know your food is ready.
Review of GE Smart Microwave
To see how well the microwave heats food, I experimented with the marshmallow test – an actual industry-standard experiment to check for hot and cold spots by heating marshmallows for a set period of time. To conduct this test, I cut parchment paper to the size of the microwave’s glass tray and completely covered it with mini marshmallows, leaving no blank spaces. I cooked the marshmallows in the microwave for two minutes on high to see how they expanded and cooked. I noticed some hot spots, and the outer edges and center cooked more quickly than the rest of the marshmallows. Based on my experience testing other microwaves, these results indicate inconsistent cooking. I saw this when I microwaved frozen mac and cheese according to the package instructions, and noted that some parts were underdone while others were overdone. In order to get consistent cooking out of this microwave, you’ll definitely want to stop and stir your food during cooking to prevent hot spots.
At 900 watts, this microwave isn’t the most powerful (an average microwave is around 1,200 watts), but it heats up pretty quickly. Not only did the mac and cheese heat quicker than the package instructions, but I also tested the Defrost, Potato, and Dinner Plate presets, and all of them heated more quickly than expected.
The best part of having a smart microwave is that you can control the settings and check the status of your food from your smartphone or by using voice commands with a virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. I tested the microwave with my Google Home Mini. You can use the voice commands to prompt the microwave to perform different functions including:
Start/stop the microwave (automatically adds 30 seconds on power level 10)
Pause/resume the microwave (this function currently only works with Amazon Alexa)
Run/set the microwave for a specific amount of time
Add one minute to the microwave timer (but subtracting time doesn’t work)
Ask how much time is left on the microwave timer (there was about a 15-second lag on this, but this may depend on your Wi-Fi connection.)
The smart technology comes in handy if you’re multitasking or in another room where you can’t keep an eye on your food in the microwave. Plus, the hands-free technology makes cooking more sanitary. Of course, you still have to put the food in the microwave and take it out (if only the microwave could actually bring your food to you), but it does reduce the amount of times you touch your microwave. This is especially helpful if you’re prepping something like raw poultry and want to keep your hands clean. Overall, I find the app and voice commands are more of a convenience and sanitary benefit than a time saver since it doesn’t take that much more effort to type in the buttons manually.
I find that to be true for the scan-to-cook function as well. Although it’s cool that the cooking time and setting show up on the microwave just by scanning the barcode on the food package, it doesn’t take that much longer to manually set the cooking time yourself. My favorite part of the smart feature is the ability to check the status of your food from your phone or by asking your virtual assistant for a status update at any time during the heating process. Plus, as someone who has forgotten their food is in the microwave a time or two, I especially found that getting an alert on my phone when my food is ready to be useful. Another bonus of the scan-to-cook technology is the ease of use. If you have a small kid who wants to warm up their favorite frozen meal after school, they can simply scan the barcode instead of trying to read instructions on the package. Of course, we always recommend you supervise your kids when they’re using the microwave.
Cons to consider
Even though I found the microwave to heat quickly, it doesn’t cook food as evenly as other microwaves I’ve tested. I found many hot spots when I experimented with the marshmallow test, and I even felt it warmed up my coffee unevenly. That said, it worked well for defrosting meat, making popcorn and warming up leftovers.
Since GE recently added Google Assistant, the voice commands were finicky with my Google Home Mini. It doesn’t work unless you say the exact prompts. I actually had to call customer service because I couldn’t get the voice commands to work, but their customer service was quick and helpful, and once I learned the exact voice commands, it was easy to use. So keep in mind, the voice commands are a bit of a learning curve.
GE currently doesn’t offer a trim kit to install this specific microwave under your range hood or underneath cabinets, so you’ll have to find the space on your countertop. Although, I find this microwave to be more compact than other microwaves I tested.
For the price and brand reliability, this is a good microwave. However, it remains to be seen if any smart microwave is all that helpful for saving time or effort. GE’s smart features are limited in their scope and can be a bit finicky, and it’s often just easier to press the buttons yourself. If you’re just after a great microwave, there are other, better options. That said, part of the benefit of buying any “smart” device is that it has the ability to get smarter over time with app and firmware updates. Since GE recently added Google-compatibility to this microwave, it’s likely that the brand will continue to make improvements that make the microwave more functional and less buggy over time. If you have your heart set on a smart microwave, this is one of the most inexpensive options out there, and a solid choice.
