Our team tests hundreds of products and services every year — here are our 30 favorites from 2021 [Silicon Alley Insider]
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- The end of the year calls for reflection, and 2021 certainly came with as many ups and downs as any.
- All along, the Insider Reviews team stayed on the hunt for the best products and services around.
- Here are our favorites from this year.
The Insider Reviews team spends all year long testing the products and services we think are worthy of your investment. While we test and recommend hundreds of things in any given year, some stand out for reasons as varied as the list below. As a result, they might become top picks in our guides, the subjects of impassioned reviews, or both.
We asked our colleagues across all of our verticals what caught their attention most in 2021. From tech must-haves, style and beauty picks, travel essentials, and home and kitchen items to fitness gear and outdoor gadgets, these are the products we loved.
Here are the 30 best products we tried in 2021:
It seems like pellet grills are the latest and greatest of grilling implements, and any barbecue brand with its nose in the wind is joining the party. And so they should; pellet grills impart the most flavor with the least possible input or mess, and you can dial your temperature and your smoke level while monitoring thermometer probes from your couch.
But while I tested six for our forthcoming guide, Traeger's Ironwood series stood out most. The convection feature (an electric fan) has kept the temperature as consistent as any grill, and the hardware could care less whether you leave it out in the rain, sleet, or snow. The lid also makes a perfect seal where similar models tend to leak smoke around the edges. I'll be having fun with this grill and putting it to work all winter long. — Owen Burke, home and kitchen reporter
Read our guide: The 6 Best BBQ Smokers in 2021
Of all the products I've tested this year, the Benchmade has been the one that has helped me declutter my dangerously overstocked kitchen. It has the brunt force and heel of a full-sized chef's knife, but the fine tip and precision of a paring knife while being the rough length of a utility or boning knife, and it really is the best of all three. I've put all of my knives away save for a lone bread knife and Benchmade's Station Knife.
I'll be using it until it gets dull, and then I'll send it back to Benchmade for a free cleaning and sharpening, at which point I'll pull out a few other backup knives. I have a feeling, though, that they'll be swiftly returned to the drawer once I have the Station Knife back in my hands. Read more about it in our guide to kitchen knives here. — Owen Burke, home and kitchen reporter
Read our guide: The 6 best kitchen knives we tested in 2021
I've long been a wish-cycler, optimistically throwing just about everything into my recycling bin. Then a friend tweeted about getting her plastic film picked up by Ridwell, and I realized, uh-oh. I've been doing it wrong. For $12 a month, the service picks up plastic film, batteries, and other difficult-to-recycle materials. I was shocked at how much plastic I accumulate. It's only available in Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado right now, but here's hoping it expands soon. — Jenny McGrath, home editor
I live in a small town where you have to go out of your way to find quality, niche groceries like Maldon salt or oat milk. I finally signed up for Thrive Market since it works out to only $5 a month for the yearly subscription, and it's made grocery shopping vastly easier. In addition to being able to order all the things my local stores don't carry, I love Thrive's own brand for staples like tea, olive oil, and cleaning supplies. Plus, all items have reviews, so you know, say, the EVOO is high-quality. — Rachael Schultz, health editor
Hydro Flask launched the Day Escape backpack cooler this past summer and it's easily one of the most useful items I now own. The cooler itself is very well designed with comfortable back padding and shoulder straps and a wide, zippered mouth that's easy to pull cans and reusable containers in and out of. It's very lightweight but structured, which makes it convenient to carry when you want to keep food and drinks cold, especially if you're going to the beach or to friends' cookouts. But I actually like it most as a car cooler; because it sits upright on its own and is so easy to access, it's ideal for grabbing chilled road trip snacks and beverages out of the backseat. — Rachael Schultz, health editor
Making fancy cocktails is fun, but sometimes you just want to pour alcohol and a single mixer. Avec makes unique flavors, like jalapeño and blood orange, and suggests which spirits to pair them with. They're delicious on their own, too, so you can offer them to guests who aren't drinking alcohol. — Jenny McGrath, home editor
I have three dogs and only an 11-square-foot patch of artificial turf in my backyard for them to use. Even with immediate cleaning, It didn't take long for my lawn to get stinky. I've tried a few different enzymatic outdoor solutions, but nothing has done the job quite like Uricide. After spraying it on our yard, all strong odors were eliminated and replaced with a pleasant fresh scent. It lasted about two weeks before I had to go in and reapply — a better track record than any other product I've tried. — Sarah Saril, tech deals and streaming reporter
