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No grill? No Problem! How to do July 4th cooking in your kitchen (Part 1)

Grilling and the Fourth of July are as tightly wound together as Christmas and snow. But just as it doesn’t always snow on Christmas, sometimes grilling isn’t an option. Maybe it’s a rainy Fourth or you don’t have the outdoor space. Never fear! You can still satisfy your desire for patriotic, culinary summer classics right in your kitchen.

We spoke with chef Gabriel Ross, who teaches culinary fundamentals at

Chef Gabriel Ross

the Culinary Institute of America in New York. As a meat specialist who spent 15 years living in New York City apartments, he’s the perfect candidate to teach a crash course in celebrating America’s independence without a grill.
“July 4 is one of the busiest times of the year for the meat business,” Ross said. “The things people are thinking about are barbecue, like ribs, pulled pork or barbecue chicken. Those are the flavors we associate with the holiday. Those preparations can be accomplished inside.”

Just as with other big cooking holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ll cut down on a lot of stress by preparing as much as possible in advance. Ross walked us through indoor preparation for a collection of July Fourth favorites:

Barbecue: You can get the same texture of traditional, slow-grilled barbecue chicken or ribs by slow-cooking meat in the oven, Ross says. “It’s harder to get that smoky flavor, but most people will slather it with barbecue sauce. The ribs are tender, the chicken is tender. It’s a pretty good approximation. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference, aside from the lack of grill marks.” Ross recommends cooking the meats covered at 275-300 degrees. “If you’re using St. Louis-style spare ribs, it could take 3-4 hours to get it nice and tender. Baby back ribs are a little leaner and cook faster. They might take only 1.5-2 hours. Once they’re tender, take them out, rub them down with your favorite sauce and throw them under the broiler.”

The slow cooking can be done 2-3 days before you’ll be eating the meats, Ross says. “Store them in your refrigerator, then take them out and blast them in a hot oven or under the broiler. Then you won’t have to spend the whole day cooking.”

Chicken: Chicken will cook faster than pork, Ross says. “I recommend dark meat because the white meat tends to dry out,” he says. “Breast meat tends to cook a lot faster.” Cover chicken legs or thighs and cook them slowly until they’re tender. “They usually only take 45 minutes to an hour,” Ross says. “They’re not going to be golden brown and crispy, but it’s just the first stage of cooking. You can put sauce on and put them back in the broiler and nobody will know the difference.”

Pulled pork: Pulled pork is a major time commitment. It’s typically cooked slowly over a charcoal fire for 6-8 hours. “It’s actually much easier to do inside, especially if you have a slow cooker.” Ross suggests using pork shoulder, picnic shoulder or pork butt. “Those cuts are great for pulled pork,” he says. “The pork butt or shoulder butt is the perfect size to fit in a large slow cooker. You can rub it down, put it in with a little bit of liquid, and cook it slowly until it’s falling apart. Then add your favorite sauce. You can cook it overnight, while you’re sleeping, and serve it right out of the slow cooker.”

Hot dogs: Ross’s New York City roots have made him a fan of the “dirty water” boiled hot dog, which is easy to prepare on your range. “If you want to do a bunch of dogs at the same time, put a pot of water on, add some salt to preserve flavor, keep the water right below boil. You can keep them there as long as you want.” Add sliced onions or beer to the water to add flavor. However, if you’re determined to replicate a grilled hot dog, consider cooking it on an indoor electric grill or a panini press. “Take the dogs, split them lengthwise, and put them on the grill. You’ll get the grill marks and crispy skin.” As a last resort, put the hot dogs under the broiler until they start to blister, Ross says.

Burgers: Attaining the outer crust that comes with a grilled burger is more challenging indoors, but still possible. “Whatever you’re cooking it in has to be very hot,” Ross says. “I recommend, if you have it, a cast-iron skillet. Preheat it until it’s smoking hot. Brown the burgers on both sides. If you want to cook it more, put it on a cookie sheet, in a hot oven until it’s done. You won’t get that smoky char, but you have a little more control and won’t have to deal with flareups or fire.” The faster you brown outside, the more moist the inside will be, Ross says. Make sure you cook ground beef until the center reaches at least 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shrimp: Here’s another summer favorite that can be prepared in advance. “A simple shrimp cocktail is easy and straightforward,” Ross says. But if you want grilled shrimp skewers, the broiler makes a fine substitute for the grill. “If you have a cast-iron skillet, you can do the shrimp on there. Get it nice and hot, kind of blister them on that cast iron.”

