Great Gear for Hosting Parties

Whether you’re having a person over for a candlelit dinner or a BYOB, call-the-cops dance party, you’ll probably need a few supplies before, during and after your gathering. Having people over to your house is one of the warmest, most generous gifts you can give your friends and loved ones. If your guests are coming, they’re already primed to have a good time—all you have to do is keep them in the mood.

WAIT: August 12, 2014

Some of the items here are seasonal and out of stock. We're working on updating this guide for 2014.

Expand Previous Updates
April 10, 2014: Long-term testing with our cloth napkin recommendation revealed that they weren't of the quality we would like in our own homes, so we removed them from the guide.

Our team put several hundred hours of research and testing into choosing these picks. Some of them are synopses of longer, full guides; others were chosen after new research and testing. We’ve indicated which products were called in and put through the wringer by our writers and which were chosen from editorial or user reviews because there was sufficient data to make the call.

A great party remains a sensory thrill that can’t be replicated in the digital sphere. Prepare just enough so you can relax and have fun. It’s your party, after all.

(illustration by Molly Snee)

Table of Contents (click  to jump back to here)

I. AMBIENCE

II. BAR

III. KITCHEN

IV. TABLE

V. CLEANUP

I. AMBIENCE

Bluetooth speakers

This speaker is perfect for a party up to 12 people. It should be loud enough to keep everyone happy and has a six-hour battery to boot.
It won’t be loud enough to disturb the neighbors, but after over 40 hours of research and evaluating many models from Bose, Jawbone and more, we recommend the $250 Sony BTX-500 as a modest home bluetooth speaker for a get-together of 2-12 people. It’s the best pick under $300 and has a six-hour battery—probably enough to last the duration of your party, depending on how much booze you provide.

Candles

Testing tea candles

Testing tea candles

A good selection of candles can make or break a party’s atmosphere. There are four main styles of candles: tapers, which are tall, skinny and placed in candlesticks; pillar candles, which are squat—usually at least 2-3 inches in diameter—in any variety of heights; votives, about two inches tall, an inch wide and made to go in votive holders; and tea lights, small candles in metal cups that are traditionally used to warm teapots but are also great for accent lighting. How long each candle lasts varies dramatically; a good pillar candle can last well over 24 hours, but for a tea light, 6 hours would be impressive. And for all candles, you’re looking for two main things: no dripping, which can ruin nice candleholders, and either no or very little smoke. I looked at dozens of candles before narrowing down to the 16 candles I tested, researching reviews on Amazon and elsewhere on the web to figure out which ones were worth taking a second look.

These tapers are dripless and smokeless with a claimed burn time of 7 hours.
Our favorite taper was Light in the Dark’s 10” tall taper, which we learned upon its arrival is actually branded as John Lewis Value. It’s dripless and smokeless, unlike Entertaining with Caspari’s vastly-more-expensive tapers ($6.50/candle, versus Light in the Dark’s $1.60/candle). The packaging claims a burn time of 7 hours, and we had no problems with dripping. The Caspari candles, however, dripped wax all the way down the candle after just half an hour and let off much more smoke when extinguished. We also looked at the Colonial Candle tapers, but unfortunately almost all of the candles broke in shipping.

These pillar candles are supposed to last for about 60 hours. We found they weren't as smoky as others, and the wax cools quite quickly.
For pillar candles, we liked the Yummi candles, which come in three heights (3” x 8”, 3” x 6” and 3” x 4”) and almost any color you can imagine. They cost $20 for three candles—about $6.66/candle—and have a claimed burn time of 60 hours. We burned three different candles for two hours, and in that period, the Yummi candles melted the least (the others were the Richland and Hanna candles). When extinguished, they let off a small-but-noticeable amount of smoke that was significantly less than the other two candles. They also dried the fastest, so no fingers should get burnt by slow-drying wax.

Reviewers on Amazon say these candles will burn for between 11 and 13 hours and are absolutely scentless.
The best votive candles we found were Light in the Dark’s 15-Hour Unscented Votive candles, which allege to burn for an impressive 15 hours. Amazon reviewers indicate the actual time is closer to 11-13 hours, but that’s still impressive for a votive. The candles are a bit taller than normal votives—they reached the tip of our votive holders, where most were ⅓” or more below—but once they burned down a bit, they fit perfectly. We tested them against four other votive candles; out of the pack, they dried the quickest, gave off no smell and put out almost no smoke.

Like our other favorites, these don't give off a lot of smoke and they tend to last for an impressive six and a half hours.
Tea lights usually burn down within a few hours, so we were pleased with Richland’s Extended Burn lights. After 2½ hours lit, they had only burned down about ¼ of the way, and Amazon reviewers say they frequently get about 6½ hours of flame, very close to the 7 hours they’re rated for. Richland manages to do that without sacrificing size, as the metal tin that holds them is only a few millimeters taller than usual. And like our other favorite candles, these gave off very little smoke. -Jamie Wiebe 

Coat rack

*At the time of publishing, the price was $68.
If your coat closet isn't big enough to fit your guest's outerwear, this coat rack can support 250 pounds, is collapsible and has wheels.
You can always deal with visitors’ winter coats by asking people to pile them on the bed. Of course, if it rains, you get stuck with a wet comforter. Worse still is the digging and tossing that happens in the tipsy, late-night scrum for yet another black coat or scarf. If you’re in an area that gets cold and/or rainy and you don’t have a closet big enough to accommodate your guests’ outerwear, consider investing in a garment rack. We considered a dozen from major retailers, and after two hours of research we recommend the Collapsible Clothing Rack – Commercial Grade ($70). It has a nearly five-star rating out of 302 Amazon reviews, one of the highest around. We looked for racks that were collapsible and easy to put away at the end of the night but wouldn’t sag, tilt or break under the weight of heavy garments.

There wasn’t much editorial or testing written up about garment racks. What we did find was mostly geared towards people looking for closet replacements. But customer reviews supported the Collapsible Clothing Rack as superior to the competition. It can hold up to 250 pounds, comes with a set of casters for rolling the rack around the house as needed, and the Amazon vendor covers this rack under a five-year no-overload guarantee. It can be extended from 48” to 72” in height, helpful for maxi-coats that would otherwise drag on the floor. It also folds down to a height of 5” for easy storage under a bed or in a closet.

We dismissed the popular Commercial Grade Z Garment Rack because though it gets props for sturdiness, it isn’t collapsible. Though it’s tempting to get a cheap $13 Rigga rack from IKEA for a party, two commenters on Apartment Therapy complained about it. Mvandusen said, “We used the cheap ikea one while renovating, and it ‘racked’ all the time, slumping over at an angle.” And while Bed Bath & Beyond’s Commercial Grade Adjustable Folding Garment Rack got good ratings from customers, it doesn’t have the five-year guarantee.

If you don’t want to spend the money on a coat rack, event planner Linnea Johansson suggests setting up a bar between two chairs. This isn’t ideal for long coats, but it does get the job done with stuff you may already have in the house. -Ganda Suthivarakom 

Dimmers

*At the time of publishing, the price was $11.
Bright lights are a surefire party killer so we recommend a lamp dimmer like the Leviton that will work with any lamp or bulb.
Nothing says “lame party” like bright, glaring lights. Georgia Frances King, editor for Kinfolk magazine, told us, “Most people often over- or under-light their spaces: Some lights can cause you to see the pores on your diners’ foreheads, while other candlelit dinners are so dim that you struggle to tell if that’s squash on your plate or some form of meat product.” Even if you don’t have in-wall dimmer switches, you can still establish a little low-level mood lighting with lamp dimmers. They’re not only good for get-togethers; they can also extend the life of your bulbs.

We tested the two units we found through research that are capable of working with any lamp and any bulb, and our pick is the Leviton TBL03-10 ($11, available in white or black). Though nearly identical to the Lutron TTCL-100H ($12, available in white, black or brown), the edge went to the Leviton. It has a longer five-year limited warranty and can handle a higher range of wattages: up to 150 W for CFLs and LEDs and 300 W for incandescents and halogens. -Doug Mahoney 

Fire pit

A fire pit is a must for an outdoor party. This one looks good and packs extras like a cooking grill, spark screen and vented sides so everyone can watch the flames.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $152.
Fire pits are good for big and small parties. They add mood lighting, atmosphere and a spot to gather around. Kids can toast marshmallows over them and dudes like to fuss around with the logs and pretend that they’re Bear Grylls. If you’re having a party with any kind of outdoor activity, you’ll want a fire pit. If you don’t have one, everyone at your party is going to leave and find a better party that does have a fire pit.

There are a wide variety of pits available, all with different vibes (one even looks like a flaming Earth). For a more universal aesthetic, our pick is The Landmann City Lights Memphis ($123). It has a look that will appeal to just about everyone. It’s durable, holds a good amount of wood, is easy to assemble and it just looks cool.

We like that the sides of the Landmann are partially exposed. This does two things: It allows air to circulate around the fire and lets your partygoers enjoy the flame whether they’re sitting or standing, no matter how small the fire is. Solid-walled models, like the CobraCo Copper Fire Pit ($255), block out the view of a small flame unless you’re standing right next to them.

Because the Landmann is deep, it offers a lot of flexibility in fire size. The large bowl (almost two feet across) also translates into less stress—you don’t have to worry about the fire shifting and a log falling out like you do with shallower models similar to the Fire Sense Folding Fire Pit ($45).

The Landmann comes with a cooking grill so you can keep the party going while the kids make some hot dogs for themselves. It also has a screen for wayward sparks and a built-in safety ring so boozed-up Uncle Billy won’t burn his leg when he stumbles past.

If the weave pattern of the City Lights Memphis is too humdrum for your tastes, Landmann has a number of similar models with different bowl cutouts, including the popular Big Sky Stars and Moon ($117) and Wildlife ($124).

The Landmann models dominate Amazon’s top-rated fire pits list. Amazon customer Keith Ayotte says, “This fire pit may not be a museum piece but it’s really well built, assembles in minutes and does the job really well.” Amazon customer S. Lowry “Red and Rua” says, “This is one of the cheaper portable fire pits out there but it works great. I get lots of compliments and the deep pit and top spark arrestor are better for fire safety then shallow pits.”

If you live where it’s not practical to burn wood (maybe your neighborhood doesn’t allow it, or you don’t have any space to store a few logs), you have the option of a propane fire pit. We like the Heininger Outland Propane Fire Pit. Of the propane pits we researched, this one has nearly flawless consumer reviews at both Amazon and Home Depot. People like it because it’s portable, it cools down fast, it’s smoke free and it has a nice 10-foot hose so you can stash the propane tank a little distance away behind some bushes.

Beyond the small camping models like the Heininger, propane fire pits take a huge leap in size and price. Because storing the propane tank is an issue, this upper tier consists of large tabletop models with the tank stored underneath which range from $300 to around $700. Of these, the one with the most positive customer reviews is the $400 Blue Rhino GAD860SP, but that seems like a whole lot to pay for a fire pit. -DM

Home music system

The Sonos multi-room system may be expensive, but it has great sound quality and it's easy to use.
Our current pick is the Sonos multi-room system ($200-400 per player; $35-500 for the ZonePlayer Dock from Amazon), which allows you to wirelessly play music from your library or a streaming service in multiple rooms of your house. There are new offerings from Bose and Samsung, but our research thus far has shown that Sonos is still on top, especially with their new $200 Play:1, which makes it cheaper than some Bluetooth options. If you don’t need the battery life and portability of our Bluetooth pick, Sonos is the way to go. 

Instant camera

Our favorite instant camera is fairly affordable and its film is widely available, costing less than a dollar per shot in bulk.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor, but there’s something about an instant camera that makes people act a little goofy or flirtatious—great for memorable photos. Parties are an ideal venue. Our pick for instant camera is the Fujifilm Instax 210 ($60). Its film is widely available, costs less than a dollar per shot in bulk, and the print size is a substantial 4 x 2½ inches. Foster Huntington, author/photographer of The Burning House: What Would You Take?, told us that “Instax is the way to go. Fuji’s colors are great and predictable.” At the end of the night, everyone gets a souvenir they can take home from the party. 

Mail order wreaths

You’ll get a more unique wreath from a smaller seller, but the LL Bean is made of real, fragrant fir and has a timeless style.
There are a million small-scale wreath sellers online, offering a wide range in quality, taste and price, but this is simple: we recommend the LL Bean Traditional Balsam Wreath. It’s made in Maine of real, fragrant fir and tastefully decorated. Wreaths come in the most common sizes of 24” ($40) and 30” ($50) with a hanger provided and free shipping. Some of last year’s customers complained about odorless wreaths, but dissatisfied buyers can count on LL Bean’s legendary customer service for no-authorization exchanges or returns. -JW 

Room fan

*At the time of publishing, the price was $99.
The Vornado moves up to 584 cubic feet of air per minute without drowning out conversation and won’t take up more than a square foot of space.
Never underestimate the thermal power of many human bodies sitting together in a room, even in the dead of winter. A good room fan can help circulate stale air and freshen your guests. Our pick is the Vornado 660 ($100). It’s powerful, moving up to 584 cubic feet per minute, but it doesn’t create much noise given its airflow (a plus when your guests are already making plenty themselves). It also has a pretty small footprint (not much bigger than a cubic foot), so it won’t take up too much room on your temporary dance floor. 

Vases

*At the time of publishing, the price was $12.
Matching flowers to vase is an art, but this simple, clear cylinder vase is a good place to start.
Fresh flowers are a luxury that add color and life to any get-together. There’s an art to matching vase shapes with flowers, but we asked our party planning experts what shape and material would be best all-around.

Etiquette expert Lizzie Post prefers cylinders, like this 12” Clear Glass Cylinder Vase for $12. Event planner Linnea Johansson prefers to work with straight-sided glass vases, which she generally purchases from her floral supply store. These 6” Glass Rectangular Vases get good marks from Amazon customers and are a good height for small centerpieces ($3 plus $6 shipping).

But we’re taking a tip from wedding community message boards—the best deals on vases can be found in stores at Dollar Tree and IKEA. The majority of customer complaints on Amazon for vases seem to be about breakage during shipping and blemishes in the glass. When you inspect and buy from the store, it’s easier to avoid these things.

Real Simple and Goop offer some solid ideas on how to match your selected flower to the right shape vase. Real Simple says, “A square vase calls for equally graphic blooms. The elongated cone-shaped heads of hyacinths soften the angular, compact vessel, which handily props up the top-heavy flowers.” Goop suggests “a loose arrangement with a few varieties” for tall, cylindrical vases.

If you don’t want to spend money on vases, you can always repurpose opaque pitchers, mason jars or water glasses. Post says, “My sister takes old perfume bottles and she nicks off the top or unscrews the cap and she uses those for little single flowers, and she puts those everywhere.”

The experts say to keep fragrant florals, such as tuberose and lilies, in the bathroom or in the bedroom and away from main areas where some guests may have allergies. Post advised us to also make sure your bouquets won’t block anyone’s view: “My biggest pet peeve is having flower arrangements where you can’t see across the [dining] table. My flower arrangements are always low, or if they’re tall, they’re on a side table.”

And another great tip from Perfect Parties: “Attach vases placed on risky spots with double-sided tape to the surface they’re on. This will prevent them from falling if they are bumped into.” -GS 

Tips:

  • We love these party checklists from Real SimpleMartha Stewart and HGTV. Find the one that best suits your level of micromanagement. But remember to save yourself time to relax. Prep ahead. The more relaxed you are at your party, the more relaxed your guests will be. Event planner Linnea Johansson says, “My rule of thumb is choosing food & drink items that can be prepped about 80% before guest[s] arrive so you can just put the finishing touches during the party.”
  • Distract the easily distracted. Give your dog a dog bone to keep it preoccupied, and offer toys or washable markers and paper so that the kids have something to do.
  • In her book Occasions, designer Kate Spade says, “I’ve never met a moisture cream that could improve on the glow of soft lighting.” Here are tips on how to light the room to make everyone look younger from party planner Michelle Slatalla on Remodelista.

