The Best Smart Kitchen Tools for the Cook

The prevalence of smart kitchen appliances suggests that almost every traditional kitchen device either already has a smart version or will likely have one in the near future. In recent years, there has been a rapid rollout of intelligent upgrades for ovens, blenders, meat thermometers, and mixers.

However, the critical question remains: are consumers actually purchasing these smart appliances?

According to a forecast report by consulting firm Spherical Insights in 2024, the smart kitchen category is projected to reach $76 billion by 2033. This optimistic forecast anticipates significant growth. Presently, smart kitchen products only represent a small fraction, just 2%, of the entire global valuation of the kitchen category, which stood at $721 billion in 2023.

What defines a kitchen tool as "smart"?

The definition of a smart home and smart kitchen is somewhat flexible, but it generally encompasses devices that fall into one of two categories: those that are Wi-Fi enabled or those that are powered by artificial intelligence (AI), and frequently, they are both.

A slow cooker, air fryer, or food composter that is Wi-Fi enabled or "connected" primarily allows users to control the appliance, receive notifications, and track progress through their device.

The second category of smart kitchen technology pertains to core functionality, particularly the capability to identify different aspects of food and beverages and adjust its operations accordingly to achieve superior results. In essence, these smart appliances undertake tasks and make cooking decisions that were traditionally performed by the individuals operating them.

Examples of smart kitchen technology are abundant.

Blenders and food processors from well-known brands such as Breville and Ninja incorporate smart technology, which detects when ingredients reach a desired consistency and adjusts the blending speed accordingly to achieve the desired result.

Smart refrigerators are equipped with cameras, allowing owners to view the contents from anywhere as long as they have cell service. Some models can even identify the food stored inside and suggest recipes based on those items. While this feature may be considered intriguing, so is the idea of saving the $4,000 it would cost to purchase one.

At CES 2023, GE Profile introduced its "smart" stand mixer, which features a built-in scale and the ability to detect the consistency of dough mixtures, adjusting speeds accordingly. Additionally, the brand launched an indoor smoker this year equipped with an integrated probe thermometer and comprehensive mobile control, enabling even novice home cooks to create authentic barbecue indoors.

The indoor smart smoker represents a pioneering advancement in its category, being the first of its kind and truly groundbreaking. Similarly, the mixer incorporates features that many users would desire in every mixer. Both products were initially priced at $1,000 upon their launch.

While most AI-powered and connected devices are priced at a premium, it's unclear if the public is fully embracing what smart kitchen brands are offering. This is particularly evident in the case of the heavily invested smart oven.

Smart countertop ovens are failing to resonate with consumers.

These advanced countertop ovens, equipped with convection, steam, and infrared capabilities, have entered the market over the past decade, pledging to handle most, if not all, of the cooking tasks for users. It's akin to a fantasy from the Jetsons brought into reality, though perhaps better suited for Saturday morning cartoons. While specific sales figures are not readily shared by brand representatives, it's evident that demand is lukewarm at best, despite impressive engineering feats and strategic marketing efforts.

Brava offers an impressive light-powered oven utilizing infrared heat and dynamic zones within its chamber to simultaneously cook different foods at different temperatures, all with remarkable precision. Additionally, an internal camera enables users to monitor food from their personal devices and control the oven's extensive library of over 7,000 custom cooking programs.

The oven is undeniably a mechanical marvel. However, it's worth noting that it's relatively small, with just 0.6 cubic feet of interior cooking chamber space, and it comes with a hefty price tag of $1,300. This is more expensive than most full-sized wall ovens. Furthermore, despite being available through the megaretailer Amazon for roughly four years, there are only 74 purchase reviews to date.

Other companies have attempted to master the smart oven concept. Tovala's countertop model offers some, but not all, of the features found in the Brava oven. Tovala's compact oven is designed to cook prepackaged meals that customers can purchase from the brand. By scanning the QR code on the packaging for dishes like barbecue salmon with potato wedges or broccoli alfredo pasta, users can initiate the cooking process. The oven then adjusts between various cooking temperatures and styles, such as roast, bake, broil, and steam, aiming to replicate the techniques of a professional chef.

CNET reviewed the Tovala oven in 2017 upon its launch, when it was priced at $400. However, now, customers can purchase it directly from the company's website for $250. Additionally, third-party retailers have listed it for as low as $99. Similarly, the Suvie oven operates in a manner mostly similar to Tovala's. Its original list price has also significantly dropped from $400 to the current price of $299, which includes 18 free meals. It's worth noting these price reductions have occurred despite the backdrop of inflation and supply chain challenges that have caused most product prices to rise.

