Whether you’re having a few pals over for Friendsgiving or an all-out extended-family Thanksgiving feast, you’re probably going to need a few supplies. Thanksgiving can be pretty hectic, but the right gear can make it a breeze. Our team has put several hundred hours of research and testing into choosing the following picks. Some of these picks come from longer full guides, while other items come from the research we did specifically for this collection.
After spending more than 120 hours on research, including interviewing chefs and materials experts and chopping 23 pounds of produce for our cutting board guide, we found that Progressive’s Prepworks Cutting Board offers the best balance of cutting feel, durability, and ease of cleaning. Although some butcher-block boards may look more pleasing, the plastic Prepworks doesn’t require any maintenance and won’t split from misuse. And it’s affordable enough to replace every two years or so.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.
If you want a hefty wood cutting board for carving the Thanksgiving turkey, we highly recommend Proteak’s Teakhaus 24-by-18-inch board with a juice canal, the larger version of one of our cutting-board recommendations. It felt better under a knife than all but one board in our test group, and it’s easier to maintain. It stays in place with minimal help, but it isn’t so heavy that you can’t easily move it when you need to. Proteak grows and processes its own sustainably harvested teak, and the company’s Teakhaus cutting boards look striking and sophisticated. —Kevin Purdy
Dish towels are among the most important tools in the kitchen, but most people don’t give them a second thought. They protect hands from hot pot handles and searing sheet pans, or they act as a trivet in a pinch. A good workhorse towel should be absorbent, lint-free, durable, and capable of taking a rough wash cycle and tumble-dry. We like the Williams-Sonoma All-Purpose Kitchen Towels for their generous size, versatility, and spongelike absorbency. In our tests one of these towels wiped up 6 ounces of water in three swipes and picked up any trace of moisture with two more. The towels offer the best of both worlds, too, as one side is waffle weave and the other side is a low-pile terry that feels more kitcheny than bathroomy. They measure a generous 20 by 30 inches and are available online or in stores. If you must have some color in your kitchen towels, the Williams-Sonoma All Purpose Pantry Towel is the same towel in five color options.
If you’re looking for something to use just for drying, we like the Sinland Waffle Weave Microfiber Towels. They’re ultrathirsty and lint-free, so they’re perfect for drying glassware. I personally wouldn’t use these towels to grab hot pans, because in my experience microfiber doesn’t protect hands from heat as well as cotton does. The other waffle-weave towels in our testing lineup, Williams-Sonoma Waffle-Weave Microfiber Towels and Full Circle In The Buff Dish Towels, were just as absorbent, but the Sinland towels were simply the best deal out of the three.
We tested all of the towels to see how well they dried glass tumblers and soaked up 6 ounces of water. None of the tested towels deposited a lot of lint on our glassware, but the Keeble Outlets blue-stripe towel deposited the most. We looked at Target’s Flour Sack Kitchen Towels, as well, but they were so thin that they would have been more suitable for use as cheesecloth. We also looked at Cotton Craft EuroCafe towels, but they were small, and the cotton felt rough and cheap. Our former pick, the Now Designs Ripple Towel, is still a high-quality and absorbent towel, but the Williams-Sonoma All-Purpose towel is a much better deal. —Michael Sullivan
Whether you’re serving ready-to-cook hors d’oeuvres or whipping up a full-blown holiday meal, good potholders or an oven mitt will come in handy. We tested more than a dozen potholders and oven mitts, and we found two items from San Jamar that bested both of our previous top picks.
San Jamar’s 7″ × 7″ UltiGrips Hot Pad, made from a neoprene-like fabric, proved to be particularly effective at protecting hands from hot skillets in our tests. Extremely flexible, this potholder fits comfortably in the hand and provides enough coverage with no risk of the user touching the side of a hot pan or skillet. The only drawback is that it lacks a loop for hanging, so you need to store it in a kitchen drawer.
In our tests, we could hold the handle of a 500 °F cast iron skillet for roughly 15 seconds. Our previous top pick, the Excello Terry Potholder, provided only 10 seconds of heat protection when we retested it. The UltiGrips Hot Pad also easily beat out the America’s Test Kitchen choice, Ritz Basic Potholders (we could hold our skillet for only 8 to 10 seconds with those). And while the Calphalon Textiles Pot Holders (top-rated on Amazon) offered a little more heat protection, the UltiGrips Hot Pad was by far the most comfortable to use.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.
San Jamar’s 17″ BestGrip Oven Mitt, made from a neoprene-like material and cotton, offered the best overall balance of protection and comfort in our tests. With it, we could hold a skillet for an impressive 40 seconds (though San Jamar advertises the mitt as being heat resistant for 60 seconds at 500 °F). The mitt provides a great deal of heat protection without a lot of bulk, so you can easily grab a baking dish, rimmed sheet pans, or skillets.
We tested the BestGrip against our previous top pick, the San Jamar 15″ Cool Touch Oven Mitt, which is the updated version of the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country top pick, the Kool-Tek Oven Mitt. With this mitt, we could hold our skillet for only 13 to 15 seconds. The BestGrip also outperformed the Michael Jackson–style Ove Glove, the Mastrad OrkaPlus silicone mitt, and the Amazon top-rated Triumphant Chef Super Flex Silicone Oven Mitt.