Vegetables: There’s still room for vegetables on this meat-centric holiday. “If I’m doing sausages or hot dogs, I like to do some peppers and onions to put on top.” Vegetables also make a great side dish on the Fourth. “A nice hot oven is a dream for preparing vegetables,” Ross says. “I’ll cut them into chunks, often with a little oil salt and pepper, put them in the oven until they start to color outside.” Ross is also partial to serving fennel alongside sausages, and roasted zucchini. “Go all the way up—most home ovens will go to 500 or 550,” Ross says. “A lot of people are afraid to do that. Keep an eye on it and know those vegetables will be done within 5-10 minutes. You have to turn them a couple of times.”

Dessert: Keep it simple, Ross recommends. “With all the heavy meats and other foods that go with the holiday, sometimes simple fresh fruit with whipped cream and a little poundcake or sweet biscuit is all you need.”

Ross has recently started to take advantage of the immersion circulator (also known as sous vide), which has given him an easier path to grilled meats. “I cook everything in the circulator,” he said. “I take it out of the bag, get a good hot fire, and basically just mark it up on the grill. It only takes a good minute or two to get grill marks.”

Clearly, a lack of a grill is no reason to skip that tasty, traditional Fourth of July cuisine. From your oven to your slow cooker, your appliances will give you the tools you need to cook up a memorable holiday meal.

Appliances break down barriers to healthy eating

What’s the biggest barrier to healthier eating? Certainly, willpower and determination are factors. But according to Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian practicing in Virginia, the biggest challenge for many is planning.

“The biggest barrier to getting a healthier meal on the table is the

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thinking ahead,” Maples said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ll get to the end of the day and think ‘What is for dinner?’”

Whether you’re preparing fresh meals or storing them to eat later, your appliances can help you get on the path toward healthy eating. We recently spoke with Maples and another registered dietitian, Marina Chaparro of Nutrichicos in Miami—both spokespeople for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—to get their thoughts on the role appliances can play in healthy eating. Here’s what they had to say.

Think in advance: Dinnertime comes quickly, and you can anticipate those days when you’ll be short on time for planning by having go-to meals that can be prepared quickly. “You need to have at least three on hand that you can get on the table quickly,” Maples said.

Having healthy meals at the ready means you’ll need appropriate containers to make storage in your refrigerator or freezer easy and help control portion size. “Loading up on the right containers will help you have better habits,” Chaparro said. Containers that are divided into sections will make you put some thought into what you’re storing and eating. “It forces you to have three or four different foods with small portions. It’s great to take leftovers to work. It divides it nicely, so you’re forced to include different food groups.”

Blend in the goodness: A blender is a great tool for both adults and children who might not get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Chaparro has been pleasantly surprised by a recent small-size blender purchase, which she initially bought to puree fruits and vegetables for her 11-month-old daughter. “I love it, because it’s really small. You can use it to cook up some fast recipes like salsas or smoothies.”

If you’re using a standard blender, consider the size, Maples said. “That controls how much you put in. Don’t make too much or not enough.” Chia or flax seeds can add texture to a blended drink. “It can be as simple as some chocolate milk and a frozen banana,” Maples said.

Sometimes, texture can put family members off from eating certain vegetables. An immersion blender can help. “My favorite small appliance is an immersion blender,” Maples said. “I would use an immersion blender to smooth out the texture. I can add more vegetables and don’t have to be limited to a jar of sauce.” The immersion blender can also add a richer texture to cream-based dishes, but allow you to still take advantage of alternative ingredients, like low-fat milk. “One of my kids liked stew a lot, and that’s where my immersion blender came in. I could throw in extra vegetables.”

Tastier veggies: Vegetables can sometimes be tough to sell for picky eaters. Your oven can make them tastier. “Many people may not know how to make vegetables flavorful,” Chaparro said. “If you use the oven—roasting or baking at 400 degrees for short periods of time—it caramelizes.” Add olive oil and fresh herbs for more flavor. “I find that people who don’t traditionally like vegetables will eat vegetables if they’re roasted. It’s just a different flavor dimension and brings out some of the sweetness in the vegetables.” Maples encourages people who don’t want to take the time to chop the vegetables to buy a food processor for easier vegetable prep.

