The secret to masterful gifting is a little pre-holiday recon. When you’re visiting family and friends for Thanksgiving, take a few moments to snoop around the house for things that need upgrading. These gifts will offer small improvements to their everyday lives—and you’ll have the element of surprise that you can’t get if you simply ask what your loved ones need.
Check the TV
Improved Wi-Fi, support for 4K HDR, and Roku’s excellent interface and search features make this an easy choice for most people. It offers the largest selection of streaming content, a clean and responsive user interface, and a useful search function.
If your loved ones don’t have cable or are using their laptop for streaming movies and TV shows, get them a media streamer. Our pick is the Roku Streaming Stick+. Wirecutter executive editor Mike Berk says he likes the Roku stick because “it really simplifies your TV watching and gives you the most options of any streamer. It’s a tiny little stick in its current form, so it doesn’t get in the way.”
If your gift recipients are Apple users and they purchase content from the iTunes store, you should get them an Apple TV.
One bonus of a media streaming device is that the faster you set one up, the sooner you can fill awkward lulls in conversation with a Cheers marathon.
Check the music setup
The Echo, always listening via Amazon’s Alexa voice service, lets you play music, order pizza, and get questions answered, and it can control popular smart-home devices and 1,000-plus other things.
If you know someone who has an interest in smart-home tech but struggles with clunky apps, get them a voice-activated smart hub. There’s something magical about asking out loud to hear your favorite artist and having the music start streaming into the room without your having to fumble with a stereo or your phone. We think the Amazon Echo is in a league of its own, since it’s a voice-activated speaker, a digital assistant, and a smart-home hub all in one. Wirecutter editor Grant Clauser has had the Echo since January, and he’s in love. “The Echo is more than just a convenient device for playing streaming music. It can tell bad jokes, turn your lights on and off, order you a pizza or Uber, and help you make a shopping list.” For more, see our recent guide.
The Jaybird X3 headphones have a comfy, customizable fit, and can really take a beating.
If someone on your list has a Bluetooth-compatible device, like the iPhone 7 and newer, you can upgrade their commute or workout by giving them the Jaybird X3 Bluetooth headphones. The design offers a secure fit and the seal blocks out distractions, both of which make these earbuds great for studying, working, and talking on the phone.
Check the coffee situation
There’s nothing worse than staying with family and having to wait 20 minutes for your first cup of coffee from an outdated, scaly coffee maker. Give them (and, let’s be real, yourself) the gift of an OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker. The thermal carafe keeps coffee hot for hours, which means no more bitter java cooking away on a hot plate.
An excellent drip coffee maker is just one factor in creating a good morning cup. Other than the type of beans you use, the other element of delicious coffee is evenly ground beans. The only way to get a uniform grind is with a burr grinder, and we think the Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder with Bin is the best choice for a gift. It’s not cheap, but neither are the multiple coffee-shop runs you have to make anytime you’re in town.
Check the kitchen
With its super-sharp edge, sleek tapered shape, and comfortable handle, this knife makes everyday dicing and slicing tasks smoother and quicker. Its high-carbon blade will also stay sharp longer than blades made from softer stainless steel.
We love the sharp edge and economical price of this paring knife. Give it along with our chef’s knife pick to make a set.
Offer a helping hand in the kitchen, and you may learn firsthand how hopelessly dull the knives are. A flimsy or blunt-edged knife is difficult to control, and you can quickly go from slicing a tomato to nicking a finger. Save your loved ones from peril by getting them a brand-new chef’s knife. Testers praised its razor-sharp edge and comfortable handle.
If you’re feeling especially generous, include a paring knife and make it a set. Our favorite, the Victorinox 3¼-inch Paring Knife, is only $13.22 currently and is just as sharp as paring knives five times the price.
If your gift recipients have good knives but are just lazy about getting them sharpened, you might want to point them in the direction of our upgrade knife sharpener pick, the Chef’sChoice Trizor XV Sharpener. Although we think the MAC MTH-80 deserves sharpening by hand or by a professional, a sharp edge is always better and safer than a dull one.
A gift-worthy cutting board
This beautiful teak board from Proteak feels great under a knife, and it’s easier to maintain than other wood boards. It gets bonus points for its size, counter stability, and eco-conscious maker.
Few noises are more grating than knives slicing on a glass cutting board. And the hard surface of glass wreaks havoc on a blade’s edge. Replace that old board with Proteak’s Teakhaus Rectangle Edge Grain Cutting Board. It’s large enough to serve as an all-purpose cutting surface and attractive enough to live on the countertop. Teak is more naturally moisture repellent than other wood-board materials, but it still needs monthly oiling; consider adding a gift of cutting board oil for easy maintenance.
The best nonstick pan
With its classic flared-lip pan shape, slick nonstick coating, and comfortable handle, the Tramontina is a quality pan that will last for years.
Sometimes the best gift you can give someone is permission to throw a beat-up object away. Worn out, scratched nonstick pans are sadly no longer nonstick, and they need replacing more frequently than people think. The Tramontina 10-Inch Professional Nonstick Fry Pan is the best choice for the money. The slick nonstick surface on the Tramontina released food as well as that of skillets three times the price. The thick aluminum construction conducts heat evenly, and the comfortable riveted handle feels secure and comes with a removable silicone sleeve to protect hands.
Check the toolbox
Smaller and lighter than other 12-volt tools we tested, this model drilled the most holes and drove the most screws, and it costs about the same as the competition.
A high-quality drill is an extremely useful, if admittedly unsexy, gift. If your loved one has shelves waiting to be mounted or a bathroom with no hooks, a great cordless drill will make quick work of those tasks. Commit to being the second pair of helping hands and eyes the next time you’re back home so you can help mount those hooks and make sure the shelves are level.