II. BAR

Case of sparkling wine

Our sources recommended this brand quite often without us even mentioning it. It’s bready, complex and pairs well with cheese.
Real champagne is expensive, and most of us can’t afford to buy it by the case. Luckily there’s much to choose from beyond the French stuff these days, from peachy proseccos to minerally cavas. If you’re having a celebration and want to get enough to pour into everyone’s cup without going broke, we recommend Gruet Brut (~$15).

Gruet Brut is a non-vintage sparkler from Albuquerque, New Mexico, made in the French style by a family from Champagne. Chad Solomon, Milk and Honey bar alumnus and partner of beverage consultancy Cuffs and Buttons, told us, “It’s quite lovely to sip on,” and Michael McCaulley, Wine Director and Partner of Philadelphia’s Tria Bar-Cafe, said, “It’s toastier, it’s bready, it’s complex, it’s awesome with luscious cheese.” It’s also widely available across the U.S., including at online shops such as AstorWines.com that ship around the country.
To figure out a great bottle that can be bought by the case, we consulted “best of” lists from various sources, including The NestHuffington PostWine Enthusiast Magazine and Good Housekeeping. Then we sought out the experts. Sommeliers and bartenders from all over the country filled us in on some of their favorites, and our research turned out to be right: again and again, our sources stated Gruet Brut as one of their favorites, even without us mentioning it. Just to make sure, we pitted it against Wine Enthusiast-approved Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut ($12), which pops up on top sparkler lists, and the similarly well-received Segura Viudas Aria Brut Cava ($12). It was the clear favorite. -Nick Guy 

Cocktail bitters

*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.
The Angostura is a staple for bartenders; its classic flavor profile goes with just about anything.
Most cocktail bitters started out as medicinal tonics, which is why they taste like, well, medicine. Bitters have since dropped any pretense of improving your health, but their bitter, herbal flavors still add much-needed balance and intrigue to otherwise one-dimensionally sweet or tart cocktails. Bitters come in all sorts of variations, but none are as universally useful as Angostura ($12.50).

Although the bitters market is growing rapidly these days, it was easy to find the brand you should have on hand. Every single bartender we spoke to and every magazine article we read agreed; everything and everyone recommends Angostura. It’s not so much that Angostura is necessarily better than other bitters; what’s important is that it’s the most universal. When the ambiguous term “bitters” is mentioned in a recipe, it’s almost always referring to Angostura. If you’re making a Sazerac, you’re going to want Peychauds, and Fee Brothers, as just one example, has over a dozen of different varieties, including rhubarb and celery flavors. But the flavor profile of Angostura is what you want for the greatest number of recipes.

We talked to five top bartenders from around the country, and all of them said that Angostura was the one to get. It’s available pretty much anywhere and even called for by name in many classic cocktails like the Manhattan. As Derek Brown wrote on The Atlantic, “Being the most common bottle of bitters behind the bar happens to be a good thing in the case of Angostura. While it lacks the bright spice of other aromatic bitters, it’s a workhorse.” Many other bitters have more specific uses, but, as Chad Solomon of Cuffs & Buttons told us, Angostura’s classic flavor profile goes with just about everything and it’s “the benchmark for everybody else.” That’s a ringing endorsement if we ever heard one. -NG 

Cocktail napkins

*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.
Sometimes a napkin is just a napkin, but the Impressions are cloth-like and feel classy enough to use with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails.
Our pick for cocktail napkins (aka beverage napkins) are the Vanity Fair Impressions Beverage Napkin ($21 for 480). As with Vanity Fair’s standard paper napkins (also tested and recommended in this piece), the Beverage Napkins feel cloth-like and classy. They look and feel great for distributing with passed hors d’oeuvres and are equally fitting for keeping on hand at the bar. They’re also the most recognizable brand in your local supply store or on Amazon, where a few people like them enough to give them five stars. (That is more than most cocktail napkins, which are exceedingly commoditized, can claim.) In particular, they beat out Marcal’s cocktail napkin, which earn mostly “they work” reviews, compared to Vanity Fair’s compelling testimonials. -Kevin Purdy 

Cocktail shaker/basic bar setup

We spent thirty hours researching and talking to professionals to find the best cocktail set. We recommend buying piecemeal.
After thirty hours of research and getting two of New York City’s top bartenders (Brian Van Flandern and James Menite) to test the top contenders, we recommend putting together a toolkit with the leakproof Oggi Marilyn Tall and Slim Cocktail Shaker, the precise OXO’s Mini Angled Measuring Cup, the handle-less OXO Steel Cocktail Strainer and the hand-levered Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer. At $63 total, they will cost you just a teensy bit more than buying a complete kit of decent quality, but you get what you pay for in the quality and utility of each item.

Well-crafted individual cocktails require attention and time, so save them for more intimate dinner parties. For larger gatherings, it may make more sense to pre-mix a pitcher of a single cocktail like a negroni or a gold rush that can be poured over rocks. -NG 

Coffee service

*At the time of publishing, the price was $144.
We prefer a pourover method, but it's too slow for a bigger group of people. This Bonavita does 8 cups at a time and heats water to the ideal brewing temperature.
For after-dinner coffee or holiday brunch for big groups, the pourover dripper we recommend in our guide to coffee gear will be too much of a pain to use. If you regularly brew for a crowd, consider investing in our auto-dripper pick, the 8-cup Bonavita BV1800 ($150), which heats water to the ideal temperature.

We asked Matt Buchanan, New Yorker editor and the author of our guide to gear for great coffee, what he would use for making a lot of coffee without the Bonavita investment, and he suggested the 10-Cup Chemex Glass Coffeemaker ($41). The advantage the Chemex has over big French presses is paper filters ($11), which provide more clarity in flavor.

If you need to serve more than 10 people, or if you have a lot of coffee drinkers staying with you, you can brew coffee in smaller batches and keep it warm for hours in a carafe. Our pick is the leakproof, 51-ounce Thermos Nissan Stainless Steel Carafe. This was the top pick from Cook’s Illustrated, and it earned 4.5 stars over 281 customer reviews on Amazon. An elegant, stainless steel design and pouring spout mean you can bring the pitcher out to the table to top up empty cups.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $51.
For even larger groups, you could use this carafe that will keep up to 25 cups of coffee warm and ready to serve.
If you’re hosting more than 20, make the coffee before the guests come and keep it hot in the Bunn Lever-Action Airpot ($56). It holds 128 ounces of hot coffee (enough for about 25 5-oz. cups) and was recommended by every barista we talked to. Nissan and Bunn dominate the carafe field aside from a few other contenders, which either fall short in function or have price tags that take them out of the running. For keeping a decent amount of coffee warm for a long time, the only real competition we could find was in a different Nissan product: their two-in-one thermal carafe and coffee press. It also comes with the drawback that if the coffee isn’t consumed at once, the grounds can oversteep. The only other model that seemed like it could overshadow the Nissan and Bunn thermal carafes, the sleek Alfi Chrome carafe ($234), has a pricetag that makes it unreasonable for anyone other than professional baristas.

We reached these picks after asking seasoned baristas from various coffee shops including Spielman Roasters in Portland, OR, and Third Rail Coffee in New York City, all of whom immediately recommended either Bunn or Nissan without much loyalty to one over the other. -Audrey Lorberfeld 

Cooler

*At the time of publishing, the price was $46.
A good cooler can be indispensable during the holidays for storing any food that won’t fit in your fridge; we like the Coleman Xtreme.
Coolers may seem more appropriate for summer parties, but don’t overlook them during the holidays. If you’re brining your turkey overnight, for example, you may not have enough room in your fridge for all of the food you’re prepping and a bucket big enough to soak the bird. At a more casual function, the cooler can serve as storage for beer and white wine. After more than 20 hours of research and thermal testing over the course of several days, our pick is the Coleman Xtreme 70-quart cooler ($50). It’s affordable and retained ice for a full week in our tests, which will help ensure that your brining turkey stays cold. 

Corkscrew/bottle opener

It’s cheap enough to buy a few to scatter throughout the party, but it still has a sharp blade and a solid lever.
Unless you’re exclusively drinking from screwtops (and some say there’s no reason to be ashamed of that), you’ll probably need a corkscrew. Our pick, the True Fabrications Truetap, is cheap enough at $5-$9 for you to invest in a few to leave around the drinks table—there’s nothing worse than having 20 sober guests, 10 unopened bottles and an MIA corkscrew. We spoke to a number of sommeliers and wine sellers, and all agreed that you need a sturdy model with a sharp blade, a solid lever and a double hinge. The Pulltap style was the experts’ universal preference; of the models we tested, we found that the Truetap, a knockoff, offers high quality at an affordable price.

If you’re having a blowout bash and need to open ten bottles quickly (or if you want a foolproof option that will get those corks out as you get into the later, fuzzier hours) try the Metrokane Vertical Rabbit Lever Style Corkscrew with Foil Cutter. It’s $45, but requires zero coordination—just raise the handle, place it on the bottle and push the lever down.

Remember that each bottle of wine holds about 4-5 glasses, and prepare one bottle of wine for every two people per hour of the party. 

Cups (disposable, for cold drinks)

*At the time of publishing, the price was $33.
Red Solo cups don’t look great at a holiday party. That’s why we like these transparent plastic tumblers that can hold a mixed drink or a full 12 oz. beer.
Save the red Solo cups for summer barbecues—a good all-purpose indoor party cup looks better when it’s clear. A transparent, sturdy cup, like the Chinet Cut Crystal Tumblers, can go a long way towards promoting your party from “college” to “adult.” They’re 14 ounces, enough to serve most mixed drinks or a full 12 oz. beer, but not so large that a healthy pour of wine gets dwarfed in comparison. The cups are classy-looking, and reviewers say they’re not prone to breakage—although with any hard plastic, don’t be surprised if they do crack eventually, especially if you’re using them repeatedly.

There’s not a whole lot of info out there on disposable cups, so we turned to trusty Amazon for our research. We pored through reviews of more than ten models of clear cups, looking for ones that were sturdy, attractive, not too cheap and big enough to hold a wide variety of drinks. The Chinet Cut tumblers were the only ones to check all of our boxes. We liked the Member’s Mark Clear Plastic Cups, but they seem a little flimsy, better for water and lemonade at a picnic than a less-casual event indoors. Bakers and Chef’s cups are 12 oz., a little too small for a beer, and like the Member’s Mark, they seem inappropriate for a holiday party. -JW 

Cups (disposable, for hot drinks)

The Choice Paper cups hold hot liquids well, insulating your fingers enough that you won’t get burned without a sleeve.
A cup that holds hot coffee, tea, mulled wine and cocoa should do a few things well. Most importantly, it shouldn’t burn your fingers when you grab it. After more than three hours of testing and researching to find the best simple, plain white, non-styrofoam coffee cup, we found that the Webstaurant Store’s Choice Paper Hot Cup was our winner. It’s 10 ounces, which is big enough to hold a medium-sized coffee, but it is also available in a 12 oz. option.

If you aren’t using a sleeve (and you can add 50 sleeves for only $4.19), they’re definitely a bit hot to the touch, but they’re not unbearable. You’ll have trouble finding cheaper sturdy cups: At about $3.50 for 50, they cost about seven cents a cup. That’s 13 cents less than the next-cheapest option, the Dixie PerfectTouch, which suffers from a loud, ugly print. We love that the Choice Paper Hot Cup is white—no weird “designs”—and made of paper with a wax liner. Unfortunately, it’s still not recyclable, except in some jurisdictions, but if you’ve got to use disposable cups it’s better this than styrofoam.

We nixed quite a few others in our quest. These Chinet Comfort cups have great reviews, but at 16 oz., they’re just too big for most hot drinks—not to mention the strange, checked pattern. This Solo cup comes in quantities that are probably too large for most parties (192 cups), with no plain option. And these Vegware cups looked promising, but they’re currently sold out, with no indications as to when they’ll be back in stock. -JW 

Glasses (cocktail)

*At the time of publishing, the price was $33.
Made with titanium instead of lead, the Schott Zwiesel glasses are more durable than regular cocktail glasses; this specific style is a good entry-level glass.
A great cocktail glass will have a nice wide brim, won’t have a stem so long it looks like it’s about to topple and won’t be so large that your drink gets warm before you can finish it. We recommend Schott Zwiesel’s Classico Martini Glass, which retails for $12 each but is currently available on Amazon in a package of 6 for $40—a steal at under $6.70 apiece.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, Master of Wine, name-checks Schott as one of three brands that “are highly respected and have stood the test of time” while writing for The Kitchn. Tim Fish, senior editor at Wine Spectator, was sure to include them in a roundup of brands to look for when purchasing glasses as well.

martini

We’re continuing our investigation into the best, but we know Schott’s glasses are more durable than regular glasses. They use titanium in the glass-making process to strengthen the product, leaving it less prone to breaking and chipping. As with leaded crystal glassware, the resulting glass is thin, delicate and clear. While all stemware is fragile, these seem to hold up fine in the dishwasher according to Amazon users.

We scanned recipes by David Wondrich, cocktail historian and Esquire’s long-time drinks writer, and noticed he suggests you don’t use a glass larger than 5 or 6 ounces. Agreed! Except in this particular instance, you may have people milling about and walking from room to room in your house. An additional bit of headroom on that glass is going to act as spill insurance. Assuming your cocktail is going to be anywhere from 4-6 oz. depending on how much ice you shake it with, we selected a 8.9-oz. glass to be safe. If you’re motivated to plop a garnish in there or have an olive or ice lover in your midst, that size should accommodate for that as well. As one Amazon reviewer puts it,”…this is a good basic entry level martini glass for any bar.”

We found that once you jump from 9-oz. glasses to those in the 10-oz. range and higher, they become very top heavy when liquid is added, which prompted us to rule out some Libbey models. You also don’t want anything stemless in order to keep your hand from warming up the drink. These Bormiolis are similar to the Schott glasses, but they don’t have the reputation for quality that Schott carries with it (and the Schotts currently cost less). Riedel makes some lovely cocktail glasses as well, but at a price point that’s a little too high for entertaining en masse.

Coupes are currently very popular for serving cocktails, but we chose the Zwiesel because the V-shape is a classic. Coupes can be kind of fun, but they don’t enhance a drinking experience enough to be preferred. And if you were thinking of letting it do double duty for serving champagne, it is also fairly well reported that, while pretty, coupes dissipate bubbles faster than a flute shape. The V-shape is timeless, and if you’re stocking your bar or investing in your first set of cocktail glasses, this is the way to go. -Eve O’Neill 

Glasses (wine)

We’re currently researching a full wine glass guide, but the Riedel Overture Series is a frontrunner because of a smaller size, general durability and dishwasher friendliness.
We are knee-deep in glassware as we work towards putting together a fully-researched and tested wine glass buyer’s guide, but we like the Riedel Overture Series for entertaining a group of guests. The Riedel glasses’ smaller size and general durability makes for low-maintenance dishwasher cleanup after a big gathering. On Amazon you can get a set of 4 for $40. If the entire family is about to descend, you can get 12 for $80, which makes them a little less than $6.70 each.

Riedel is a 250-year-old glassmaking company from Austria, and they make stems in almost as many different varieties as there are wines. In a widely repeated quote, wine authority and Wine Advocate editor Robert Parker Jr. said, “The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.”