Although the BestGrip isn’t flameproof, it outshone all the other oven mitts in our testing group due to its lengthy heat-protection time. This mitt isn’t machine washable, but you can easily clean it with a damp cloth. And the magnet in the hanging loop allows you to stick the mitt on the refrigerator, but that means it will also stick to the racks in your oven, so take care. —Christine Cyr Clisset, Michael Sullivan
A good baking dish is an indispensable, versatile tool that you can use for both cooking and serving a variety of dishes during the holidays. After three years of long-term testing and a recent head-to-head look at six recommended competitors, we found that our favorite from 2013—the HIC Porcelain Lasagna Pan—is still the best casserole dish for the value.
This classic-looking dish performs well in the oven, and it’s pretty enough to fit in with formal or fancy table settings. It will easily serve six to eight for sides, including Thanksgiving classics like stuffing, mashed potatoes, or green beans. And thanks to its slightly flared edges and 2¼-inch depth, it’s great for layered ingredients. It can also pull double duty as a breakfast or brunch dish for baking breakfast casseroles like egg strata.
In our last round of testing for our guide to casserole dishes, we found the HIC model cooked just as well as the other dishes we tried, performing on the same level as dishes that cost three times as much. Our pick comes in white in a 13-by-9-inch size but also in an 8½-by-5½-inch variety. In addition, the HIC dish is available in different colors, and on Amazon the color variant is called Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Oblong Rectangular Baking Dish Roasting Lasagna Pan; we’ve confirmed with HIC that it is the same pan. —CCC
For baking cookies of all kinds, we like the rimmed Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet. In testing 13 models for our best cookie sheet guide, we found that the heavy-gauge aluminum Nordic Ware sheet baked cookies evenly without warping at high heat, for a fraction of the price of some of the other sheets.
Even after years of heavy use, the Nordic Ware pan still performs well, and any baked-on oils and fats have been easy to remove. And because the Nordic Ware model has rims, it also works well as an all-purpose pan for baking pizza and roasting vegetables. —CCC
When you’re throwing a party, the last thing you need is to be shackled to the oven, constantly checking the temperature of the roast. A good-quality probe thermometer is an indispensable tool for a home cook, especially if you roast, smoke, or grill large hunks of meat on the regular. For turkey, according to the National Turkey Federation, you should insert the thermometer into the inner thigh near the breast without hitting bone (and look for it to reach 175 °F to 180 °F) or 2½ inches into the deepest portion of the turkey breast (and look for it to reach 165 °F to 170 °F).
The ThermoWorks ChefAlarm stands at the top of its class. The ChefAlarm isn’t cheap, but it boasts some features that its competitors do not. Both the probe and the cord are good up to 700 °F, considerably higher than the 400 °F that other models allow.
It’s durable, too. This professional-grade probe thermometer has an Ingress Protection rating of IP65, meaning the body of the unit is protected against the entry of dust and “low-pressure jets of water.”
If you do a lot of roasting and grilling throughout the year, this thermometer would be a good investment. (Note that when probe thermometers fail, it’s often the probe itself that fails, and replacements are available for a low price.)
But if you find yourself cooking roasts only a couple of times a year or you simply don’t want to spend that much money on a probe thermometer, consider an instant-read thermometer. Our current pick, the ThermoWorks ThermoPop, currently sells for around $30. —Lesley Stockton
After over three years and more than 45 hours of research and testing for our guide to roasting pans—including roasting more than 200 pounds of turkey, 50 pounds of chicken, and 30 pounds of vegetables in 11 pans—we found that the Cuisinart MCP117-16BR MultiClad 16-Inch Rectangular Roaster with stainless steel rack is a kitchen stalwart that will prove itself useful throughout the year. It not only roasts turkeys to golden, juicy perfection but also performs well on the stovetop, making gravy and searing chicken to golden crispness. With sturdy, riveted handles and tri-ply construction throughout, this pan performed like a champ, acing all of our tests. It has a middle-of-the-road price, too.
We also recommend the All-Clad Large Stainless-Steel Flared Roaster as an upgrade if you consider yourself a frequent roaster (at least once a week). Its flared lip allows for better heat circulation and all-over browning. If you’re a once-a-year cook in need of a pan big enough to hold a large bird, the Granite Ware 19-Inch Covered Oval Roaster is a solid budget alternative, but it’s pretty much impossible to use on the stove. It’s one-fourth the price of the Cuisinart for one-fourth the capabilities, and it’s a good buy only if you’re just roasting turkey and you don’t plan on using it for other things. —LS
Fried turkey tastes great, and as long as you follow safety precautions, it can be fun. Besides, big holiday meals are like theatrical productions, and few things are flashier than putting your mitts on and pulling a gorgeous, crispy, burnished bird from a vat of boiling oil.
Our pick for the best turkey fryer is the 30-quart Bayou Classic Aluminum Turkey Fryer Stockpot along with the Bayou Classic Single Burner Patio Stove (SQ14). The affordable, quick-heating stockpot kit has everything you need to get the job done except the oil, the turkey, and the propane tank. The separate stove is solidly built, powerful (enough), and designed with the four-legged stability you want when you’re handling 4 gallons of bubbling peanut oil.
