My Cheap Dairy-Free Kitchen Essentials plus Savvy Splurges

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My husband and I call ourselves “value” oriented minimalists, but it really comes down to two things. We’re cheap and I hate dealing with a dairy-free kitchen full of bulky stuff that I constantly have to move around and clean.

In my mind, small appliances should actually be small, and they shouldn’t rival my dishwasher in cost. And speaking of the dishwasher, I like to use it. Hand washing a bunch of parts every time I want to chop or dice something is much more of a hassle to me than simply grabbing a knife and a cutting board. Plus … You Don’t Need a Bunch of Expensive Kitchen Tools for Dairy-Free Living!

One of the big reasons that I don’t use expensive kitchen tools is that I want my recipes to be accessible to all. Not everyone can afford a $200 to $500 high speed blender or mixer, so I choose not to test recipes with those items. Which means that you don’t need any fancy equipment to make the recipes in my books. In fact, here is just about every tool in my dairy-free kitchen.

My Cheap Dairy-Free Kitchen Essentials plus Savvy Splurges

My Cheap Dairy-Free Kitchen Favorites

Aside from the big appliances, my dairy-free kitchen cost us just a few hundred dollars to equip. For a true minimalist, you could get by with just $100 to $200 and have everything you need!

Personal Blender with Grinder

If you have a small household or you don’t do big batch blending often, then you really don’t need a full-size blender. These mini blenders come with single-serve cups for smoothies, can blitz like a high-power blender thanks to the low volume, and can even mince small batches of cauliflower in a pinch! And the good ones come with a grinder attachment for powdering nuts, coffee, and spices.

This is the most used appliance in our kitchen, and now in my dad’s kitchen. We bought him this one (the same as ours) years ago for Christmas and he takes it for a spin almost daily!

Hand Mixer

I’m waiting for our old hand mixer to finally burn out, but it keeps on going. I mix most things the old-fashioned way, with a big spoon. But for creaming and whipping, I pull out my trusty hand mixer. If you’re handy with a whisk, you can even skip the hand mixer. I just haven’t mastered the whisking wrist motion yet.

Keep in mind that most hand mixers can quickly burn out if they are worked too hard. Once you see smoke emerging from your hand mixer, it’s usually too late to save that motor. If you want to keep yours going for years, don’t mix for more than a few minutes at a time. Let it rest periodically or if it seems hot. And don’t use it for very thick dough. Once it gets quite thick, bread dough should be stirred and then worked with your hands.

Ice Cream Maker

Some of you might be thinking that this should be in the splurge category, but in my opinion, homemade “ice cream” is a luxury that we dairy-free eaters deserve. And those dairy-free pints at the store can be expensive!

A cheap ice cream maker can pay for itself and then some in just one summer. Plus, making dairy-free ice cream is as easy as blend and pour with a churning machine. Just don’t forget to pre-freeze the insert!

I’ve had two ice cream makers over the years, and bought each one for just $15 on sale! I’ve had my current one so long, that I couldn’t find the model online. But the one I’ve linked to is similar to the one that I used to make the ice cream recipes in Go Dairy Free and Eat Dairy Free – in fact, it’s even a little fancier than mine! If you’re willing to spend just a smidgen more, Cuisinart’s basic ice cream maker is well loved.

Nut Milk Bag

I honestly didn’t see the point of a nut milk bag for years. I had one, sitting in the package, for far too long. But I finally opened it and discovered how it seamlessly removes the grit from homemade milk beverages and sauces. And it’s so darn easy to clean! Now I don’t want to live without one. It’s like a flexible, fine strainer that takes up next to no room.

The nut milk bag that I used for testing recipes in Go Dairy Free was a no name that I got at a tradeshow. So I can’t point you to that exact one. But I recently got a second one from Ellie’s Best, which is probably the most popular nut milk bag out there.

Cheesecloth

But there are some recipes where a nut milk bag isn’t the best option for straining. I do find that making homemade cheeses and straining dairy-free yogurt works much better with cheesecloth and a plain old sieve. Cheesecloth can be laid flat, layered, and tightened around the food to really squeeze out the liquid over time.

In a pinch, I just pick up some cheesecloth at the grocery store. But it pays to plan ahead and buy online. It’s much cheaper and you get way more than the little bags that most stores carry.

Fine Mesh Sieves

Of course these are necessary for draining pasta, rice, and other grains. And they’re great for sifting flours, clumpy powdered sugar, and cocoa powder. But they’re also good for straining sauces and making the aforementioned dairy-free cheese alternatives.

I also learned a little trick while watching a Thomas Keller cooking class. You can squeeze lemons and limes through a fine mesh strainer to catch seeds! Lemon and lime come in very handy for adding tang to dairy-free cheeses, cheesecakes, and yogurts, so you can bet I’ll be using this tip a lot.