Pros: Features smart technology and scan-to-cook technology at a reasonable price, heats food quickly, spacious yet compact enough to fit in a small kitchen
Cons: Doesn’t cook food as evenly as other microwaves we tested, doesn’t come with a trim kit to mount over the stove or underneath cabinets, the voice commands are finicky
Though startups like Made In are making headway against traditional kitchen brands, there are some decades-old names that home cooks may never let go of.
Topping registry and gift lists everywhere, these legacy brands have been wished for, raved about, and passed down from generation to generation. For good reason – their products help to make your grandmother’s famous chocolate chip cookies as well as your newfangled (her words, not yours) quinoa cacao bites.
French cookware company Le Creuset is one such name, representing the height of craftsmanship and style, and accordingly, price. Its enamel cast iron Dutch ovens are widely considered the best in the industry, which is why many people are willing to commit to the $200+ investment and few ever regret it.
You can’t miss them in a kitchen. They’re the smooth and glossy, weighty and substantial, brightly colored centerpiece of a shelf, stove, or countertop, and after cooking with them, you’re unlikely to ever forget them.
Basically, Le Creuset is the rare brand that’s really as good as everyone says it is. The experience is kind of like going to your first SoulCycle class – you enter a cynic, but you emerge (hopefully less sweaty) a zealous convert.
A brief history of Le Creuset – then and now
Le Creuset was created in 1925 by two Belgian industrialists, one who specialized in casting and the other in enameling. After meeting at the Brussels Fair, they created a foundry in Fresnoy-le-Grand, an area in northern France located along a major trade route.
The cast iron cocotte, also known as a French oven or an enameled Dutch oven, was their first product. Its Flame color, a Le Creuset signature, is said to have been modeled after the vibrant orange hue of molten cast iron inside a crucible (“le creuset” in French).
The cocotte was a groundbreaking product at the time because it made the kitchen staple of cast iron cookware both more functional and beautiful. It was something that home cooks could rely on every time to perform at high levels, but also an aesthetically pleasing piece that looked good on stovetops and dining tables alike. Based on Le Creuset’s enduring success, it looks like our tastes haven’t changed much.
After World War II, as competitors flocked to steel and aluminum to make their cookware, Le Creuset doubled down on its enameled cast iron efforts, expanding into a range of other pieces and experimenting with exciting new colors. Today, you can shop its iconic Dutch oven alongside specialty cookware like woks and Moroccan tagines, bakeware like casserole dishes, and dinnerware.
How to shop Le Creuset cookware and what to buy
Enameled cast ironwas and will remain Le Creuset’s specialty. Its slow heat distribution and strong heat retention make it great for medium and low-heat cooking, from slow-cooking meats to roasting vegetables to baking rich desserts. The smooth interior encourages beautiful, delicious caramelization, plus it prevents sticking and is easy to clean. This material is safe to use on all heat sources, including electric, gas, induction, outdoor grill, and oven. Whether you’re a first-time Le Creuset buyer or expanding a decades-old collection, this versatile, high-performing cookware is the main one to shop. All cast iron pieces are made in the original French foundry and each is hand-inspected by 15 people. They come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Stonewareis best for baking tasks. It heats uniformly to create that coveted golden-brown crust while making sure that everything inside is cooked evenly, and it releases food easily. All stoneware pieces come with a limited 10-year warranty.
Nonstickis a newer venture for Le Creuset and a nicer-quality upgrade from the nonstick stuff you’ve used before. Compared to cast iron, these aluminum-core products heat up quickly. All nonstick pieces come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Where to shop Le Creuset
Le Creuset’s full lineup of products is available on its website, where you can get free shipping on all orders, find recipes and events, and start a gift registry (through MyRegistry.com). It’s easiest to shop all of Le Creuset’s gorgeous colors and special limited-stock or limited-edition collections on the company’s website.
Three of us tested the cookware types I mentioned above – enameled cast iron, stoneware, and nonstick – and put the nearly 100-year-old company to the work. While this was my first experience cooking with Le Creuset, some of my colleagues have been using their pieces for years and can attest to the durability and wear of their cookware.
Below, learn more about what it’s like to cook with Le Creuset, from the classic Dutch Oven to the lesser-known Grill Pan.