Bayou is one of the leading brands in the turkey-frying category. We chose an aluminum pot because it heats up quickly and evenly. The included clip-on thermometer, measured against a Thermapen, was pretty accurate: The Bayou Classic Single Burner Patio Stove heated our oil to 375 °F in about 30 minutes, and once we lowered our turkey in, the temperature dropped to about 320 °F but rose back to 350 °F in about 10 minutes. The results were delicious—bronzed, crispy skin and rich flavor in a fraction of the time required to roast a turkey.
A propane fryer with 4 gallons of bubbling peanut oil produces a 10-pound bird with golden, crackling skin and flavorful meat in about half an hour, saving time and precious oven space. We found the best price for peanut oil at Costco, where a 35-pound container (about 4½ gallons) cost about $45.
As far as electric turkey fryers go, we can’t in good faith offer a recommendation. Last year we tested the two leading models, the Masterbuilt Butterball Indoor Electric Turkey Fryer and the Waring Pro Rotisserie Turkey Fryer/Steamer.
The Masterbuilt fryer produced a turkey with oily, soggy skin that clung to the meat like wet clothing. The Waring produced slightly crispier skin but still disappointing results. In our tests, even when filled to the “max fill” line with oil, both models failed to cover our 14-pound turkey completely, leaving us to choose the lesser of two evils—top off with more oil to cover the turkey (which is too dangerous) or let the turkey cook with the ridge of the breast exposed to steam.
If you want crackling, deep-fried turkey skin, you won’t get it from an electric fryer. But you will come closer to it with the Waring.
Cleanup is as you might expect. You have to dispose of 3 gallons of oil, just as you have to do with a traditional turkey fryer. If you must have fried turkey on Thanksgiving, and if you have the outdoor space, your best bet is to spring for the Bayou Classic setup. After you’re done frying turkeys, you can do crawfish and lobster boils in the spring and summer to get more out of your investment.
Frying turkeys is serious business, and you need more than just the turkey-frying kit before you get started. Follow the instructions from your favorite pro. We found this Serious Eats guide, this Alton Brown video, and this Sam Sifton recipe on Bon Appétit to be the most helpful. —Ganda Suthivarakom
We’ve spent more than 68 hours researching and testing Dutch ovens over the past three years for our Dutch oven guide, and the Lodge Color Enamel Dutch Oven cooked foods just as effectively as pricier models.
Lodge is already renowned for its remarkably affordable plain cast iron, and we found that its enameled cast iron offerings perform admirably, too. In our tests the 6-quart Lodge Color Enamel Dutch Oven kept pace with French-made pots four times the price, searing, braising, steaming, and caramelizing foods at the same level as more expensive competitors. Great handles and nice dimensions make the Lodge perfect for many other cooking tasks, as well.
After using the Lodge for three years, we stand by it as a reliable, affordable Dutch oven that will work for most people. For a big gathering, we recommend the 7.5-quart size. —KP
Mashed potatoes are always a crowd-pleaser. To make enough to feed a crowd with minimal fuss, mess, and frustration, use the OXO Good Grips Smooth Potato Masher.
We spent over 17 hours researching and testing for our guide to mashers, ricers, and food mills, and this affordable, simple tool came out on top. Because of its grid plate, the OXO masher breaks up potato quickly and requires little effort on the cook’s part. Unlike the other mashers we tested—especially those with small, round holes—it cut straight through our potato. Just one downward twisting motion allowed us to hit the bottom of the bowl, and ultimately we ended up with smooth, fluffy mash.
Many food pros prefer using a food mill for making especially creamy and smooth potato puree, but we found that even the easiest-to-use food mill can turn the task of mashing potatoes into a huge hassle.
If you want your mashed potatoes absolutely lump-free but still fluffy, opt for the Chef’n FreshForce Potato Ricer. It required the least amount of effort among the ricers we tested, and the action was smooth thanks to a clever design. —Winnie Yang
After researching more than 20 varieties of fat separators, we chose the OXO Good Grips Fat Separator (available in 2-cup and 4-cup versions) as our favorite because of its ease of use, its deep strainer, and its resistance to heat. The key component is a tight-fitting plug that prevents any drippings from entering the spout before the fat has a chance to rise to the top. Once the drippings settle, you can unplug the spout and easily pour the liquid out of the separator with no risk of incorporating fat.
We tested four models by filling them with 2 cups hot water and ½ cup vegetable oil, letting the oil separate and pouring the liquid out to see if any fat was incorporated. We also filled each separator with 300 °F vegetable oil to see if the handles would become hot. The OXO strainer is the deepest of all the fat separators we tested—with plenty of space to catch large food particles such as chopped carrots, onions, and thyme sprigs—and it has a convenient splash guard to prevent spills and burns. Made from heat-resistant plastic, the OXO’s handle didn’t heat up even after we filled the fat separator with 300 °F oil, a bonus especially when you’re working with hot meat drippings.