Try an air fryer: While she doesn’t currently own one, Chaparro said she’s interested in giving an air fryer a try. “It cooks food by using really hot air and leaves it crispy on the outside,” she said. “Some people like their chicken nuggets or french fries. You still get a comparable texture.”

Don’t forget the freezer: Use your freezer to preserve portions for quick meal and ingredient options later. “When my bananas are getting overly ripe, I’ll peel them and freeze them,” Maples said. “They’re great in a smoothie, or I can make banana bread.” She uses an ice tray to freeze fresh herbs in water. “You can pop them out and put them in a freezer bag.”

Keeping a healthy kitchen

Organization and preparation are essential to healthy eating, Chaparro said. “We might just think it’s about food and choosing healthy things, but it’s about creating that environment. Put the healthy things at eye level, especially the fresh fruits and veggies.” Make sure you have the right prep tools as well. Chaparro has her favorites, including a mandolin slicer that she uses to make zucchini, sweet potato chips and beet chips, and a noodle slicer, which she uses to substitute vegetables for traditional pastas.

Keeping healthy options in sight and within reach can even encourage family members to drink enough water, Maples said. That’s why she’s a fan of refrigerator water dispensers. “It makes it accessible,” she said. “If you have ice and there, it’s great and cheaper than using bottled water.” (Note: Make sure you’re changing the filter regularly, and that the replacement is not counterfeit!)

If you’re hungry after reading all of this, try this citrus and herb poached salmon recipe from recipe developer and “real foods advocate” Alyssa Brantley at EverydayMaven, who says her essential appliances for a healthy kitchen are a “good food processor, a good blender and either a slow cooker or electric pressure cooker.”

AHAM will dive deeper into the connection between healthy eating and appliances during our June 29 #AHAMHealth Twitter chat. Join appliance manufacturers, nutrition professionals and others from 2-3 p.m. and tweet using the hashtag #AHAMHealth. See you there!

You’re getting warmer: How to choose the right air conditioner

Weather experts are suggesting that much of the U.S. could see higher-than-average temperatures this summer. It’s easy to forget what a heat wave feels like until it happens. However, you’re already behind the cooling curve if you wait until temperatures approach triple digits to shop for an air conditioner. Plan now, before portable and room air conditioners fly off the shelves and you’re left overheated and longing for autumn’s cool relief.

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You’ll find many models and brands on the shelves of appliance retailers. Choosing the right one involves more than just looking at price and power.

You’ll need to know a bit about the area you’re trying to cool. This is important. Buy too strong of a unit for the room size and you’ll use more power than you need. Take home a unit that doesn’t have enough capacity, and you may end up sweating (and, perhaps, swearing) while you use too much energy as your unit runs continuously but never quite cools the room.

Are you in the market for a portable air conditioner or room air conditioner? After you learn some of the differences, it’s time to get to work to figure out how much cooling capacity you’ll need your new air conditioner to deliver:

Check your measurements: Your first step is to figure out how much cooling power you need by determining the square footage of your room. Measure your window as well and take the measurements with you when you shop. Both portable and room air conditioners need to be connected to a window, and it’s important to make sure it will fit before you bring your new AC unit home. Finally, if you’re buying a portable air conditioner, it will take up floor space. Consider whether the physical size of the unit is appropriate for the room.

Choose your capacity: Air conditioner capacity is measured in BTU (British thermal units). Check the unit labeling as you shop. You’ll likely see a chart with BTU and the appropriate room size for cooling. Choose a size appropriate for the room or rooms you’ll be cooling.  If you are placing the unit in a kitchen, sunny room, or room with high ceilings, you may need to size up.  Some manufacturers may also have capacity information available on its website.

Speaking of capacity: If you’ve purchased a portable air conditioner before, you might notice that this year’s capacities seem lower than you remember. The difference is due to a new test procedure developed by the Department of Energy. The procedure takes different factors into account and generates a lower number to indicate capacity. However, the actual capacity has not changed—the difference is simply due to the different test procedure.

