Whether you're stocking your first kitchen, purging a collection (horde?) that's been growing for years, or you're just looking for that perfect addition to your tool kit, we curated our 10 essential kitchen tools for every kitchen
1. Chef's Knife
The most important tool for any cook is a sharp, high-quality chef’s knife, hands down. Put another way, the number one thing you can do to make cooking difficult and unsafe is to use a dull, poor-quality knife.
You don’t need a whole set of knives cluttering up your kitchen counter, or, god forbid, your utensil drawer (the best place to put knives if you want to dull them and cut yourself). While paring knives are extremely useful, and the only tool for some jobs, you really only need a chef’s knife, which can complete nearly any cutting task when handled with a modicum of skill acquired through practice.
For a budget-friendly option, Wüstof makes great Western style knives for under $100. This one will treat you well as long as you keep it sharp.
If you want to invest a little bit more money for a higher quality knife that will last as long as you take care of it, check out this one from Shun.
2. Cutting Board
You have to have something to use that great chef’s knife on, right? Too many home cooks use flimsy plastic cutting boards that warp in the dishwasher, making even simple knife work frustrating or impossible. Investing in a large, heavy wooden cutting board will ensure that you have a safe space for all your knife work, and they’re easy to clean.
Boos Block produces the standard in heavy wooden cutting boards, and their maintenance products are easy to order. This one for around $50 should last you years.
Towels might not make a lot of lists of essential kitchen tools, but for me, they’re the next most used tool besides a knife and cutting board. Any involved cooking session for me uses at least three towels: the first I dampen and use to anchor my cutting board to keep it from slipping on the countertop; the second I hang from my apron string or belt loop and use to keep my hands clean; the third I keep folded up to use when handling hot items.
Towels don’t need to be fancy—in fact the simpler they are, the better. These towels from Royal should do the trick.
4. Mixing Bowls
So you’ve got enough space to use your cutting board, it’s anchored with a sturdy towel, your sharp knife is in hand and you’re ready to use it. Now you need somewhere to put all your great knife work, and somewhere to put your waste. This is where mixing bowls come in.
I always keep a small bowl in front of my cutting board to put my scraps, which keeps my prep area clean. Next to that I keep another bowl where I can put whatever I’ve cut. This helps keep everything organized, and makes transferring food from cutting board to pan easy.
As with towels (and as a general rule), simpler is better. Go for metal nesting bowls—they're easy to store and won't break like ceramic.
Here’s the thing: you need good pans, but you don’t need a lot of them. Of course, it’s nice to have a lot of different pans. But you really only need a good one for sautéeing; a small non-stick for eggs and delicate fish; a sauce pot; a large stock pot for boiling large quantities of water; and an enameled dutch oven for braising. While a full set of pots and pans may look nice in your kitchen, it’s often more affordable and space-efficient to buy your pans à la cart.
Cast iron and carbon steel are durable options that heat evenly and retain a virtually non-stick surface with proper maintenance. But if you want to go the stainless steel route, and if you can afford it, All-Clad pans are the best on the market: with aluminum and/or copper cores, they have unparalleled heat distribution (no hot spots), superior construction that won’t warp or become loose over time, and ergonomically designed handles that don’t ever get too hot to handle. Plus, they’re sleek and gorgeous.
6. Vegetable Peeler
I would argue that you need a good vegetable peeler, and in this case, good certainly doesn't mean expensive. My favorite peelers are made by Kuhn-Rikon and go for about six bucks. With a plastic handle and ceramic blade, I love these little guys for their shape: the Y-shaped housing and wide horizontally oriented blade make for a more ergonomic handling and quicker peeling than peelers with traditional vertically oriented blades. They stay sharp, and if you ever need to replace one, they’re cheap (about $3 to $6).
7. Wire Whisk
For mixing tasks, I debated whether to include a stand mixer, such as the Kitchen Aid. But because this is an essentials list, I decided to go with the low-tech version: the handheld whisk. Not only can you theoretically achieve most common mixing tasks with a whisk, but a good one is about forty times less expensive than a stand mixer.
This set of three whisks for under $10 will last forever.
8. Pepper Mill
While it's generally assumed that kitchens have salt and pepper, don't take your pepper mill for granted. And let's dispose forever of the idea of a "pepper shaker." The only way to get the most flavor, aroma, and texture out of your pepper is to crack it fresh using a durable, efficient pepper mill, and the ones from Unicorn can't be beaten. What you're spending is all in the quality of the grinder itself—this is no ornamental, fancy schmancy pepper mill hand carved from exotic wood. It's pure function, and it'll last you a lifetime.
For a more budget-friendly option, try this one.
9. Wooden Spoon
One of the quickest ways to de-clutter an overcrowded kitchen is to empty the utensil drawer(s) of all the cheap, flimsy plastic and metal spoons and spatulas, and replace them withe one good quality wooden one. It needs to be high enough quality that it doesn't splinter or crack, doesn't warp, and can fulfill its primary functions well: to stir and to scrape.
This one from Le Creuset is one of the best on the market.
Why put a thermometer on a list of kitchen essentials when so many people don't use one? It's simple: using a thermometer is the only sure-fire way to know when a certain food is done cooking, especially meat.
People may spout a lot of whooie about how they know by touch, but it takes years of experience, night after night, touching thousands of cuts of meat in a professional kitchen to gain that sort of intuitive knowlege. For the rest of us, there's thermometers.
It's also worth noting that professional cooks use thermometers constantly; in fact, a thermometer is part of culinary students' uniforms, and it's often required by chefs for their cooks to carry them in their aprons.
In this age of technological wonders, there's no reason not to have an instant-read digital thermometer. They're inexpensive and accurate. Check out this one by Taylor.
If you want to upgrade for a considerable bit more money, the Thermapen is the best on the consumer market in terms of speed, accuracy, and durability.
The Javelin by Lavatools is another great option that, while not quite as fast as accurate as the Thermapen, probably exceeds the needs of most home cooks.