The only drawback to this model is that the plug is not attached to the spout, so it’s easier to lose. However, since this kitchen tool doesn’t come into use on a regular basis, we think keeping track of the plug isn’t a problem.
The other spout model we tested was the Williams-Sonoma No-Spill Gravy Separator, which costs more than the OXO. Even though this model’s fine-mesh strainer seemed to be a nice option for eliminating small particles in meat drippings, in our tests it broke during washing after the first use. We even broke the plug in our struggle to remove it.
We tested two drain models that pour liquid out from a hole in the bottom of the pitcher—the Amco Swing-A-Way Easy Release Grease Separator and the Cuisipro 4-cup Fat Separator—but both were awkward to use. Since we needed to hold these fat separators below eye level to prevent splashing while draining, we had difficulty seeing the line of separation between fat and drippings, which caused us to incorporate too much fat.
The Trudeau Gravy Separator—which Cook’s Illustrated recommended back in 2004—fell out of contention because it didn’t have a plug in the spout to keep the fat out. Without it, some fat will wind up in the spout and then in your gravy. —MS
A wine bottle works in a pinch for the occasional baking project, but if you’re aspiring to create perfect pies or planning to crank out dozens of gingerbread men, you need a good rolling pin. When most people think of a rolling pin, they conjure up images of a wooden one with two handles, but the experts we interviewed and the novices we tested with agreed that a pin without handles is a better tool.
For our guide to rolling pins, we tested 12 carefully selected rolling pins, and the timeless maple Whetstone Woodenware French Rolling Pin proved to be a superior tool and a great value. It’s more agile than a handled pin, it doesn’t stick to the dough as much as cheaper models, it has just enough heft to do some of the work for you without smashing fragile dough, and it’s one of the easiest to clean. This beautiful US-made pin costs a fraction of what other hand-turned rolling pins do, and it will last a lifetime with proper care.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.
If you’re baking with children, you might prefer the JK Adams 19-inch Wooden Rolling Dowel, which you can fit with spacers (essentially rubber bands of various thicknesses). Spacers help novice bakers—and perfectionists—roll to a precise thickness and avoid making one section thinner than another. You need to dust this pin with flour more often than our top pick, and it isn’t quite as efficient for rolling rounds of pie crust, but with or without spacers its long dowel shape is ideal for rolling big sheets of cookie dough perfectly evenly. It’s widely available and affordably priced, too. —Hannah Kirshner
For holiday pies that are beautiful and evenly baked every time, we recommend the Baker’s Advantage Ceramic Pie Dish. Tested against six other plates for our pie plate guide, the Baker’s Advantage was one of the few dishes to produce a golden-brown crust and an evenly baked filling every time. Its deep dish makes it especially great for baking pies packed with fruit, but it also makes a handsome pumpkin pie or quiche.
The Baker’s Advantage is an attractive plate (it comes in red or blue, with a white interior), and its ruffled rim allows even a novice baker to produce a perfectly fluted crust. Best of all, it’s half the price of its nearly identical competitor, the popular Emile Henry 9-Inch Pie Dish, and it comes with a reliable lifetime warranty.
If you’re looking for a step up in presentation, the Emile Henry 9-Inch Pie Dish comes in many more gorgeous colors than the Baker’s Advantage does, and you may want to make the extra investment. Otherwise, save your dollars for something else and get the Baker’s Advantage.
If you’re seeking a shallower, less expensive plate, we recommend the Pyrex Bakeware 9-Inch Pie Plate. Initially we thought the Pyrex would be our first choice, because glass plates are a favorite of many professional and home bakers due to the fact that you can see the crust as it browns. However, Pyrex changed its glass formula in the past few decades, and a small percentage of the current bakeware has exploded in people’s ovens (and even on countertops), raising concerns about baking in glass. In our own testing, we didn’t have a problem. Yet because of the minor (but real) safety issues, we can’t recommend this pie plate for everyone. —Marguerite Preston
We originally tested three widely available premade pie doughs: Pillsbury Pie Crusts, Trader Joe’s Gourmet Pie Crust, and Wholly Wholesome Organic Pie Dough. Although none of them wildly impressed us, the Pillsbury dough beat out the other two in ease of use. When we then tested the same Pillsbury crust against Walmart’s house-brand Great Value 9″ Pie Crusts, Pillsbury again finished as the winner.
The main advantage of premade pie crust is convenience, so it should be able to go straight from package to dish without tearing or cracking. In our testing, both the Trader Joe’s crust and the Wholly Wholesome dough cracked when we unrolled them, and they were generally a pain to use. In contrast, the Pillsbury crust and its Walmart competitor never cracked, and they remained easy to lay out in the pie pan. In fact, their unbaked texture was nearly identical.
A store-bought crust should have a nice flaky texture and a balanced flavor that works with a sweet or savory pie. The Pillsbury crust wasn’t the best-tasting one (Wholly Wholesome’s tasted closest to homemade), but it tasted good with both sweet and savory pies, and when we tested it against the Walmart Great Value crust, the Pillsbury one was better tasting and flakier. Both brands are made with lard (vegetarians, take note), and in our tests the porky flavor was more pronounced and stale-tasting in the Walmart brand. The Pillsbury crust also broke into visibly larger flakes than the crumbly Walmart version, and when we purchased both at Walmart, the Pillsbury one was only 30¢ more expensive.
