In this post, I’m going to attempt to cover the basics in kitchen tools.
Please understand that this is a highly subjective thing and what you personally need will vary based on your cooking style and preferences. But I thought it would be a good idea to at least post a list to work with. You can add or subtract from it as needed. And please, let me know what YOU consider a critical in a comment below!
Note: I have included links here so you can see what I’m talking about. But these are also affiliate links for amazon. Should you decide to purchase anything through these amazon links, a small portion of the proceeds will come back to this blog to support it and keep it growing.
Did you know that ladles are essentially measuring cups for liquids? They come in different sizes for exactly that purpose. The ladles in restaurants are not random. They are sized so that you get the same portion every time! So if you can’t afford good quality measuring cups AND ladles, get the ladles! Just make sure they are stainless steel or they won’t hold up all that well. (you’ll notice the stainless steel thing is a big sticking point for me). See them here.
You will need measuring cups for both dry and wet ingredients.
- Dry Ingredients – Nothing beats a stainless steal measuring cup. They stand the test of time and never need replacing unless you roll over them with a truck or dump one in a blender. And even then, they may be okay! See them here.
- Wet Ingredients – Glass cups (Pyrex brand) are best. But in truth, I really like plastic ones. Not because of their durability, but because you can get angled cups. These do require replacing from time to time, but they don’t generally take the beating that other kitchen tools take. So it’s not very often you will have to replace them anyway. See it here.
Again, stainless steel is the best here. I can’t say enough about them. Plastic measuring spoons just don’t hold up well, especially if you put them in a dishwasher. Over time, they tend to get pretty ragged and beat up. Not the case with stainless steel! I also love the spoons that are rectangular simply because the round ones often won’t fit into some of my spice jars. But the rectangular ones fit into almost all of them. See them here.
A good blender is an invaluable tool. And while I could say that investing in a big, expensive blender is the way to go, I honestly can’t go there. The truth is, the best blender I’ve ever had (and still use every day) is an affordable little Ninja blender with travel cups you can blend in and a bigger tumbler for bigger jobs. It’s not huge, but it’s a work horse and I really do use it daily.
I also have a Vitamix (See it here.) And while I like it for certain things, it’s just too much blender to use on a daily basis for the average home cook. I think if you are needing a blender for commercial purposes, a Vitamix is definitely the way to go. But for home use, this little Ninja rocks. See it here.
Here again, you could spend a small fortune, but why? A middle-of-the-road Cuisenart food processor is great for home use, and works fairly well at grating foods as well with the attachment that typically comes with it. See it here.
For home use, a hand-held mixer is often sufficient for most home cooks. And I really like the KitchenAid hand mixer (See it here.). The brands seems to hold up pretty well. But if you are really into baking, then a KitchenAid mixer is the way to go. I won’t supply an amazon link here simply because I firmly believe that eBay is the way to go on this. I recently purchased a factory-direct, professional-sized mixer for only $189 (with a warranty!) from eBay (the same mixer is listed on Amazon for $419.99). Of course, these deals don’t pop up all the time, but it’s worth it to keep an eye out. Even if you get a nice mixer for around $200, it’s still worth it.
- Metal – You will want these for frying and flipping. They are even great for grilling. See it here.
- Plastic – A good plastic spatula (or 2… or 3…) is an indispensable tool for any cook. I have personally found that the more flexible spatulas seem to work better for most jobs. But firm spatulas also have their place. See them here.
- Icing – These are fantastic little inventions, and you should have a stainless steel version. Plastic just doesn’t do it. These are totally affordable and you can use them for anything that need “spreading”. Think: frosting, butter…. anything that needs to be spread over a surface. See it here.
Tongs are one of those things that you may not use every day, but when you need them, you just NEED them. And the best type to get are the stainless steel tongs that lock. See it here.
There are a bazillion different types of whisks out there. It really is mind boggling to see how many shapes and sizes there are. Some don’t even resemble whisks any longer. But they are definitely an essential kitchen tool. See it here.
A cheese grater has multiple uses in the kitchen. I use mine often for everything from cheese to vegetables. The old graters that your grandmother had tended to rust over time. But these days, they hold up pretty well. Again, stainless steel…. not plastic. A nice extra to have if you use a lot of cheese is a grater that grates directly into a storage container. But you’ll want a basic grater first. See it here.
This is another one of those tools that you won’t use often, but when you need it for zesting, it’s indispensable. Used for grating citrus zest, it’s a must have if you like to bake or add extra “zing” to things like chicken or fish recipes. See it here.
These are great and do a wonderful job of mashing just about everything from potatoes to cooked apples for apple sauce. But not all mashers are created equal. In fact, the one I have now I don’t care for very much. I will be buying one like this in the very near future. See it here.
This tool is critical for most home cooks. But it’s also one of those tools that can break easily or need frequent replacing. Oddly enough, the best one I’ve found so far was also the cheapest. See it here.
If it’s between this and a regular blender, I’d go for an immersion blender every time. Grant it, a regular blender does things an immersion blender can’t, but for me, the ease of use (and cleanup) far outweighs the other stuff. See it here.
I can’t even begin to tell you how important this totally affordable little tool is for the average home cook. The temperature that displays on your oven, is not necessarily the temperature the oven has actually reached. In some cases, it’s right on. But I have found in most cases, it’s not. My oven says it’s reached 350 F. long before it actually has. I have to preheat much longer to actually get the oven up to 350 F. So having this thermometer in my oven at all times is a lifesaver. See it here.
Cooking meat properly is essential. Not only for the texture and flavor of the meat, but also for food safety. A good thermometer will ensure you achieve both. See it here.