Good Knives

Quality knives are essential, but it doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on them. A personal chef came to our home once and was impressed by what good quality knives we have. She couldn’t believe we paid just $70 for the whole block.

The set shown here is the same brand that we have, but it has several more knives, so it does cost more. Knives are something that you want to spend a little bit on to get good quality, but you can still get a good full set for around $100 or less. If your budget is tight, start with one good quality Chef’s knife and build your collection from there.

Stainless Steel Baking Sheets and Pans

We switched from aluminum and non-stick to stainless steel a while back. It’s naturally non-stick, durable, and cleans wonderfully in the dishwasher (yes, on the bottom rack!).

You’ll want a baking sheet with high sides (sometimes called a jelly roll pan) for the most versatility. And you might want a pizza pan for the Pizza Night recipe chapter in Go Dairy Free. Although you can use one of the baking sheets instead for a rectangular pizza.

Parchment Paper

When I need extra non-stick help, or am making any type of no bake treat, parchment paper is a savior. In fact, it’s become a go-to for many recipes using my baking sheets.

I used to use silicone baking mats, which seemed more eco-friendly at first. But they sucked up so much grease that I was wasting water trying to get them clean. Plus, parchment paper can be cut to fit your needs, and even to line a bread pan so that you can pull the bread right out!

Parchment paper is the one “disposable” item on this list, but you can use a sheet several times before sending it to the compost.

Silicone Bakeware

I’m addicted to silicone muffin cups. They’re great for making no bake treats and never have a sticking issue with muffins. I do place them on a baking sheet to keep them level in the oven and to make it easier to move them around.

If also love using silicone spatulas for baking. However, I don’t recommend silicone-coated utensils, like whisks, as the silicone tends to peel or break.

If you opt for larger silicone bakeware, like bread or bar pans, then I recommend splurging on a set with firm rims. Large cavity silicone pans can be unwieldy.

Glass or Ceramic Baking Dishes

Glass is my staple, but something feels special about ceramic bakeware. Both work well for oven to table, and can cover everything from casseroles to cookie bars. And you will want one to make the dairy-free lasagna recipes in Go Dairy Free.

If you’d like ceramic, but are on a budget, Good Cooks has some beloved affordable ceramic loaf pans and baking dishes.

Stainless Steel Pots and Pans

We had the same non-stick dilemma as I know many of you have. And the eco-friendly pans really didn’t solve any problems. I know some of you swear by cast iron, but wielding that heavy pan wasn’t working out so well. So we found our way back to stainless steel and couldn’t be happier. They work great and can be tossed in the dishwasher.

There are some more helpful basics, like a can opener, cutting board, whisk, and a corkscrew (naturally!). But the above covers the “big stuff” and the somewhat unique or specific items that I love in my dairy-free kitchen.

Savvy Splurges YOU Might Want (But Aren’t Required)

Although many cookbook authors would lead you to believe otherwise, these higher ticket items are not kitchen essentials. But there are several reasons why you might choose to get one (or more). Plus, they can be fun items to add to a holiday wish list.

High-Speed Blender (A Value One!)

For years, we used only the mini blender with grinder, which was no problem. You really don’t need a high-speed blender to make dairy-free recipes!

But my husband spotted the Ninja high-power blender on sale for a smokin’ deal around the holidays and had to splurge. Even full price, it’s the best quality value blender on the market (IMO). I highly recommend getting the one with single-serve cups, which you can use for smoothies and for small batch blending.

But if you do go with a high-speed blender like this one, then I recommend getting a separate spice / coffee / nut grinder. You’ll still want that grinding and powdering capability for small items (preferably 250 watts). Most full-size blenders don’t come with a grinding blade and small cup.

Slow Cooker (That’s Sized Right)

I don’t do many slow cooker recipes, because for us the slow cooker is more of a “toss in what we have” kind of appliance. So you don’t need it for either of my books. But it’s a great inexpensive convenience for your dairy-free kitchen.

However, I recommend buying only the size you need – no bigger. We bought a “standard size” crockpot years ago, and never used it. It finally got donated in “like new” condition. Then, on a whim, we picked up a mini slow cooker for $15. It gets used all the time! With just two people in our household, a large slow cooker was never worth dealing with. But this smaller one cooks meats, sauces, or soups in just the right quantity for two people. You can even make dairy-free yogurt with it!

My friend Stephanie O’Dea, the slow cooker queen, recommends the Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget It Slow Cooker for larger households. She’s also budget-minded!

Yogurt Maker (I Do Not Own)

There are many ways you can make dairy-free yogurt – in the oven or slow cooker for two. But if you are frequently fermenting, then a yogurt maker can be a nice convenience to have on hand.

