The stresses of hosting a party can pile up this time of year. Whether it's for a holiday get-together or a tailgate extravaganza, drinks must be mixed and food must be cooked, preferably with a carefree attitude that puts your guests in awe of your party-throwing prowess.
But how do you make it a memorable occasion without hiring a caterer?
There are gadgets, from automated mixologists to flameless marshmallow roasters, that can make your event a lot more exciting than a gathering around a party tray from the local wholesale club.
Case in point: the Bartendro. Basically, the Bartendro is a robotic bartender. It combines a Wi-Fi interface, a digital brain based on a kind of minicomputer called Raspberry Pi and a rack of pumps in a tabletop machine that will mix drinks from an array of user-supplied liquor and mixers. Plus, it has a special cycle to clean and sanitize the pumps so your vodka tube, for example, does not taste like the whiskey you had running through it last time you used the Bartendro.
Bartendro comes in several sizes, with 1, 3, 7 or 15 dispensers. The largest model can mix about 45 different drinks, said Pierre Michael, who created the Bartendro with Robert Kaye.
It works this way: The host enters the names of the liquids on a screen and Bartendro populates its menu with mixed drink possibilities. Partygoers use any device connected to Wi-Fi to order from the drink menu. From there, they can adjust the drink size and strength before the pour.
Mr. Michael said he expected the devices to be available for sale in January through the Web site of his company, Party Robotics, of San Luis Obispo, Calif. The price will range from $2,500 for the largest model to around $250 for the ShotBot, which has one dispenser.
The bartending machine has its origins in an invention for a friend's birthday party a few years ago, Mr. Michael said. He and Mr. Kaye built a water cooler that appeared to magically dispense wine. From there, they built their first Bartendro.
Mr. Michael said he did not see his invention running human bartenders out of work any time soon. Bartendro will never juggle bottles, light drinks on fire or listen to tales of woe from the tipsy.
On the other hand, it will not judge if you order a frilly girl drink, nor will it smoke the ice cubes you put in your glass. But some chefs are doing just that with a gadget called the Smoking Gun.
This product, by PolyScience of Niles, Ill., looks a little like a blow dryer. Basically, it's a pipe with a hose attached. Users pack wood chips, tea, straw or anything else that would impart flavor into a small bowl on the gun, light it and start the battery-operated motor, which keeps the draft going. The hose delivers the smoke into the user-supplied container.
The whole process takes a minute or less.
The Smoking Gun has been on the market just under a year, said Greg Kirrish, culinary marketing manager for PolyScience, which has gained a reputation for bringing science into the kitchen. In that time, users have let their imaginations run, adding the flavors from smoke to all sorts of foods, including chocolate ice cream, marshmallows and baked bananas. The company has posted its own video of a chef infusing a Manhattan cocktail with cigar smoke.
The Smoking Gun comes with two half-ounce jars of hickory and apple wood sawdust and sells for a suggested price of $100. Additional jars of sawdust are available through the company.
The beer drinkers at your party have not been forgotten by gadget makers, either. Because cold beer does not stay cold for long, a few party lovers put their heads together and designed the Chillsner. Forget the insulated wraparounds. The Chillsner is a hollow stainless steel rod filled with a proprietary cooling gel. You insert the rod into a bottle of beer. The cap, which attaches to the bottle's lip, has holes to drink through while the rod stays inside the bottle.
Assuming you have previously frozen the rod the required 45 minutes, the liquid inside that bottle you're tipping will stay "cool to the last sip," the manufacturer advertises. A package of two rods is $30.
It's from the same Florida start-up, Hewy Wine Chillers, that rolled out the Corkcicle wine chiller two years ago.
One downside: While Chillsner fits into the standard long-neck bottles marketed by the biggest brewers, it is too long for the stubbier bottles used by makers of many craft beers.
Manufacturers are also offering a few new tricks on the cooking side. Instead of slaving away alone in the kitchen while the party goes on without you, they have developed some tabletop units that bring the party to the cook, most notably with pizza.
Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table each offer tabletop ovens that plug in. Sur La Table also offers an outdoor cooker aimed at serious tailgaters.
With 1,200 watts of power, both of the plug-in models heat up to 600 degrees and come with a ceramic pizza stone to place the pie on for baking. At just under $120, the Petite Pizzeria at Sur La Table is the least expensive and cooks thin and Chicago-style deep dish pizza.
But it has fewer features than the Williams-Sonoma offering, the Breville Crispy Crust Stone Pizza Maker, which sells for $150. Among them is a window to view the cooking progress, so there is no need to open the lid and let out heat.
Coming in at a nickel under $300 is a top-of-the-line portable pizza maker, the Pizzeria Pronto Outdoor Pizza Oven. Powered by propane, the Pizzeria Pronto has to heat up for 10 minutes before it's ready for work. But once it is hot, pizza cooks in five minutes on the double-layer, cordierite pizza stone, which has a hollow core for even heat dispersal.
Of course, you can always cook pizza outdoors right on the grill without spending a dime on special gear.
Likewise, all you need to roast marshmallows is a stick and some flame.
But when lighting a campfire would be inconvenient or unwise, there's the Indoor Flameless Marshmallow Roaster by Hammacher Schlemmer. No need to crowd around the flame on your gas range or the family room hearth; the flameless roaster cooks marshmallows over a stainless steel electric heater. The unit comes with tray dividers for toppings like chocolate and graham crackers and sells for $69.95.
But wouldn't it be nice if you could put something in the oven or on the grill and then just walk away to talk to your guests for a while?
The iDevice iGrill makes that possible, by hooking your thermometer up with your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection. Once the target temperature is reached, the iGrill notifies you over your phone. The iGrill has a range of 200 feet, making it possible to mingle with your guests until the food is ready.
It sells for $80 and is available from Apple, Best Buy, Cabela's and AT&T.interact
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 17, 2013 2:00 PM