Frigid features: Smart technology is being incorporated into portable air conditioners. Some units can be turned on or off via smartphone or tablet, so you can come home to a cooler space on a hot summer day. Others offer a “follow-me” function that measures the temperature both at the location of the unit and of the remote control. If you’re sitting across the room from the unit and holding the remote control, the unit will take the temperature in the remote into account and adjust its output based on both temperatures. Other features you might find are programmable timers and alerts that tell you when the AC filter needs to be changed.

What’s your plan for staying cool this summer?

What the future may hold for kitchen design and appliances

What comes to mind when you think about the kitchen of the future? Robotic servers? Automated cleanup?

Sci-fi imagery aside, the kitchen is likely to keep its status as the household gathering space and hub for entertaining. But certain elements will trend toward personalization, and we’re likely to see both expanded and more specialized roles for appliances.

We recently spoke with two kitchen designers, Loretta Willis, Principal of Loretta’s Interior Design in Alpharetta, Ga. and Andrea Edwards, owner of CRP Design in Oklahoma City, to peer into the future and speculate on what the future might bring for kitchen design and appliances. Here are some of the trends they expect to see, both in the near and more distant future:

Personalization: Certain elements of the kitchen will be customized for very specific uses, depending on daily habits. That might mean a pull-out refrigerator drawer for certain easy-to-prepare breakfast or lunch foods, for example. It could become common to see more than one of certain appliances in kitchens, all part of a trend toward kitchen personalization. “Under-counter refrigerator drawers are a big trend,” Willis says. “It’s convenient and you don’t need to have everything in one place. Let’s say there’s a zone for food prep and cooking. You might have an under-counter drawer for things you tend to prepare daily. You might have a refrigerator drawer that just has water, soda or juice. The kids can go there—it’s so convenient. You still need your large refrigerator, but it doesn’t have to be the all-in-all.”

Specialized cooking: Some consumers are looking for ovens that do more than just bake. They’re also looking for the speed and look of commercial appliances. “I think people want the appearance of a professional kitchen,” Willis says. Right now, that look is primarily seen in high-end kitchens, but Willis sees the potential for mid-priced appliances to offer a professional kitchen look, even if they don’t offer all of the same features as their high-end counterparts. Edwards is seeing interest in steam ovens and a decline in built-in fryers, which were popular several years ago. Pizza ovens are also drawing interest. “I‘ve had a lot of specification requests for pizza ovens,” Edwards says. “I could see more of that, a combination oven with a pizza oven integrated.”

Extra, smarter dishwashers: People who like to entertain or who tend to use a lot of dishes might consider installing more than one dishwasher. “I’ve had some clients that had two dishwashers,” Edwards says. “I’ve done some recently where we have one in the kitchen and one in the butler’s pantry. I think we’ll see more of that.” Willis sees potential in dishwashers that automatically adjust to the appropriate cycle, depending on how dirty the dishes are. “I don’t think we’ve imagined, yet, all that can be done. I think we’re definitely going in the direction where one day you might just turn it on and it will choose the cycle.”

Refrigerators doing more: Do you like to listen to music while you cook? Edwards anticipates growth in the popularity of refrigerators with built-in speakers. Screens in refrigerators could also catch on. She also sees the trend toward more refrigerator doors and compartments continuing. “Having more compartments is a big deal,” Edwards says. “The pull-out doors on the bottom are big, and I think that will continue.”

Space built-in for portables: Portable appliances that get heavy use are being built into kitchen designs. “Open shelving is a real trend right now as far as storage of portables,” Willis says. “It’s creating a more open look.” But storage and display of portables will remain dependent on the client’s needs and choice, she says. If you’re going for an open storage plan, Edwards recommends choosing appliances whose colors coordinate with your kitchen.

Coffee stations: Coffee makers are beloved appliances in millions of kitchens. Now, some coffee lovers are expanding their devotion to the caffeinated beverage beyond a coffee maker into an all-encompassing coffee station. “We’re at a point where we’re seeing more coffee stations built in,” Willis says.

What would you most like to see in your kitchen of the future? Share your future kitchen visions in the comments!

Expert tips on refrigerator organization

You know the routine: Open the refrigerator, put the item wherever you can find enough space, then quickly close the door. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s how many people organizetheir refrigerator. While that may work just fine for some, it’s also a recipe for scattered meal planning and potentially wasted food. And the cost of food waste adds up, with a recent estimate by the American Chemistry Council putting it at $640 per year, per household.

