I’ve Been Studying How Americans Cook for 30 Years. Here’s What I Couldn’t Have Predicted in 1989.

updated Jun 25, 2019
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

I’ve been watching what Americans cook and the tools they buy for at least 30 years. I was in charge of testing and reporting on gadgets and appliances at the Good Housekeeping Institute and have reviewed kitchen gear in great depth, including for Kitchn. At the annual International Home + Housewares Show, I get a good look at what they’ll be stocking their kitchens with in the coming year. And wow, have things changed in the past three decades.

After walking the aisles of the show this week, I can tell you that we’re not cooking with our grandmas’ tools. If you’re not familiar, the show (affectionately known by us in the biz as Housewares) is an annual trade extravaganza in Chicago. Companies large and small gather to set up booths that showcase their latest and greatest products. Buyers from stores all over the globe come to place orders and editors look around to see what’s new.

Here are five of the biggest trends in 2019. They’ve been gathering steam for the past few years, but I truly couldn’t have predicted them 30 years ago. While much in cooking never changes — there’s always a need for better cookware, sharper knives, and slicker baking sheets — these trends take our cooking in new directions, making them all the more surprising.

(Image credit: Maria Midoes)

1. Pressure cooking has finally (finally!) gone mainstream.

Until recently, pressure cookers had a really bad rap. You’d just hear the words and shudder. After all, the professional contestants on Top Chef couldn’t even work a pressure cooker without fumbling, so there was no way any of us were trying it at home. But then, less than 10 years ago, the Instant Pot was born and it changed everything.

One of the secrets to its success is surely that it wasn’t called a pressure cooker. It wasn’t the first electric pressure cooker on the market, nor was it the only one with settings to take the guesswork out of pressure cooking — it was just the first one to go by a whole new name.

Now, just about every single appliance manufacturer offers what they’re calling multi-cookers. Yes these magical pots are multi-faceted and can be used for slow cooking, rice steaming, and even yogurt making, but what really makes them useful is their ability to turn out comfort foods like beef stew, short ribs, and pot roast in less than an hour. That’s because they’re pressure cookers. Home cooks are using pressure cookers!

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. We’re all “frying” food at home.

Years ago, I walked the show and saw spokespeople hawking deep fryers — but I knew very few people who actually used them at home. Too much fat! Too dangerous! Too messy! But now the show’s all about air fryers — and people are, um, eating them up.

No wonder air fryers are such a sensation: They let you serve up big batches of onion rings, chicken wings, shrimp tempura, and crispy Brussels sprouts without the grease, splatter, and messy cleanup.

While spaceship-shaped air fryers have been the hot-ticket items the last few years, this year’s show highlighted the newest iteration — toaster oven air fryers. They’re essentially convection toaster ovens that come with a wire basket in addition to the usual trays to allow for more crisping. Fun fact: Galanz is coming out with a small appliance that can microwave, toast, AND fry.

(Image credit: minamoto images/Stocksy)

3. After years of over-hype, “smart” and web-connected appliances are finally happening.

While we’ve been talking about them for years (and there have been plenty on the market), home cooks have been a little slow to seriously welcome smart appliances into their kitchens. This show saw lots of smart introductions and I predict we’ll start depending on these technologies more and more in 2019.

How? Tell Alexa to brew your morning cup of joe in your Hamilton Beach coffeemaker and it will be ready by the time you brush your teeth. Get dinner on the table even faster by starting your Instant Pot from the car while you’re picking up the kids from after-school activities. When you run out of coffee beans, you’ll be able to depend on the Voltaire Smart Grinder to place an order for you. Bartesian, a Keurig-type appliance for cocktails, can read drink mix pods so it knows to add bourbon to your old-fashioned and tequila to your BFF’s margarita. And Chefman’s multi-cooker has a built-in scale that tells you when you’ve added the amount of chicken stock called for in the recipe you’ve chosen on the companion app.

You can totally see yourself finally using these smart gadgets, right?

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

4. At-home coffee making has become serious business.

Once upon a time, the humble stovetop percolator was replaced by the Mr. Coffee drip machine. We’re now miles away from that advancement.

The so-called automatic drip coffeemakers are now designed to meet very precise standards for brewing time and temperature set by the Specialty Coffee Association. Plus, they have every feature imaginable to give you your best cup. You can adjust the strength, serving temperature, and size of your pot of coffee and see how long it’s been since it was brewed. And lots of us must like an even more hands-on approach to brewing because there are countless grinders, scales, filters, and kettles designed for crafting the perfect customized cup of pour-over coffee.

One full featured coffeemaker to look for: NuWave BruHub.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. Appliance colors take bolder risks to follow home and fashion styles.

The choices used to be simple and pretty boring. There was black and there was white. Then, there was a time when red, blue, and green seemed daring. Next up were stainless and gray gadgets and gear designed to match your stainless steel pro range. Well, say buh-bye to all those looks.

Yes, they’re still available but why would you want them when you could have a Le Creuset Dutch oven in sea salt or fig or meringue? A pink KitchenAid mixer with a bowl to match or an orange one paired with a polka-dotted ceramic bowl will do every bit as good a job at kneading sticky bun dough as a plain Jane white one, so why not? Even when tools still come in black, white, or gray, they often have matte finishes and bands of copper to elevate them above the ordinary.

Millennial pink was last year’s “it” color. This year, I saw lots of mint, pastel blue, and navy (which is really just a bold neutral).

What do you think of these kitchen trends? Anything you wish would just go away already? Anything you’re hoping for? What has changed in your cooking career? Discuss in the comments below!