While all stemware is delicate, Nick Rood, the Tasting Room Manager at Vintner’s Collective in Napa Valley, uses these in his tasting room and can attest to their general durability. “We go through dozens a day. We also run them through an 180 degree dishwasher and polish all of them by hand… and I think we only break maybe one a month.”

The Riedels can function as both entertaining workhorses and as well-made tasting glasses for a wine-centric dinner, while options like this 12-piece entertaining set can’t. And, again, stemless is not the way to go with wine glasses because your hand will warm up the drink.

The shape will complement both red and white wine. The bowl is not so large that your whites will oxidize quickly and lose their bright, crisp qualities, and it’s not so narrow that reds won’t have room to breathe. It holds 12⅝ oz., which is a great entertaining size—after the party is over your cabinets won’t be monopolized by large, 23-oz. glasses with towering stems and broad bowls. It’s 7⅜” high, which we like specifically because it’ll fit in a dishwasher rack, unlike a glass with a much longer stem. And with Riedel you’re getting quality that reviewers consistently mention: “You notice that the rim is ground and polished and the seams are minimal,” and “This is the best everyday wine glass I have found. Good mouth feel and just the right size.” -EO 

Glass (most versatile)

*At the time of publishing, the price was $28.
The Duralex tumblers are made from tempered glass, meaning they are dishwasher, refrigerator and microwave safe, resistant to breakage and don’t scratch or cloud.
Our versatile glass pick is one of those things that you don’t know you want until you have it—the Picardie tumblers from French manufacturer Duralex. There’s no end to the number of sources that confirm this durable drinking glass is everything it purports to be—it made the Saveur 100 last year, The Kitchn loves it and The Guardian once declared the Picardie tumbler one of the top 10 “classics of everyday design.” Duralex’s Gigogne tumbler is sold in NYC’s Museum of Modern Art.

What’s all the fuss about? Duralex makes tempered glass, meaning the glass is incredibly resistant to breakage and chipping. It’s also dishwasher, refrigerator and microwave safe. It doesn’t scratch or cloud or split after repeated use. It’s amenable to hot or cold liquids and is an all-around workhorse that won’t show its age. You’ll spot these glasses at Paris bistros and Middle Eastern tea shops, making everything from espresso shots to red wine look good.

The glasses are available in eight different sizes, but we recommend the 12 oz. as a basic, common size; a set of six 12-oz. glasses is $28. Another good option from the same maker is the Gigogne tumbler, and six 7¾-oz. glasses are $24. -EO

Long-term test note: As one of our editors learned, Duralex may be nearly unbreakable, but if it does break, it shatters into several hundred tiny pieces. We found a few Amazon reviews complaining of the same thing, but as far as we can tell, this is a very rare occurrence—and something you risk with any tempered glass purchase. Avoiding slamming the glass down on a hard surface and being careful when taking it in and out of the wash should help mitigate the risk. This hasn’t changed our recommendation—we still think the Duralex is a great, virtually break-free glass. 

Glasses (Champagne)

*At the time of publishing, the price was $16.
A 750 mL bottle fills five of these glasses so guests will feel like they’re getting a generous pour, and they have the flute shape that keeps Champagne carbonated.
In our upcoming full-length guide to Champagne glasses, we’ll dig into the details of why the iconic flute shape keeps carbonation intact longer. Right now, we like the Spiegelau Festival Champagne flutes ($16 for 2). The Festival line offers great durability at a decent price point.

Spiegelau is a company now owned by Austrian glassmakers Riedel and shares their reputation for well-made glassware. The 6 oz. capacity is great because a 5-ounce pour will make your guests feel like they’re getting full glasses of bubbly and a 750 mL bottle will fill five of those glasses. And you can put them in the dishwasher when you’re done.

The libations disappear quickly if you’re trying to accommodate 8-oz. flutes, which are the majority of what’s available. Glasses that have vanishing point bowls like these can gather gunk at the bottom that’s difficult to clean. Stemless options aren’t the best because the heat from your hand will warm up the drink, and who wants their last couple sips to be warm?

If you’re planning a big New Year Champagne toast and just need a bunch of inexpensive, utilitarian glasses, something like these Libbey Catawba Flutes should do just fine. You get four for $14, which is slightly less expensive than IKEA’s in-store offering, and they’re 5¾ oz.—great for stretching a bottle when you’ll be serving a lot of people. -EO 

Glasses (rocks)

These rocks glasses are the perfect size, provide a good base for muddling, and have a nice weight in your hand.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $60.
We’re currently mid-research in our efforts to find some of the best essential bar glasses out there, but a drink on the rocks calls for something weighty. Reed & Barton Soho Double Old Fashioneds are made of crystal, which is heavier than glass, and are currently priced $60 for 4 on Amazon. Yes, that is a lot.

If you hardly ever drink spirits on the rocks, or just need one glass for one particular guest, you probably don’t need these. The all-purpose Duralex glasses we mentioned earlier will do fine. But if you love to make Manhattans and Old Fashioneds or drink on the rocks frequently, you have a great reason to invest in something a bit ceremonial.

There are not a lot of rocks-glass reviews out there. Most of the information and research available is from a pantheon of bloggers and commenters voicing their preferences for a “delightfully heavy” glass. According to the Difford’s guide, a well-known recipe compendium now in its tenth edition, drinkers should “choose a luxuriously large glass with a thick, heavy base” for enjoying spirits such as whiskey. Because of the addition of lead oxide in the glass-making process, if you want heavy, crystal will help get you there.

Wikipedia quotes Gary Regan, cocktail columnist for the SF Chronicle, and A.J. Rathbun, author of more than ten books relating to drinks and drinking, to specify that an Old Fashioned holds anywhere from 6-10 oz. of liquid. A Double Old Fashioned holds 12-16 oz. We like these because they aren’t so small you’ll be stuck mixing tiny drinks all night or so big that they’ll feel massive in-hand. This size will also accommodate a nice amount of ice without pushing the liquid to the brim. The bottom, or tunc, is thick, which provides a good base for muddling.

And aside from the technical, let’s talk about decoration. Unlike a cocktail glass or wine glass, whose shape is inherently special, recommending plain rocks glasses like these from Schott Zwiesel didn’t seem like the way to go—you probably already have something similar at home. And these Anchor Hocking and Bormioli models would definitely just balloon your glassware collection as well, because they don’t offer anything a good all-purpose can’t handle. Rocking whiskey glasses don’t offer the versatility that a glass with a stable base does, since you can’t muddle in them. And finally, these Ravenscrofts aren’t leaded crystal, so they aren’t as heavy. Assuming they’re packaged in a similar manner, the shipping weight of the Reed & Barton’s is a pound more.

RocksGlass_Crystal2_EO

In addition to being heavier, crystal is also more refractive than glass, especially when cut. Elaborate designs like this one can be a bit stuffy, but the simple vertical lines on the Reed & Barton’s are unobtrusive and modern. Amazon users are impressed too, giving these 4.5 stars and commenting that they “look fantastic with or without a drink in them.”

*Articles in the New York Times and Wine Spectator have indicated that leaded crystal is safe to drink from, but not to store liquids in for any amount of time. So go for broke with your crystal glassware and enjoy, but avoid storing spirits in leaded crystal decanters. -EO 

Glass markers

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
Glass markers need to be memorable and unique. The Trudeau Duo Tone floral charms fulfill that requirement and will save you washing a lot of glasses after everyone leaves.
A wine glass marker both helps your guests avoid snagging other people’s drinks and saves you the trouble of washing too many glasses at the end of the night. After an hour of research, our pick for a dinner party is the popular Trudeau Duo Tone Floral Wine Charms ($10 for 12). They have an impressive five-star rating over 90 customer reviews, a five-year warranty, and come in a more memorable assortment than the standard colored beads or little silicone doughnuts. They’re also less goofy and more varied than Amazon’s bestselling Kikkerland Dapper ‘Staches Silicone Drink Markers ($6).

For larger parties, you’re better off with disposable, write-on glass tags. We like the Oenophilia Stemtags ($8 for 100). They’re plain and cheap, unlike some of the othergaudier options, and everyone can remember their own name and handwriting, even after a few too many glasses.

A great DIY option is to cut lengths of different-colored ribbon, which each guest can tie to the stem of their glass. -GS 

Ice service

We like the Tovolo King tray because it’s makes extra large cubed ice that melts nice and slowly. Every bartender we spoke to recommended it by name.
If you’re having a small dinner party where you plan to make serious cocktails, make plenty of ice in the days leading up and store the cubes in big Ziploc bags. Our pick for best ice cube tray is Tovolo’s King Ice Cube Tray, which costs from $7.50-$12. It got name checked by every bartender we spoke to because it makes extra large, perfectly cubical ice that melts very slowly. The large cubes are ideal for cocktails on the rocks. For shaken drinks, we recommend the smaller Perfect Cube Silicone Ice Cube Tray because the cubes are easier to shake up. Be sure to store the tray outside of the freezer when not in use, as we have heard reports of the silicone absorbing freezer smells and transferring them to the ice.

The Oggi Lustre is double-walled for insulation, comes with a lid and tongs, and holds about 3 quarts of ice.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $28.
For larger parties, grab big bags of ice from the supermarket or gas station. You’re going to want to separate the ice into two groups: ice that just cools your beers down and won’t be consumed, and clean ice meant for adding to drinks. Get a container for the clean ice—nobody should have to stick a hand in the cooler to grab the stuff chilling the unwashed cans of beer. After 20 hours of watching ice melt, our pick to hold that clean ice is the Oggi Lustre Stainless Steel Ice Bucket ($40). This shiny, stainless model is double-walled for insulation; it has a removable lid, holds a little over 3 quarts of ice and comes with a pair of tongs. There’s a removable strainer that you can insert into the bucket to keep your ice away from the meltwater.

We tested it against two other ice buckets with hinged plastic lids, the OXO Plastic Ice Bucket ($40) and the Oggi Double Bucket with Stainless Scoop ($30). Covered, our winner kept ice the longest, by far—there was still ice left after 16 hours! Uncovered, which is the likeliest scenario for most of your party, it still performed nearly as well as the covered buckets. All started at 369 grams of ice. After 4 hours, the covered Oggi Double Bucket had 258 g of ice, the covered OXO Plastic Ice Bucket had 240 g, and the uncovered Oggi Lustre Stainless Steel Ice Bucket had 238 g—no big deal. The two other models looked a lot cheaper, their plasticky handles more suited for a beach party or a barbecue. But our pick looks good enough to double as a wine bucket on the dinner table—and didn’t sweat at all on the outside. -GS 

Liquor

Stocking a bar is a matter of personal taste; it’s your party, so buy what you prefer. As long as there’s something to drink, your guests will be happy to linger. But if you need to stock up from scratch and want suggestions for basic types and crowd-pleasing brands of liquor that are good for most cocktails but won’t (completely) blow your budget, we narrowed it down to seven basic bottles. After speaking to five celebrated bartenders, researching what the entertaining experts had to say and cross-referencing their responses, we recommend Absolut vodkaTanqueray ginDolin dry vermouthWild Turkey bourbonFamous Grouse whiskyPueblo Viejo Blanco tequila and Bacardi Silver rum.

Dale DeGroff, formerly of the Rainbow Room, told us, “If you want something a little more viscous, with a little more flavor, we’re talking pastry flavor, you get the malty, grainy: Absolut.”

Chad Solomon of beverage consultancy Cuffs & Buttons calls Tanqueray a “Rolls Royce-quality” gin.

Dolin Dry was Chad Solomon’s and John deBary of Momofuku’s pick for dry vermouth, a key ingredient in martinis.

Of bourbon, DeGroff also said, “Right there in the heart, at 101 proof, is Wild Turkey. This man is the master.”

Famous Grouse whisky gets points from Solomon for being “more of a mixer than a sipper…it’s not overly sweetened, and has a little bit of smoke to it.”

Pueblo Viejo got the nod from two mixologists; Brandon Wise of The Imperial and Penny Diner told us, “It’s under $20, the juice is good, and you’re not paying for marketing.”

And for white rum, DeGroff told us, “obviously Bacardi.”

Different cocktails (or straight sipping) may be better suited with different bottles. You know your friends, so pick and choose the alcohol you think they’ll enjoy most. -NG 

Maraschino cherries

*At the time of publishing, the price was $16.
These Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino cherries are made from tart Marasca cherries and soaked in a thick, dark syrup with Maraschino liqueur. They are a far cry from the bright red sundae toppers.
An essential garnish for Manhattans and other cocktails, maraschino cherries are a staple of a well-equipped holiday bar. Say maraschino cherry and most people think of those candied, sickly sweet, neon red toppers on Shirley Temples and ice cream sundaes. Gross. Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries ($16), on the other hand, are delicious and pretty much the best you can buy off store shelves. These are the original maraschinos, made with tart Marasca cherries and soaked in a thick, dark syrup with Maraschino liqueur. Although some Manhattan lovers find these too sweet, they’re a great alternative if you don’t have the homemade variety, and they’re much better than the standard supermarket variety. Although we didn’t find any comparative editorial reviews on maraschinos, we did learn that Luxardo is the preferred brand of many bartenders, the Sweethome’s resident cocktail guru (and author of Craft Cocktails at Home) Kevin Liu and commenters on various Chowhound discussions.

A great maraschino cherry foregoes artificial flavors and dyes. Instead, it’s soaked in a rich syrup—usually of juice (sometimes cherry, sometimes other), sugar and some kind of liquor. The resulting cherries are very dark and have a natural cherry flavor with a nice kick of flavorful booze. The original maraschino cherries were always soaked in Maraschino cherry liqueur, made of Marasca cherries which originated in Dalmatia (now in Croatia). The fruit was crushed, pits and all, which provided almond-like flavor. (This is why the standard supermarket variety tastes of bitter almond flavoring.) But some maraschinos are soaked in other liquors, such as brandy, rum or bourbon.

The treated and artificially-colored variety gained enough popularity at the turn of the 20th century that the FDA issued Food Inspection Decision 141 in 1912, decreeing that those not preserved in Maraschino liqueur be labeled ‘imitation.’ When Prohibition hit in 1920, booze-soaked cherries became garnish non grata, and by 1939, the FDA had to redefine maraschino cherries as the prevalent teetotaler kind Americans had come to embrace.

In our research we did find smaller companies making maraschinos. Real Simple recommends Tillen Farms Maraschino Cherries. The blog Thirsty South reviewed cherries by Ole Smokey and H&F Bottle Shop (as well as Luxardo). We received a recommendation for Barker & Mills Bourbon Vanilla Cocktail Cherries and also looked into those made by Filthy Cherry and Unbound Pickling. However, these either did not match the high reviews of the Luxardo or simply are too hard to source.

These days, most professional bartenders and home cocktail fans like to make their own. There are a variety of recipes floating around the internet. Kevin Liu likes this recipe adapted from the book The Art of the Bar. It’s a great option if you can get some good cherries during summer, but it’s not all that helpful in the dead of winter. -Christine Cyr Clisset 

Punch bowl (same pick as cake stand)

The Anchor Hocking’s Canton punch bowl doubles as an simple, glass cake stand.
The punch bowl is a surprisingly versatile tool that adds a special touch to any party, whether it be a formal gathering or a casual get-together. Fancy yet fun, punch bowls elevate the event while offering a huge practical advantage: the opportunity to prep a big batch of cocktails that the guests can then serve themselves at their leisure. It doesn’t matter what you make—a glass bowl will look great filled with just about anything, whether it’s cheap hooch, sparkling punch or something more unusual.

