NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The difference between a cooking hero and a cooking zero often comes down to who has the sharpest knife, the finest coffee maker or the most accurate measuring cup.
"Having spent more than five years testing kitchen equipment, I can tell you that it definitely helps to have the right tools," says Lisa McManus, senior editor for equipment testing at the PBS show America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated magazine. "For instance, there are some skillets that heat food evenly, while others seem to try really hard to burn your meal."
However, McManus says picking good kitchen tools involves more than just looking for the highest price tag.
"It's not always just a case of paying more to get the best tools," she says. "There are a lot of kitchen gadgets out there that are just 'eye candy' -- things that look great, but don't really work."
Here's a look at some of McManus' favorite cooking tools in various price ranges:
$25 or less
One of best, least-expensive kitchen tools you can get is a $10 KitchenArt Pro Adjust-A-Cup, McManus says.
Sort of a cross between a measuring cup and a syringe, the Adjust-A-Cup lets you measure out peanut butter, honey or other sticky ingredients, then push them out of the device and into a bowl or baking pan.
"Once and for all, it solves the problem of measuring sticky, soft ingredients precisely and easily -- no muss, no fuss," the expert says.
McManus recommends two products in this price range: the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox 8-inch Chef's Knife (about $30) and the Lodge Logic 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet (around $32).
"Those are pretty much the two things I'd want if I were stranded on a desert island because they work well and are practically indestructible," she says.
McManus says the chef's knife is "inexpensive but really high quality," while the skillet "is a great pan for frying, baking, searing steaks or even putting in the oven."