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Expert Shopper Kitchen

Our cooking expert shares last-minute kitchen essentials to make holiday cooking easier

Expertly reviewed by Andrea Boudewijn

BestReviews cooking and baking pro Andrea Boudewijn's favorite kitchen products will take the guesswork out of holiday cooking

Preparing your favorite recipes to share with friends and family during the holidays can be satisfying. However, it takes planning and the right kitchen items to avoid unnecessary glitches. That's why we turned to the BestReviews cooking and baking expert, Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef Andrea Boudewijn for advice that will help streamline your holiday cooking this year.

From mistakes to avoid to her favorite products to pro tips, Boudewijn has you covered with useful information so you can cook with ease and spend most of your time enjoying the beauty of the season with loved ones. 

Common mistakes people make when cooking for the holidays

Everyone wants their holiday meals to be perfect, but the unexpected can derail the best intentions. During the busy holiday season when people are spending a lot of time shopping, attending parties, decorating and more, it's easy to forget about preparing holiday meals until the last minute. Boudewijn weighed in on how to avoid the pitfalls and enjoy holiday cooking. Being prepared is key, she said. 

"Not planning," Boudewijn said, is a top mistake that can lead to several problems. "You can end up over-buying and having loads of food leftover, or under-buying and having everything you need for a green bean casserole except the green beans. Make a list of your dishes, then all the ingredients you'll need to buy for each dish. Then combine the totals for the number of lemons you'll need, cans of this or that, soup, etc. to keep you organized and focused at the market."

Once you begin cooking, it's important to keep an eye on your recipes as they cook. "Another last-minute mistake is burning things: Always set a timer on your watch, oven or stove while cooking, and for very sensitive dishes like sauces or candies, don't walk away from them while they're cooking to keep them from scorching," she said.

It's also important to take time to enjoy food and guests. Boudewijn recommended working with guests to ease some of your work and involving them in the holiday cooking process. "Order half of the food from others or allow guests to bring a dish. Ask guests for help lighting candles, placing cooked food into serving dishes and on the table, or simply cutting up ingredients. All of this makes guests feel like part of the action and makes your life easier," she said. 

Kitchen essentials to simplify holiday cooking

You may think that your kitchen is well-stocked for holiday cooking, but finding out that you are missing an important item at the last minute can be frustrating. This comprehensive list will guide you in finding key items you may be missing and that you are likely to need when you begin cooking holiday dishes:

  • Chef's knife: The right knife will serve numerous meal-prep purposes.  "A sharp chef's knife handles every cutting, crushing, slicing and dicing task with ease," Boudewijn said.
  • Sheet pan (cookie sheet): Our cooking expert advised that a sheet pan is ideal for roasting everything from poultry to vegetables and produces a crispy finish.  
  • Two large cutting boards: "Whether you opt for plastic or wood, two cutting boards can be swapped out as one gets dirty, washed and dried. The other can be used quickly," Boudewijn said.
  • Side towels: Boudewijn recommends flour sack towels, as they don't produce lint and are easy to use for multiple kitchen cleanup tasks.  
  • Aprons: "If you're wearing your dinner clothes while cooking, protect them," she advised. 
  • Toaster oven: A toaster oven comes in handy for keeping warm foods warm and quickly toasting foods like toppings. 
  • Hot water kettle: "I love having a full hot kettle of water holding on warm to make everyone coffee or tea as they want it," Boudewijn said. 
  • Wine opener that also opens beer bottles: Our pro suggested investing in two openers if you entertain for large groups.  
  • KitchenAid stand mixer: "Nothing makes smooth mashed potatoes better than a KitchenAid fitted with the paddle attachment," Boudewijn said. 
  • Stainless steel measuring cups and spoons: Every home chef needs these gadgets for proper measuring.
  • Countertop spice rack: A spice rack keeps spices organized and easy to find and use.  
  • Smaller 1- and 2-quart sauce pans: These come in handy for quick heating and cooking of sauces, gravies and other ingredients. 