Organizing your fridge can make sure more of your food ends up in your belly instead of in the trash. It also means less wasted money on food you aren’t eating. We reached out to Becky Rapinchuk, the cleaning and organization guru known on the Web as Clean Mama, for her tips on organizing the fridge.

The most common mistake people make in refrigerator organization is putting food where it fits instead of a space that makes sense, Rapinchuk says. She recommends putting food that’s already opened in the front of the refrigerator to make sure you’re using the oldest food first.

You have a number of options for storing food in the refrigerator, but clearly label what you’re putting there. Rapinchuk prefers glass containers for leftovers and labels them (using freezer or washi tape and permanent marker) with the date they were put into the refrigerator or freezer.

Rapinchuk, who’s a mom of three, makes a weekly meal plan and shops on the same day every week (Friday is her preferred day.) Shop according to what you have planned, and prepare what you can in advance. Before she leaves for the grocery store, Rapinchuk straightens up the refrigerator and wipes down the shelves. The refrigerator gets a thorough cleaning once a quarter.

There are other benefits to organizing your refrigerator. If you make it easy to find the food you’re looking for, you’ll be less likely to get frustrated and order takeout instead.

How do you keep your refrigerator organized? Share your tips in the comments!

Kitchen redesigns: Appliances, Cabinets and Space

During a redesign, your appliances, cabinetry and counter space work together to create a balance between function and style. Choices like the size of your range and other appliances can directly affect cabinet space, and choosing more storage or counter space could mean you’ll have to make concessions elsewhere.

Kitchen design is a personal process, and while there are plenty of trends to go around, each design and redesign is unique and shaped by homeowners’ preferences, personality and desires. We spoke with two designers who have a combined 50 years of kitchen design experience between them. Both agreed that kitchens are built around the appliances, where any design project should start.

Paula Kennedy, Timeless Kitchen Design, Seattle

For designer Paula Kennedy, the kitchen redesign process starts with a discussion on appliances. Many of her clients are one step ahead and have already begun researching their options, but she encourages them to take their time. “I tell them to go to an appliance dealer I trust and respect, and I make sure they don’t just walk in on a Sunday when everyone else is in there,” Kennedy says. “Take some time off from work and do it right.” She’ll sometimes join her clients on a visit to the retailer or give the dealer a heads up that they’ll be coming in. “I’ll specify some things to help them avoid mistakes,” she says. If they want a built-in refrigerator, for example, she’ll make sure they’re looking at the right models. “Saying ‘built-in’ to one manufacturer is different than to another,” she says. “There’s built-in, there’s flush-door, there’s framed-door, there’s fully integrated. They don’t all use the same language.”

Your choice of appliance, particularly the size, directly impacts the cabinet design. “It’s one of the most critical points,” Kennedy says. Cabinets take time to build, and they need to be ordered early in the process. A late change can affect how the cabinets and appliances fit. Be comfortable with your decisions, because even a quarter-inch difference in the size of an appliance can have major implications on the cabinetry. Does your dream kitchen design include appliances enclosed in custom cabinets? You’ll need to decide in advance, as panels must be an exact fit.

“We often start with the cooking range,” Kennedy says. “Do you want a range vs. a cooktop? How many ovens do you want? More cooking means less storage, and everyone is just screaming for more storage. It’s a tradeoff. Clients come to me with a list of appliances. We have to prioritize their needs. You aim for function plus storage.”

For portable kitchen appliances, it’s a matter of balancing countertop space for their use and kitchen storage. “People love their small kitchen appliances, but storage for those is a nightmare. When I walk into a house and see them all on the countertop, I have the challenge to properly design space for those countertop appliances so it’s not an eyesore, it’s not cluttered, it’s functional and not taking up counter space.” Talk to your designer about storage options that make it easy to access the appliances you use regularly and store those you use less often in a way that makes sense.

Your choice of appliance finishes should fit within your overall color scheme. Stainless steel is popular, but it may not be a good match for you. “Finish is a huge factor,” Kennedy says. “It drives what color we’re choosing for the cabinets. It has to be a color you love.”

