If you’re the proud owner of a new piece of kitchen equipment given to you by loved ones, Santa or — good for you — yourself, you may be wondering: Now what do I do with this?

I hope you’ve at least taken it out of the box, anyway.

Trying to settle on how best to break in a new tool can lead to decision paralysis, especially if it’s something you’ve never used before. But sometimes you just need to go for it. If you’re ready to open that box and get cooking, here are some helpful suggestions for a half-dozen popular kitchen gifts.

Cast-iron skillet


Classic Fried Chicken. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

A cast-iron skillet can do so much. You can use it in many ways you’d use an ordinary skillet (avoid acidic ingredients, though, which can cause off flavors), but it’s worth thinking about how best to harness this workhorse’s ability to achieve and retain a consistent heat. High sides and excellent heat retention make cast-iron skillets ideal for frying. That naturally means it could be time for you to make our Classic Fried Chicken.

Even if you don’t want to go the frying route, you can still take advantage of cast-iron’s ability to sear and crisp ingredients, such as in this One-Skillet Sausage and Potato Hash.


Skillet Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

And because it’s oven-safe, you can bake all kinds of things in cast-iron, from a Vegetable Frittata to our Any-Fruit Cobbler. If you’ve never thought of employing it for sweets, allow me to introduce you to these Skillet Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Blondies.

Food processor


Cabbage Slaw With Orange-Pumpkin Seed Dressing. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

If you received a food processor during the holiday season, congratulations! Your life’s about to get a lot easier. This powerhouse can help you with all kinds of prep work, such as chopping vegetables, grating cheese and thinly slicing produce. Getting through a head of cabbage is easy with a food processor’s shredding disk, as in this Cabbage Slaw With Orange-Pumpkin Seed Dressing. Food processors can, of course, break down food even further; they can smoothly churn out dips and spreads. Speedy Homemade Hummus, here we come.

Don’t overlook the machine’s capacity for baking projects, too. The blade can help you bring together a pie crust and other buttery doughs. See: Peach Melba Shortbread Bars. Even Basic Pizza Dough for the Oven can be made in a food processor, no stand mixer required.

Dutch oven


Kabocha Squash and Peanut Stew. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

What can’t you do in a Dutch oven? Like their skillet relatives, our favorite Dutch ovens are made of cast-iron. They, too, excel at trapping and maintaining heat. So definitely turn to your Dutch oven for frying, including the fried chicken above. I love it best, though, for soups, stews and braises. This Kabocha Squash and Peanut Stew is an ideal winter dish. Braised Short Ribs of Beef and Braised Chicken Thighs With Tomatillos achieve tender perfection in a Dutch oven.

The ability to move from stove top to oven is another bonus of this pot. That’s perfect for meat you might sear and then roast or braise, including Brisket Braised in Beer (Bierfleisch). It also means you can use your Dutch oven to bake bread, such as Country Loaf (Pain de Campagne), in what basically amounts to a miniature steam oven, giving you a superior crust.

Multicooker/Instant Pot


Braised Chicken Thighs With White Beans and Pancetta. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

The countertop appliance that’s all the rage these days was probably at the top of many recipients’ gift lists. What does everyone love about it? Pressure cooking, which can significantly cut the time it takes to cook a wide variety of dishes, from soups and stews to batches of beans and large cuts of meat. I have used mine the most to make steel-cut oatmeal, but these Braised Chicken Thighs With White Beans and Pancetta are worth the price of admission, too.

Look for ultra tender meat with Instant Pot Thanksgiving Turkey (not just for the holiday!) and Tea-Braised Chuck Roast With Ginger and Orange. Creamy beans are the star of Chickpea and Artichoke Tagine and Black Bean Soup.


Pumpkin Creme Brulees. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

Don’t overlook the tool for dessert, when Carrot Coconut Cake and Pumpkin Creme Brulees are in the picture.

Slow cooker


(Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post; food styling by Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

Sure, multicookers are the talk of the town, but there’s still a lot to make in your slow cooker. It helps keep meat perfectly moist, such as in Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Chicken and Chocolate Lamb Chili. Fish — Slow-Cooker Salmon With Shallot and Green Beans — and vegetables — Spicy Braised Eggplant With Prunes — also benefit from the low-and-slow strategy.

Because slow cookers can maintain temperature for a long time, they’re ideal for parties, when people will be dipping in and out of dishes. You can keep non-slow-cooker dishes warm or make something in it from the start. Mexican-Style Sipping Chocolate is my top pick.

Vitamix/high-powered blender


Spinach Soup With Dill and Basil. (Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)

Doesn’t power feel good? You’re going to love how smooth your fancy new blender will get your soups this winter — say, Spinach Soup With Dill and Basil or Creamy Mushroom Bisque. They’re so powerful that they can also heat up your soup rather than just blend it. You’ll appreciate that capability when it comes to Fast Blender Tomato Soup.

Of course, one of the other great things is that these appliances can do more than your typical blender, such as making nut butters and other nut-based foods. Vegan cheese? Yes, you can, including Vegan White Cheddar Cashew Cheese. A high-powered blender can be used almost like a juicer, too. The Kitchen Sink and Tutti-Frutti are both nutritious options.

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How to clean annoying messes on your kitchen appliances and tools

Six cheap tools to keep your kitchen sparkling clean

Take the guesswork out of cooking with an instant-read thermometer