All that said, if you happen to have a food processor (or a little extra time), we highly recommend making your own dough instead of using the premade variety. We like this recipe from Martha Stewart. If you have only a pastry cutter (or even a couple of forks in a pinch), try this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. —MP, CCC
If you’re looking to set a more formal table or interested in using something more sustainable than paper napkins, we recommend Williams-Sonoma Hotel Dinner Napkins. They’re made of 100 percent cotton and finished with a 1-inch hem, and you can wash them with bleach for easy stain removal. And at around $5 each, they’re a great value.
Even though they shrank a little more than our former top pick, the Pottery Barn Caterer’s Napkins, in our tests, they still offer great quality, with a thicker, heavier cotton and a tight weave. They’re a great investment if you want a quality cotton napkin to use year after year.
For the same reasons we like the Williams-Sonoma napkins, the Williams-Sonoma Hotel Tablecloth is a good value. Made of the same cotton as the napkins, the tablecloth feels sturdy and looks elegant for the price. It has a 1-inch border and comes in 11 sizes, so unless your table is unusually large, you’ll probably find one that fits perfectly. —LS
Most people probably don’t want to run out and buy a special set of flatware just for the holidays. But if you do need a few extra sets, consult our guide to the best flatware, where we cover 11 sets of varying styles. Our budget pick, the IKEA Förnuft, is an excellent set to have on hand for the holidays or other occasions when your guest list swells. You can easily fold these pieces into your everyday life—without breaking the bank in the process.
We looked at a lot of inexpensive sets at stores such as Target, but they left us with a “you spend almost nothing, you get almost nothing” feeling. They were often especially thin—sometimes even easily bendable—and they had no heft or visual presence. By contrast, this very inexpensive option from IKEA has a lot more style than other sets in the beyond-affordable category. The shapes recall plastic picnicware (in a pleasing, familiar way), and the pieces have an attractive finish and color. They’re heavier than you might expect (we thought they would weigh less than a feather) but still on the light side. —Stephen Treffinger
Unless you registered for china for your wedding or inherited a set from your grandparents, you’ll likely need more plates than you usually have on hand for a dinner party. Although it’s acceptable to serve dinner in soup bowls when you’re in college, as an adult you’ll probably want to invest in extra plates.
After a dozen hours of testing and research, we recommend the Pottery Barn Caterer’s Dinner Plate Set. These dinner plates are available as a set of 12 in stores and online, or as a set of four (catalog only). They measure 10½ inches in diameter and are chip resistant. Made from porcelain, they had the brightest white hue of all the plates we tested and remained free of scuffs after our fork-and-knife test, which consisted of scratching the plates’ surface with a fork and knife 50 times. Microwave-safe and dishwasher-safe, these plates are suitable for everyday use yet elegant enough for formal dinner parties. They come in a reusable cardboard box with dividers for each plate, which we found to be particularly handy for easy storage.
The only drawback is some faint pitting on the surface of the glaze. We detected these minor imperfections on the plates only when we examined them closely under the light, not when we were seated in front of them at a table.
If you live near an IKEA store, want to buy plates individually, and prefer a cheaper option, our alternative pick (bumped from its spot as a top pick) is the IKEA 365+ 11-inch plate (sold in stores only). When we placed one side by side with a Pottery Barn plate, the two were nearly indistinguishable. At 10½ inches in diameter (though it’s listed as 11 inches on the IKEA site) and 1½ pounds, the IKEA 365+ was within the average weight of the plates we tested—heavy enough to feel substantial but not so much that a stack would be difficult to lift.
This plate was the only one in the test group to get a couple of scratch marks in our fork-and-knife test. Also, when we held it to the light, small pits on the surface of the glaze were more noticeable than on the Pottery Barn plate. Considering this plate’s low price, though, we think it’s well worth the minor imperfections and faint scratch marks that will inevitably result from prolonged wear and tear. —GS, MS
We love the simple design and polished finish of the 10-inch-long WMF Manaos Bistro Serving Spoon. The bowl of the spoon, which measures 2¼ by 3 inches, is big enough to scoop up dishes like mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. It has rave reviews on Amazon, where it currently holds a rating of 4.5 stars out of five. Reviewer HLK says, “Very nice spoon for the price. Feels solid, washes well. Looks more expensive than it is.”
If a high-polish finish isn’t important to you but having a multitasking utensil is, we recommend JB Prince’s Gray Kunz Sauce Spoon. This spoon is an essential tool for chefs and line cooks in fine-dining kitchens all over the world, whether for saucing, plating, cooking, or tasting. Developed by Chef Gray Kunz during his time leading the kitchen at Lespinasse in New York City, this spoon was standard issue for every cook at that restaurant. While this spoon doesn’t have the shine of our top pick, its brushed finish and ergonomic handle make it comfortable and attractive.