After poring over dozens of offerings from major home retailers for several hours, we recommend the clever design of Anchor Hocking’s Canton convertible cake stand/punch bowl, which can be repurposed as a domed cake plate in the offseason (though, at about 4¼” high, the dome is more appropriate for cupcakes and doughnuts than tall layer cakes). It’s available at the WEBstaurant Store for about $24 when you include shipping, but it also received 5-star ratings at Walmart and Target, where people appreciated its sturdy construction, dual design and reasonable price point.

Worth noting: Anchor Hocking makes two similar models if you want to upgrade or downgrade. The Presence convertible cake stand/punch bowl (about $44) offers a plainer, elegant look that may be worth the extra cash if you’re picky. And the Monaco convertible cake stand/punch bowl. while more cluttered looking and slightly undersized, costs only $10 at Bed Bath & Beyond—the lowest price we saw.

If you’re after a punch bowl with a little more character, eBay and Etsy are both great sources for vintage pieces. A search for “vintage punch bowls” will yield a wide range of etched designs; you can also try search terms like hobnail and milk glass . -Kim O’Connor

Seltzer maker

The Mastrad Purefizz nearly tied our store-bought seltzer and it’s easy to use and clean.
We’re still wrapping up our guide to home seltzer makers, but we’re secure enough in our pick to give you the details early. If you want to serve homemade seltzer at your party, pick up the $60 Mastrad Purefizz. It’s been in use in my own kitchen for more than two months, and I’m never letting it go—in our taste tests, it very nearly tied the storebought control. It’s got all of the qualities of a great soda-maker: it’s super easy to use and clean, it’s safe and it makes really delicious soda.

It’s a soda siphon, which means you’ll have to pick up some CO2 cartridges, but luckily those are pretty widely available. You can buy 10 cartridges, which will make about 8 liters of soda, for about $9 (there are steeper discounts waiting if you buy in bulk). No, making your own soda isn’t cheap, but you’re saving the world a lot of plastic bottles—not to mention the annoyance of lugging them from the grocery store. For the Purefizz, once you’ve got the cartridges and some cold water in hand (good seltzer comes from ice-cold water), you can have great-tasting sparkling water in 30 seconds or less.

How do we know this? First off, I spent more than 25 hours researching seltzer makers. Then, I used this and four other soda machines side-by-side for two months and found myself repeatedly coming back to the Purefizz due to its ease of use and delicious seltzer. It also won a four-person tasting test of lifelong seltzer drinkers, tying seltzer from the store as best in taste, bubbliness and brightness.

But what about Sodastream? I hear you asking already. Ultimately, we don’t think a Sodastream is a great investment. Once you’ve got it, you’re locked into their proprietary CO2 system, which means you’ll have to make your way to Home Depot or Bed Bath & Beyond every time you want a refill. And their cheaper models just don’t taste that great: The Jet came in second-to-last in our taste test. Think you can replace your Diet Coke habit with their soda mixes? Maybe not; we’ve yet to find a mix that doesn’t taste like, well, blech. -JW 

Toothpicks

*At the time of publishing, the price was $4.
These toothpicks are ornate enough to display in hor d’oeuvres and won’t break down before you’re done cleaning your teeth.
Toothpicks aren’t just for after-dinner dental hygiene, you can use them to test the doneness of your cakes and to serve hors d’oeuvres—especially those that require any pinning (bacon-wrapped dates, anyone?). We recommend NorPro 360 Pack Ornate Wood Toothpicks ($4). They’re durable—some brands of toothpicks fall apart easily, or smush their puncturing point before you’ve speared your snack—and relatively long for larger hors d’oeuvres. I arrived at this pick after spending a couple hours wading through Amazon’s top-rated and bestselling toothpicks and cocktail pick. Only after the fact did I find out that this is what Sweethome Kitchen editor Ganda Suthivarakom has been using for years to serve hors d’oeuvres at home! She said of the Norpros: “Crappy toothpicks can ruin my day. These are rainbows and unicorns.”

Amazon reviewer Darby (who cites catering and bartending experience) prefers these toothpicks for their cocktail-style blunted end (no accidental stabbing) and because they’re oven and BBQ safe (no plastic). They also come in a sealable, upright container for easy access and storage. A couple of the reviews complain that they’re made in China, but that’s not really a valid criticism of an otherwise excellent product.

We ended up looking at a lot of toothpicks, but most weren’t worth addressing. Kitschy cocktail picks (bedecked with flags, flamingos, parasols and even pandas) were not considered. Metal picks, while perhaps more durable than wooden or bamboo ones, pose the problem of price, reheating and the possibility of disappearing into the dinner-party ether. Plastic picks present similar problems.

If you’re looking for just a cocktail pick, the BambooMN Triangular Prism Plastic Pick ($7.48 for a pack of 300) has solid reviews touting its sturdiness, and customers valued for these picks for their chic, colorful and bar-like aesthetic.

We also took a closer look at what reviewers had to say about typical bulk-discount wooden toothpicks. Frilled Sandwich & Cocktail Picks by KegWorks, your average cellophane-wrapped pick, had only one review (and that cellophane tip, while charming on deli sandwiches, could also pose a reheating problem). With Bakers and Chefs Round toothpick, customers complained that the picks were flimsy and easily breakable; the highest praise is that they’re a bulk bargain. Diamond Brand toothpicks like the L’EleganceSquare Center Jar/Tray and the Square Toothpicks With Round Tips were also eliminated due to lack of reviews and/or for being difficult to buy in normal quantities. Diamond’s 41853 Toothpicks were some of the few that were both easily available in reasonable quantities and more than 1 or 2 reviews—unfortunately, reports of splintering scared us off. We also looked at the highly rated 1000 ct Bamboo Toothpicks by Good Old Values. Out of 22 reviews, 5 cited flimsiness and breakability, and were sufficiently negative to dissuade us. Several other reviewers simply comment on crafting or toothpick chewing, but we’re only in the toothpick game for the infinite culinary possibilities. -Anna Perling 

Tub to keep your beers/wine cold in

*At the time of publishing, the price was $35.
The Tablecraft Remington is the perfect size for a table or counter, and it’s easy on the eyes with galvanized steel and neat seams.
It’s nice to keep the beer at counter level, where your guests can see the selection they have to choose from. We called in three top models, and we like the Tablecraft Remington Galvanized Steel Beverage Tub ($30). Made of galvanized steel with neat seams and attached handles, it’s the perfect size for countertops or folding tables, holding about 13-15 beers or six bottles of wine with plenty of ice comfortably. It’ll also be perfect for outdoor gatherings in the summer.

We looked at about twenty models on Amazon and major retailers in many different styles. We eliminated models over $40, which seemed like a reasonable price for something that only gets used for parties. We called in three top-rated models from Amazon, and the Tablecraft bucket was the perfect size. With thick, clear acrylic walls, this Prodyne Iceberg Party Tub looked great, but would probably only hold about 8 beers with ice. We liked the price on this big Behrens Round Galvanized Steel Tub, but the seams were sloppily sealed with glue.

Etiquette expert Lizzie Post recommends tubs of galvanized metal and plastic for less formal occasions: “I don’t pull those out for formal parties, because I would rather pour drinks into the glass for those,” she told us. Just make sure you place a towel underneath them to absorb any condensation that might build up over the course of the evening. Because these are generally not insulated, you may have to top it up with ice as you refill with beers.

You won’t want to use a galvanized tub for ice you’re going to serve for guests, though. In California, we found a Prop 65 warning against cancer/birth defect chemicals in a copper beverage tub sold at Target. The American Galvanizers Association and the FDA say galvanized steel should be safe for food as long as no acidic substances come into contact with it, which can make zinc leach out. We say better safe than sorry. Besides, we have an ice bucket pick as well if that’s what you need.

Event planner Linnea Johansson had another fun suggestion—load your washing machine up with ice and put your beers in there. It gives your party a fun speakeasy vibe (we’re hiding the booze in the laundry room!) and the meltwater just drains away.

Wherever you keep your beers, put the bin for recycling right next to it so when a guest grabs a new one, they know where to drop the one they’ve polished off. -GS 

Tips:

  • If you have a lot of alcohol at your party, make sure you have a lot of water and enough glasses for both the drinks and hydration handy for all guests, especially if you want people to stay standing for a long time.
  • If you’re not sure how much booze to buy, use this BevMo calculator. Or you can use Martha Stewart’s basic rules: “Wine: One bottle per two people per hour; Beer: Two per person per hour; Spirits: One bottle per five people per hour; Mixers: Three bottles for each bottle of alcohol; Ice: At least one pound per person per hour.”
  • Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. If you live in an area where they’re available, make sure you have the number for a taxi company and know how late they’ll pick up. Post the number in a convenient area, potentially near the front door, so people can call a cab themselves. Uber is an (expensive) alternative for people in many big cities.
  • Don’t be intimidated by wine pairing. We like these 15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairings from Food & Wine. Better yet, just tell your local wine store what you’re making and ask for specific bottle recommendations.

III. KITCHEN

Blender

*At the time of publishing, the price was $530.
It may be expensive, but this Vitamix does it all: it crushes ice, liquifies kale and can blend up a sauce in no time. All without breaking a sweat.
The right blender is more than the best tool for frozen drinks—during the cooler months, it also simplifies cooking for a crowd. It’ll liquefy chiles for a turkey in mole sauce and whizz up a big batch of hollandaise for brunch. Our pick is the Vitamix Pro 300. It has a fairly quiet, 1,200-watt, two-horsepower motor and can hold eight cups in its Tritan jar. It crushes ice into the consistency of snow in five seconds and reduces raw kale and water into a smooth liquid before two minutes can pass. 

Casserole dish/bakeware

A versatile dish that performs well and is nice enough to be used for a formal occasion.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $28.
A good baking dish is an indispensable, versatile tool around the holidays that can be used for both cooking and serving a variety of dishes for any meal. After testing against other recommended competitors, we found that the HIC Porcelain Baking Dish (~$29) is the best casserole dish. It’s a classic-looking dish that performs well in the oven and is pretty enough to fit in with other formal or fancy table settings. It will easily serve between 6 and 8 for sides, thanks to its slightly flared edges and 2¼” depth that’s sufficient for layered ingredients. (If you’re feeding a bigger crowd, you may want two of these dishes or a larger dish altogether.) It can also serve double duty as a breakfast/brunch dish for baking breakfast casseroles like egg strata.

In deciding which dishes to test, we turned to two different reviews in Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country and compared their top recommendations with user reviews on Amazon. Although Cook’s Illustrated recommended a Pyrex baking dish, we chose instead to test an almost identical one made by Arcuisine because it’s made of borosilicate glass, which is much more heat resistant than the tempered soda lime that Pyrex now uses (read more about the risks of glass bakeware in this Consumer Reports article).

A 9” x 13” rectangular baking dish works really well for most side dish recipes such as stuffing and au gratin potatoes, as well as for main courses like lasagna and other baked pastas. Oval dishes may look prettier, but they are less versatile; no one wants an elliptical lasagna. As for materials, you’ll want something made of ceramic, stoneware, glass or porcelain, which conduct heat slowly and evenly. Metal baking pans conduct heat too quickly and can lead to overcooked outer edges and undercooked insides.

In our testing, we found the HIC cooked on par with the Arcuisine dish we tested. Both cooked evenly and formed beautiful browned crust on the bottom of mac and cheese, but the HIC’s large handles made it easier to carry directly to the table. Its price is more reasonable than the $53 Emile Henry pan we considered, and it’s much prettier than the glass Arcuisine dish we tested. It also cleaned up very easily.

The HIC is also America’s Test Kitchen’s top choice for a lasagna pan, and it gets good reviews on Amazon (4.2 stars, 83 reviews). It’s worth noting that some Amazon reviewers complain about this dish being smaller than advertised. It appears the dish is advertised with exterior measurements of 9” x 13” and 2½” deep. However, the accurate measurement is 11” x 7½” at the base of the inside of the dish, flaring out to 12½” x 8 ½” at the top of the dish (inside measurement), and 2¼” deep. To be fair, the same is true of the Arcuisine model we tested, which also has flared sides. – CCC 

Dutch oven

*At the time of publishing, the price was $93.
The Lodge Dutch oven is much more affordable than competition from Le Creuset, and cooking results were nearly identical in our tests.
It’s easy to stretch a budget and feed a crowd with big stews or long-cooked, cheaper cuts of meat like short ribs. For that, you’ll need a Dutch oven. After dozens of hours of testing, we like the Lodge Color Dutch Oven, and we’d recommend the larger 7.5 quart size for a big gathering. Lisa McManus, senior editor at America’s Test Kitchen, also advises buying a large model so you can brown meat in as few batches as possible. Lodge is already renowned for its remarkably affordable plain cast iron, and we found that its enameled cast iron offerings performed admirably. The interior is off-white, which makes it easy to see the delicious fond you can deglaze into your sauce. Differences in cooking results between Le Creuset and Lodge were difficult for us to discern, but the price difference is enormous—the Lodge goes for about a quarter of the cost of the Le Creuset equivalent. The Lodge also comes with a limited lifetime warranty, so if a well-meaning guest’s thermal shock mishap causes cracks, you can reach out to Lodge for a replacement. 

Food processor

*At the time of publishing, the price was $152.
The Cuisinart Custom is easy to use and comes with a chopping blade, dough blade, shredding disk and slicing disk.
Food processors can make quick work of grating, slicing and chopping, and they are especially helpful when you’re preparing a large amount of food. They’re also extremely handy for cutting cold butter into flour and bringing dough together quickly for foolproof pie crust. After 18 hours of research, our pick is the Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor for $179. While it wasn’t the most powerful or largest of the units we tried, its simplicity won us over. The Cuisinart Custom comes with a stainless steel chopping blade, a dough blade, a shredding disk and a slicing disk. Keep in mind that if you want to slice your potatoes extra thin for a gratin, you may need to purchase the 2 mm slicing disk at an additional cost of $26. Just don’t try to make your mashed potatoes in the food processor! It seems like a good idea, but the starches go elastic and you wind up with a texture like rubber cement. 

Griddle (for Christmas brunch)

Big brunches will be much easier to cook with the Presto griddle. It’s big enough to cook bacon, eggs, and pancakes at the same time and has a nonstick surface.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $46.
If you’re hosting family for the holidays or looking to do more informal entertaining, you’ll likely find yourself serving up big breakfasts and brunches. A large electric griddle makes this super easy. It frees up stovetop space, allows you to cook bacon, sausage, and eggs all on one surface, and you can make huge batches of perfectly browned pancakes and French toast in minutes. Based on several hours of research, reading editorial reviews and testing models with lots of bacon and many pancakes, we chose the Presto Tilt ‘n Drain Big Griddle Cool-Touch Electric Griddle ($43).

A nice griddle will have a big cooking surface that heats evenly and drainage for grease. A nonstick griddle is particularly nice, as you don’t need to use extra fat for cooking pancakes and French toast. It’s important not to use a metal spatula on these griddles, as it can scratch the nonstick surface.

America’s Test Kitchen was the only source we found for a thorough review of electric griddles. We pitted their top-ranked model, the Broil King Professional Griddle ($100), against the Presto, which has great Amazon user reviews (4.5 stars over 547 reviews) and was also reviewed highly at Macy’s. We also looked at the Cuisinart Griddler ($90), recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, and the Amazon best-selling Presto 22-inch Electric Griddle with Removable Handles ($34), but neither were as highly rated as the two we ultimately decided to test.

Although the Broil King has nicer metal handles than the Presto’s plastic ones, the cook surfaces themselves look and cook almost identically—and the Presto’s price is less than half of the Broil King’s. We loaded up each griddle with a big batch of pancakes and a full 16-ounce package of bacon. Both griddles made perfectly browned pancakes and did a nice job of sizzling bacon. However, the Presto’s square shape felt bigger and more versatile than the Broil King’s rectangle. When we measured the cook surfaces, the Presto had 272 ¾ square inches of cook space, while the Broil King came in at 267 ¾.