BestReviews expert's tips for avoiding problems in the kitchen

Having the right kitchen items is only part of successful holiday cooking. Boudewijn offered some tips for stress-free meal planning, cooking and sharing food and time together: 

Avoid overcrowding in the kitchen. This is tough because most celebrations seem to center on the kitchen, but gently ask people to have a seat in the living room or, weather permitting, maybe get some fresh air outside. For this to work, have plenty of seating areas set up. Rent chairs and coffee tables if you need to.

If you're working in a small kitchen, limit the number of people working on the food. This creates a safer environment without getting the cooks irritated.

Make a menu. Before anyone gets there, pull out all the serving dishes you'll need. This way, there isn't a last-minute scramble to find a bowl or tray for the table.

Avoid using super-loud items like a whistling tea kettle or appliances like a blender or stand mixer whipping on high once guests have arrived. Loud noises like that heighten stress and interrupt conversation, frustrating those within earshot.

Set up your bar somewhere other than the kitchen. People will congregate there.

Save your sanity. Buy half of the dishes from markets and restaurants and make half.

Embrace the fact that some dishes can be served at room temperature. Mashed potatoes and casseroles are great when warm, but items like cranberries, pie, steamed vegetables, salad and even sweet potatoes can be served at room temp and still be delicious.

Best last-minute kitchen essentials

Mac Knife Professional 8-Inch Hollow-Edge Chef Knife

Not only is this knife sharp and durable, but it's also lightweight and easy to maneuver. The 8-inch length is ideal for many meal-preparation tasks. Sold by Amazon

Nordic Ware 3-Piece Baker's Delight Baking Sheet Set

This baking sheet set includes three sheets of various sizes for different baking needs. Each one is crafted of aluminum that does a good job distributing and maintaining heat. Sold by Amazon and Kohl's 

Gorilla Grip Cutting Boards, Set of 3

These cutting boards are made of durable materials and have rubber-coated handles that provide a reliable grip. They are reversible too. You get three boards per pack. Sold by Amazon

Utopia Kitchen Flour Sack Towels, Pack of 12

Utopia Kitchen's flour sack towels are soft and absorbent, which makes them ideal for drying hands and various surfaces in the kitchen. The pack includes 12 versatile towels. Sold by Amazon

ARAWAK BRAVE Professional Cooking Apron

Made of strong cotton, this chef's apron is designed to hold up to years of use. We love the roomy pockets that are great for stashing utensils and gadgets for easy access while cooking. Sold by Amazon

Breville Smart Oven Convection Toaster Oven

A large interior, nine cook settings and powerful convection heating make this toaster oven well-equipped for handling numerous cooking jobs. It boasts smart technology that cooks foods to perfection every time. Sold by Amazon, Sur la table and Wayfair

Cuisinart Electric Kettle

Quick heating and six preset functions make the electric kettle by Cuisinart capable of preparing hot, delicious beverages for guests at your next holiday gathering. It's a sleek, stainless steel model that's easy to use. Sold by Amazon

Foho Wine Opener

This wine opener may be simple, but it's exactly what you need to open both wine and beer bottles, thanks to the corkscrew and built-in bottle opener. It comes with a wine bottle stopper. Sold by Amazon

KitchenAid 3.5-Quart Stand Mixer

Regardless of the recipe, the KitchenAid Stand Mixer is a top-selling model that's built to simplify many cooking tasks. This compact model features a 3.5-quart mixing bowl, 10 speeds and a lower price than similar models by the brand. Sold by Wayfair and KitchenAid

1Easylife Stainless Steel Measuring Cups and Spoons

This comprehensive measuring set includes both cups and spoons. Each piece is made of long-lasting stainless steel. Sold by Amazon

SpaceAid Pull-Out Spice Rack

Because it's designed to be installed in a cabinet and slide out for easy access, the SpaceAid spice rack saves space and keeps spices accessible when they are needed. The two-tier design will hold up to 20 spice bottles. Sold by Amazon

All-Clad Tri-Ply Bonded Saucepan

It's the tri-ply construction of this stainless steel saucepan that delivers even heat for excellent results. It's available in a choice of sizes for different cooking needs. A stainless steel lid is included. Sold by Amazon and Wayfair 

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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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