Why we love it: The 5.5-quart version of the popular Le Creuset Dutch oven isn’t cheap at $350, but it’s the cornerstone of my kitchen; it offers a lot of versatility, a durable design, and crucially, even heat distribution. I use it to cook easy, one-pot meals on most weeknights — everything from beef stroganoff to spring peas and asparagus risotto to a broccoli and sausage orzo skillet. —Ellen Hoffman, Executive Editor
I use a 4.5-quart version of this Dutch Oven, the same one that had previously belonged to my former boss’ wife. She and I would swap recipes through her husband, delivering muffins and breakfast bars and favorite recipes to each other via his briefcase. At a holiday party at their home a few years ago, she gifted me one of her Le Creuset pots along with her matching frying pan. She gave it to me because she was growing partial to her Staub Dutch oven and didn’t need so many in the house, but it was still one of the kindest gifts I’ve ever received. I love cooking in it and especially using it to serve stews, sauces, and orzo during dinner parties. —Sally Kaplan, Senior Editor
Signature Lite Grill Pan
Signature Lite Grill Pan, $180, available at: Le Creuset
Why we love it: When I’m too lazy to fire up the grill on our rooftop (so, most of the time), I opt for this stovetop grill pan. It gives my veggies and meat substitutes the perfect grill marks, and it’s easy to move around on the burner if there’s a hot or cool spot (which happens with square-shaped pans). When I grill things like summer squash on it, and there’s something so satisfying about turning it over to see those little charred and caramelized bits. The surface is relatively non-stick, so food comes up cleanly as you’re flipping it, and the pan wipes down easily. —Sally Kaplan
We used it to cook: single-serving/app-sized mac and cheese, veggies, baked eggs, apple pie
Why we love it: These are hands down the most adorable pieces of cookware I own. The mini versions of the brand’s classic cocotte are perfect for serving personal desserts, side dishes, and snacks like nuts or candy. They’re made from stoneware, so they’re best used in the oven on a baking tray and uncovered. The set I got came with a cookbook filled with recipes optimized for tiny portions, but if you’re comfortable with experimentation, I can see the potential to get really creative (and cute) with these mini cocottes. —Connie Chen, Senior Reporter
We used it to cook:fudgy vegan brownies, roasted apricots with coconut sugar, cornbread, and a million other things
Why we love it: I’ve had this square dish for about three years now, and it’s one of the most-used dishes in my kitchen. I bake quick-breads and brownies in it, use it to roast veggies at high temperatures, and even make pot pies with fluffy, crispy drop biscuit crust. The coating on the stoneware is so glossy and smooth that it’s always easy to clean — mine has been through hell and back, and still looks as new as it did the very first day I got it. —Sally Kaplan
We used it to cook: vegetarian “meat” sauce, garlicky zucchini noodles
Why we love it: I have a lot of nonstick pans, but I threw two of them out after I cooked with this one for the first time. The nonstick coating is above and beyond what I’ve experienced before. It took about three seconds to wash the pot I cooked this sauce in because there was absolutely nothing sticking to it. Not only that, but it provided fast, even heat throughout, and the walls of the pan are just high enough that you can use it as a saucepan and saute pan interchangeably. It’s an excellent value for $145 — I use it all the time. —Sally Kaplan
We used it to cook: lemon thyme chicken thighs, rigatoni and chicken with vodka sauce (family recipe), and lots of other bigger, saucy pasta dishes
Why we love it: This pan is the perfect size for the kinds of one-pot, saucy pasta dishes I make all the time. It’s super wide and deep enough that I don’t have to worry about adding too much liquid and having the contents spill over the sides. It’s also great for cooking meats and veggies since, like I said, there’s plenty of surface area so everything has room to get nice and crispy.—Ellen Hoffman
We used it to cook: Enchiladas, lasagna, pasta casseroles
Why we love it: The depth of this 3.5-quart casserole dish is ideal for recipes that call for layering, and the stoneware construction ensures every layer, whether sweet or savory, heats evenly and comes out of the oven piping hot. Though you might think the enamel would be too delicate to touch with a knife, rest assured you can slice into your casserole worry-free. I do wish the handles were slotted so I’d feel safer carrying it out of the oven, so just be extra careful about not dropping your hard work on the ground. —Connie Chen