When it comes to serving sliced meat or vegetables like asparagus or green beans, we think serving tongs are best. The Crate and Barrel Caesna Mirror Serving Tongs balance style and practicality. Versatile, easy to grip, and made of high-polish stainless steel, these tongs work well for serving both casual and dressed-up dinners. If looks aren’t your main concern but function is, we like the Winco 7-inch set of tongs, which is simply the best option for a true multipurpose tool that can go from the kitchen counter to the dining table. The scalloped tips can grip most foods on your holiday table, and you can use this versatile pair of tongs year-round for kitchen tasks and casual entertaining. It comes in different lengths, but we found that the 7-inch size works great for serving without being too big and bulky. —LS
*At the time of publishing, the price was $45.
Whether the slicing of your holiday roast happens in the kitchen or on full display at the dining table, the Victorinox Fibrox 10¼-Inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife is our favorite knife for the job. This professional-grade slicer is sharp enough to cut paper-thin slivers of beef, pork, or fowl, and the Fibrox handle is comfortable to grip, even for large hands. The dimpled edge keeps food from sticking to the blade, ensuring smooth slicing.
We prefer the shorter 10-inch blade over the 12-inch slicer. They’re both good, sharp knives, but in our tests the 12-inch slicer was a little too much knife for the dining-room table. After slicing a pork shoulder roast on a platter with both the 10-inch and 12-inch Victorinox slicers, we found the 10-inch one easier to handle, as this knife made fast, even, and smooth slices. Although Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) prefers the 12-inch Victorinox slicer, we found it a bit unwieldy for carving at the table.
If you have some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket and would like a fancy rosewood handle, consider the prettier Victorinox Rosewood 10-Inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife. The rosewood handle is comfortable and attractive, if that’s important to you. You can find the rosewood slicer cheaper here and here.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $33.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $27.
When you’re looking to choose a carving fork, a design with curved tines is better. Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) points out, “Their offset tines, such as those on our favorite model, provided a better sight line and kept testers’ fork-holding arms at a closer, more comfortable angle.” The Cook’s Illustrated pick, the Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Inch Forged Carving Fork, offers sturdy construction and has tines sharp enough to pierce flesh and hold a roast in place while you’re carving. If the Mercer costs too much, we also like the Winco Carving Fork; while its tines aren’t curved, this fine, full-tang fork works if you’re pulling it out just for holiday meals. —LS
When it comes to having a pitcher of water on the table, we found that simple and cheap is the way to go. The Weck Juice Jar is economical, sturdy, and comfortable to hold. It has a small footprint, and the classic shape blends in well on most dining tables. It comes with a loose-fitting glass lid that’s a little impractical for day-to-day use, but thankfully you can purchase a plastic snap-on lid if you require airtight storage in the refrigerator. Even with the extra lid, though, we can’t recommend storing this jar on its side in a fridge with limited shelf clearance. —LS
After 28 hours of research including drop tests onto tile and concrete, plus two years of long-term testing, we couldn’t resist picking the Picardie tumbler from French manufacturer Duralex as our favorite drinking glass. You’ll spot these glasses at Paris bistros and Middle Eastern tea shops, making everything from espresso shots to red wine look good. During our temperature stress tests, the Picardie tumbler’s tempered glass withstood freezing temps and boiling water, so it’ll work for both hot apple cider and ice water. When we flung the tumblers off an 8-foot roof onto a linoleum floor, they didn’t break, and because they stack well they’re easy to store once your dinner is over.
The 10⅞-ounce size is ideal for smaller portions of juice or warm punch and comes in boxes of six. For water or for tall coolers such as iced tea and lemonade, the 16⅞-ounce tumbler (box of six) is big enough to hold your drink and lots of ice, too.
There’s no end to the number of sources that confirm this durable drinking glass is everything it promises to be: It made the Saveur 100, The Kitchn loves it, and The Guardian once declared the Picardie one of the top 10 “classics of everyday design.” —Eve O’Neill
The Riedel Ouverture Magnum (available in sets of two or eight) has a unique ability: It can make anything taste pretty darn good. We had a professional winemaker blind-taste wine in more than 30 different glasses, and he confirmed that if you want one glass for serving red wine, white wine, Champagne, or even spirits, the Ouverture Magnum does the job better than any of the hundreds of glasses out there. Our winemaker tried several types of red and white in this glass, noting that it made each taste “simple” and “easy.” No other all-purpose glass could present several different types of wine in a favorable way.
The Ouverture isn’t fine dining drinkware; it’s an everyday glass. So if you’re seeking something more elegant to create a polished and formal feel for your dinner table, look at our full-length wine glass guide, where we recommend the Riedel Vinum series. —EO
To cut pies, personally I prefer to pair a good chef’s knife with the Cuisinart Elements Stainless Steel Pie Server. That’s how I was taught to cut a slice when I worked at a chain restaurant that specialized in pies. Through those five years of my youth, I cut thousands of slices, and not one with a serrated blade. We used a sharp, nonserrated blade, warmed and rinsed before every cut. Our pie servers were simple models like those available at any restaurant-supply store, with a shape similar to that of the Cuisinart model. The key to getting a good-looking slice is to take your time, slowly scoring through top crusts, pivoting the knife to cleanly cut through the bottom corner, and cleaning your blade after each pass.
