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The Trick to Better Gifts: Thanksgiving Snooping

By Lesley Stockton
Two white gift boxes, one tied with silver ribbons and the other tied with red and gold ribbons, sit on a cream colored blanket.

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.

Media streamers

A close-up of the Roku streaming stick and remote.
Photo: Chris Heinonen

Our pick

Roku Streaming Stick+

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.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $70.

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.

To learn more about media streaming options, check out our guide to cutting the cord.

Smart hub

The Amazon Eco on a home tabletop.
Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick

Amazon Echo (First Generation)

The best voice-control system and digital assistant

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.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $140.

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 “What Is Alexa? What Is the Amazon Echo, and Should You Get One?


Our pick

Jaybird X3

The best wireless workout headphones for most people

The Jaybird X3 headphones have a comfy, customizable fit, and can really take a beating.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.

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. In our guide to the best wireless exercise headphones, Wirecutter writer Lauren Dragan says: “They stay put during workouts, sound great, and offer an eight-hour battery life that will get you through more than a week of hour-a-day workouts.” 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.

Bath towels

A close-up of three colorful towels.
Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick

Caro Home Micro Cotton Towel

Luxurious and soft

This luxurious towel is a generous gift that will see daily use all year long.

Buying Options

Buy from Towels by Gus

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $35.

We’ve all been guilty of hanging on to old towels longer than we should. Unraveling seams, stains, and faded colors mean it’s time for a new set. High-quality towels are plush and absorbent, and a gift that’ll see use every single day. After spending more than 40 hours on research and testing for our bath towel guide, we found the Towels by Gus Natural Plush Micro-Cotton Towel to be the softest and most luxurious of the 11 towels we tested. Towels by Gus offerings are not as bulky as other premium bath towels, but they are still highly absorbent and soft to the touch. With 15 colors to choose from, you’ll be sure to find a set that coordinates with most decors.

Coffee maker

The OXO coffeemaker sitting on a home tabletop alongside cups and plants.
Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick

OXO Brew 9-Cup Coffee Maker

Excellent drip coffee

Expect great-tasting coffee from a machine that’s easy to use and clean. It brews a 1-liter pot in less than seven minutes.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $198.

Baratza Encore Coffee Grinder

A burr grinder for drip coffee makers

Produces more consistent grinds than most $200 grinders for a lower price.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $130.

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. For our guide to the best coffee maker, we made hundreds of cups of coffee in a dozen machines and found that the OXO gave us one of the best-tasting brews. 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, as we explain in our guide to coffee grinders. 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.


A person holding the MAC knife against a wooden cutting board.
Photo: Amadou Diallo

Our pick

Mac Mighty MTH-80

The best chef’s knife

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.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $130.

Victorinox 3¼-Inch Paring Knife

The best paring knife

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.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.

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. We spent 75 hours on researching and testing chef's knives and found the MAC MTH-80 8-Inch Chef’s Knife with Dimples to be well worth the money. 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 $10 currently and is just as sharp as paring knives five times the price. And if you’re looking for a bigger knife set, we have a guide for that, too.

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 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.

Cutting board

Our pick

Teakhaus Edge Grain Professional Cutting Board with Hand Grip (15" by 20")

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.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $90.

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 (the wood-board pick from our cutting board guide). 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.

Nonstick skillet

Our pick

Tramontina Professional 10-Inch Restaurant Fry Pan

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.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $35.

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. We tested 10 nonstick pans ranging in price from $25 to more than $100 and found that 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.

A Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver Kit
Photo: Doug Mahoney

Our pick

Bosch PS31-2A 12V Max 3/8 in. Drill/Driver Kit

The best drill

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.

Buying Options

*At the time of publishing, the price was $100.

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. We tested 16 drills and found that the Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Max Drill/Driver Kit is perfect for jobs around the house. Sweethome writer Doug Mahoney explains, “Not only is it the lightest, most compact drill we tested, but it’s also among the strongest, and it completely blew away the competition in terms of battery life.” 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.

About your guide

Lesley Stockton

Lesley Stockton is a senior staff writer reporting on all things cooking and entertaining for Wirecutter. Her expertise builds on a lifelong career in the culinary world—from a restaurant cook and caterer to a food editor at Martha Stewart. She is perfectly happy to leave all that behind to be a full-time kitchen-gear nerd.

Further reading