1. Make a note of everything you touch in your kitchen: plates, serving dishes, pots, whatever. 2. Do this over a period of one week. 3. Determine what things you use the most. Maybe it's a coffee pot or a rice cooker. Juicer? Spatula? Saucepan?
These are the things you should splurge on.
So with that in mind, we culled the advice from our readers and divvied the recommendations into two camps: the best splurge for bakers and the best splurge for cooks. You may be both, and want them all, in which case you can't go wrong whichever one you choose to buy. So, without further ado:
The Best Splurge for a Baker
If you primarily use your kitchen for baking, then readers almost unanimously voted splurging on a KitchenAid stand mixer. Kitchn reader AfterSuppa said the KitchenAid mixer has made her life "immeasurably better and easier in the kitchen," while KpieS said she finds it "hard to do some things without a...KitchenAid mixer." For everyday baking, the 5-quart model should suffice, but if you really want to go all out, Stacey Ballis recommends the 7-quart, which she calls "a game changer, especially around the holidays."
Here are a few other KitchenAid stand mixer praises from readers:
A Kitchen Aid mixer is definitely worth the splurge if you like to bake (especially bread) or make homemade pasta. I got one a couple years ago, and I make homemade pizza and breads much more often now. It's sooooo much easier -- and less cleanup -- to dump all the ingredients in and let it knead the dough for you instead of struggling with it on the counter. I use it to mix pasta dough too, and then switch over to the pasta roller attachments to make fresh sheets for lasagna or ravioli. - Edger64
The [KitchenAid] stand mixer is so nice to have when I do use it, for kneading doughs mostly. For cookies and cakes I usually just grab the more convenient hand mixer. So it depends what kind of cooking/baking you'll be doing! - elise890
Once again, non-bakers can take or leave the KitchenAid stand mixer:
As a non-baker, I can only think of one or two instances in my ENTIRE LIFE where I would have actually used a KitchenAid mixer - and got by just fine without it. - Schwed
Everyone and their sister told me to register for a Kitchen Aid mixer and I think I've used it twice in a year and a half. - kristenj
So if you make bread, pizza dough, cookies, cakes and other baked goods on a regular basis, a KitchenAid stand mixer would be well worth your money. If not, then you might want to consider purchasing one of these options instead:
The Best Splurge for Cooks
Well, the runaway winner in this category were good knives. As Jess13 said, "Don't cheap out on knives. Save up, buy them once, learn to love sharpening." Ladybug5 said she "finally invested in some good knives and it's amazing how much it has enhanced [her] enjoyment of cooking." The Unlikely Ballerina wrote that "Nothing can substitute a good knife. For most everything else, you can find something that can do what you want it too even if it wasn't designed for it, but nothing can stand in for a knife." Schwed even went so far to say that "90% of [her] desire to cook stems from having well-balanced, sharp(!) knives." Here are other Kitchn readers singing the praises of a good knife:
At 37, I FINALLY gave in and purchased a few good knives: 8" Wusthof Classic chef's knife, Wusthof Classic santoku knife (7"), and a few different Victorinox paring knives (which are really cheap and Swiss-made). My parents had given me a couple of hundred dollars for a gift, which was completely unexpected and very generous. My mom specified that I must purchase good knives with it - because she was sick of hearing me complain about how terrible my knives were! (I must have complained a LOT.) Without question, these few knives have improved my kitchen life a thousand fold. I should've done it years ago but I had no idea just how important knives are to someone who even likes to cook just a little bit. I still don't have a food processor and I don't have a Kitchen Aid mixer, but I can prep food efficiently and happily with my knives. My only regret is not buying them 12 years ago! - Chapstick-Addict
A splurge at the beginning will in reality be a quite frugal purchase. I have knives I purchased when I first left home 30 years ago and All-Clad cookware that was originally my grandmothers which is at least 30 years old. I cannot say the same for anything I cheaped out on. - Chef Winston
My husband and I cooked just as much when our knives were super-cheap serrated blades that could barely saw through a tomato, but the 2 good-quality Wusthof knives we received as a wedding gift make the process of preparing our food faster and more enjoyable, and they will last us for a lifetime. - Tariqata
But which knives should you buy? Readers were mixed on this. Many said the only way to go was top-of-the-line WÜSTHOF knives, which can run into the triple digits, while others said you can get great quality knives for far less from makers like Victorinox. (We've recommended their knives, too.) As superdewa wrote, "Knives are important, but you really just need a good [8"] chef's knife, a good bread knife, and a good paring knife. If you do your research, these don't have to be incredibly expensive." For more of our recommendations on knives, check out these posts:
Other Items Worth Splurging On
We couldn't write this post without sharing the other three other big-ticket items readers recommend splurging on, besides knives: an enameled dutch oven (like Le Creuset or Staub), a food processor, and All-Clad pans.
The inclusion of any one or all of these items into your kitchen is well worth the money spent on it. Just listen to our readers' rapturous praises!
On Enameled Dutch Ovens
I second the Le Creuset Dutch Oven. I have the 7 1/4 quart round and it is wonderful for everything from soups to no knead bread to roasting. - Ashley @ Sensibly Gourmet
A well-made enamel Dutch oven (doesn't have to be Le Creuset) [is] great for even cooking, lasts forever, and is a cinch to clean. - Splitty
On Food Processors
I would definitely recommend the food processor. I have the 11cup model, bought it at an estate sale, with all the standard attachments for $30, including the scrapers and the dough blade. I use mine quite frequently when I am actually cooking, and use it to shred a 1Lb wedge of Parmesian cheese as I use Parm cheese A LOT in my cooking, even if just a small sprinkling in something. - Ciddyguy
On All-Clad Pans
I saved my pennies and bought a little All-Clad frying pan... There is nothing more discouraging than trying to cook something and having it cook unevenly or scorching because of poor quality utensils. Plus, they last forever and a half if you treat them right. My parents are celebrating 30 years of marriage this October, and still use the same All-Clad frying pan every morning that they received as a wedding gift! - A.Letarte
The most versatile and expensive items in my kitchen are my wide-bottomed 6- and 8-quart stainless pots. Mine are All-Clad (one of which I got at TJ Maxx) and they are workhorses. I use them for everything from obvious uses like soups and stews, to sauteing huge bunches of greens, to boiling pasta, to brining and frying, to steaming vegetables and fish with collapsible steamer inserts. Best of all (to me), they clean up perfectly in the dishwasher. I would say the All-Clad versions are worth the investment because they conduct heat incredibly well and they're very sturdy. I like them better than a less expensive pot I have that has a huge stainless disk stuck on the bottom. That one takes much longer to heat up. - Heather77
The one item that has truly blown me away is my large All-Clad Saute Pan. That pan truly is a revelation. There is no comparison between cooking in All-Clad and anything else. - joydreamz
(Image: Bethany Nauert)