But if you’re one of the many people who like using a serrated pie server, which allows cutting and plating with one tool, get the OXO SteeL Pie Server. It’s affordable, comfortable, and made well enough to last for years. Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) recommends it, saying it “lifted intact slices easily, no matter the filling or crust.” Still, the shape of a slightly rounded pie server can be awkward for cutting away the bottom corner of crust, destroying all structural pie-tegrity.
If you want the best all-around tool, the OXO is your best choice, but the Cuisinart will do well if you prefer a nonserrated pick. —Mark Smirniotis
Good, hot, and flavorful coffee is essential after dinner, but the task is best left to a machine when you’re serving a crowd. For our most recent guide to coffee makers, we pitted our former picks against four new contenders in a blind taste test, and in the end we chose the OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker as our new pick for the best coffee maker. If the OXO model is unavailable or if the best flavor is a priority for you, we recommend the Bonavita BV1900TS, which won our panel’s taste tests but isn’t as easy to use as our new top pick. And if you need a larger-capacity coffee maker or tea-making ability, we recommend OXO’s On 12-Cup Coffee Brewing System, though it may be slow to brew. On a budget? Check out our cheap coffee maker guide. —Cale Weissman
If you’re looking for a solid carafe to keep coffee hot for hours, the 51-ounce Thermos Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Carafe remains our top choice. This was the top pick for Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) back in 2008, and as of this writing owners have given it a 4.4-star rating (out of five) across 934 reviews on Amazon. We tested it head-to-head with other top-rated carafes and found that it kept beverages piping hot (over 200 °F) for longer than two hours. The Thermos model features a classic coffee-carafe design with a metal vessel and a plastic spout that opens when you press a button with your thumb. It pours steadily without dripping, and its top is easy to take on and off.
If you’re looking for something slightly more elegant than the Thermos carafe, the 44-ounce Emsa Eleganza by Frieling runs a close second. Its beautiful top-to-bottom stainless steel exterior and artistic shape make it one of the classiest carafes available. Like the Thermos model, it keeps liquid truly hot for hours (also keeping temperatures in the 200s after two hours in our tests). The Thermos model, however, is superior in pouring. The Eleganza’s metal top is connected by a free-hanging hinge; although this design makes the carafe look nice and differentiates it from those with plastic twist-on tops, it means that if someone tilts the carafe too far forward, the top could swing open and pour more coffee than intended. The Thermos carafe’s pour is simply more controlled. Also, the Eleganza’s top is not spill-proof, so if someone knocks it over, it will cause a huge mess. All the same, the Eleganza model’s aesthetic is more pleasing than the Thermos carafe’s, and it may be the better choice for truly classy parties.
The only other contender was Zojirushi’s Stainless Steel Thermal Carafe. While it too kept coffee hot for a very long period of time, we found it difficult to clean and a bit more unwieldy than the other choices.
If your party requires coffee for more than 20 guests, we recommend the Bunn Lever-Action Airpot. It holds 128 ounces of a hot beverage, and it’s also one of the most affordable models. We talked with baristas and other experts, and most agreed that Bunn’s models were among the best choices available. —CW
Our pick for the best folding table is the 6-foot Banquet Table from Target. Sturdy yet lightweight, it folds in half for easy transport and storage. Plus, it’s very easy on the budget.
A 6-foot table can fit six humans comfortably, eight if you put two unlucky (and, we hope, short-legged) guests on the ends. (A 4-foot table fits four or six.) It’s made of molded plastic with steel folding legs, so you can use it indoors or out. Target doesn’t list a weight limit, but the table will hold plenty of dinner plates or holiday presents—just don’t dance on it.
We found it to be as sturdy as similar tables at Office Max and Home Depot, and the folding mechanism is solid and simple to use. It stays in a folded position thanks to a plastic clasp that’s secure but easily opened with a flick of your thumb.
If you don’t have a Target nearby, the 6-foot Mainstays table from Walmart is identical to the Target table except for the carrying handle, which is made from a slightly different material. It’s almost the exact same price, so either table will suit your party needs. Walmart now has an 8-foot version of this table, as well. —Ed Grabianowski
One of the worst problems to have at a dinner party is insufficient seating for your guests. That’s where folding chairs come in handy.
We suggest the Mity Lite Flex One folding chair (available in a set of four on Amazon or individually from Sam’s Club), a durable, ventilated seat made of steel and flexible polypropylene that molds to the sitter’s shape and can purportedly hold more than 1,000 pounds. It’s an inch and a half wider than your standard folding chair, slim enough for you to stuff it into a closet, and comfortable enough that your seated guests won’t feel like second-class party attendees. As a bonus, it even comes in white.
We tested the Mity Lite Flex One against the IKEA Terje for comfort, and the winner was crystal clear. We were able to sit in the Flex One for hours. The Flex One’s wide seat and back move slightly with your body, while the tall, 9-inch backrest provides plenty of support. The Terje’s rigid slatted-wood seat is 2 inches narrower than the Flex One’s, with no give.
Much of the editorial around this category focuses on the looks of the chairs. While the IKEA Terje folding chair got nods from several reviewers for its neutral, Scandinavian looks and its excellent price, its durability is dubious.