No matter what foods you need to drain, a colander is the tool you need. From cooked pasta to canned beans, colanders are an essential part of the kitchen. But there are many types and I have tried a good majority of them. If you can only afford one, opt for a wire-mesh colander. If the mesh is small enough, it will even double as a flour sifter! See it here.
This is my current obsession. I just cannot seem to have enough cutting boards. I love them! I have also owned both plastic and wood cutting boards. While there is much debate over whether plastic or wood is better for food safety, nothing compares to a wood cutting board in my opinion. But plastic boards have their place as well.
Here are some good choices for both plastic and wood:
- Wood – Rock Maple wood is the most commonly used wood for things like butcher blocks. With proper care, they can last a long time. Bamboo is also a good and sustainable choice for a cutting board. See it here.
- Plastic – These boards are great because they can be dishwasher safe and generally cheaper than wood board. See it here.
For the purpose of promoting better quality items, I am listing Wusthof knives in my links. However, prices range greatly on knives depending on the quality and brand you get. So if these don’t fit your budget, simply look around for some cheaper varieties. There are a ton of them out there.
- Chef Knife – A good quality chef knife will last you forever if you take proper care of it. It’s also an indispensable chopping tool. I use mine daily and can’t imagine life without it. See it here.
- Paring – This type of knife is what you want for small jobs. Small slicing, removing of tomato and strawberry greens, jobs where you need a small tool to dig or cut were all meant for a pairing knife. I use mine daily as well. It’s never in the knife block, but in the dish drainer instead simply because I use it so regularly. See it here.
- Bread – A good bread knife makes quick work of slicing breads of all kinds. See it here.
I highly recommend getting stainless steel or glass bowls in at least three different sizes. If you cook regularly, you can never have enough mixing bowls. But if you are just starting out, a set of three is the way to go to get you going. See them here.
People have varying opinions on what makes the best pot. I have stainless steel pots and I couldn’t be happier. They heat evenly and take a beating. That said, some are definitely of better quality than others. For those just starting out, consider purchasing the following types of pots:
- Stock pot – Good for making stocks, soups and bigger cooking jobs. See it here.
- Multipot – This can take the place of a stock pot if you are not cooking for a lot of people, and is great for cooking pasta and even steaming veggies. See it here.
- Sauce pan – This is good for simmering and other such jobs. It’s a smaller pot for smaller jobs. See it here.
- Double boiler – This may not be critical, but it sure is nice to have. It will allow you to slowly melt things like chocolate and making custard. I have found it more important for baking than for cooking, but it it all depends on what you use it for. See it here.
Quality aside, a good pan is in the eye of the beholder, or should I say, “the hand of the holder”. The type of pan you want or need will depend on how you cook. For some it’s cast iron or stainless steel, and for others it’s a non-stick pan.
- Cast iron pans – These are durable, stand-the-test-of-time pans that get past down from generation to generation. They get better with use and cook extremely well. That said, I have found that they do require a fair amount of oil or grease to cook with. I found a really good deal on a set that includes a cast iron dutch oven and gridle on amazon. At the time of this posting, it’s on sale for about $64. If the price goes up again, keep an eye on it as this set seems to go on sale pretty regularly. See it here.
- Stainless steel pans – These are good, sturdy pans. Their lifespan will depend on the quality and brand you buy. They heat evenly and are a good investment. I also find that pans with lids are a valuable tool. I use a lid often when cooking fish. It seems to get the job done quite efficiently. See it here.
- Non-stick pans – With these types of pans, you want to really be sure you get good quality. A cheap, non-stick pan will not only die quickly and take very limited abuse in the kitchen, but will also scratch incredibly easily, leaving you with all those chemicals in your food when they leach out through the cracks. If you are going to use a non-stick, get the best you can afford and treat it like a baby. I have only one of these pans and I make sure that nothing ever gets placed inside of it during storage. In fact, if you can hang them for storage, all the better. Remember, it only takes one, tiny little nick in the coating for those chemicals to leach into your food. See it here.
I think one of the most standard and called for sizes in a baking pan is 9×13. Of course, you can always go smaller or larger as needed, but I find that size in many recipes. And if you get a ceramic one, it doubles as a lasagna pan. But when baking, I highly recommend parchment with a ceramic pan. It’s just easier cleanup. See it here.
You’ll want at least one of these. They are great, not only for cookies, but for roasting many different types of vegetables. See it here.
I think this is pretty self explanatory. In an emergency, you don’t really need one. All you have to do is rub a can on cement until it opens. But for average home use, they are a necessary item. There are three types:
- Punch – See it here.
- Manual – See it here.
- Electric – I really like the electric ones that mount under a cabinet. They save counter space and stay out of the way. But they can also be pretty pricey, depending on what you get. So I typically get the counter top openers. See it here.
CITRUS PRESS OR JUICER
There are three types of juicers:
These are great for when you are making something like pasta that has to cook in liquid. It allows you to pull out a noodle or whatever else you are cooking, to test and see if it’s done cooking without bringing up a bunch of hot liquid with it. See it here.
These larger spoons are fantastic for scooping main dishes onto plates or into bowls. The word well for things like pasta salads and the like. See it here.
For me, these are critical. I use them for everything. The type of wood they are made from will determine whether they last for years or for short-term use. Generally, the cheaper they are, the shorter life-span they will have. I usually shoot for middle-of-the-road on these because I don’t want to cry if one breaks. See it here.
I realize you can use a knife for this sort of thing, but some jobs are just made easier with a pizza cutter, and I don’t just mean cutting pizza. I’ve used this handy tool to cut everything from fruit leather to raspberry bars and fudge. It’s just an easy way to cut certain foods. And as with most things, you get what you pay for. See it here.