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Kitchen Helpers: Newly popular appliances make meal prep easier

Whether you’re the best home chef or just the busiest, everyone can use a bit of electric assistance in the kitchen. Rice cookers, steamers, slow cookers and more can cut prep time without cutting back on flavor.

“The manufacturers have given some weight to the fact that a lot of people, they don’t want to have these big oversize pieces,” says KC Lapiana, owner of In The Kitchen, a kitchen store based in Pittsburgh, Pa. “I think that the manufacturers have spent some time thinking about the profiles of the products and making them not only efficient but a little bit smaller.”

Slow cookers, for one, are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, especially among younger consumers, says Mary Beth Brault, senior manager of corporate communications at Hamilton Beach. Advancements in technology mean some models are more adaptable to your schedule, and they can be programmed to go into a “keep warm” mode to prevent overcooking.

“Slow cookers certainly picked up in momentum about five years ago when the economy started to go down,” Brault says. “The beauty of a slow cooker is that you can take a cheap piece of meat and turn it into a delicious meal.”

Lapiana recommends “multi-cookers,” which perform slow cooking, rice steaming and pressure cooking without the hassle of three separate devices.

Rice cookers can also provide convenience for home cooks. “It’s changed in the ease of making rice and getting the right water-to-rice ratio,” Brault says. “And it really allows you to multitask better in the kitchen.” Some models double as food steamers, too.

Immersion blenders are another easy, time-saving kitchen tool ideal for soups and sauces, Lapiana says. “You don’t have to cut up everything into small pieces anymore, just roughly chop them; I’m talking the garlic and the tomatoes. Once they’re cooked through, you put in the immersion blender and it makes it all smooth.”