Smart and Sophisticated Cookware

This week I’m focusing on the smart and sophisticated cookware that won me over.

When it comes to slick new kitchen equipment, I’m a skeptic. I was especially wary of “smart” products because I was afraid that they would take the human element out of cooking. But after watching our team test a dozen or so of them, I’m convinced. These gadgets and products help those of us who love to cook become better bakers, bartenders, and cooks by providing reliable tools and accurate information. Whether you’re developing skills or are already confident in the kitchen, these tools make it easier to get great results, whether it’s through tracking the temperature of your meat wirelessly or getting a helpful response to a cooking question from a smart display. —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, Tastings & Testings

Yes, this is an incredible burner, but it's also costly—which, to be honest, was our only real complaint about it. Its front knob allowed us to dial the burner to the exact temperature we wanted (the front screen also displays the corresponding power mode, such as "medium-low," to avoid any confusion). And the machine comes with a temperature probe that allows you to monitor and set the temperature of the contents of the pots, which made deep frying effortless and even allowed us to use it for sous vide cooking. Its precision ensured that caramel was silky-smooth, fried zucchini sticks were golden all over, and 4 quarts of water boiled in 20 minutes, making it the only induction burner to boil water faster than the stovetop. While the cost of this induction burner means it's not for everyone, it is an exceptional piece of equipment, especially for experienced cooks who really want the benefits of precision cooking.

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Easy to use, with a satisfyingly responsive control panel and app, this “smart” countertop oven cooked a wide variety of foods with very good results, whether we were making toast; roasting potatoes, bacon, or a whole chicken with vegetables; or baking cookies or cake. Its “Food ID” function recognized most foods we tried. The interior of the oven cleaned up with a wipe of a wet towel, and its sturdy nonstick baking sheet with rack could be hand-washed in seconds (they are not dishwasher-safe). The app and its recipes were well designed, and the subscription offered a good range of recipes. The oven is also compatible with Amazon Alexa, which can operate the oven by voice command. While it’s a bit expensive, the June Intelligent Oven works as promised.

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This slim, lightweight machine heated water almost as fast as the biggest circulators and was the most accurate in our lineup. Though it doesn’t have a display and requires a smartphone to work, its app was intuitive and simple, and its enclosed electronics meant we didn’t have to worry about getting any part of the circulator wet. Testers loved its magnetic bottom, which allowed it to stand stably in the center of metal pots. (We wished its included clip was a bit wider for nonmetal vessels, but the company now sells a “Big Clamp” attachment for $24.00 that addresses this issue.) It also had the largest distance between water lines, so we could forgo refilling even during longer cooking projects, and it was small enough to store away in a drawer when we were done. The company also makes an all white polycarbonate model with identical electronics and features for $179.

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This somewhat pricey “smart” guided cooking system turns meal preparation into a game, with enjoyable, palatable results. Connecting and using the app, which operates through Bluetooth, was easy and relatively intuitive. The skillet and saucier pan are sturdy and well-built, but they are smaller than we'd have liked—better suited to cooking for two than for families. We also found the burner's embedded electronics to be fragile. The pan and burner are bundled for $499.95; the Chef's Pot is sold separately for $299.95 and is used for recipes with more liquids such as soups, pastas, and fried foods.

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Just 30 minutes after you plug in the Pizzaiolo, you can be sitting down to homemade pizza that rivals the pizzas served at top thin-crust and Neapolitan pizza joints. Heating coils below the baking stone blast the bottom of the dough with heat, while upper coils cook the toppings and outer edges of the crust. Thin-crust and Neapolitan pizzas cook in just 2 to 4 minutes, which means that their crusts remain impressively tender but still chewy. The downsides are its hefty size and weight, its high cost, and the fact that you’re limited to pizzas 11 inches or smaller in diameter.

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With four quartz heating elements, an easy-to-use dial for selecting from eight cooking functions, three baking rack positions, and a front slide-out crumb tray that simplifies cleanup, this small version of the Breville Smart Oven is well designed and a solid performer. Toast was a tad uneven to start (we got browning primarily the middle of our slices) but improved greatly on batches in succession. Likewise for broiling: Follow-up rounds melted cheese more evenly across the surface of open-faced tuna melts. Its real brilliance was baking: A bone-in, skin-on chicken breast emerged golden brown and evenly roasted, and a batch of eight cookies baked evenly. With the same heating technology as the bigger Breville, it was also accurate. After just five minutes’ preheating, it reached its target temperature of 350 degrees and stayed there, never dipping below 319 degrees or above 375. 

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It takes slightly longer to say “OK, Google” than “Alexa,” and the Google Assistant is a bit less natural than Alexa in responding to casual human speech, but this device has all of Google search at its disposal for seeking answers and resources for you, and it always lets you know the source of the information being shared, providing links if you want to know more. Its gesture-only and facial recognition features are useful, and Alexa can’t do them (yet). A major downside is its user-unfriendly app. While this smart display’s function is mostly speech-based, you use the app to set up the device, add people and smart devices to the account, keep shopping lists, and other functions.

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This smart alarm was easy to install, and its app was simple to set up, navigate, and use. The user-friendly app made it more convenient to silence alerts than on a conventional alarm. It did a great job of distinguishing between low volumes of less serious smoke while we were burning toast and high volumes of more serious smoke while we were searing steak. And its alerts and alarms were relatively easy to silence through the app, though occasionally we had to wait a minute or two to receive the alerts or move closer to the unit to silence them. If your Wi-Fi goes out, the alarm will continue to function as usual—even communicating with other Nest devices as long as it is still drawing power. It will not, however, be able to send alerts to your phone, though you will still hear the alarm within the house if the unit detects smoke or carbon monoxide. In addition, we loved its extra features: Its nightlight, automatic testing of its battery life and sensors, and ability to connect with other Nest Protects are all big bonuses. It also complies with the latest standards set by UL, a global safety certification company.

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