Both griddles have a similar grease drainage system, but we like how the Presto has a small trough at the front of the cook surface that siphons cooking grease into the tray under the griddle. The Broil King only has a hole in the cook surface that leads to the tray. Neither are dishwasher safe (you can’t get the plug area wet), but they are easy to clean. -CCC 

Immersion blender

A solid immersion blender like the Breville Control Grip turns peanuts into peanut butter, puréed carrot soup, and is much easier to clean than a food processor.
A handheld immersion blender works really well for soups, but you can also use it to blend your Thanksgiving gravy right in the pot or purée freshly roasted/steamed squash for pumpkin pie (provided you add some liquid). It’s also a handy tool when you’re cooking a big meal because it only has one piece to clean (as opposed to a food processor’s four pieces). After testing seven models, our pick is the Breville Control Grip ($100). Puréed carrot soup left almost no chunks when sieved. It even turned peanuts into peanut butter. An innovative gasket at the base of the blade cage keeps the blender from suctioning to the bottom of a container, a common problem with other stick blenders.

But if you only need one for your one big holiday dinner of the year, we also liked the Cuisinart CSB-75 Smart Stick 2-Speed Immersion Blender ($35). Your purées will be slightly chunkier than they would be with the Breville, but we found that the Smart Stick performed as well as more-expensive brands in our tests. 

Pie plate

The Haeger yields a perfectly browned and unformed crust with evenly-cooked fillings, it handles pot pies, quiches, and fruit pies equally well.
Whether you’re looking for a pie plate for your holiday desserts, an all-purpose pan for savory pot pies and quiches, or just to bake up some of summer’s fruit-filled bounty, we recommend the Haeger Natural Stone Deep Pie Dish ($18). This heavy stoneware plate conducts heat slowly and uniformly, creating perfectly browned, crisp crusts and evenly-cooked fillings. In our testing, it baked a variety of pies on par with the industry favorite, the Emile Henry Pie Dish, which costs nearly twice the price at $34. It’s also a pretty dish, with ruffled edges that will help even novice bakers make a perfectly fluted edge every time.

Crust bottoms (clockwise from top) Haeger, Emile Henry, Pyrex Rose, and Levy.

Crust bottoms (clockwise from top) Haeger, Emile Henry, Pyrex Rose, and Levy.

If you’re looking for a shallower, less expensive plate, we recommend the Pyrex Bakeware 9-Inch Pie Plate ($8). At first, we thought this would be our first choice, because glass pans are a favorite of many pro 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 this bakeware has been exploding 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 pan for everyone. -CCC 

Potato masher

Mashed potatoes are a staple food of Thanksgiving today, though they certainly were not part of that first Pilgrim/Wampanoag meal. Some people prefer a little texture in their mash; others are virulently anti-lump. These allegiances often follow the style one grew up with, and members of one team cannot be swayed to join the other.

There are many methods to achieve proper potato texture, but it starts with your own preference for smooth or chunky. To decide on the best tools for both, we mashed 12 pounds of potatoes, testing two top-rated ricers and four mashers of both perforated and wire varieties.

Left: 100 g of potatoes from the RSVP ricer, loose and airy. Right: 100 g of potatoes from the OXO Smooth Masher, dense.

Left: 100 g of potatoes from the RSVP ricer, loose and airy. Right: 100 g of potatoes from the OXO Smooth Masher, dense.

For the smooth camp, we chose a ricer over a food mill because the better-rated food mills are considerably more expensive ($25-$105) and take up a lot more room in the cupboard. There are stand mixer paddle enthusiasts, but you either already have one or you don’t—we’re not going to recommend you buy a stand mixer just for your mashed potatoes. The ricer was also the preferred method for Christopher KimballJulia Child and Serious Eats’s J. Kenji López-Alt.

Lovers of smooth potatoes need a ricer like the RSVP that creates a light, fluffy mash, though it can be time consuming if you’re mashing a lot of potatoes.
For lovers of smooth purée, our pick is the RSVP Potato Ricer and Baby Food Strainer ($15). This was the top pick from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and got a nod in the November 2013 issue of Bon Appetit. Cook’s Illustrated called it “the easiest ricer to squeeze,” and we could see why when we tested it—its handles are extra long, providing additional leverage, and its catches sit snugly at the edge of a pot. Unlike the OXO ricer we also tested, the RSVP’s plastic plunger can mount a full hopper, which means you can squeeze in more potatoes in less time. The rectangular fine disk had more holes than the OXO ricer did. The ricer also comes with a coarse disk for those who prefer a chunkier mash. The RSVP has a 4.5-star rating over 163 customer reviews on Amazon.

As Serious Eats says, the difference between gluey mash and fluffy mash lies in how much you tear through the starch molecules. “Carefully pressing a potatoes through a tamis, ricer, or food mill will separate the cells with minimal shearing action to break up the starch.” Using a ricer creates an airy mound of rice-shaped potato fluff. Once blended with milk and butter, the riced potatoes are uniformly smooth and light. This method does take time, though; the RSVP ricer pressed through 800 grams (about 6 russet potatoes) in 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

Though it may seem to be a bit of a unitasker (unless you’re making baby food), a ricer does provide the perfect texture mash for gnocchi, and can be used to squeeze moisture out of grated potatoes for hash browns or from spinach for use in lasagne.

The OXO masher yields a more textured potato if that’s your thing. The oval head works easily around the bowl and the short handle gives you good grip.
For people who prefer their mash a bit more textured, we recommend the OXO Good Grips Smooth Potato Masher ($13). This 6” model has a horizontal handle and a flat, gridded head that smashes potatoes in no time flat. The oval head easily worked around the edges of the pot, tackling every last bit with ease. After two minutes of mashing, the potatoes were absolutely smooth, though a bit dense. It is very comfortable on the wrist and easy to clean, and it takes up less space in the dishwasher or drawer than the other models we tried. The vertical handles on the competition felt awkward in comparison. As Amazon customer kiwimommy says, “Its short handle helps you to avoid slipping around the potatoes when you’re mashing and you can throw your weight into it, so to speak.” If you’re mashing for a huge crowd, we’d recommend using a wide pot and mashing in batches so you don’t get your knuckles sticky with potato. For a few more chunks, just mash fewer times.
The New York Times’s Julia Moskin wrote about this masher, saying, “The best mashers, available from Oxo, Rosle and others, are those with a flat face, a grid pattern and crisp edges where the potato meets the masher. These mashers mimic the extrusion effect of a ricer, work just as well and are easier to manage, producing fluffy mountains with a minimum of lumps, butter and physical exertion.” Amazon customers have given it a 4.5-star rating over 70 reviews. -GS

Potholders and oven mitts

Whether you’re throwing a cocktail party with ready-to-cook hors d’oeuvres or a full-blown holiday meal, you’ll find a good potholder or oven mitt comes in handy. These tools protect you from getting burnt and, in a pinch, pot holders can also serve as trivets to protect your counter or table. We consulted top review resources like America’s Test Kitchen and Consumer Reports to find top contenders and compared them to crowd favorites from Amazon to find the best.

These potholders have terrycloth on one side and a heat-protective silver lining on the other that worked well enough for us to hold a 500-degree cast iron skillet for 20 seconds.
Potholders, which are usually square and often (but not always) made of terrycloth, are easy-to-grab from a hook or drawer when you need to pick up something hot. They’re thicker and tidier than the kitchen towels that professional chefs use for the same job. Our pick is the Excello Terry Potholders ($11 for three). The number one task of either a potholder or oven mitt is to protect your hands when moving a hot baking dish, skillet or pan, and these 7 x 7” holders have terrycloth on one side and a heat-protective silver lining on the other to do just that. They’re top-rated on Amazon, getting a solid 4.2 stars. In our test we could hold the handle of a 500-degree cast-iron skillet for roughly 20 seconds. They easily beat out America’s Test Kitchen’s top choice, the Ritz Basic Pot Holder (we could only hold the skillet for 8 to 10 seconds with these). They’re compact and can easily fit flat in a drawer (although most have a little fabric hook for hanging).

Made of flame-resistant material, the Kool-Tek offered the best balance of protection and comfort.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $33.
Oven mitts offer a bit more protection, as they cover the back of your hand and forearm, but they do tend to be a bit bulkier than potholders. (You could store them in a drawer, but you might find it easier to hang them near the stove.) We like the Cool Touch 15” Flame Oven Mitt ($33). Both potholders or oven mitts should have enough padding that they’ll protect your hand from being burnt, but not so much that they make it hard to grasp the handle of a skillet or pan.

Of the four mitts we tested, the Cool Touch, made of flame-resistant Nomex and Kevlar, offered the best overall balance of protection and comfort. This is the updated version of America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country (subscription required) top pick, the Kool-Tek Oven Mitt. It’s roomy enough for someone with big hands to use, but not so big that petite hands won’t feel comfortable, too. It’s equally comfortable to use on the right or left hand, and it goes high up the arm. In our test, we could hold the skillet for 16 to 21 seconds. The Cool Touch was the most comfortable mitt we tested, and although we could hold the skillet longer with two of our other mitts, the Cool Touch was far more easy to use overall. Since it is flame resistant (we checked!), it could also double as a BBQ mitt. Its bright red color is also festive for the holidays. Be aware that the small magnet sewn into a tab on the side of the mitt can stick to the racks in your oven, so take care.

We also tested the popular Michael Jackson-style Ove Glove, which was a Consumer Reports (subscription required) top pick. The separate fingers made it easy to grab things with, but it gets hot wherever there are Nomex-less gaps on the palms. It doesn’t provide much protection to the forearm, and it didn’t outperform our top pick. Additionally, we tested the Mastrad Orka silicone oven mitt, also reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country, but didn’t like how sweaty it made our hands feel after wearing for several minutes. This mitt also felt better suited for small hands.

Beyond Consumer Reports and America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country, we didn’t find other editorial reviews on potholders and oven mitts. Because of this, we also looked closely at user reviews on Amazon to make our testing selection.

One note: You might want to have at least one of each for lifting heavy cast-iron skillets or a roasting pan (complete with the bird) from the oven. -CCC 

Puff pastry

Ready-made puff pastry offers an easy and sophisticated solution for holiday entertaining. It’s a great staple to keep on hand for making quick hors d’oeuvres, fancy-looking desserts, special holiday entrées like Beef Wellington and even breakfast pastries. Most people don’t want to make puff pastry from scratch, as it’s a labor-intensive process. The store-bought variety can be a real time saver, especially when prepping for a holiday gathering, and we found Trader Joe’s Puff Pastry Dough ($4 for two sheets) to be the best you can buy.

Trader Joe’s puff pastry was the best-tasting (in both savory and sweet recipes), offered the best value and is rolled in parchment so it’s easy to unroll and work with.
As the name suggests, puff pastry literally puffs up as it bakes. The resulting pastry should have an airy, flaky texture. The flavor should be buttery and have a melt-in-your-mouth quality. Good ready-made puff pastry should be relatively easy to work with, although if it gets too warm, no puff pastry is easy to work with—keeping it cold is the key to success. Ready-made puff pastry dough usually comes in a sheet; it should roll out easily, without cracking where it was folded in the package. The dough should feel slightly moist but not wet, and no sections of the dough sheet should be dried or have freezer burn. You will generally find pre-made puff pastry dough in the freezer section of the grocery store, near the pie crust and philo dough.

After testing Trader Joe’s dough against the high-end Dufour Classic Puff Pastry ($12 for two sheets) and Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets ($6.50 for two sheets), we found the Trader Joe’s brand to be the best-tasting and the best value. We tested each puff pastry with two recipes, a savory leek-and-mushroom pie and a rustic apple tart. Although all three brands of puff pastry tasted fine with our recipes, in a blind taste test we found that the TJ’s brand tasted best with both our savory and sweet fillings and toppings. TJ’s puff pastry comes thinly rolled in parchment, which makes it easy to unroll and work with immediately. Although we like that the Dufour Classic dough is made with butter (which we could particularly taste in our apple tart), we also tasted the butter in the Trader Joe’s brand (which is made with a combo of butter and non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening made from palm oil). At a fourth of the price of the Dufour, Trader Joe’s puff pastry is a steal. It’s only available during the holidays, so if you like it, stock up. It should keep in a steady freezer for about six months; otherwise, Dufour’s puff pastry is our offseason pick.

Surprisingly, we only found two editorial reviews of ready-made puff pastry, both in The Kitchn (one recommended Pepperidge Farm and the other Trader Joe’s). We did, however, find a great comparison of the three brands we tested on The City Cook and multiple recommendations for Dufour on a Chowhound thread. We didn’t find positive reviews for any other brands of ready-made puff pastry. -CCC 

Ready-made pie crust

Pillsbury’s pie crust consistently rolled without cracking and conformed to a large variety of pans (but we still recommend going homemade if you can).
After testing three widely-available premade pie doughs, we weren’t terribly impressed by any of them. However, if you must go premade, we found that Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust ($4) easily beat out both Trader Joe’s Gourmet Pie Crust and Wholly Wholesome Organic Rolled Pie Dough for ease of use.

Convenience is the goal with premade pie dough. You really should be able to just take it out of the package and put it right into the pie dish without fussing with tears or cracks in the dough.

The Pillsbury was the only dough that didn’t crack when we unrolled it, and it was easy to lay out in a variety of pie dishes we tested it with. Both the Trader Joe’s brand and the Wholly Wholesome cracked when we unrolled them and were generally a pain to use.

The resulting crust should have a nice flaky texture and a balanced flavor that would work both with a sweet or savory pie. Although the Pillsbury wasn’t the best tasting (Wholly Wholesome tasted closest to homemade), it had a good flavor that worked both with the savory caramelized-and-bacon quiches and the classic apple pies that we made.

The Pillsbury was also the only dough that didn’t tear when we folded it over apples to make hand pies. This dough also pinched together easily in our hand pies. At only $4, and available in the refrigerator section of most supermarkets, the Pillsbury dough is reliably available and consistent to work with.

We chose these three to test, as they were the top-rated premade doughs in reviews by Cook’s CountrySerious Eats, Good Housekeeping, and BlogHer. We read great things in the BlogHer review about the all-butter French Picnic dough sold at Whole Foods, but opted not to test it as it’s not available nationally. Beyond these, we did not find good reviews of other ready-made pie crusts.

Although you can buy pre-formed pie crusts in disposable pans in the freezer section of your supermarket, our research told us that these usually don’t taste as good and aren’t as versatile as premade pie dough that comes rolled in a sheet. With the latter, you use your own pie plate, giving your pie a more made-from-scratch look, at least.

All that said, if you happen to have a food processor (or a little extra time), we’d highly recommend making your own dough instead of using the premade variety. When we tested our three premade doughs against homemade dough, the homemade tasted much better and had a delicious buttery flavor and flaky texture that totally beat the store-bought dough. We like this recipe from Martha Stewart. If you only have a pastry cutter (or even a couple forks in a pinch), try this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. -CCC 

Roasting pan

*At the time of publishing, the price was $120.
We roasted 100 pounds of turkey, 30 pounds of chicken and 20 pounds of veggies to find the Cuisinart pan performed the best.
After 15 hours of research, we called in seven roasting pans and ended up roasting over 100 pounds of turkey, 30 pounds of chicken and 20 pounds of vegetables, all of which ended up in the deserving care of CHiPS, a charity in Brooklyn that serves hot meals daily. In the end, we found that the Cuisinart MCP117-16BR MultiClad 16-inch Rectangular Roasting Pan with stainless steel rack is the kitchen stalwart that will prove itself useful throughout the year. It not only roasted a 15-pound turkey to golden, juicy perfection, but it also performed well on the stovetop for gravy making and searing chicken to golden crispness. With sturdy, riveted handles and tri-ply construction throughout, this pan performed like a champ for a middle-of-the-road price of $80. Cook’s Illustrated rated it their number two pick, behind their standing champ the Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Steel Roasting Pan with Rack, which we also tested but didn’t like as much. (We found the raised bottom a bit problematic when it came time to make gravy or sear meat on the stovetop, as the drippings and oil tended to run into the crevices.)