Toni Sabatino, Toni Sabatino Style, New York

Toni Sabatino of Toni Sabatino Style calls her approach to kitchen design “appliance-driven.”

“The style of the appliance, along with the architecture of the home and ventilation are really important.” Your lifestyle should determine what you need, Sabatino says. Some factors to consider are cooking habits, diet and family size.

“A family that goes to Costco and Price Club and buys 130 boxes of pasta will need more pantry space than somebody who buys fresh food,” Sabatino said. “Somebody who keeps a kosher kitchen may have two sets of dishes.” Do you do enough entertaining to warrant including a second dishwasher? Put your priorities in order and allow them to guide your decisions.

When choosing cabinetry, Sabatino encourages clients to take style cues from their home’s architecture. “If you want an old house, classic look, inset white shaker cabinets are popular,” she says. “That will pair with just about any interior because it’s simple and has a built-in furniture look. It will pair with just about any appliance style—stainless or wooden ventilation covers. That’s a timeless look.”

Even though they aren’t built-in, you’ll have to think about your portable appliances during your design as well, both those you use frequently and those you don’t. If you use many small appliances on a regular basis, think about whether an appliance pantry might make it easier to store and get to what you need. Sabatino asks clients about their portable appliances during the planning process. “Do they have a yogurt maker that’s in the basement because they don’t have space for it?”

Also think about what you’re giving up when planning how to incorporate portable appliances. If you drink a lot of coffee, you might want to reserve some space on the countertop for your coffee maker. But that also means you’ll have less counter space. Designing cabinet space especially for portables means you’re limiting what can be put in that space, Sabatino says.

Do your homework, understand your options and apply them to your lifestyle. Plan carefully and know what you want before you begin, Sabatino says. “Changing your mind can throw off everything.”

Rise of the Robots: Robotic Vacuums Now a Floor Care Fixture

Traditional vacuum cleaner with a hose, nozzle and brush versus a modern circular automated low profile unit, high angle view on a shaggy white carpet
Do robots live among your appliances? There’s a growing chance at least one type does. Sales of robotic vacuums and cleaning robots are expected to grow from $981 million in 2013 to $2.6 billion by 2020. And the innovations keep coming. New features like cameras, voice controls and improved navigation have taken robotic vacuums from a novelty to a fixture in floor care.

So what does one need to know before turning over vacuuming duties to a robotic partner? Robots have come a long way in floor care, but they’re still widely considered a supplement to, not a replacement for traditional vacuums. They can’t yet climb stairs, but they can sometimes reach areas that are hard to get to with traditional vacuums, like deep beneath furniture. They’ll take longer to clean a room—about 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the robot and the size of the room—but they can also do it on their own, whether or not you’re there to supervise.

Red robotic vacuum cleaner and smartphone. Smart appliances concept. 3D rendering image.
The hundreds of robotic vacuum models on the market offer different features. They use different methods to find their way around a room, using laser, cameras or infrared sensors. They may have different work capacities or perform better on certain surfaces. Some models use lithium ion batteries, others use nickel metal batteries.

Are you ready to welcome a robot into your home? Follow these tips to create a more hospitable habitat for your new cleaning companion:

Break down barriers: Take a look around the area you’re going to vacuum, and remove any potential obstacles. Even a sock or something smaller on the ground can interrupt cleaning, particularly if the robot tries to vacuum it. Remove any items that could get stuck in your robot’s rollers and cause an error.

Remove the cords: Just as you would with traditional vacuums, make sure the area being cleaned is free of plugs and power cords that the robot may try to vacuum.

Keep it confined: A robotic vacuum goes where you allow it to go. Close doors that might lead it to another area that does not need to be vacuumed, or use the technology features to keep it within a certain range.

Welcome it home: Many robotic vacuums will automatically make their way back to their charging station when their power starts to drop. Put the charging station in an area that’s easy for the robot to access.

Keep the robot clean: Keep your robot’s sensors and other navigation tools free of debris, as it can interfere with navigation. Empty the robot’s dustbin after every use. Make sure filters are clean and replace as necessary.

The next robotic revolution

Robots are slowly making their way beyond vacuuming into areas like mopping and air purification. Automation is becoming part of appliances, with many new models incorporating voice controls and the ability to adapt to our habits. Are there any tasks you would be happy to hand off to a robot? Let us know in the comments!

