Serious Eats / Eric King

It might technically be October now, but I’m still not sure how I feel about the calendar creeping ever closer to the holiday season. Wasn’t it just Christmas? Didn’t we go through this whole gift-giving process, like, three months ago? 

I don’t mean to be a Grinch. I’m just amazed at the passage of time. 

Dismay aside, white elephant gifts are kind of fun! The whole white elephant thing has an interesting backstory, with parties dating back to the 1890s and the concept’s origins linking to the King of Siam. However rare and beautiful, actual white elephants were extraordinarily costly to care for, and receiving one from the king was a punishment in the form of financial ruin.

Fortunately, today’s white elephant parties tend to be tame gift exchanges at the office or among friends and family and (ideally) no one ends up in debt. But we do think you can level up your gifting game and leave behind the tacky socks in favor of something that might actually prove useful to its lucky recipient!

Here are 25 suggestions for food-forward white elephant gifts this year, with a little something for every budget—even if you’re also wondering where the time’s gone.

White Elephant Gifts Under $15

A Snazzy Spatula

You can never have too many nice spatulas, and neither can Mary from accounting or Dave in IT. These silicone spatulas are durable, easy to clean, and serve countless uses; from scraping bowls to pushing eggs to stirring a sourdough starter.

Price at time of publish: $12 and $11, respectively.

Some Swanky Sprinkles

We can’t promise these will lead to any memorable moments, but Fancy Sprinkles makes, well, fancy sprinkles in lots of fun colors, so it’s fair to say they’re making things happen in the kitchen. Fun for bakers and unsuspecting colleagues alike! 

Price at time of publish: $9.

Make Dish Time Fun

We’ve raved about Swedish dishcloths before, and they’re still high on our “heck yes” list. These dishcloths come in fun, colorful designs, but most importantly, they’re environmentally friendly and effective at cleaning countertops, sinks, and—wait for it—dishes. 

Price at time of publish: $13.

Serious Eats / Eric King

Drop a Subtle Hint

Look, no one says white elephant presents have to be glamorous. The coffee machine at your office could probably use some attention, and who better to make those internals sparkle again than the person who unwraps this thoughtful gift?

Price at time of publish: $13.

Make it Matcha

We praised this matcha powder in our recent review, and between its pleasant flavor (perfect for smoothies or baking projects) and comfortable price point, this tea is a top contender for a white elephant exchange. 

Price at time of publish: $12.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Spice It Up

Popcorn is an enduring favorite snack, so popcorn seasoning is an easy winner when you’re looking for an affordable, crowd-pleasing gift. This three-pack comes with tasty flavors like white cheddar, butter and salt, and ranch. Throw in a bag of popcorn kernels and you’re good to go.

Price at time of publish: $12.

Measure in Miniature

Managing to be both weirdly specific and incredibly random is a cute little two-ounce measuring cup. The OXO Good Grips line never lets us down, and neither does this diminutive vessel. It’s handy for adding a splash of water to a too-thick sauce or mixing up your favorite cocktail. Or, rather, the favorite cocktail of your creative gift’s recipient. 

Price at time of publish: $7.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

White Elephant Gifts Under $25

Waffles for One

Sure, this little waffle maker may not produce the crispiest, fluffiest waffles you’ve ever drenched in maple syrup, but if there’s ever been a white elephant gift to make everyone go, “Oh, isn’t that fun!” this is it.

Price at time of publish: $17.

The Best-Sized Baking Sheet

Honestly, this is such a great gift idea that I’m now typing with one hand so I can pat myself on the back with the other. Not only is a half-sheet more practical for day-to-day kitchen tasks than cumbersome full sheets, but this is also a double-pack. Two baking sheets! People love multiples of useful things! What abundance! 

Price at time of publish: $22.

Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

My Personal Favorite Thing to Gift

OK, I know I was just raving about baking sheets, but this bucket of Maldon salt is legitimately my favorite thing to give as a gift. It’s excessive but genuinely useful; fun but always appropriate. If your white elephant gift exchange is the version where people are allowed to steal an open gift when it’s their turn, watch out, because this is going to be the hottest commodity. 

Price at time of publish: $25.

Something Stretchy (and Reusable)

Single-use plastic is out, reusable food storage solutions are very much in. These stretchy lids work well to cover bowls of various sizes, so you (or your colleague) can stop reaching for plastic wrap or fumbling through your (or your colleague’s) Tupperware drawer to find a matching lid. 

Price at time of publish: $25.

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Something Heavy

Since the beginning of time—or at least since people started wrapping items before giving them to someone else—it has been a universal truth that the heavier the package, the more enticing the contents. Drop one of our favorite cast iron skillets at your next white elephant gift exchange (maybe not literally) and watch everyone ooh and ahh. 

Price at time of publish: $25.