We also recommend the All-Clad Large Flared Roaster ($200) as a step up for those who would consider themselves frequent roasters (at least once a week). If you’re a once-a-year cook who only needs a pan big enough to hold a big bird, the $20 Granite Ware 19-inch Covered Oval Roaster is a solid step-down alternative. But it’s pretty much impossible to use on the stove. It’s ¼ the price of the Cuisinart for ¼ the capabilities and only a good buy if you’re only roasting turkey and don’t plan on using it for other things. -Lesley Stockton 

Slow cooker

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.
It took 40 hours of searching until the Hamilton slow cooker finally impressed us. It’s large enough to hold a 4-pound brisket and has a built-in meat probe that’s actually useful.
With a slow cooker, you can get a long, low, all-day braise without having to monitor your oven. Plus, preparing your main dish in an independent appliance can also help free up oven and stove space. We considered many models across the budget range and couldn’t find anything perfect—most of them run too hot. After more than 40 hours of research and testing, our pick is the Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Set ‘n Forget ($50), which is large enough to hold a 4-pound brisket. The built-in meat probe seems gimmicky, but the expert we spoke to, Phyllis Pellman Good, says it’s useful. Keep in mind, though, that the short probe may not be long enough to reach into the front cut of the brisket. Slow cooker recipes generally require about 8-10 hours, which you can easily program into the unit’s timer.

Even with the slow-cooker’s guarantee of sub-200 degree cooking, there are additional steps you can take to guarantee buttery brisket with excellent flavor. In the New York Times, Melissa Clark suggests starting with a fatty deckle cut, also known as the point, a second cut you may have to special order from your butcher. It has more veins of fat; they melt in the cooking process and provide that tender, looser mouthfeel. If you’ve gone 8 hours and haven’t reached optimal melt-in-your-mouth texture, keep cooking on low for a few more hours. Smitten Kitchen, a big fan of slow-cooker brisket, lets hers go for 10 hours. Also, instead of cooking on the day of, the Sweethome’s Christine Cyr Clisset, who wrote the slow cooker guide, encourages you to make your dish two days in advance. She found that the roasts she made in the slow cookers were incredibly flavorful by day three. It’s easy to pop the slow cooker’s stoneware container into the fridge. You’ll also be able to skim off any chilled fat that rises to the top, which makes for a less greasy, more elegant sauce.

Also, slow cookers set on low are also the perfect serving vehicle for hors d’oeuvres like glazed meatballs. 

Thermometer (instant)

It’s affordable, gives a ballpark reading immediately and an accurate one within 5-10 seconds, which is why we like it.
An instant-read thermometer can help prevent culinary catastrophe by gauging with a few pokes whether or not your turkey or roast is perfectly done. Our pick is the CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer. It comes with a 4¾-inch probe, which is long enough to dig into a turkey thigh or breast. We found in testing that it returns a ballpark estimate the second you turn it on and an accurate temperature reading within 5-10 seconds, which is key for not losing heat momentum in the cooking process. At $15, it’s also a great value for the special-occasion cook. 

Thermometer (probe)

Using a probe thermometer means you don’t have to open the oven door to know your meat is cooked, and the Thermoworks is the best at it.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $19.
Though we would recommend that you invest in an instant thermometer first, the holidays may be the best time of year to break out a probe thermometer that sits in the oven for the duration of cooking. After reading through editorial and customer reviews, we’re going with the Thermoworks Original Cooking Thermometer/Timer ($24). This got nods from America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required) and Fine Cooking, and it is one of the higher-rated probe thermometers on Amazon. It comes from the same company that makes the universally beloved (if expensive) instant-read Thermapen.

This kind of thermometer takes the guessing and calculating out of how long you need to keep the turkey in there; once you hit the correct internal temperature, the alarm goes off and you’re done. The probe is connected to one end of a long, coated wire; the other end is connected to a little digital readout that you can program to tell you when your turkey breast or roast beef has reached a safe (and tasty) temperature. Being able to gauge the temperature of your protein without opening the oven door also means conserving heat when you need it most.

The big problem with probe thermometers is that none of them seem to last very long. The probes stop reading temperature properly, or the connection between the digital readout and probe fails. Replacement probes run about $8, which is about a third of the price of the whole kit. America’s Test Kitchen recommends buying spare probes.

If you purchase a thermometer now, we recommend running a boiling water test on the probe to make sure it measures 212 degrees at boiling point as soon as you receive it. If the probe gives you an inaccurate reading, call customer service, which by many accounts is very responsive. If you’re within the first six months of purchase, Thermoworks should send you a replacement probe for free. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to test and replace before the big day. -GS 

Turkey fryer

*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.
Part one of our suggested turkey frying kit is an aluminum stock pot that heated up quickly and stayed warm.
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 there are few things flashier than putting your mitts on and pulling a gorgeous, crispy, burnished bird from a vat of boiling oil.

After testing several and frying a couple of birds, our pick for best turkey fryer is the Bayou Classic Aluminum Turkey Fryer Stockpot – 30 Qt. ($40) and the Bayou Classic Single Burner Patio Stove (SQ14) ($50). 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 has the four-legged stability you want when you’re handling four gallons of bubbling peanut oil.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.
Part two of our kit is the four-legged Bayou patio stove, stable and powerful enough to safely fry a turkey to crisp perfection.
Bayou is one of the leading brands in the turkey frying category. We chose aluminum for its ability to conduct heat quickly—crucial in sealing the bird’s juices under the fried crust. The included clip-on thermometer, measured against a Thermapen, was pretty accurate. The Bayou Classic Single Burner Patio Stove heated the oil to 375 degrees in about 30 minutes; once we lowered the turkey in, the temperature dropped to about 320 degrees, but it came back up to 350 in about ten minutes. The results were delicious—bronzed, crispy skin and rich flavor in a fraction of the time required to roast a turkey.

3_golden_turkey

A propane fryer with 4 gallons of bubbling peanut oil produces a 10-pound bird with golden, crackling-like skin and flavorful meat in about half an hour, saving time and precious space in the oven. The turkey prepared in the top rated electric fryer, the Masterbuilt Butterball Indoor Gen III Electric Fryer Cooker ($100), was paler, softer and more oil-logged—probably because the oil cooled to 275 degrees once the bird went in and never came back up to the ideal temperature of 325-350 degrees.

We found the best price for peanut oil at Costco, where a 35-lb. container (about 4.5 gallons) cost $41.

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 Appetit to be the most helpful. -GS

Tips:

  • Our friends at Cook’s Illustrated have put together a fantastic list of Thanksgiving Must-Haves with great gear and ingredient suggestions.
  • A great toaster oven like our pick, the Breville Smart Oven, can serve as an auxiliary oven when you don’t have room left in the big one. It can also be used to warm plates and heat up rolls.
  • A fancy restaurant move is to give a gift bag with a breakfast treat to guests at the end of the night—like a mini loaf of banana bread—so they can remember the party and your cooking prowess when they wake up.
  • No time to cook? Start with charcuterie and cheese, or find local Middle Eastern purveyors for ready-made dips like hummus and baba ganoush. Party planner Linnea Johansson says, “I like what I call “pimpin my pizza”; basically you take a frozen margherita pizza and add your own toppings, such as parmesan, prosciutto, arugula, truffle oil.”
  • Cold pockets of butter in your dough = the flakiest pie crust ever. You can do this in your food processor by using the shredding disk with your ice cold butter, then tossing it with the flour before you add water. The perfect-sized shreds of butter will flatten into perfect flakes once you roll your dough out. If you don’t have a food processor, you can achieve this by hand-grating frozen sticks of butter on a box grater. But work fast or that butter will melt in your hand before you can get it in the dough. – Kitchen
  • Food 52’s Amanda Hesser offers tips on how to prepare during the week for a relaxed Friday night dinner party. One of her house rules: “We’d stick to a maximum of 6 guests — enough for lively conversation but not so many that we had to run our dishwasher 3 times after the party.”
  • For the smooth, plush gravy, James Oseland of Saveur recommends Wondra, a “pregelatinized”, superfine flour.
  • Our go-to cookbooks for gatherings are Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian (new, but killer), The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook (mmm, Tunnel of Fudge cake), Plenty for the vegetarian guests, Rick Bayless’ One Plate at a Time (everything turns out perfectly), Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (the sickest book on Cajun food that exists), and Bottega: Bold Italian Flavors from the Heart of California’s Wine Country from easy entertaining king Michael Chiarello.

IV. TABLE

Cake stand (same pick as punchbowl)

This one's simple: it's a pretty stand that also doubles as a punch bowl. If you want something more unique, we say go for vintage on eBay.
A beautiful cake stand can double as more than just a pedestal for your frosted beauty. It can add layers of prettiness to any buffet and can sometimes even double as a punchbowl. After three hours of combing for high-quality editorial and user reviews, we didn’t find any consensus “best cake stand” because it’s really a subjective category. We like Anchor Hocking’s Canton Cake Stand/Punch Bowl for its versatility. At about 4¼” high, the dome is more appropriate for cupcakes and donuts than tall layer cakes. It’s available at the WEBstaurant Store for about $24 when you include shipping.

If you want something unique, there are a ton of interesting vintage cake stands available on eBay for great prices. That’s where I would buy. You can find a stand to match the theme of your decor or your dinner. (I especially like the milk glass ones and toile ceramics.) Fishs Eddy is another great source for the vintage-y pastel milk glass that’s popular these days.

When it comes to using the stand, Tara O’Brady, author of the gorgeous Seven Spoons blog and a masterful cake stylist, has no hard-and-fast rule when matching dessert to stand. Via email, she told us, “I tend to consider the personality of the cake or the occasion. (And yes, in my mind, cakes have personalities.) In general, there is a traditional formality to height, but I think modern cake decorating plays more with overall proportions, balance and contrast. A short and wide cake, perhaps with a shiny veil of ganache, looks elegant on a tall stand, but homey and approachable on a low one. A busy cake on a busy stand feels dated and overwhelming, whereas a simple cake can carry a more ornate piece. There is something especially striking about a frilly cake on a rustic board; the contrast gives the combination needed edge.”

Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post’s Great Get-Togethers, says, “I often make candy, and I use cake stands to serve the candy on. What I love about doing a dessert buffet table is having stuff at different heights, and a cake stand really allows you to do that. I like to have a couple, especially if I’m doing a buffet because it gives you a little more room and it makes it a little more visually appealing.” Consider piling your dinner rolls on one or just giving your pies an extra-special setting.

Cake stands can get really pricey because they’re wedding paraphernalia, a category that often gets jacked up in price. Generally, flat-edged cake stands are best for cutting and moving slices off easily. Tara O’Brady said she prefers rimless serving pieces “since stands with a lip aren’t ideal for heavy cakes that must be slid into position.”

If you’re using a stand to actually raise a cake up, you may wonder how to get the cake on the stand without wrecking the edges of the frosting. Tara O’Brady offered some tips on how to keep your cake stand clean. “If I’m decorating on a turntable, I’ll use a cake board or, when hard pressed, the removable bottom from a cake pan. If there’s any worry about mess, lining the edge of the plate or stand with strips of parchment or wax paper strips works a treat. To remove them neatly, run small, thin-bladed knife between the frosting and the paper; that way, when the parchment is pulled, the frosting won’t come along with it. I like to give the edge one last go with a small offset spatula for the nicest finish, or I’ll add a piped border.” -GS 

Carving board

The J.K. Adams doubles as a cutting board when you flip it over. There's a groove that catches jus, a spout for pouring it out and an indent that keeps roasts from rolling. It's pretty great.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $65.
A good carving board needs to be large enough for you to slice your meat without worrying about pieces falling off, and it needs a way to catch delicious juices. After a few hours of research, we like the solid maple J.K. Adams Double-Sided Pour Spout Carving Board ($65), which not only looks good—carving is about putting on a show, after all—but can also multitask as a cutting board during the offseason if you flip it over. The board has a groove to keep cylindrical loins from rolling off. It also has a jus channel and pour spout on one side and a flat chopping surface on the other. The channeled Au Jus board from John Boos, the folks who make our favorite cutting board, is almost twice as expensive at $120 and lacks an indentation to keep your roast put.

The J.K. Adams gets great reviews on Amazon, though people warn that you should oil it before you use it (as you should with any wooden board, really). As Amazon customer LAMSF “LAM” says, the “only downside is that it really soaks up the juices, needs to be cleaned immediately.” But this board was praised by Real Simple: “A notch on the rim makes funneling all that precious liquid into your gravy a cinch.” -Kevin Liu & GS 

Carving knife and fork (and deboner)

Carving knives’ long lengths allow you to carve slices from a roast, turkey or ham in one movement, minimizing the sawing action of the knives. Chef Michael Santoro of The Mildred in Philadelphia told Esquire “[t]he slicer should be 9 to 11 inches in length and razor-sharp. It’ll be what’s used to slice the breast meat thinly while still keeping it together.” The thinness of the blade is also key, says Esquire’s Elizabeth Gunnison: “This cuts down on cutting friction, meaning that your breast meat won’t slice up shaggy, dry, and unappealing.”

After about five hours of research, we have a few budget picks and a flashy step-up set.

It's sharp, long enough to cut through a roast in one slice, and has dimples that make it cut cleanly through meat.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $60.
Our pick for the best carving knife is the Victorinox 12-Inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife ($60) (also available with a less comfy and durable, but prettier, wooden handle). This was the top pick from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) with an average five-star rating out of 244 customer reviews. “Granton edge” refers to the dimples on the blade, which are said to make it easier for the knife to cut through meat cleanly. Cook’s Illustrated says, “The thin, tapered, razor-sharp blade was long and wide enough to draw through a large roast in one stroke.” That means cleaner, neater cuts. Chef Santoro also recommended it to Esquire for carving turkey, saying, “Fancy it is not (it’s got a plastic handle), but it comes sharp, has just the right amount of flex, and it’s cheap enough that if you screw it up in the process of learning how to sharpen your own knives, it’s no big deal.” Chow member Robin Joy says, “I use a Victorinox (Forschner) serrated carver as a (brilliant) bread knife and it doubles as a reserve carver, but in reality it is better than any of my trad. carvers.” Slicing knives (especially fancier Japanese ones) can cost $200 or more, so the Victorinox is a great value.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $24.
It's not a must-have, but a boning knife will make your life easier when cutting around the tissue where the bones connect on a turkey.
If you’re specifically looking to handle a Thanksgiving turkey, you’ll also need a flexible boning knife to maneuver around the tissue where the bones connect without mangling the meat. Chef Santoro tells Esquire, “You definitely need a boning knife and a slicing knife.” The Cook’s Illustrated pick, also the top-selling and top-rated Amazon pick, is the Victorinox 6-Inch Flex Boning Knife ($24); if you don’t want to get one, the tip of your chef’s knife can handle this small task, albeit with less finesse.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.
A fork just needs to be long and sharp enough to penetrate a roast and hold it firmly in place; this one does that perfectly.
Carving forks should be long and sharp enough to penetrate down into a roast to hold it firmly in place. We like the Mercer Cutlery Genesis 6” Forged Carving Fork ($31), recommended by Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and Amazon reviewers, with a 4.8-star rating. It can also double as an all-purpose poker/spear/stirrer. If $31 is too much for you, the straight-tined Winco Carving Fork ($9) is a great, full-tang step down.

