Technology has creeped into nearly all aspects of our lives, and the kitchen is no exception. I’m always a bit cautious to hop on the bandwagon for the latest device or app, but I have to admit that some of what’s out there can clearly improve the way we cook and eat.
The most useful device I have come to rely on is the Google Home, one of the many smart-speaker options that are available these days. It may always be listening for its cue, “Hey Google” or “OK Google,” but I’m not sure that’s any worse than how we’re tracked every time we go online. Though that’s a call we can each make for ourselves.
Here are a few of my favorite features of the Home that I often use in the kitchen. I haven’t had much experience testing these features out on other smart speakers, but I imagine they all have similar options.
A simple, yet handy feature. While I can set a timer on my oven, microwave or through my phone, the advantage of using the Home is that I don’t have to touch anything in the process. In general, that’s one of the main benefits I see to having a smart speaker in the kitchen. You don’t have to stop, wash your hands and touch something. Or touch something without washing your hands and possibly spread germs or contaminate food. You can also have multiple timers going at once, if needed.
Getting substitutions and measurements
I’m always forgetting how many tablespoons there are in a cup (that’s 16) or what to replace balsamic vinegar with when I’m out (try red wine vinegar and sugar). Being able to get a quick response to these kinds of questions without pulling out the phone, computer or a cookbook (yes, I do still have and value those) is incredibly handy. It’s like having an expert on hand at all times. That said, there are occasions when the responses I get aren’t as useful as I’d like. But when they are, it allows me to keep going with what I’m doing. If I want, I can get more details to an answer by opening the Home app on my phone.
Reading recipes aloud
With the Home you can find a recipe on your phone or tablet and send it to the speaker. When you’re ready, it will read the ingredient list out to you and then each of the steps. It’s easy to have any part of the recipe repeated and to ask questions in a natural conversational fashion, such as, “When do I add the eggs?” or “How much chili powder do I use?”
The catch is that you have to be logged into a Google account, you have to search for the recipe via Google search and that you can only use recipes from one of Google’s partner sites. Partners include sites such as All Recipes, Food Network, New York Times Cooking, Buzz Feed, Chow Hound and several others. However, Google does make it very clear at the top of your search which recipes you can send. Then, your Home will let you know it has received a recipe.
Alternatively, if you’re not picky, you can just let Home figure it all out for you by saying “OK Google, let’s cook” then requesting a dish. It will then pick a recipe from its available database. But I don’t see how that would be helpful, because you wouldn’t know what ingredients you needed until that moment, or how long it takes to cook.
While I think this is a helpful feature — again, no need to pull out a phone, laptop or cookbook — it’s not one I’ve used often. I’m too particular about my recipes and I actually prefer to see the recipe, rather than listen to it. But I can see the benefit for others.
Adding items to my shopping list
It sounds mundane, but this is hands-down my favorite use for having the Home in my kitchen. The moment I run out of milk, I can ask for it to be added to my shopping list. I don’t have to think about it again until I’m opening the app on my phone in the store. Better yet, I never forget my list at home and end up shopping aimlessly. What’s nice is that my girlfriend and I share the same list. We can both add to it and access it. That way, if one of us is out at the store, we know that all we have to do is check the list on our phone rather than have to stand in the store, call each other and wait as one of us looks around to see what we need. This has dramatically helped streamline food shopping.
Playing music, audiobooks and podcasts
This is handy no matter what room of the house you may be in. I tend to always have something playing while I cook, and the speaker is more convenient than having my laptop sit out on the counter where it can get wet or dirty. Not to mention, the speaker can go louder and I can have it pause, stop and start up whatever I want to listen to at any time. It syncs up with various audio apps, but you typically need paid accounts to get the full features with Home.
I admit, this isn’t that practical, but it is kind of fun. If you have multiple Google Homes throughout your house, you can have them broadcast messages to the other devices. That means, there’s no longer the need to shout to the family that dinner is ready.