Need to know
- Before you buy any new kitchen appliance, think about how you cook. Will you really use it, or is it just going to gather dust in your cupboard?
- Some cult appliances, such as the $59 Kmart 3.2L air fryer, are often not only unnecessary, but also perform poorly in our tests
- We rigorously test hundreds of appliances in our kitchen labs, so you can rely on our reviews to tell you which are must-buys and which are should-avoids
We've all been seduced by an appliance in our time. You know the ones – they promise to make our lives healthier or easier, or our meals more delicious, and convince you that you just really, really need it.
A samosa maker, you say? Sign me up! A yoghurt machine – surely I'll use that every day!
But how many popcorn machines, ice-cream churns or donut makers are gathering dust in the back of your cupboard because you only used them once?
Our experts test hundreds of appliances in the CHOICE labs every year, so they know the appliances that are really worth investing in, and the ones you're better off not buying.
Buy things that will help you in the kitchen, and think about how easy they're going to be to clean and useFiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert
Even some of the cult products people swear by, such as the $59 Kmart air fryer, were deemed unnecessary by our experts, who suggest you'd be better off kitting out your kitchen with a good oven, good cookware and a few key (actually useful!) appliances.
"Companies market certain appliances as making your life easy, but often they're just a gimmick that you'll only use a couple of times," says CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair.
"When it comes to buying appliances for your kitchen, think about how you cook and what foods you cook – that will help you decide which appliances will be suitable for you and your family.
"Buy things that will help you in the kitchen, and think about how easy they're going to be to clean and use."
1. Air fryers
Air fryers have been touted as a great investment if you want to cook foods that you'd typically deep fry, such as homemade chips or frozen crumbed chicken, but in a healthier way.
But our kitchen experts say you'll get the same results, if not better, just by using your oven.
"Air fryers are not my favourite appliance," says Fiona. "You might want one if you don't have an oven, or if you have teenagers that want to easily cook themselves hot snacks. But they're very basic appliances and they can be very expensive, while also taking up a lot of space.
If you want to cook 'healthier' homemade or frozen chips, bake them in your oven – you don't need a special applianceFiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert
"If you want to cook 'healthier' homemade or frozen chips, bake them in your oven – you don't need a special appliance."
Cheap but not cheerful
The Kmart Anko 3.2L air fryer caused a stir when it came onto the market at just $69 (now $59), which is significantly cheaper than other air fryers from brands such as Philips, Tefal and Sunbeam.
But although it's one of the cheapest air fryers we've tested, it also received the lowest CHOICE Expert Rating at 64%. Our testers rated it "only OK" after they used it to cook crumbed chicken and frozen chips.
"Not only did it receive a low score in our testing, but the Kmart air fryer is also fairly large and heavy," our testers say. "If you really want an oven alternative, I'd suggest you buy a toaster oven, as you can do extra things such as cooking pizzas."
If you have your heart set on an air fryer, though, we do recommend some models. See our air fryer reviews.
2. Baby-food makers
New parents are constantly bombarded with products they're told they need to give their bub the best start, and there's probably no other time in your life when you accumulate more useless products.
Fiona says baby-food makers are one of the things – rest assured – that you absolutely do not need.
"No matter what they say they'll do, baby-food makers are essentially just food processors or blenders and steamers in one – all you really need to do the job is a blender or stick blender and a cooktop," she says.
All you really need is a stick blender and a cooktopFiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert
Your child will be eating purée for such a short period of time – a matter of months – that buying a specific appliance is probably a waste of money.
You're better off investing in a great stick blender, blender or food processor that has multiple uses (and no cheesy baby branding) that you can use in your kitchen for many years to come.
3. All-in-one machines such as Thermomix
There are many all-in-one machines on the market with an eye-watering number of functions – they'll chop, beat, mix, whip, grind, mince, grate, juice… the list goes on.
But then, considering that the prices can run into the thousands of dollars, you'd hope they do a lot.
Many people swear by their all-in-one kitchen machines. But Fiona advises that unless it's the first appliance you ever buy, and you don't intend to buy any others, you're probably just doubling up with what you already have.
If you already have a blender, a food processor, a stand mixer and an oven, you don't need an all-in-one machineFiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert
"Some people do love them, but if you already have a blender, a food processor, a stand mixer and an oven, you don't need an all-in-one machine," says Fiona.
And when you look at how much it costs to buy all these appliances (given that most people already have an oven), you're still better off financially than you would be buying a high-end all-in-one machine.
If your heart's still set on one, see our reviews of Thermomix and similar all-in-one kitchen machines.
4. Steam-only ovens
Steam ovens are relatively expensive appliances, considering they only do one thing. Although you can use them to steam a large variety of foods, you can't brown food, so they have limited versatility and can't replace a conventional electric oven.
You'll get better cooking results in a standard oven, or one with the added moisture settings, at a much lower cost.
Steam ovens also need a high level of maintenance to keep the water/steam system free of bacteria and mould.
You should only really consider a steam-only oven as a complement to your existing multi-function ovenKim Gilmour, CHOICE kitchen expert
"You should only really consider a steam-only oven as a complement to your existing multi-function oven," says our kitchen expert, Kim Gilmour.
"And really only if you're frequently steaming in large volumes or multiple dishes such as rice, fish, vegies and/or puddings. If this appliance really appeals to you, you might like to consider a combi-steam oven instead, which will give you more functions and save on space."
If you want to steam foods but only occasionally and in smaller amounts, a stovetop steamer or microwave will get the job done without leaving a hole in your hip pocket – or eating up too much of your free time.
5. Fridges with speakers and bluetooth connectivity (yes, really)
You can buy several models of fridges these days that come with bluetooth connectivity and built-in speakers, but our fridge expert Ashley Iredale is less than impressed by them.
Is it really worth the extra cost and complexity when you can play music on your existing stereo?Ashley Iredale, CHOICE fridge expert
"This unnecessary feature is so you can listen to music while you're cooking," he says. "Which would be great if we didn't all have eleventy billion different devices to play music in our homes these days.
"Is it really worth the extra cost and complexity, when you can play music on your existing stereo, bluetooth speaker or even just your phone?"
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.