But buying a carving knife and fork is about presentation. If you’ve got the scratch, the step-up full set people really love is the $250 Shun Classic 2-Piece Carving Set. Slate gave it top marks in carving and looks over a set that was nearly $1,000. The Independent said, “These are just about the best tools on the planet to have to hand when it comes to carving meat.” In general, Shun knives get raves when it comes to carving. Chow members love them, and Santoro picked a Shun Premier knife as the best slicing tool, while Saveur picked a Shun Reserve Slicing Knife.

We eliminated electric models because, as chef/writer Sara Dickerman told NPR, “[an electric model] will get through a big piece of meat pretty easily, but it’s very slow. It’s quite noisy, and it kind of saws as it goes along, so you end up with a somewhat shredded texture on the turkey.” -KL & GS 

Cheese board

*At the time of publishing, the price was $48.
It's a cheese board that's gorgeous and large enough to display an array of choices but can also be used as a cutting board.
Don’t get a cheese board. Just use a big, beautiful cutting board like our top pick, the hard maple 20-inch John Boos Chop-N-Slice ($57). We spent three hours looking at various boards made specifically for cheese, and they just couldn’t beat the beauty, versatility and value of an everyday cutting board. Etiquette expert Lizzie Post agrees: “I find that cutting boards are really great for charcuterie and for a cheese board.” Size matters, and most of the cheese boards on the market are too small to display multiple options. On The Kitchn, cheesemonger Nora Singley recommends that people “[a]rrange cheese for easy access during party flow,” which is better achieved on a big surface. The John Boos is gorgeous enough to display on your buffet table and big enough to reach from either side. Plus, after the parties are over, you’ve still got something you can use every day.

If you’re a fan of the slate look, we like this tip from AOL—pick up slate tiles from your local Home Depot, Lowe’s or hardware store for individual cheese displays. While there’s a minimum purchase online, you can buy the tiles individually in stores for about $3/sq. ft., a bargain compared to slate cheese boards.

The experts say to bring cheese to room temperature for maximum flavor. Plan on buying 1-2 ounces per guest for an hors d’oeuvres spread—ask the cheesemonger at the counter for recommendations. -GS 

Folding chairs

A durable, ventilated folding chair made of steel and flexible polypropylene that molds to the sitter’s shape and can purportedly hold more than 1,000 pounds.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.
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. After three hours of research, we’d go for the Mity Lite Flex One folding chair ($100 for 4 on Amazon or $20 each on 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 lbs. It’s 1.5” wider than your standard folding chair, can be stuffed into a closet and is comfortable enough that your seated guests won’t feel like second-class party attendees.

The Mity Lite has a 5-star rating on Amazon, Sam’s Club and Home Depot, where people rave about how comfortable and lightweight it is. Amazon offers a 10-year warranty.

Much of the editorial around this category focused on the looks of the chairs. While the IKEA Terje folding chair got nods from several sources for its neutral, Scandinavian looks and excellent price, its durability is dubious. LifeEdited said, “They’re not super sturdy, but boy are they inexpensive. We’ll leave it at that.” Another favorite is the Design Within Reach Lina Folding Chair, a gorgeous folding chair with padded leather seats. But at $140 each, the cost is not realistic for most budgets. On Amazon, the National Public Seating padded metal folding chairs got equally high marks from customers but are also a bit more expensive at about $30/chair. We eliminated metal folding chairs without covered seats because nobody needs that cold-metal-against-warm-thighs feeling at a party.

A quick tip: Make sure that all seats can be pushed in comfortably around the dining table—don’t try to crowd a guest into a corner where the table leg blocks their knees.

If you’ve got a really big function, it may make more sense to rent (rather than buy) 50 chairs. Check your local listings for party furniture rental companies, which rent a variety of chairs for as little as $1-2 per chair, though frequently with a minimum charge alongside delivery and pickup fees. -GS

Folding table

The Sudden Solutions six-foot folding table will fit six comfortably (or eight with two on the ends), can hold up to 300 pounds evenly distributed and doesn’t flex like some other models.
After testing five top-rated folding tables for smoothness, solidity, stability, ease of folding/unfolding and weight, we would recommend the Sudden Solutions 6’ Center Fold Blow Mold Table ($80 from Staples). A six-foot table can fit six humans comfortably, eight if you put two unlucky (and hopefully short-legged) guests on the ends. (A four-foot table fits four or six.) The table can be used indoors or outdoors and has a weight capacity of 300 pounds, evenly distributed. It uses a metal latch to hold it closed, as opposed to a competitors’ clicking plastic, and putting weight on one end of the table didn’t cause the center fold to lift up much. It barely flexed when we put weight on the center of the table, unlike the popular Walmart Mainstays table ($42), which flexed like crazy. We didn’t love the fabric handle, which sometimes gets folded into the table when closing, and it did seem to rattle loudly when pushed and shaken around. But it got 4.5 over 32 reviews on Staples and comes with a 10-year warranty. -Ed Grabianowski & GS

Napkins (paper)

*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.
The Vanity Fair Dinner Impressions are the next best thing to cloth napkins in terms of looks.
If you need to set a proper table and don’t want to set cloth napkins for everybody (or don’t have enough), you should spring for Vanity Fair 3-Ply Dinner Impressions Napkins ($15 for 200 at Amazon). For everything else—finger foods, potlucks and informal gatherings, make-do coasters—the best utility player is Bounty Quilted Napkins ($7 for 100). We considered more than a dozen national brands and a handful of local store brands, and we determined that you’re better off going with the known entities (of the paper goods world, that is).

Paper napkins have a different job than, say, paper towels (which you should also have on hand for a party). They draw grease from finger foods, dab sauce from faces and soak up little spills. Absorbency and “pick-up” from hands and faces (without leaving lint) are the main criteria. Those things are precisely what Amazon reviewers like about Bounty (an average of 4.5 stars) and Vanity Fair’s 3-Ply (an average of 5 stars.)

In tests, we found that a single Bounty Quilted could soak up 13.6 times its weight in water, far greater than a Vanity Fair Everyday napkin (8.19 times its weight), a 3-ply Vanity Fair napkin or our store brand (Wegmans) (both about 7 times their weight). Bounty napkins grabbed more water more quickly when dipped just an inch into liquids. They also have the soft but textured surface that work best on faces and fingers.

Testing absorbency

Testing absorbency

But if you want to give guests a paper towel that feels like cloth they can unfold on their laps, you should spring for the fancy-pants Vanity Fair. -KP

Pitcher(s) for water

If you’re having alcohol at your party, you must put water out for your guests. I once had a guest pass out at the dinner table because on a hot summer evening he’d had too much to drink and not nearly enough of it was water. For a dinner party, including a water glass as part of your table setting reminds you and your guests to stay hydrated.

You could use a pitcher, a carafe or a bottle. We think glass is best because it doesn’t give any off flavors to the water and it’s clear, so people see that it’s water and reach for it when they need it. We like the idea of recycling wine bottles, but if you also have wine on the table, it could be a tiny bit confusing. And since wine bottles aren’t stoppered, if you refrigerate them the water may absorb some refrigerator smells.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.
A water jug is a must for a party that features booze and this one has a wide opening to easily add ice and fit your hand in for scrubbing.
For an all-purpose water vessel to put out on the bar, our pick is the Bormioli Rocco Frigoverre Jug with Hermetic Lid ($13). The lid should be removed for serving, but pluses are aplenty: you can easily add ice, the mouth is wide enough to fit a hand in (so you scrub the bottom) and the container fits into the side of the refrigerator. The Italian-made glass pitcher can also moonlight as a mixed-drink or juice container. The jug has an impressive 4.5 stars over 808 reviews. The most common complaint is about the narrow handle, but many Amazon customers say it isn’t a problem.

For serving water at the dinner table, Donna Albertson, Director of Marketing and Special Events for the Ivy Room (an event space in Chicago) prefers the IKEA Korken bottles with swing tops ($4). They’re really cheap. And as she told us, you can buy a lot of them and fill them ahead of time so you don’t have to refill the bottles during your dinner party. They’re light, easy to aim into a glass and pour with one hand while sitting down, and reminiscent of what restaurants use to serve water at the table.

The IKEA stoppered bottles were also recommended by The Kitchn. (Though the name seems to have changed from Slom to Korken, it looks like the same bottle.)

If you don’t have an IKEA near you, this Bormioli Rocco Giara Bottle ($10) is a more-expensive-but-equally-attractive option (available with Prime shipping). Amazon customers give it 4.5 stars over 46 customer reviews. -GS

Plates (all-purpose)

The IKEA plates are cheap at only $3 per plate and didn’t scuff, chip or shatter in our tests.
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. While it’s acceptable to serve folks dinner in soup bowls when you’re in college, as an adult you’ll probably want to invest in extra plates. After four hours of testing and research, we liked the IKEA 365+ 11” plate ($3) made of feldspar porcelain, available only in stores. At 661 grams, its weight fell in the middle of the pack—heavy enough to feel substantial but not so heavy that a stack would be difficult to lift.

We were surprised by how well it held up in our tests. A fork and serrated knife didn’t leave scuff marks on the glaze. We banged it against a metal pan to see if it would chip; it didn’t. It survived two drops from waist height. It also retained heat nicely after being warmed with a bit of boiling water. It’s not perfect; all of the individual plates we looked at in stores suffered from dust particles marring the glaze. But they’re solid, neutral, all-purpose plates that you can afford to buy in bulk.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
IKEA’s plates are durable and cheaper but only available in store, so if you don’t live by one, get the Fiestaware.
If you don’t live near an IKEA, we recommend the Fiestaware 10½-inch Dinner Plate ($10-$19 per plate, depending on color and number purchased). They’re an American-made classic and they come with a five-year chip warranty. Not that you’ll need it—this was the other plate that passed all of the tests with flying colors. The plate is heavier (at 952 grams) and has a distinctive look that may not please all eyes. Amazon customers adore theirs, including Arlington Anne, who said, “Well, if anybody every throws Fiestaware at you, duck! Good, strong, sturdy stuff.” We can vouch for that—the Fiestaware plate actually bounced when we dropped it on its lip. Fiestaware comes in a variety of hues, with most of the colors being cheaper than the white glazed plate we purchased. These plates also have a 4.5-star average over nearly 100 reviews.

Shattered Crate & Barrel plate

Shattered Crate & Barrel  Aspen plate

Though the Crate & Barrel Aspen 10.5” Dinner Plates ($5) seem to be a common choice for registries and shoppers in search of plain white plates, our test plate was the first one to shatter on the simple flat drop test. The light Corelle 10” Winter Frost White Plate ($7) passed every test except for heat retention—heat dissipates from the thin material very quickly. The IKEA Färgrik ($3) plate took on scuff marks that couldn’t be rubbed off and it shattered when dropped on its lip.

If you want to add a touch of restaurant style to your dinner party, warm your plates until they’re heated but comfortable to the touch before you serve your guests. It keeps your food warmer longer and that tiny bit of radiant warmth near your hands feels lovely. If you don’t have room in the oven (and who does around the holidays?), you can heat them up on the lowest setting in your toaster oven or run them through the dishwasher (with heat dry) before your guests arrive. -GS

Plates (disposable)

Once again, Vanity Fair rises to the top with plates that are sturdy and microwaveable and tough against floppiness—even while holding soggy baked beans.
A good disposable plate should be sturdy, microwavable and (preferably) eco-friendly. Our favorite is the Vanity Fair Impressions, which Cook’s Illustrated is also a fan of. (Well, actually, they like the Vanity Fair Dinner Premium, but as far as we can tell they’re almost identical.) They said, “Loaded with food, it didn’t bend or crack, and with the largest surface area, it would be welcome at a buffet.” Its plain white coloring is guaranteed not to throw off your decor, unlike the garishly ugly Dixie Ultra Strong plates, which took home The Daily Meal’s Overall Best Performer award. (They didn’t test the Impressions.)

We tested the Impressions alongside the Chinet 10⅜ plates, which have the added benefit of being compostable. We piled both plates on with soggy baked beans, then let them soak through. Nothing got through the Impressions—nothing. However, after 20 minutes, the Chinet wasn’t leaking but was definitely weaker. After a trip in the microwave, the bottom was even soggier, whereas the Impressions held strong. Cook’s agreed, saying about the Chinet that “as soon as we introduced hot food, it buckled.” While the Chinet is compostable, and we appreciate its environmental pros, it’s not worth getting a pile of piping hot food poured into your lap.

One other big plus for the Impressions: it’s available in smaller 12-packs, so you won’t be overburdened by 100 or 200 plates, like the Chinet and a lot of the other ones you’ll find online. (One negative: they do snap a bit at the edges if you fold them directly in half. Fortunately, that’s not an activity undertaken at many dinner parties.)

I dug through dozens of plates researching this piece, many dismissed for poor reviews or ugly designs. Stalkmarket’s compostable sugarcane fiber plates seemed interesting, but the smallest amount you can buy them in is 180, and they’re 7 cents more expensive per plate than the Impressions (23 cents versus 17). Plus, reviews indicate they’re not so great with wetter foods. We also eliminated clear plates, like Hanna K’s Signature plates, because they tend to be brittle and non-microwavable. -JW

Serving bowl

It can fit 4-6 servings of pasta or salad and has a plain, white porcelain design that should fit any decor.
You’ll need a large serving bowl like the Crate & Barrel Swoop for things like pasta and salads. I looked at about a dozen serving bowls, eliminating bowls like this Lenox bowl which have designs that just won’t suit most kitchens and bowls that just can’t hold enough food—you should be able to feed at least 4 people a good-sized heap of pasta.

Crate & Barrel’s incredibly well-reviewed (4.8 stars over 68 reviews) Swoop bowl costs just $20. It’s 10.75” in diameter and 5.5” high, big enough for 4-6 servings of pasta or salad or a decent-sized bag of chips. Reviewers love its clean lines, and white porcelain should fit in nicely with almost any kitchen decor. As a bonus, it’s oven-safe, which means you can stick dishes in the oven (we recommend using low heat) to keep them warm while your guests enjoy their hors d’oeuvres.

A bamboo bowl like this Lipper International bowl might fit in great with your kitchen, but bowls like this aren’t easy to wash, can eventually mold and just aren’t as versatile as a ceramic or porcelain bowl. -JW

Serving platter

The Oneida came out on top because it didn’t scratch during our testing, holds heat well and is large enough for a whole chicken.
You’ll need a serving platter to present your culinary masterpieces to your guests. After testing three of the most seemingly promising platters for heat retention and scratching, we ended up choosing the Oneida Chef’s Table for serving whole chickens, cuts of meat, vegetables, etc.

At 17¾ inches, it’s large enough for everything you need. We tested it side-by-side with the CorningWare French White Serving Platter and the Target Threshold Ceramic Platter, the best platters we found that fit our criteria: a plain, ceramic or porcelain platter that’s large enough to hold a decent-sized roast chicken or a good hunk of carved meat—at least 16” long. It should also retain heat to help keep your dishes warm, and it needs to be scratch-resistant. After several hours of research spent looking through all of the available options on Amazon, Target and popular retailers like Williams-Sonoma and West Elm, we eliminated all of the platters that didn’t fit our criteria and ones that were too pricey—there’s really no need to pay more than $25 when you can find excellent, simple platters for much less. We narrowed down ten contenders to the three we tested.