Buying a portable electric heater? Here’s how to make the best choice

black electric heater on laminate floor in the room

They warm up your chilly office and keep your house guests comfortable all night long. Portable electric heaters give you more control over your own comfort and let you bring heat to where you need it during the cold winter months.

Like any appliance, portable electric heaters come in a variety of models and sizes, with different features. We’ve put together a guide to make it easy for you to buy your next portable heater so you can stay warm while you wait for the snow and frost to give way to spring flowers.

Heaters are classified based on how they generate heat. Your choice will depend on your heating needs:

  • Panel heaters could be wall-mounted or freestanding, and may include fans.
  • Radiant heaters generate warmth by heating oil within the unit, though the oil doesn’t need to be refilled.
  • Fan heaters distribute heat from an element using a fan.
  • Ceramic heaters use a ceramic heating element and may also use a fan to spread heat.
  • Infrared heaters generate heat from a surface within the heater. The heat is emitted in the form of infrared energy.

What you need to consider

There are a vast number of portable electric heaters on the market. Sorting through them all could take until summer. By then, you won’t need a heater anymore. Knowing how you’ll use the heater will help you narrow your choices. Here are three questions to consider:

Will you be using the heater for temporary personal heat or to keep a room steadily warm? The size and type of heater, and the size of the space you’re trying to heat, will be factors.

Do you need instant heat, or can the heat be generated gradually? Keeping your feet warm under your desk at work for a few hours will call for a different solution than making sure guests stay warm overnight in a chilly bedroom.

What’s your noise tolerance? Any heater with a fan will generate some level of sound. An in-store demonstration will help you decide what’s appropriate.

Heater features
Personal electric heaters offer a number of features for operation, safety and heat distribution. They might include:

  • A thermostat to keep the heat at a steady temperature. Some models offer a digital setting.
  • Oscillation to distribute heat
  • Adjustable fan speeds
  • Some types of heaters may employ additional safety features, including automatic shutoff if the heater tips over, cool-touch housing, child locks, or motion sensors that automatically turn the heater off if anything gets too close.

More on portable heater safety

There are a number of steps you should take to heat your home safely, regardless of the style of heater you choose:

  • Purchase a heater that is safety certified. This means it has been tested by a recognized safety-certification organization. Look for a safety certification mark on the packaging or the heater.
  • Don’t leave your heater unattended and always unplug it when it isn’t being used.
  • Don’t use your heater with a power strip or extension cord. Fire can result if either overheats or if the wiring in the extension cord cannot handle the wattage of the heater.
  • Placing anything on top of the cord, including furniture, could damage the cord. String cords out on top of area rugs and carpeting. Never use a heater with a damaged cord.
  • Combustible materials, including furniture, pillows, bedding, papers clothes and curtains, should be kept at least three feet away from the front of the heater and away from the sides and rear of the heater. Don’t block the heater’s air intake or outlet.
  • Keep flammable materials, such as gas and paint, away from the heater.
  • Don’t use heaters in wet or damp areas unless they’re designed for bathrooms or outdoor use. Heaters not designed for this may be damaged by moisture.
  • Periodically check the plug and outlet for a secure fit. The outlet may need to be replaced if the plug does not fit snugly or if the plug becomes very hot. Consult with a qualified electrician to replace the outlet.
  • Don’t plug any other electrical device into the same outlet or the circuit as the heater. It could result in overheating.
  • Keep children away from heaters and do not place one in a child’s room without supervision.
  • Heaters should be put on a flat, level surface. Only use a heater on table tops when specified by the manufacturer. Do not place the heater on furniture. It could fall, resulting in damaged or dislodged parts.

Have a warm, cozy winter. You’ll be looking for air conditioners before you know it. (And if you want to get an early start on AC shopping, we have you covered.)

How to brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush

Electric Toothbrush

Just as they give you cleaner floors and clothes, your appliances can also help you have cleaner teeth. Electric toothbrushes take some of the movement out of brushing for you.

We talked to two dentists—Ana Ferraz-Dougherty of Rolling Oaks Dental in San Antonio, and Colleen DeLacy of Lexington Dental Care and Sandusky Dental Care in Michigan—about how electric toothbrushes fit into your daily brushing routine. Like any appliance, electric toothbrushes must be used properly if you want to harness the full benefits.

