21 Essential Kitchen Tools Every Cook Should Have
Setting up a new kitchen? Trying to pare down an overload of gadgetry? Check out our guide to what you'll actually use in the kitchen.
By Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor
When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I can go a little crazy. Walking down the cooking aisle at a store, specialty tools like avocado peelers, strawberry hullers or a teensy-tiny wooden spoon always call my name. Unfortunately, because I don't have the space or the budget to indulge in these semi-impractical kitchen tools, I have to streamline my batterie de cuisine to just the essentials.
A favorite quote from home cook and writer Laurie Cowel sums it up nicely: "Most things are frills—few are essential. It is perfectly possible to cook well with very little. Most of the world cooks over fire without any gadgets at all."
But what about those essentials every cook should have? Whether you're looking to minimize your kitchen clutter or start stocking your space from scratch, here are the tools every home cook needs.
A good knife is a chef's best friend. This is one of the few things that you'll thank yourself for investing in. Carbon-plated stainless steel will stay sharp over time, but go to a specialty store to find the best match for you. Choose a knife that you feel comfortable handling. It should feel balanced in your hand, easy to hold and control, not too heavy, but definitely not flimsy. Believe us, you'll be using it a lot.
A sturdy metal (or high-quality plastic) spatula is vital for flipping, tossing, and serving all kinds of foods. Think eggs over easy, puffy pancakes, roasted veggies, sauteed meats, baked salmon...we could go on.
A silicone spatula is crucial for scraping out the food processor or the sides of the mixing bowl, swirling frosting onto a cake or folding egg whites into cake batter. Make sure your spatula is silicone and not rubber, or else it may risk melting under high heat. If you make lots of garlicy things, you may want to have a separate spatula for sweet baking only.
Sturdy metal whisks come in all shapes and sizes. Choose a mid-sized whisk with a handle that fits comfortably in your hand. Use it to mix dry ingredients together before baking, stir eggs for a fritatta, or emulsify a vinaigrette.
A perforated (or slotted) spoon acts like a miniature strainer, removing solids from liquids. Think potatoes or small pasta noodles from boiling water.
Super-basic, super-useful. Every day, you'll reach for shears to open up packaging, snip away herb stems, or trim fat from meats. Once in a while, you might use them to cut up a whole chicken or trim the crust off a pie. Look for a pair that dismantles for cleaning, so gunk doesn't build up in the hinge.
For a few bucks you can buy a cheap pair of metal tongs that'll last you a lifetime. I'm always finding new uses for mine, from turning chicken breasts in the pan to reaching into the oven to check on my roast. (Basically, think of them as extensions of your fingers.) They're also great for serving family-style at dinner.
Pots and Pans
Cast iron pan
Made with thick, heavy bottoms and sides, cast iron pans can evenly heat to high temperatures and retain heat for a long time. They give a beautiful sear to a steak or scallops. They go right in the oven, so use 'em for making corn bread or cobblers. They've got rustic good looks that can go right from stove to tabletop. Last but not least, they're virtually indestructable. Learn how to care for yours properly, and it will last a lifetime.
Easy to clean, lightweight nonstick pans are ideal for scrambling eggs or wilting greens. Look for ceramic coating, as some nonstick pans are made with PFOAs, chemicals that may be harmful to your health and the environment.
A large sauce pan is essential for making pasta, boiling potatoes or corn, and simmering big batches of soups and broths. Look for a 5- or 6-quart size. A smaller saucepan (1.5 or 2.5 quarts) comes in handy for smaller items, like boiled eggs, rice and oatmeal.
Ah, the classic Dutch oven, another cast-iron essential. Look for a 5 or 6 quart if you cook for a small crew, or go big with a 7 or 8 quart and feed a crowd. This pan can go in the oven or on the stovetop, so you can sear meat and then slowly cook a stew for hours in a low oven. (It's like the original slow cooker.) You can also use your Dutch oven as an alternative to the large sauce pan above. And you can bake bread with a super-crackly crust in your D.O. They're expensive, so save your pennies and use it every chance you get.
Sheet pans are fab for baking cookies, but I use mine for dinner all the time. Make foil-wrapped fish fillets, chicken with veggies, deep dish pizza, or roast veggies. One pan dinners = easy clean-up!
13x9 baking pan
Bake up a hearty casserole or sweet sheet cake with this versatile dish. These come in pretty colors, so find one that matches your dishes; you'll want to serve right out of it. See how many ways we love our 13x9s.
Wash fruits and drain pasta, veggies and other boiled foods. I like a colander that can balance on the edges of my sink, but a classic footed colander is just fine. Look for metal or ceramic, which are sturdier than plastic.
I find myself reaching for this sturdy shredder at the most unexpected times—whether it's shredding zucchini for healthy-ish muffins or softening butter extra quick. It might take a little extra elbow grease compared to a food processor, but I love how my box grater doesn't take up much space.
My microplane is my go-to tool for when I want my dishes to feel gourmet. It's a fine grater that's perfect for adding thin sprinkles of Parmesan over a pasta dish or adding lemon zest to a flaky fish.
Prep bowls/mixing bowls
This might sound like a no brainer, but it's important to have a variety of mixing bowls. Get ones that are metal or glass because they're less porous than plastic. They won't pick up stains or odors. I have a single large metal mixing bowl for cake mixes, chopping up salads, or oiling down veggies. My smaller bowls hold 1-2 cups and are the perfect way for me to practice mise-en-place in the kitchen—staying super-organized while I cook.
Once I handled an immersion blender, I kissed my standing blender goodbye. This handheld tool makes it so easy to blend soups, smoothies, and pestos with the push of a button. I find much easier to handle than a traditional blender, and it's great because it takes up much less space, too. Read on for more tips for how to use an immersion blender.
Instant read thermometer
Easily (and quickly) check to see if your meats have cooked enough. Our food-safe cooking temperature guide goes into more detail.
Timing is everything when it comes to cooking! If you're making multiple items at once, it's crucial to keep track individual cooking times. Our test kitchen cooks carry timers around their necks, but if you don't want to buy a timer you can set one on your microwave (or phone).
A sturdy, stable surface is essential when it comes to prepping your food. A wooden chopping block will help protect your knife from dullin quickly, as well as make cleanup a breeze.