Good Products

Thanks to either my opinionated nature or the fact that I have voiced my opinions on various podcasts for years, people often ask me to recommend products. Which Mac should I buy? What’s the best microwave oven? What kind of car should I get for a family of four?

Now, I’m no Wirecutter or Consumer Reports. I’m just one person. With a few exceptions, I don’t have personal experience with more than a handful of individual products in a given category. But I know a good product when I see it (and use it).

This page lists some products that I consider “good.” This may sound like a low bar, but sometimes “good” is as good as it gets for a certain type of product. Even with this lenient standard, the list is not long. As with my Great Games list, I will add products to this page over time. I may also remove or replace products if something better comes along.

If you buy something after following a product link on this page, I may receive money through the seller’s affiliate program. (Not all retailers have affiliate programs, and not all products are eligible for affiliate payments.)

Toaster Oven

I love toaster ovens, and I’ve personally tested many of them over the years. Casey Liss, my friend and ATP co-host, tells the tale of the strange confluence of events that led me to try so many toaster ovens, and provides links to listen to my (audio) reviews of each one, if you want all the gory details. If you just want my recommendation, it’s (still) the Breville 650 XL. (It’s also available at Amazon.)

There are two caveats about this toaster oven. First, it’s bigger than you might expect: 16.5 inches wide, 13 inches deep, and 9.5 inches high. Measure your counter space before purchasing this beast. Second, the knob-feel is terrible: loose, imprecise, unsatisfying.

As a product, this is a good toaster oven. But if you can get past its user-interface foibles, it does a great job actually toasting (or cooking) things. I’ve had mine for a decade and, I’ve still not found anything better.

If you have too little counter space for the Breville and want a toaster oven that can toast bread both well and quickly, consider the Panasonic FlashXpress. I think its user interface is subpar—confusing, poorly arranged buttons clustered below the door—but it’s a speed demon when it comes to making toast.

Breville also makes a smaller 450 XL model that is not quite as powerful as its big sister, and not quite as fast as the Panasonic, but it’s a good choice if you like the Breville’s proportions and UI.

(And, no, I don’t have any recommendations for slot toasters. Toaster ovens forever.)

Ice Cream Scoop

The OXO Good Grips Solid Stainless Steel Ice Cream Scoop is (probably) the world’s greatest ice cream scoop. I know it looks like just the ones you’ve used before that can’t make a dent in hard-frozen ice cream and end up forming ugly, rusty pits in the well of the scoop, but I can assure you that this is a different class of product entirely.

As the name suggests, it’s made of solid stainless steel. It’s strong, uniform throughout (no coating to chip away), and pleasingly hefty. The pointed tip can defeat even the hardest ice cream. Soak it in warm water and the thermal mass of this heavy instrument will keep doing work, scoop after scoop, for as long as you need it. The handle is typical Oxo: soft, grippy rubber.

As I am writing this, I am ordering myself a backup scoop just in case Oxo ever stops making this product. (The only thing I can imagine damaging the one I already have is a trip into the garbage disposal…but that is a thing that has been known to happen in my house, so better safe than sorry.)

Update (January 2023): Like seemingly all the Oxo products that I love, it looks like this one is no longer available. In its place, there’s this scoop, which matches the shape of mine, but not the material finish, and this scoop, which matches the material, but not the shape. People have reported getting scoops that don’t match either photo on Amazon, however, so beware. One person suggested this scoop from SUMO, which he said arrived looking very much like the Oxo that I recommend.

Chef’s Knife

The Victorinox Fibrox Pro Knife, 8-Inch is the best inexpensive chef’s knife I have ever used. There are better knives for (much) more money, but none in this price range come close. I own knives that cost twice as much and are not even half as good.

The grip is not quite up to Oxo‘s standards in terms of materials, but it follows the same philosophy: grippy and comfortable, with no concern for how it looks. The blade is shaped perfectly and stays sharp for much longer than you would expect. And it’s easy to clean and sharpen: no weird seams or chamfers.

Like the ice cream scoop, this is a product I love so much that I’ve purchased backup copies just in case it’s ever discontinued. I still routinely purchase more-expensive chef’s knives (I love kitchen tools), but so far, none has displaced this $35 wonder for all-around utility.

Waffle Maker

The Breville BWM640XL Smart 4-Slice Waffle Maker is $350. This is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a waffle maker. It’s huge and heavy. And I personally prefer thinner waffles with more, smaller squares. (The Breville makes four waffles that are over an inch thick, each with 25 squares.)

All of that said, it does a pretty amazing job. The waffles are evenly cooked and release easily from the non-stick surface. The gutter around the edge, meant to catch excess batter, does actually work. The controls and the LCD screen are surely overkill for what boils down to a fancy way to set the cooking time, but they work well and are easy to understand.

You might think the lack of removable heating surfaces would make it hard to clean, but cooked waffles leave almost nothing behind after they’re removed. Wiping the surfaces with a damp paper towel is usually all the cleaning that’s necessary. The permanently attached heating surfaces make the whole device feel sturdy, and they help prevent any batter from getting inside the machine.

I resisted buying this over-priced monstrosity for a long time. I purchased and returned several waffle makers that were just terrible. I could not find a reasonably priced model that was competent and consistent. I finally bit the bullet and bought the Breville. This price is (still) galling, and I (still) wish the waffles were thinner and had more, smaller squares. But within the size constraints inherent in its design, this damned thing makes perfectly cooked waffles every single time. It’s infuriating, really.