Let’s get this out of the way: Fancy watches are silly. Why would a sensible person spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on a piece of tech that can be replaced with a quick glance at your phone?
But lost in all the snark is the practical, real-world utility of carrying the time on your wrist. There are certain professions that require the constant use of both hands, preventing you from reaching into your pocket. Pair this with the need for precision timing, and a watch becomes almost a necessity.
Perhaps this explains their popularity among chefs. When you’re managing three different dishes and your range display can track only one, even a home cook can start to see the appeal. Timers that clip to your apron provide another option, but when I’m cooking, my eyes are focused on my hands. And my wrist is already right there.
Jewelry and status-symbol nonsense aside, watches are just another tool for your kit. And if you’re thinking about bringing one into your kitchen, there are several factors to consider. Here are some of the basics, followed by a few recommendations.
Let’s translate a wristwatch’s water resistance to kitchen terms: At 30 meters, a timepiece is good for the occasional splash while washing your hands. At 50 meters you can comfortably do dishes with the watch on. And a 100-meter watch will shrug off a plunge into a stock pot or the continued stream of a sink sprayer.
Above that, you can pretty much stop worrying. A 200-meter watch is designed for scuba diving applications, so the kitchen poses little danger. In general, I’d recommend buyers grab something rated for at least 50 meters.
Leather watch bands don’t belong in the kitchen. This might be a controversial statement, as I’ve seen videos of pro chefs cooking with cowhide on their wrists. But come on, folks, cooking is messy. And with all those vegetable scraps and chicken parts rubbing up against a strap, how exactly do you plan to clean it out?
Canvas (like a NATO strap) can be used, but rubber and stainless steel are the superior options. They’re waterproof, easy to clean, and hold up better to sweat and temperature.
For the mortal (and budget-conscious) among us, quartz timepieces are generally the way to go. These electronic marvels are durable and accurate, relying on either a battery or solar charging. You can readily find quartz watches with a timer, stopwatch, and alarm for less than $20.
Mechanical watches, with their springs and spinning gears, are the more romantic option. But with this technical precision comes added cost, diminished accuracy, and fewer features in the budget range. If you must yield to their siren song, Island Watches makes some of the best affordable automatics on the market.
If you’re looking to get the maximum amount of features for the lowest cost, there’s no better brand than Casio. The Duro model is one of the best 200-meter watches under $100, and the G-Shock lineup is iconic for a reason.
Casio also has some charming and offbeat examples, such as the AE-1200WHD-1AVCF. With a name like that (and given its resemblance to a Seiko once worn by James Bond), you can see why folks refer to it simply as the “Casio Royale.” Alton Brown uses one as his touring watch, utilizing its various timers in his stage shows.
If you’re looking for something rugged with a bit a fancy tech, it’s hard to go wrong with Citizen. While some of the designs are a little bland, the solar-powered EcoDrive movements are known to be practically bulletproof. This Citizen Promaster Diver is a legitimate classic, just as at home in the kitchen as in the ocean or wilderness. This watch, like the Casio Duro, features a spinning, uni-directional outer bezel that can be used as a passive timer.
Beyond the Island Watches mentioned above, Orient is arguably the best of the budget automatics. This sister brand of Seiko offers excellent construction, quality materials, and a wealth of attractive designs, without the price-gouging of its more famous sibling. The Mako and Ray models remain relatively affordable, and the next-gen Kamasu is certainly a looker. No matter how much or how little you choose to spend, adding a wristwatch to your lineup of kitchen tools is bound to improve your cooking.