If you’re hosting a really big function, renting (rather than buying) 50 or so chairs may make more sense. Check your local listings for party-furniture rental companies, which offer a variety of chairs for as little as $1 to $2 per chair, though frequently with a minimum charge alongside delivery and pickup fees. —GS
Using a smallish Bluetooth speaker allows you to have a dance party in any room and cede control of the decks to your friends with Bluetooth-enabled devices. Our favorite home Bluetooth speaker is the Peachtree Audio Deepblue2. This convenient model is capable of filling your home with gorgeous sound. The Deepblue2 provides full, rich audio that comes close to what you might associate with a home stereo system, without the wires and setup that come with owning a traditional stereo (or the high cost of investing in a multiroom streaming system). And according to our listening panel, it sounds almost as good as the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, a Bluetooth speaker that costs hundreds of dollars more and takes up nearly twice as much counter space.
If you’re interested in filling a much bigger space—or the whole house—get our favorite whole-home audio system instead. Or if you’d rather have something that you can move from room to room, and you’re willing to give up a bit of sound quality, get the UE Roll 2, our main pick in our portable Bluetooth speaker guide. —Ganda Suthivarakom, Seamus Bellamy
It doesn’t matter if you’re hosting an intimate gathering of friends or having the entire extended family over for dinner—a good selection of candles can make or break a party’s atmosphere. We looked at dozens of candles online and spent several hours on research to determine our top picks.
You can find four main styles of candles: tapers, which are tall, skinny, and designed to stand in candlesticks; pillar candles, which are squat (usually at least 2 to 3 inches in diameter) and available in a variety of heights; votives, which measure about 2 inches tall and 1 inch wide, and go in votive holders; and tea lights, small candles in metal cups that traditionally serve to warm teapots but also make great accent lighting.
For all the candles we tested, we looked for four main things: no dripping (which can ruin candleholders or tablecloths), very little smoke or none at all, no scent to interfere with food on the table, and the length of burn time.
Our favorite taper was Candle Charisma’s 12-inch Elegant Premium Quality Taper (sold in a set of 12 on Amazon), which was the only brand of candles we tested that didn’t drip. Available in white or ivory, these scentless candles burned for an impressive 10 hours and gave off little smoke in our tests. At 12 inches, they provided the most dramatic and elegant ambiance for the table.
The Mega Candles Unscented 10″ Taper Candles gave off a lot of smoke when we blew them out, dripped some wax, and had the shortest burn time of all the candles we tested. Entertaining with Caspari’s candles dripped and gave off too much smoke, while those from Colonial Candle arrived broken in shipping. Crate and Barrel’s White 12″ Taper Candle had a thicker base that didn’t fit some of our candlesticks.
We were unable to find pillar candles we liked more than Yummi’s round pillar candles (available in a set of three), our top pick from the previous year. Available in three heights (3 by 8 inches, 3 by 6 inches, and 3 by 4 inches) and almost any color you can imagine, and with a claimed burn time of 60 hours, these candles stood unmatched by the others we tested. The Yummi candles melted the least (compared with the Richland and Hanna’s candles we tried) and gave off little smoke when extinguished.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.
Our top pick for votive candles is Light In the Dark’s 15 Hour White Unscented Votive Candles (available in a set of 36). These votives remained lit for an impressive 12½ hours in our tests, and Amazon reviewers indicate the same average. Of the votive candles we tested, these dried the quickest, gave off no smell, and emitted almost no smoke.
With an impressively long burn time of about seven hours, Richland Tealight Candles Extended Burn (available in a pack of 100) are our pick. These tea lights gave off the least amount of smoke compared with IKEA’s Glimma unscented tea lights (sold in a pack of 100) and Waxations Superior Quality Unscented Tea Light Candles (available in a pack of 125). In our test, the IKEA candles burned for only five hours, and their wax turned an unattractive yellow color. The Waxations tea lights had the shortest burn time, four hours, and gave off a lot of smoke when extinguished. —Jamie Wiebe, Michael Sullivan
Rule the ambience for guests in every room of the house (no matter how big your palace is) with a whole-home wireless music system. We’ve spent hundreds of hours over several months using six whole-home wireless music systems in every possible room, and Sonos remains the best around. It’s especially easy to use and set up, and it offers excellent sound quality for the price.
The best part about a wireless home music system versus a series of Bluetooth speakers is that it connects directly to the Internet instead of relying on your phone or computer. Just select the music you want to play, and the machine will do the rest, freeing up your phone to do other stuff—with no notification sounds or ringtones to interrupt playback. And you can play different music in different rooms, or group the speakers together, all while maintaining independent volume control on each unit. —GS
In an age when most people experience photos only as pixels on their phones, nothing draws attention at a party like the tactile, retro charm of an instant camera. Our pick for an instant camera is the Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S. This model’s film is widely available, and the pocket-sized prints make for excellent keepsakes with rich contrast, nicely saturated colors, and pleasing detail. The 2.4-by-1.8-inch prints cost about 70¢ each. —GS
(Illustration by Loris Lora.)
Originally published: October 24, 2016