After scratching all of the plates with a sharp knife and fork 50 times, the CorningWare clearly showed scratches, but the Threshold and Oneida plates showed no wear. To test heat retention, we poured hot water into the plates, left everything to sit for a minute, then checked the plates after one minute. The Oneida was still warm, but the Target plate was approaching cool by the end of the minute. The CorningWare held heat well, but it’s not a good pick considering its small size and quick wear. (Size-wise, the Oneida is right in the middle—1¼” smaller than Target’s and more than 2” longer than the CorningWare. But unless you’re serving a ton of people or want a really dramatic plate, you don’t need the extra size of the Threshold.)

If you want a plate with handles, try Bed Bath & Beyond’s Serving Platter with Oval Handles, which costs $26. It’s a little longer than the Oneida, but it’s oven-safe and easy to carry.

Things we passed on include Rachael Ray’s stove-to-table casserole dishes, which are intended to be attractive enough to put right on the table. But the bright colors were a little polarizing, and numerous reports of mid-baking cracks don’t bode well. We also checked out the Corelle Livingware serving platter, but its small size and our poor experiences with other Corelle plates make it a pass. -JW & KL

Serving utensils

The WMF set nests together and the spoon can be used for heavier dishes like pasta without any bending.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.
The best multipurpose serving utensils are, oddly enough, a set of salad servers and a double-prong serving fork to help your guests spear cuts of meat. Not only do the servers do a stand-up job of tossing salad, the spoon can do double duty as it’s deep and strong enough to dish out pasta or potatoes after mixing up your salad. Unfortunately, the fork side of the set can’t be that multifunctional: tines too long and thin will poke holes in your salad. But it’ll work fine for meat and other things you can spear. After several hours of research that included looking at more than 10 models, we’ve settled on the $15 WMF Manaos / Bistro two-piece salad set (crafted from 18/8 stainless steel) and the $11 OXO Steel Large Skewer Fork.

Reviewers rave about the WMF set, which received 4.7 stars over 27 reviews. At Amazon, Rebecca Armes asks, “Can you be in love with a salad set?” and continues: “These are beautifully made, easy to use, and nest together nicely taking up virtually no space in my drawer.”

The OXO can double as a carving or grill fork, as it has notched tips that will prevent meat cuts from sliding off.
OXO’s fork is equally beloved, with 4.8 stars over 25 reviews. It’ll take care of anything you can’t scoop: roasts, poultry, potatoes, and other large vegetables. It can also double as a carving or grill fork. Its tips are notched like a fishhook, which will prevent heavy cuts of meat from sliding off.

If you really want your salad set to be super-multifunctional and don’t want to get an additional serving fork, pick up the Yamizaki Bolo set. It comes with a true fork, also made of stainless steel, but it’s $10 more than the WMF set at $26. However, we still think you’re better off getting the WMF set with the OXO fork, because sharp-tined forks really aren’t great for tossing salad.

We didn’t like the Oneida Frost because the tines of the fork-side seem awfully short to be useful, and we couldn’t pick the WMF Vela, whose spoon bowl seems rather shallow—not good for grabbing salad or any other dish. -JW 

Tablecloths

This microfiber tablecloth is stain resistant, with fibers so tight that liquids don’t penetrate and can be easily cleaned up with a paper towel.
A cotton blend may be better for cloth napkins, but polyester microfiber is the jam when it comes to tablecloths. That’s why after several hours of research and testing, we recommend Bardwil’s Reflections Stain Resistant tablecloth.

Our pick is the highest-rated on Amazon, with 4.8/5 stars over 67 user reviews. All the other size and color variations I see of the same tablecloth have 4.5+ ratings as well. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute had the only available tablecloth-testing results and a few of their top recommendations were similar stain-resistant microfiber picks from the same brand. Their picks were outdated and no longer available, so this pick seemed the most likely candidate. It resisted all liquid spills wonderfully and has the best reviews of any microfiber tablecloth compared to other sites—it’s also the top pick on o.co.

Polyester microfiber, which our pick is made of, is stain resistant because the weave of the super-thin hydrophobic fibers is so tight that liquids bead on top of the fabric rather than forming absorbed stains. This particular tablecloth caused soy sauce, red wine, honey and olive oil in our stain testing to bead up, which means that accidental tabletop spills can be easily soaked up with a paper towel, sparing both your tablecloth and your table from damage. (Napkins, on the other hand, should be cotton blend, so they can pick up food and absorb sauces from your mouth and hands.)

For ultra stain resistance, try this microfiber tablecloth with its subtle damask pattern in a darker hue. Whichever color or size you choose, though, this pick is both wrinkle and shrink-resistant as well.

Out of 20 models selected based on editorial and user reviews and five tested, my second choice for poly microfiber stain-resistant tablecloths is Bed Bath & Beyond’s Origins Microfiber—it’s almost identical to my top tablecloth pick, but it didn’t have as wide of a review base on BBB’s website. 

Trivets

The MIU trivets are silicone and heat safe up to 500 degrees, though we don’t recommend them as a replacement for potholders.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.
Trivets are the kind of thing you probably don’t give much thought to until you need one—but you probably need one every time you pull something out of the oven. They protect table surfaces from burns and can extend your work surface by allowing you to put hot pots on delicate countertops. After heating up a cast iron pan to smoking and setting them on a bunch of trivets to test for heat resistance, our pick is the MIU France Set of 4 Silicone Pot Holders ($30). While we don’t recommend them as potholders, as grease can make them slippery, they’re fantastic trivets that are heat safe up to 500 degrees.

Each one has a hole in a corner for hanging from a hook, though they also lay flat in any drawer. The smooth silicone makes for a non-skid surface that can be used to stabilize mixing bowls and also for opening tight jars, as Amazon customer Donna H does. They’re also waterproof if you want to use one in a hot sink, and they can be thrown in the dishwasher. They’re a bit thin, raising your pan about ⅛” off the table; it’s not a problem for most dishes, but if you’ve got a searing hot metal pan that is larger than the trivet, you may want to stack two to give your pan some lift from the table surface. Trivets should also be easy to store and grab when you’re ready to pull your piping hot casserole from the oven.

We eliminated metal trivets from our testing because they conduct heat themselves, which could leave burns on delicate surfaces. However, if you prefer a more neutral-looking, sustainable material, the super-cheap IKEA Heat Trivets ($3 for 3) are well-regarded by folks at The Kitchn. But in our test, the cork scorched and warped after sitting under a smoking hot cast iron skillet for a minute, leaving an unpleasant smell. Still, they’re easy to toss and replace. You get what you pay for.

Scorched cork trivets

Scorched cork trivets

A potholder or oven mitt can work in a pinch, but having a trivet keeps you from having to sacrifice one of your potholders when you need it. -GS

Utensils (disposable)

*At the time of publishing, the price was $21.
Sturdy, disposable cutlery is hard to find but Kirkland’s plastic stuff fits the bill and won’t break on you.
In a tine-to-tine faceoff of three plastic utensil sets, the clear winner is Kirkland’s Crystal Clear Cutlery. They won’t break on you mid-meal unless you’re dining with the Hulk, and they come in a huge quantity for cheap, so one $20 purchase (even cheaper in-store at Costco) should last you through quite a few dinner parties, bake-offs and picnics. The 360-piece set comes in real-world proportions of 180 forks, 120 spoons and 60 knives.

It took two hours of research looking at all of the best-selling, best-reviewed models on Amazon, Walmart and elsewhere on the web to come to this conclusion. We looked at ten different models, narrowing it down to Kirkland, Dixie Ultra Strong and Reflections Heavyweight “Looks Like Silver”. We then ordered the cream of the crop to check out in person.

The Kirkland silverware won or tied every test we gave it. They’re noticeably stronger—the Reflections silverware broke immediately, with hardly any effort at all. The Kirkland knife cut cleanly and easily through a carrot, but so did the Dixie Ultra Strong. However, the tines of Dixie’s fork were weak, and had trouble effectively staking the carrot, something the Kirkland fork had no difficulty with. We also stuck all three of the spoons in hot soup, but they all fared about the same, without any meltdowns or weaknesses.

Dixie’s old-style white plastic forks receive good reviews for sturdiness, but unfortunately, reviews on the matching spoons point to sourcing issues and label inaccuracy. Though we like Preserve’s eco-friendly mission, they’re only sold in bright colors and sets of 24 (8 each of knife, fork, spoon) for about $7, so costs can add up quickly for a large party. -JW

Tips:

  • Try this clever serving tray idea from party planner Linnea Johansson: “I love to buy frames, for example from Bodum, and then frame some decorative paper or fabric and use the frames as serving trays. works great to serve both food and drink on, simply clean with a little seltzer water. Best part is, for the next party, just frame something new that matches that party’s theme.”
  • If you’re having a dinner party for 12+ with a lot of courses, you might consider renting dishes from a rental company. They can cost about 50 cents apiece and can be delivered to you. Party planner Linnea Johansson says, “Rentals usually have a minimum, but if you do have a big party I recommend it. Renting dishes is the best because you can return them dirty.”

V. CLEANUP

Dish towels

*At the time of publishing, the price was $18.
We like this towel because it’s super-absorbent and thick. It can do it all: dry vegetables, clean up spills and survive a hot-water bleach cycle.
Dish towels are one of the most important tools in your kitchen, but most of us don’t give them a second thought.

We recommend the Now Designs Ripple Towel (2 for $16), a super-absorbent, thick towel that can do it all. This was Cook’s Country’s top pick for dish towel (subscription required). It didn’t leave a speck of lint when drying potatoes and kale and wiped up four ounces of water with one swipe. When handling hot pans from the oven, the Now towel only needed to be folded in half twice (as opposed to the three times with the other towels we tested) to give hands more coverage. We also stained our towels with thick hot chocolate, coffee, red wine and yellow mustard, soaked them in OxiClean, and ran them through a hot-water bleach cycle. While the Now Designs towel shrank two inches lengthwise, it wasn’t seriously handicapped by the shrinkage (18½” x 26¼” post-wash). This towel dried a sink full of dishes and still had room to absorb water from one bunch of washed kale.

If you’re looking for something inexpensive for wiping up spills, we recommend the Utopia terrycloth kitchen/bar mop towels. They left behind specks of lint on food, but were very effective for wiping up spills quickly. They’re less than $1 each.

Towels_TeklaKeeble_LS

Other towels we looked at and dismissed included the Tekla from Ikea at 79 cents apiece. It’s thin and has an open weave when new, but tightens up after the first wash. Although it doesn’t have near the absorbent capacity of the Now Designs towel, it has a fabric loop sewn in for easy hanging, making it the only towel in our testing lineup with that feature. The Mainstays flour sack towels are proof that not all flour sack towels are created equal. They have an open weave that more resembles muslin than a kitchen towel and doesn’t tighten up after a wash; the towel just becomes misshapen. We also looked at Amazon’s bestselling Keeble kitchen towels, which were adequate but didn’t measure up in size or absorbency to the Now towels. -LS & KO 

Stain remover

*At the time of publishing, the price was $4.
The Tide To Go pen does well at dissolving little spots and stains, which will come in handy at any party.
The Swedes say it isn’t a party without a broken glass. Keep a Tide To Go pen ($5) for little spots. It tied for first place in Consumer Reports’ 2011 mini-test of instant stain removers with 2 other store brand generics. Shout Wipes ($5) are a better form factor for larger splotches. While the wipes aren’t widely reviewed, the New York Times found that Shout gel was the most effective stain remover in their 2010 stain remover road test. They also get high praise in About.com’s tests. -Michael Zhao 

Trash bags

For large parties, Husky’s bags will hold a lot of garbage and recycling that piles up at the end of the night and are extra thick to ward off punctures.
Our pick for best kitchen trash bag is the Glad Tall Kitchen drawstring bag, which works fine for a smaller dinner party. But as anyone who’s had to clean up after an excellent party knows, a tremendous amount of garbage and recycling can pile up—especially if you’re using disposable items. For these situations, you’ll want a contractor bag. After sifting through professional and customer reviews alike, we found that Husky’s 42-gallon Contractor Clean-Up Bags are your best bet. We looked at more than a dozen brands, and dozens more variations of each bag. This one won over Amazon reviewers, Good Housekeeping, and received a second-hand nod from Popular Mechanics.

The key feature for an effective one-bag cleanup is puncture-and-abrasion-fighting thickness (typically measured in “mils”, or thousandths of an inch).

A 3-mil contractor bag is notably tougher than the 0.5 or 1-mil thickness of kitchen bags. What makes Husky’s variety stand out are winning reviews on Amazon, near flawless marks at Home Depot’s site, a recommendation for toughness from Good Housekeeping and a smart price: about $1 each if you buy a 32-pack on Amazon, or just 45 cents each if you buy 50 at Home Depot.

Another great option, if your local hardware store happens to carry them, are EconoGreen 42-gallon Contractor Clean-Up Bags. They’re not available on Amazon at the moment, but they are 3-mil, inexpensive, recycled and Popular Mechanics’ preferred big bag, after some brutal testing. -KP & GS 

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  • Greg

    Wow – this is a fantastic compilation. Thanks for this! You guys are going to make me broke.

    FYI: on the carving knife, I also found it on Newegg for $40 + free shipping. (…and now to purchase one before they’re all gone. :))

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA1JX0MW1919&nm_mc=KNC-GoogleMKP&cm_mmc=KNC-GoogleMKP-_-pla-_-Cutlery-_-9SIA1JX0MW1919

  • LukeBornheimer

    Great piece! For what it’s worth, there’s a typo in the first sentence: “Whether you’re having *an a* person over for a candlelit dinner”

    • Ganda Suthivarakom

      Fixed! Thank you.

  • cbirdsong

    Bacardi is a really terrible light rum recommendation when you can get much tastier bottles of Cruzan or Flor de Cana for around the same price. http://www.esquire.com/the-side/food-and-drink/best-rum-light

  • Jesse Chapman

    One of the best articles I’ve ever read. Seriously, so many things I’ve been looking for are here. You guys are amazing.

  • pseudobenno

    Not to come off as a pinko, but can you really call Vanity Fair plates “eco-friendly” if they’re owned by the Koch brothers? Regardless of their production methods, you’ll be lending support to a seriously anti-environmental agenda.

  • Kent Wang

    The Riedel Overture Glasses are a set of 2, not set of 4. That’s pretty pricey.

  • jim goldstein

    Reidel overture wine glasses are now listed as 2 (not 4) for $40 and 12 for $90 (not $80) as listed. Must be that time of year to charge more.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      We recently updated and found a better retailer. However, they’re going fast and will likely see a price jump from 3rd parties until the holiday’s are over.

  • http://twitter.com/kenny Kenneth Younger III

    Quick tip for a galvanized tub: buy the little neodymium magnets and use them to secure a plastic sheet of some sort (even a thick garbage bag) to the INSIDE of the tub. From the outside you can’t tell, and it keeps the tub from contact with the bulk of the melted ice/etc. There is still some condensation, but this also helps with leaking and the majority of condensation.

  • Scott LaBlanc

    Love the site and your reviews. I’ve purchased quite a bit of your recommendations over the last year. The only suggestion I would have concerning the Presto Griddle is warning folks about how large the thing actually is. We have a fairly standard sized kitchen and had trouble finding a place to store it (it finally ended up on top of our refrigerator as it wouldn’t fit in our cabinets or in the drawer under our stove). It is also difficult to clean in a normal sized sink. The griddle is amazing and has worked really well for us, but it’s footprint is very close to the size of our stove top.

  • Susan Cheng

    I can’t seem to be able to find the Oneida Chef’s Table Oval Platter on Amazon or other retailers. Has it been discontinued?