A practitioner is only as good as the tools he uses to produce his work. Since I fancy myself a kitchen witch, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tools of the craft that help make cooking easier, faster, and more enjoyable.
My Essential Kitchen Tools
- Non-stick cookware w/matching lids – Non-stick cookware makes cleanup easy, and because of that, my set of non-stick pots and pans are my everyday go-to cooking tools. While it isn’t necessary to have a full set (you might even come out better with mix-and-match pieces), it is advised to spend a little extra for quality non-stick cookware that won’t chip and peel as soon as you start using them. For the basics, I recommend a large pot (suitable for pasta and soups), a medium-sized saucepan and a large skillet.
- Rubber spatula – A must-have for cooking on non-stick cookware so you don’t damage the non-stick coating.
- Stainless steel skillet or saucepan – To make a quality sauce, you have to get some caramelization on the bottom of the pan. Same goes for searing meats. This simply cannot be achieved with non-stick cookware. A single 12-inch saute or fry pan should be enough for most kitchens.
- Metal spatula – A must-have for scraping the caramelized bits (or fond) from the bottom of stainless steel pans. Never, ever use it on non-stick cookware.
- Baking sheet – I prefer metal baking sheets which help caramelize roasted vegetables and meats. For easier cleanup or non-stick baking, I line the sheet with foil or parchment paper. If you only have one, I’d recommend one with a lip or raised edge to keep food or juices from sliding off into the oven.
- Rectangular baking dish – Perfect for casseroles and cobblers.
- Tongs – Like having a heatproof pair of hands. Ideal for handling items in hot oil or water and for turning meats without piercing the skin and letting precious juices escape.
- Peeler – Why torture yourself trying to peel fruits and vegetables by hand? A peeler makes quick work of the task.
- Mandolin – While this isn’t an everyday tool, it comes in handy when I need thin, evenly-sliced veggies for salads. Works like a charm when making homemade potato chips.
- Mini chopper – While I do own a large food processor, I rarely use it because it’s so big and I’m not usually chopping huge amounts of food at once. My 4-cup mini-chopper is more practical for finely chopping fresh herbs and veggies when making sauces, salad dressings, salsas, soups and stews.
- Chinese skimmer – This handy tool is great for removing fried items from oil and for removing pastas (like ravioli, farfalle, etc.) or vegetables from boiling water.
- Latex gloves – I keep a supply on hand for messy manually-intensive tasks like forming meatballs, and for dealing with raw meats and poultry. Be sure to use the non-powdered variety.
- Mortar and pestle – Some folks swear by their spice grinder. For me, a good stone mortar and pestle are all I need to grind up a small amount of dried herbs or spices.
- Wok – Honestly, if I could only have one piece of cookware, it would be a wok. It’s versatile enough to use for boiling, stewing, frying, steaming, and even for popping corn. I have 3 in my cabinet, but prefer the hand-hammered steel one to the 2 non-stick ones.
- 2-3 good knives – Nothing makes prep more enjoyable than a good quality, sharp knife. There’s no need to get that variety set that comes in the wooden knife block, since you won’t use half of them. An 8-inch chef’s knife and 1-2 smaller knives (a 6-inch and/or a paring knife) are more than adequate for most kitchen tasks. Henckel’s or Wusthoff are recommended brands. The quality is well worth the price. You’ll have these forever.
- 2 cutting boards – I recommend at least 2 cutting boards – 1 for raw meats and 1 for veggies and other cutting tasks. Wood or plastic is up to you, but glass cutting boards can dull your knives faster.
- Knife sharpener – Your knives will get dull over time. To save the hassle of having someone else sharpen them and to protect your investment, get yourself a simple sharpener.
- Utility scissors – Couldn’t spatchcock a chicken without ‘em! They also come in handy for clipping fresh herbs.
- Whisk – How else are you going to whip cream or make stiff peaks out of egg whites? A standard wire balloon whisk should be sufficient.
- Stick / hand blender – I mostly use mine for making smoothies, but it’s a godsend when I need to puree a soup.
- Wire colander/strainer – A must-have for draining pasta, beans and other items. Can also do double-duty as a sifter.
- Measuring cups / spoons – I hardly follow exact measurements when cooking my own recipes. But when following someone else’s or on the rare occasions when I bake, measuring cups/spoons are absolutely necessary.
- Parchment paper – As I mentioned before, I don’t bake often, but baking cookies and brownies on parchment reduces the risk of burnt-bottom (I mean, unless you’re into that) and makes cleanup much, much easier.
- Aluminum foil – See #5 and #23.
- Set of kitchen towels – When cooking, my hands are constantly getting dirty and constantly getting rinsed or washed between steps in the cooking process. One of the first things I do before cooking is make sure I’ve got at least one towel on hand. Most times I tuck it into my back pocket or toss it over my shoulder, so I have easy access to wipe or dry my hands or whip it out for more heavy-duty uses. In a pinch, I also use my kitchen towel to handle hot pans or lids.
photo 1: Auxillary home kitchen tools. by Special*Dark, on Flickr
photo 2: Baking Dish 2/14/11 by esimpraim, on Flickr
photo 3: mortar & pestle by ani!, on Flickr
photo 4: my fancy new measuring cups by knittygurl, on Flickr