The Anova Precision Oven is a toaster oven but so much more. In addition to doing the usual baking, roasting, and air frying, this unit also steams food and can be used for sous vide without any need for vacuum sealing. It also has smart connectivity so you can start it preheating as you drive home from work, and the included probe allows you to monitor the internal temp of your food from anywhere. I like to use it for making perfectly-done steaks. — James Brains, home and kitchen reporter
Being someone who hates grocery shopping, a meal kit is a great solution for saving time and money. After researching a few different options, we tried EveryPlate in our household and loved it. For only $5 a serving, each meal comes with the essential ingredients for your recipe, plus detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to make it. I paused my membership for the holidays, but I will inevitably resume it because it's just so easy and convenient. On the off chance that I have issues with my delivery, EveryPlate support is also easily available and hassle-free. — Sarah Saril, tech deals and streaming reporter
The latest hardware release from Nintendo isn't actually the Nintendo Switch OLED, but even more recently this lovely little gaming gadget and digital clock. Modeled after Nintendo's classic Game & Watch handheld games, this version commemorates the 35th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda franchise with the first three games in the series pre-installed in the $50 console. The device can track time on an included cardboard stand, and is filled with easter eggs and secret codes to discover, making it an excellent holiday gift for the nerds in your life this year. — Joe Osborne, tech and electronics senior editor
The Yogasleep Hushh Portable White Noise Machine brings soothing white noise wherever we go with our baby, like when we take walks, run errands, or visit friends. It even helped during a power outage when our usual white noise machine wasn't running. — Antonio Villas-Boas, senior tech and electronics reporter
Google's Pixel 5a 5G has the best balance of performance, camera quality, and value among every phone we've tested in 2021. Paying more for a phone would produce rapidly diminishing returns. — Antonio Villas-Boas, senior tech and electronics reporter
At $249, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are premium earbuds designed for listeners willing to pay extra for the best performance. But their sound quality and noise cancellation are second to none, and they have a long battery life. — Antonio Villas-Boas, senior tech and electronics reporter
Samsung's Galaxy Buds 2 deliver incredible sound and noise-canceling performance for their price. The only problem is that there's no iOS app, which makes them best-suited for Android users. — Antonio Villas-Boas, senior tech and electronics reporter
Sony's latest OLED TV is one of the most impressive displays I've tested. The gorgeous screen delivers stunning contrast, and the set's advanced processing creates an incredibly accurate image. It's a bit pricey at full retail price, but it's worth the money for anyone who prioritizes picture quality. — Steven Cohen, tech and streaming editor
This wireless charger charges at 18W, which makes it better suited for Android phones, as iPhones will only charge at 7.5W with non-Apple wireless chargers. Still, the Moshi Otto Q's tasteful design and fabric cover make it an excellent wireless charger for any phone user for casual charging on desks or overnight. — Antonio Villas-Boas, senior tech and electronics reporter
My coffee set-up may be simple, just a French press and a hand-me-down milk foamer, but with Torani Vanilla Syrup, I feel like a barista. To make my favorite coffee shop drinks at home, I need less than a tablespoon of the vanilla syrup heated with my milk or in the bottom of iced coffee. The flavor isn't too artificial or too sweet — the vanilla complements the coffee without overpowering it. — Lily Alig, junior home and kitchen reporter
Apple's latest MacBook Air is among its first laptops to come with the tech giant's own M1 chip instead of an Intel processor, bringing big improvements to performance and battery life. The new MacBook Air may have the longest battery life of any laptop I've ever personally used; it lasted for more than 12 hours on a single charge. The M1 chip also makes the MacBook Air feel impressively fast for a laptop of its size and price. And since it's fan-less, you don't have to worry about your laptop sounding like a jet engine once it's under a little bit of stress. It was honestly hard to find anything bad to say about the new MacBook Air, except for the fact that unlike Windows device makers, Apple doesn't offer the option for a touch screen. — Lisa Eadicicco, former senior tech correspondent
LG's OLED display has become my favorite screen for gaming, whether I'm using the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, or my PC. The HDR color accuracy and high refresh rate make it an ideal TV for next-gen gaming, outperforming top-rated monitors. — Kevin Webb, gaming and streaming reporter
Read our review: The best monitor for gaming might actually be this LG OLED TV