I couldn’t resist the cuteness of this jar-style yogurt maker from Belle + Bella. You can buy a second porcelain jar separately if you like to always have some dairy-free yogurt on the go. And they also sell a dairy-free yogurt starter.

Multi-Cooker (I Do Not Own)

If you just love convenience appliances like slow cookers, rice cookers, yogurt makers, and pressure cookers, than in InstantPot might be your all-in-one value.

Here’s why we abandoned rice cookers and how I easily cook low arsenic rice. And pressure cooking hasn’t caught my attention yet. So I haven’t felt the urge to invest in a multi-cooker. But it could be the perfect value tool for your kitchen!

There are other brands of multi-cookers, but many friends swear by the InstantPot. And it isn’t a bad value.

Electric Kettle (For Tea or Electric Stoves)

We drink a lot of tea. Let me restate that. We drink A LOT of tea. So that is a primary use for our kettle. But it’s also become very handy for heating or boiling water for recipes, pasta, and rice. And if you have a flat top electric stove, an electric kettle is a lifesaver. It boils water in a fraction of the time.

When making pasta or rice, I put just a little water (about 1 centimeter) in the pot on the stove and turn it on. Then I fill the kettle and boil it. I add that boiling water to the now hot pot on the stove, and I’ve got boiling water in a third of the time it would take my stove to boil it!

Food Processor (I Do Not Own)

Before you try to convince me of the importance of a food processor, we used to own one. It was bulky, hard to clean, and took way more time to use than grabbing a knife and cutting board. For those fine slices, I use a mandolin.

But if you do a lot of meal prep at once and/or have a big household, then I could see the use for this popular small appliance. If I ever get my act together enough to do batch meal prepping, then I might invest in one again.

Like the slow cooker, make sure you consider the size that is best for your home. A large food processor works best with large batch cutting, while a smaller one will work best for regular use in a small household.

Stand Mixer (I Do Not Own)

It pains me to even suggest a big huge and expensive (gasp!) mixer. But it is something you might really want. And I know how much some of you adore your stand mixer and all of the funky attachments.

We had a much more lightweight one when I was a kid, and even so, I usually just grabbed a bowl and spoon. But if you are constantly whipping aquafaba (which can take ages!), kneading bread dough almost daily, or can’t resist the idea of gadgets for rolling pasta, spiralizing, and more, then you might want to ask Santa to gift you this beast. I do have homemade pasta (tortellini and ravioli!) in Go Dairy Free, but it can be rolled the old-fashioned way.

Make sure you have space on your counter for it, and that you pick a color that goes nicely with your kitchen, because you won’t want to deal with moving it around much or trying to store this sucker in a cabinet. For a lower price, more compact option, I’ve heard good things about Cheftronic’s Stand Mixer.

Stick Blender or Frother (For Soup & Coffee)

These are Tony’s equipment splurges. My husband often recommends an immersion blender or stick blender – he loves that thing. It’s great for quickly blending soups and other items right in a pot or mixing bowl. Ours doesn’t have a whisk attachment like the one shown. If it did, it might be one of my favorite kitchen tools!

And he loves his cheapo frother for mixing dairy-free coffee drinks and protein powders right in the mug or glass.

Like this Post? It’s a Supplement to Go Dairy Free!

I created this post for readers of my newly revised book, Go Dairy Free: The Ultimate Guide and Cookbook. The cheap dairy-free kitchen favorites at top are basically the only specialty tools you need to make every recipe in the book! The savvy splurges aren’t requirements – they’re just nice to have for some people.

Go Dairy Free 2nd Edition - The Ultimate Guide and Cookbook for Dairy-Free Living with Over 250 Recipes!

What Are Your Must-Have Kitchen Tools?

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

8 Comments

  1. I love the list! There are some great ideas I am going to try! I love my high powered blender and my temp controlled electric tea kettle too. Have you tried Yonanas? It was big a couple of years ago, but my family still loves it. You make “ice-cream” with frozen fruit.

  2. I currently own a Vitamix that has 5 preset modes on the left side, with one for making smoothies with and another the cleaning mode. The right side has 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, indicating how fast the blender can/will go. With the wet container that came with my Vitamix, I can also make various soups that are hot and various sauces that are hot and I don’t mean spicy but are cooked though when I say sauces and soups that are hot. I don’t own the dry container where you can make flour and doughs with. Best investment of my life. I need to learn how to make other things besides smoothies using the Vitamix blender though.

  3. This is fantastic…I’d say mine looks about the same although many of the larger appliances I don’t have, I have a tiny kitchen and just don’t have the space. And I couldn’t live without my Vitamix, although not exactly cheap..it’s so worth it! Another really inexpensive one I like is my little citrus press.

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