Everything You Need for An Epic Night In

What's a night at home without delicious snacks?

Over the past few months, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in planning quiet nights in our home. Whether we’re playing Scrabble, working on a puzzle, or watching movies, snacks are an essential part of the experience. In this week’s buying guide, I’ve selected the test kitchen–approved equipment that you need to make homemade treats such as Spicy Caramel Popcorn, Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, and even Peanut Butter Cup No-Churn Ice Cream. We’ve also included our favorite store-bought snacks—including my game-night favorite, Utz Kettle Classics, Original chips—so you’ll be ready for your big night in. —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

This silicone disk requires no oil to transform slices of vegetables and fruit into crisp, guilt-free chips in about three minutes in your microwave. While we got very similar results spritzing potato slices (made using our favorite Kyocera mandoline) with nonstick cooking spray and microwaving them on a heatproof plate for five minutes, the advantage of the Topchips product is quantity: You can stack up to three trays in the microwave (a set of two additional trays is available for $19.99) to make more chips even faster. Plus, the Topchips slicer turns out chips of the perfect thickness; our chips (made using the thinnest setting on our mandoline) were slightly thicker, with a bit less crunch.

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This countertop model is both the simplest to use and the sleekest. Applying light pressure to the carbonating block allowed testers to choose between gentle carbonation and intensely effervescent bubbles. CO2 canisters are long lasting and convenient to exchange in dozens of retail stores (including Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Sur la Table) for half of the retail price.

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This popcorn won tasters over with its “nutty,” “toasty” corn flavor and “well-calibrated salt.” Its “hearty,” “puffy” kernels were “crisp” and “crunchy” up front, with a tender interior that “almost melted” in tasters’ mouths as they ate. “This is pretty ideal popcorn,” summarized one taster.

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This salsa was balanced, vibrant, and “bright with acidity.” Tasters found it “spicy, fresh, and tomatoey,” with “plenty of heat” that was “pleasant, not overpowering.” It also had a “good texture” that was “not too thin or thick,” placing it squarely “in between the stewed and the crunchiest” salsas. In sum: It offered a “good dipping consistency.”

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This saucepan has the same tri-ply fully-clad construction as our top-rated All-Clad pan, with two layers of stainless steel sandwiched around a layer of aluminum. It performed almost as well, but ran a little fast and hot, so onions browned slightly around the perimeter of the pan. The cooking surface is relatively narrow. The moderately heavy frame was easy to lift and scrape food from, but its handle gets hot during extended cooking. Its shiny interior dulled after cleaning up pilaf, and it suffered more damage in our abuse testing than higher-ranked models.

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Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean. They can be used in the microwave and the oven. While the bowls in this set were the only ones to break when dropped, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.

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This small spatula is the perfect size for getting in between cookies on a crowded baking sheet or removing brownies from a pan. The silicone outer layer, which is heat resistant to 600 degrees and safe for nonstick cookware, surrounds a stable stainless-steel core. It is also dishwasher-safe.

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These precut parchment sheets, which come in a large plastic zipper-lock bag, are the only ones in our lineup that are stored completely flat. They're also sized just right to slide easily into a standard rimmed baking sheet, although we did have to use two overlapping sheets when rolling jelly roll cakes into coils. Their superior convenience made them the runaway favorite. Don't let the purchase price distract you: The per-sheet cost falls squarely in the middle of our lineup.

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Our winning spoons had a simple design that allowed for a continuous, bump-free sweep, with a ball-chain connector (similar to what military dog tags hang on) that was easy to open and close. This set's metal construction felt remarkably sturdy, and ingredients didn't cling to the stainless steel. And while the 1-tablespoon measure did not fit into all spice jars, it was a minor inconvenience for an otherwise easy-to-use set.

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This new blender from Breville improves upon its predecessor in a few key ways. It’s more powerful, so it can get smoothies and almond butter even smoother, and it has a dedicated “green smoothie” button that completely blends fibrous ingredients into a silky smooth drink. It’s reasonably quiet and reasonably compact, and combined its ingredients efficiently with minimal pauses to scrape down the sides. Like the previous model, it still automatically stops every 60 seconds, which can be a little annoying during longer blends, but this wasn’t that big of an issue. Its timer makes tracking recipe stages very easy.

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This folded metal pan produced tall, picture-perfect pound cake and sandwich bread with crisp corners. Like all folded pans, it lacked handles and had crevices in the corners that trapped food. We had to clean it very carefully. The corrugated pattern on the metal didn't affect the appearance of the baked goods. It still scratched slightly.

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This scoop’s gently curved oval bowl forms perfect round orbs that release easily. Even better, its wide, comfortable handle contains heat-conductive fluid that warms up instantly when your hand grips the exterior; when that heat travels to the bowl, the warm metal slightly melts the ice cream or sorbet so that it’s particularly easy to scoop.

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This large, sleek glass kettle was one of the quickest in our lineup. The power switch lights up in an icy blue when it’s activated, the handle is wide and comfortable, and the kettle sits securely on its base. We also liked its slow-open lid, which prevents accidental burns from steam and splashing water. It has a removable filter in its spout which, while not strictly necessary, is a handy feature in areas where the water has sediment.

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Lightweight and easy to fill with its wide opening, good interior visibility, and handle that folds out of the way, this kettle was pleasant to use and has a generous capacity. Its whistle is assertive, its grippy handle is comfortable, and its spout has a gentle curve that lends itself to smooth pouring. It survived abuse tests with only the faintest dents, and the brushed-steel surface was easy to clean. A quibble: The lever on the whistling spout cover is stiff and snappy, and the pointy hinge underneath the lever sometimes poked our fingers when closing the spout. Also, it is not induction-compatible.

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Our new favorite kettle chip took the top spot overall, thanks in large part to its “nicely thick and crunchy” texture. The chips were “substantial” and “supercrunchy” and, in the words of one taster, “perfect.” Unlike other products in the lineup, they're fried in peanut oil, and tasters noticed a distinctly “savory,” “earthy” flavor. They also had “a great salt balance” and held up well in dip.

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Our winning salsa was praised for its “hint of heat,” “good balance,” and “sweet,” “satisfying tomato flavor.” But with a “thick,” “smooth” base fortified with concentrated crushed tomatoes and studded with “crunchy,” “ideal-size chunks” of vegetables, it was the salsa’s texture that really won over our panel. Chi-Chi’s also produces our favorite medium-heat salsa.

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