As Insider Reviews' main mattress tester, I have to test a new mattress every two weeks. But, if given the option, I would spend every night on the Sleep Number 360 i8. I like that I can adjust the firmness of the two sides of the bed independently so my wife can have her firmer feel, and I can enjoy my softer feel. Plus, it has an optional feature that automatically adjusts the firmness as you shift positions in the night. It even tracks your sleep and offers recommendations for a better rest. — James Brains, home and kitchen reporter
Letterfolk's Tile Mat has been a game-changer for my entryway. The customizable mat lets me bring some creativity into my doorway while always looking clean and aesthetically pleasing. I've used the mat and hexagon tiles to write elaborate messages for my roommates, welcome visitors in, and celebrate the holidays. — Lily Oberstein, associate story producer
Since testing it and ranking it number one in our guide to the best cast-iron skillets, I have used the Field Skillet almost every time I cook. I sauté a lot of vegetables, and the Field's superior heat retention means I can load up the pan with several layers of veggies and they all come out evenly cooked. Plus, the seasoned surface is easy to maintain and isn't damaged by a little scrubbing. — Lily Alig, junior home and kitchen reporter
Read our guide: The best cast-iron skillets
When I'm not testing sheets, the Sleepletics Celliant Performance Sheet Set is what I use and recommend to friends and family. The sheets are made from Celliant-infused polyester yarns that convert body heat into infrared energy, which then promotes increased blood flow and reduces recovery time for sore muscles. I tend to sleep hot, but these sheets keep me cool. They also feel nice and soft. I've washed them a dozen times, and they haven't shown any wear. — James Brains, home and kitchen reporter
Prior to testing seven top models for our guide, I rarely used food processors. But, after using this fancy Breville model to grate and shred cheese, slice potatoes, ground beef, mix dough, chop vegetables, and emulsify mayo, I'm a convert. Prepping latkes for Hanukkah was easier than ever thanks to the quick shredding disc. Plus, it runs quieter than most food processors. — James Brains, home and kitchen reporter
Read our guide: The 3 best food processors we tested in 2021
My friends and I are obsessed with charcuterie boards and this cheese board and knife set is my go-to serving tray for wine and cheese nights. It also comes with slate cheese labels to add to the board when it's filled with salami and cheese. I consistently give this cheese board as a gift for any occasion. — Anna Popp, home and kitchen fellow
I am in a constant battle with my long, curly, thick, and frizzy hair so I was excited to use a shampoo and conditioner set that was curated specifically for my hair's needs. After taking the hair quiz and receiving my custom set of shampoo and conditioner, I've noticed that the color of my hair is brighter and my curls are less frizzy and loose. It's not the cheapest subscription service, but I think it's well worth the money. — Anna Popp, home and kitchen fellow
Lance Hedrick of Onyx Coffee Lab and 2020 UK Brewer's Cup champion Matteo D'Ottavio grilled me for not having tried this grinder, so when the new iteration came out I hopped to it. After making talcum-powder-fine grounds for an impeccable Turkish coffee, perfectly dialed espresso grounds, and equally uniform but coarse French press grounds, I'm pretty much sold. I'll have a full review up soon, but in the meantime, this is a great addition to your on-the-go-kit and minimalistic kitchen alike. — Owen Burke, home and kitchen reporter
If you've ever tried to make rogan josh from scratch, you know it takes seven or eight ingredients for the spice blend alone. Moji Masala has a dozen types of spice packs for making Indian dishes like dahl and tandoori chicken. Each brightly colored package serves between two and five people, and there's a QR code on the back that sends you to a video to show you how to make the easy-to-follow recipes. — Jenny McGrath, home editor
I've tested well over a dozen French presses for our guide, and frankly, I'm almost invariably bored with the options out there. Glass, plastic, or stainless steel, the plungers are always about the same. Here's something different, though: a plunger that immediately stops the brewing process and offers French-press-style brew with pour-over quality refinement, and no sludge. — Owen Burke, home and kitchen reporter
Read our guide: The 4 best French presses we tested in 2021
I cook over a wood fire as much as I possibly can — it's great for entertainment and an easy excuse to bring the party outside, which is my objective whenever possible. There are plenty of similar designs out there (I also love the Kudu, which is mostly better for cooking, especially when standing up), but this one, which comes in stainless or Corten steel, comes with an optional outer ring that works great for searing and toasting. All sorts of fun concoctions can be dreamt up upon this "SearPlate," and it's exceptionally fun to use. While this firepit doesn't come with a cover, it's stood up to wind, rain, and snow for a few months and there's not a single sign of rust yet. It's also our fire pit guide's top recommendation. — Owen Burke, home and kitchen reporter