A Nice Oil

Fancy finishing oils make a great gift. They’re one of those nice-to-haves people don’t often think about buying for themselves—like this toasted pumpkin seed oil. It’s fun, it’s different, and it’s delicious! 

Price at time of publish: $19.

A Useful Book

Cookbooks make a great gift, and when you’re not sure who’s ultimately going to take it home, opting for a wide-interest read like Ali Slagle’s lovely I Dream of Dinner is an excellent choice. These colorful pages will guide your giftee to a delicious meal any night of the week.

Price at time of publish: $19.

Keep it Cool (Or Hot)

This durable tumbler works really, really well to keep drinks at their intended temperature for a long time. It also comes in lots of different colors, has a cupholder-friendly shape, and clocks in at a reasonable price. Call it a crowd-pleaser!

Price at time of publish: $25.

Serious Eats / Taylor Murray

A Hydration Station

Snag this YETI in the 750mL size and single-handedly promote both reusable water bottles and staying hydrated. People love the “Yonder Chug” cap, which is fun to say and allows for easy sips (or chugs) without drips or annoying sucking sounds. 

Price at time of publish: $25.

White Elephant Gifts Under $50

A Tidy Towel Set

Nice kitchen towels are another one of those things people can appreciate but probably don’t think about until it’s right in front of them. This set includes six super absorbent, soft towels and looks elegant in any kitchen. They’re some of our personal favorites.

Price at time of publish: $36.

A Handy Timer

When Riddley wrote about this timer, she wisely understood that some of you would wonder what was wrong with using your phone as a kitchen timer. Your white elephant-gifting friends or family might have the same thought, but whoever is lucky enough to take this home will soon understand the glory of being able to set three timers at once and know exactly how long ago the timer went off if you happened to miss its polite chirps.

Price at time of publish: $27.

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

A Poppin’ Thermometer

We’ve long loved the ThermoPop timer for its affordable accuracy, so it’s no surprise we love Thermoworks’ latest version. This digital thermometer is fast, easy to use, and just as reliable as your likelihood of sneaking out of the office early on a Friday afternoon. 

Price at time of publish: $35.

A Nifty Notebook

Depending on whether the recipient enjoys taking notes and writing in notebooks, this might be one of those love-it-or-hate-it gifts, but we think Moleskine’s recipe journal is a clever way to collect favorites. It’s useful for jotting measurements during baking projects, recording family recipes, or just reminding yourself which cookbook (or website—ahem) that tasty thing you made last Tuesday came from.

Price at time of publish: $34.

Bold and Cold

Everyone knows Jessica in graphic design sneaks out for an iced coffee most afternoons, but maybe she’ll end up with this white elephant gift and switch to making it at her desk instead. This little device is easy to use, easy to clean, and delivers a flavorful brew with minimal fuss. HR-approved!

Price at time of publish: $28.

Serious Eats / Ashley Rodriguez

The Famed Lame

Breadbakers in the know love Wiremonkey’s elegant, ergonomic lames for scoring dough, so if you happen to be exchanging gifts this year with any sourdough enthusiasts, you’re sure to earn bonus points for rolling up with one of these. 

Price at time of publish: $45.

A Smart Salt Storage Solution

Unusually named but wonderfully useful, a salt pig is meant to keep salt at hand. Reach in for a pinch while cooking or finish a dish with a sprinkle of Maldon (see the aforementioned bucket) while this ceramic “pig” keeps it contained and protected. Once you get past the “What is it?” questions, this gift is sure to impress.

Price at time of publish: $28.

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

A Safe Space 

While turning up to the office with a giant chef’s knife may be questionable, surely there’s no harm in gifting someone a safe way to store their knives at home? We’re big fans of this clever keeper, which organizes knives while protecting their blades (and your fingers). 

Price at time of publish: $35.

A Lunch Box

Honestly, what’s better for a white elephant gift exchange at the office than a lunchbox?! Especially a really nice one, like this one from Hydro Flask that’s both spacious and has insulative properties that actually work to keep food cold for hours. So cool!

Price at time of publish: $50.

Serious Eats / Taylor Murray


What’s a good white elephant gift?

White elephant gift exchanges are meant to be fun and casual, so don’t overthink it! Consider the audience—i.e. is this a gift exchange at the office? Among friends? Extended family?—and go from there to determine what to buy. If you’re not sure how much to spend, ask the organizer what the target price point is and use that as your guideline. 

What’s the best cheap white elephant gift? 

“Best” is subjective, so, again, go with your gut! We like a gift that’s fun but practical, so if you’re on a tight budget, consider something like the OXO Mini Angled Measuring Cup. It’s less than $10, it’s versatile, and it’s memorable!

Why We’re the Experts

Summer Rylander is a freelance writer who’s been contributing to Serious Eats for almost two years.Her work has also appeared in Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, and more.

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