The $5 Gadget That Will Make You a Better, More Focused Cook

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I'm a pretty impatient cook. I often drain a pot of pasta before it's done cooking just because I'm too hungry and eager, and I struggle to let chicken thighs and mushrooms cook undisturbed, even though I know they'll end up crispier that way. I just can't wait—I'm too excited!

When I started learning how to develop recipes, one of the first things I learned was that recipe testers keep timers going almost constantly, in order to measure the time elapsed as they cook through a recipe, and to keep track of how long different steps take. This was a change for me—I realized that although I knew a pot of pasta takes roughly ten minutes to cook, I wasn't really paying attention to how long it had been cooking. Instead, I was chaotically checking pieces of pasta at random intervals, starting after approximately three minutes, because it felt to me like much more time had elapsed.

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I've always used timers for longer dishes to make sure I don't forget things like that tray of brownies that needs to bake for 25 minutes, a roasted chicken that requires 45 minutes to get perfectly golden, or a pot of beans that will simmer for an hour, but I've always skipped it for "smaller" kitchen tasks.

But using timers is a good idea, since knowing the exact cooking time allows me to step away for long enough to do another task, or restrain myself from interfering. It allows those chicken thighs and mushrooms to make good, prolonged contact with a pan, creating more caramelization and therefore, more flavor.

Cooking steak is another great example: one short minute can make the difference between rare and medium-rare, so you want to know exactly how much time has elapsed. Even setting a timer for as little as two or three minutes while your steak cooks allows you to be a more productive cook: you can get a lot more done in those few minutes if you know you don't need to check what's going on in your pan. And if you, like me, have a somewhat warped sense of how long a minute is, you may find that three minutes is much longer than you originally thought.

Trust me, a digital timer can cost you around $5 and will make you a better, more confident cook. You'll be able to focus better on multiple tasks, since you won't be running back and forth to your stove every 15 seconds, and I think you'll find—like I did—that your food tastes better.

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To buy: Digital Kitchen Timer with Alarm, $5;

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