The June Intelligent Oven stood out as one of the most talked-about smart ovens. Introduced in 2015, this occasionally autonomous, connected, and AI-powered oven aimed to simplify cooking with its built-in thermometer. Working in tandem with a cocoon of burners and meticulously calibrated cooking programs, the oven aimed to achieve precise temperatures, particularly useful for delicate dishes like pork tenderloin, notorious for being easy to overcook and disappointing if not cooked correctly.

Advanced machine learning capabilities, remote adjustments, and consistent AI system updates from June's engineers ensured that the oven continuously improved its intelligence over time. Additionally, an internal camera provided users with a live view of the cooking process inside the oven.

In my 2022 review of the June oven, I found that the smart oven generally delivered on its promises, albeit with varying degrees of success for different tasks. While it was novel and enjoyable to use for a few weeks, I found that overly engineered ovens like the June and Brava can sometimes give the impression that they're designed for users who don't enjoy cooking—or at least, that's how it felt to me.

Herein lies the fundamental issue with excessively smart kitchen appliances. Besides the high cost, which can range from $600 to over $1,000 depending on the purchase timing, plus a monthly subscription fee, there's the challenge of functionality. Despite numerous attempts to reconfigure the machine and its pricing model, June was eventually sold to Weber. However, Weber quietly discontinued the oven late last year. While Weber has integrated June's advanced AI and internal sensor technology into its outdoor grills, a representative for the brand confirmed via email that there are no plans to revive the oven itself.

People who lack the desire to cook generally won't find themselves drawn to kitchen appliances that promise to do all the cooking for them. This sentiment certainly rings true for many home cooks, including myself. For those of us who enjoy cooking or aspire to learn, there's a strong inclination to develop the skills necessary to prepare meals from scratch. While there may be initial challenges marked by overcooked pork loins or underdone salmon, there's a sense of satisfaction in the process of trial and error—something that many smart oven engineers fail to consider.

To put it differently, individuals who possess a genuine interest in cooking are typically committed to the craft. Otherwise, they would opt for dining out or food delivery services. Moreover, if someone can afford a $1,000 countertop toaster oven, it's likely that their budget permits such indulgences.

Smart kitchen technology proves effective when it doesn't attempt to do everything.

However, not all smart kitchen gear is unnecessary. There are iterations of smart kitchen tools and appliances that have demonstrated their value in daily life and justify the additional expenditure.

Blenders equipped with advanced motor intelligence can be quite helpful without detracting from the joy of blending, if such a thing exists. Similarly, a smart meat thermometer alerts you when a whole chicken or side of beef reaches the desired temperature. While I appreciate the concept, I've found many of these thermometers to be inaccurate or prone to glitches, highlighting the need for improved calibration.

A smart coffee maker effortlessly brews your morning pot at your command, even allowing you to initiate the process from the comfort of your bed. Meanwhile, smart refrigerators boast built-in screens on the door, enabling users to display recipes, stream cooking videos, view a weekly schedule, or leave notes for the rest of the household. I find this feature particularly appealing, and when I have the means, I definitely plan to invest in one.

Smart composters, arguably one of the most promising new categories in smart kitchen technology, alert you when their bins of quickly decomposing organic waste are approaching capacity. Personally, I use the Mill Bin on a daily basis and have noticed a significant decrease in kitchen waste output. While it's not inexpensive, priced at $33 per month or $899 to purchase outright, it offers an excellent solution for individuals without access to a municipal organic waste diversion program or lacking outdoor space to initiate a compost pile.

Even certain features of smart ovens make practical sense. For example, a smart wall oven's notification that it has finished preheating, or your Instant Pot reminding you to release the pressure on your corned beef, allows you to step away from the kitchen without risking dinner getting ruined.

Among the smart countertop ovens I've tested, Breville's Joule stands out with its more nuanced approach to AI, coming closest to getting it right. The Joule boasts smart features such as autopilot cooking for recipes preloaded into the app. It also sends notifications when the oven is preheated and again when the food is finished cooking. Additionally, the oven offers an exciting rotisserie function (also available in the June oven) that rotates around a chicken to replicate the cooking process of a traditional rotisserie.

The Joule may still be considered too pricey for the average consumer, with a listed price of $500, although it can often be found on sale for less. However, compared to options like the June or Brava, its price is more reasonable. Even if you purchase one and don't end up utilizing all of its smart features, you still have a high-quality toaster oven at your disposal, which helps mitigate any potential buyer's remorse.

Smart kitchen technology is still in the process of finding its footing. While there are certain innovations I hope will become commonplace (such as smart fridge displays), ambitious endeavors in this field often result in inevitable misses. A plethora of modern smart oven robots attempted to revolutionize cooking for us, but it seems they may have misjudged the preferences of home cooks, at least for now.

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