Head to the kitchen section of your local big-box store and you’ll be inundated with kitchen products rumored to make food prep easier (mango slicer!), meals tastier (sous vide!!) and cleanup simpler (automatic microwave cleaner!!!). Here are the kitchen gadgets you really need, according to our trusty Taste of Home pros, who spend their days with food: dreaming up recipes, testing recipes and styling amazing magazine shots.
1. Rubber Spatula. “I love, love rubber spatulas!” says Peggy Woodward, one of our food editors. “I use a giant one for stiff cookie dough and have medium and small ones, too.” Look for a spatula with a slightly flexible plastic handle that won’t snap when you’re working with a really thick batter, plus a detachable head for easier cleaning. Try this colorful spatch.
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2. Silicone Spoon. Talk about versatile, says Culinary Director Sarah Thompson. “Mine goes from the mixing bowl to the skillet, and I can use it for spreading jams on toast or mayo on bread.” It’s like a spoon and a spatula in one. We like this one.
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3. Wooden Spoon. If you ask Peggy, no kitchen is complete without at least one trusty wooden spoon. “I have three,” she says. They come in all sorts of shapes, including slotted, the classic rounded head, and squared off (which makes hitting the edges of high-sided pans easier). We like this starter set.
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4. Balloon Whisk. If you want to go old-school and skip the kitchen electrics, Kitchen Operations Manager Beth Jacobson says you need one of these: “I tend to do things more slowly at home and often forgo electronic gadgets entirely, so if I’m whipping heavy cream? Hello, balloon whisk!” They’re also efficient for salad dressings and stirring up flour (no sifting necessary).
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5. Chef’s Knife. You knew this was coming. “I firmly believe a good chef’s knife is key to almost anything you’re going to be doing,” says Food Editor James Schend. “I’ve got a lot of knives, but there’s one I reach for all the time: the 5-1/2-inch Shun Classic Hollow-Ground Santoku Knife.” Want less of a splurge? Try this classic.
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6. Paring Knife. Sometimes, a big knife just isn’t going to cut it. Or, rather, it just might cut you. More-detailed tasks, like peeling apples or cutting slits in meat, call for a tool with a finer blade. “What I can’t do with my chef’s knife, I’ll work on with a paring knife. My favorite is the Zwilling Four-Star Paring Knife,” James says.
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7. Microplane. “The Microplane grater is my favorite tool,” says Food Stylist Shannon Roum. “I use a ton of citrus to add flavor in both sweet and savory dishes.” These precision hand-held tools, which come in multiple shapes and sizes, are famous for their zesting abilities, plus they do a mighty fine job of grating cheese, mincing herbs and turning gingerroot into a paste.
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8. Swiss Vegetable Peeler. Speaking of sharp things, if you ask me, a stainless steel Swiss vegetable peeler needs to be a part of your collection, too. These Y-shaped gadgets seem to stay sharp forever. Mine is going on 10 years old, and I use it nearly every day. You don’t have to pony up for an expensive one-mine was $5 at a farmers market. They’re easy to grab everywhere, even the grocery store, but here’s a good online option.
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9. Scoops. Peggy and Beth both love cookie scoops. “They’re perfect for consistent and easy portioning from cookies to meatballs,” says Beth. For a smoother release, go for the spring-loaded split-handle variety instead of the type with thumb release.
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10. Offset Spatula. Another tool that earned double points, offset spatulas are for serious home cooks, a category where both Peggy and Sarah belong. “A small offset spatula is ideal for evenly spreading frosting, melted chocolate, even batter,” for a cake roll, for example. “It helps you make your food look great!” Peggy says.
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11. Big Wooden Cutting Board. James is all about Boos cutting boards, which come in all shapes and sizes. Check out the grooved styles-these are super helpful when it comes to cutting juicy things, like roasts or tomatoes. Juices run into the grooves instead of over the edge onto your countertop. And be sure to have a few boards on hand to avoid cross-contamination (designate at least one no-garlic, no-onion cutting board, so you can cut up fruit without adding a funky taste).
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12. Nylon Pan Scraper. According to Peggy, cleanup’s a cinch with a nylon pan scraper. It loosens cooked-on gunk more quickly than a scrub brush. “You’re basically paying for a little piece of plastic, but I love it,” she says.
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13. Dough Scrapers. Big into yeast breads? Get a couple of Norpro scrapers, says Lauren Knoelke, one of our food stylists. A stainless steel scraper helps lift and divide dough, while a flexible plastic one gets every last bit out of the bowl. “I love these two tools for handling doughs,” she says.
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14. Parchment Sheets. Precut parchment paper is one of Sarah’s secret weapons. “I always have a package on hand. I measure dry ingredients onto a sheet, then carry it over to the mixing bowl and slide everything right in,” she says. “I also use it to line baking sheets when I freeze fresh-cut fruit for morning smoothies.” Grab it at the grocery store, or here.
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15. Kitchen Scale. “Many of our Test Kitchen practices have followed me home,” Beth says. One of them is using a digital kitchen scale. “I weigh ingredients for baking across the board now.” This takes the guesswork out of consistently measuring dry ingredients.
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16. Digital Thermometer. Another digital must, says Sarah, is a Thermapen by Thermoworks. “I use it to temp stuff all the time.” These handy thermometers work almost instantly, and they come in a rainbow of colors.
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17. Office Supplies. Recipe Editor Irene Yeh hits the office supply aisle when she’s kitchen-gadget shopping. “Binder clips secure opened bags of anything: spices, frozen peas, pastas,” she says. Get a cute set in bulk, here. “And I use magnetic clips to attach recipes to the refrigerator door. They’re easy to look at without being in the way.”
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18. Phone. Last, keep your smartphone on hand to help look up cooking queries while you’re in the thick of it. “They also make Thai food appear almost magically,” says Beth.
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