Here are some of their recommendations on proper electric toothbrush use:

  • Brush properly. “Make sure you’re getting the inside and outside, the chewing surfaces,” Ferraz-Dougherty said. This video from the American Dental Association will walk you through the proper brushing technique if you need a refresher. Remember that an electric toothbrush is designed to do the work for you. “You don’t have to do that traditional movement,” DeLacy said. “You just have to guide the brush head.”
  • Store the electric toothbrush properly. Electric toothbrushes should be stored upright without a cover. “Don’t enclose it in anything,” Ferraz-Dougherty said. “The warm, moist environment promotes bacterial growth. It means you’re not really cleaning your teeth if there’s bacteria on your toothbrush.”
  • Change the brush regularly. Change it every four months or once the bristles show signs of wear. “Soft bristles will be easier on your enamel,” Ferraz-Dougherty said.
  • Choose the right-sized brush. The brush head should be comfortable and an appropriate size for your teeth, Ferraz-Dougherty said. “People who have larger teeth would want a larger brush.
  • Watch the pressure. Pressing too hard while brushing can hurt your gums. “Some of the newer models have built-in sensors that will give you an alert if you’re applying too much pressure,” DeLacy said.

Individuals who have trouble with the physical movements required for brushing might benefit from an electric toothbrush. “They’re good for people with limited movement in their hands, and for children who don’t have manual dexterity,” Ferraz-Dougherty said.

When brushing with an electric toothbrush, DeLacy recommends dividing your mouth into quadrants and spending a total of two minutes brushing. That means you’ll spend 30 seconds in each quadrant. Some electric toothbrushes have built-in timers to help you meet your brushing goals.

Thinking of buying an electric toothbrush? Ask your dentist for advice.

How to avoid appliance returns this holiday season

Boxes with gifts.

Holiday shopping. Visiting relatives. Social events. The end-of-year work rush. With everything else going on during the weeks-long holiday sprint, you don’t need to add “return a gift” to your to-do list.

While most customers find what they’re looking for, returns are an inevitable part of holiday shopping. When they happen, there’s usually a reason. AHAM worked with Bellomy Research to pinpoint the reasons behind portable (small kitchen, personal care, garment care, air treatment) and floor care appliance returns. Keeping those reasons in mind could help you avoid the hassle of a return so you can focus on what’s important during the holidays. Here are the most common reasons consumers gave for returning portable and floor care appliances:

It was the wrong appliance for the job: Aside from mechanical, electrical or functional defects, unmet expectations about performance are by far the top reason portable and floor care appliances are returned. Ask a sales representative to demonstrate how the product works, or try it yourself. Is it easy to set up? That’s important. Many who make returns say they may have kept the appliance if it had been easier to set up.

It didn’t fit: Many returns are made because the appliance is too small. Ask your retailer if you can remove it from the box to make sure it’s the expected size.

It didn’t match: Returns are commonly attributed to second thoughts about the size, color or model of the appliance. Research the purchase in advance to get a full sense of the variations that are available.

It was an unwanted gift: Some who returned appliances did so because the appliance wasn’t something they liked or wanted.

What you can do: Research is the key to avoiding returns. These tips will help you choose the right appliances, whether you’re buying them for yourself or as gifts:

  1. Go “hands on”: Many retailers will demonstrate how the product works and let you see it in action before you buy. This can eliminate confusion about issues such as size, performance, and quality.
  2. Read and watch online reviews: There are limitless resources online for consumers to learn about a product, and potential features that affect decision-making. Videos are both abundant and valuable because they allow you to see the actual product being used. (Here’s how to get the most out of product reviews.)
  3. Research the product through the manufacturer’s website and owner’s manual: Appliance makers strive to be clear about the features and benefits their products offer. Whether online or on paper, they provide extensive resources that allow the consumer to understand what they are buying.
  4. Contact the manufacturer directly: This is perhaps the most important tip, but many shoppers don’t realize it’s an option. Only 40 percent of people surveyed said they had spoken with the product’s manufacturer before returning an item. Most manufacturers have resources to answer your questions and resolve almost any issues before a return becomes necessary.

We hope this advice helps you have a happy, healthy, return-free holiday season!