This list of Essential Kitchen Tools includes all the basics. You’ll find EVERYTHING you need to get started cooking AMAZING meals at home.
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Let’s assume a refrigerator and stove came with your house, I won’t include those large appliances here, I’ll do a separate post about what to look for when shopping for them. I’ll also save things like mixers, blenders, pressure cookers and rice cookers for another post. Items like these are very helpful but you can add them as you get a little further along. This post contains affiliate links so you can shop while you read and pick up the items you need to up your kitchen game.
A good sharp knife is a must for every cook. I don’t recommend purchasing an entire knife block, you really only need 3 good knives to get started. An 8 or 10 inch chef’s knife is the work horse of the kitchen. Try both sizes to see which one is most comfortable in your hand. Look for a well made knife with a “full tang” . This means that the spine of the knife runs all the way down to the end of the handle giving you a strong, stable cutting tool. Also look for a knife with a comfortable handle. I recommend purchasing a serrated knife for slicing bread and tomatoes and a paring knife for small jobs like slicing strawberries. You can collect other specialty knives as you go along to expand your collection.
A good knife sharpener is essential, I love this one from AccuSharp. It works well and it’s easy to use. You are much more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than you are with a sharp one. A dull knife requires more pressure and effort than a sharp knife making it more likely to slip.
For food safety purposes I like to use color coded cutting boards to reduce the chances of cross contamination. A Green cutting board for vegetables only and red cutting boards are for raw meat. Purchase plastic cutting boards that can fit in your dishwasher to be sanitized.
For carving cooked meats use a wooden cutting board with a channel around it to catch the juices. I use wooden cutting boards to slice and serve bread as well.
You’ll need at least two 4 quart mixing bowls for larger jobs like making pancake batter and 4-6 small mixing bowls for scrambling eggs and for holding your mise-en-place (the measured out ingredients you’ve prepared for your dish). This will get you started, you can always add a few more if you find you need them. I prefer to use stainless steel mixing bowls to glass so you don’t have to worry about breaking them.
Yes, I know you can buy a bag of pre-washed salad, I do sometimes, but if you want to create a salad with your own custom mix of greens (like my grilled chicken panzanella salad) or if you want whole leaves for lettuce wraps. You’ll need to wash the lettuce and to dry it you’ll need a salad spinner. For bonus points the strainer portion of the salad spinner can be used as a colander for other things.
MEASURING CUPS AND SPOONS:
This 4 cup Oxo angled liquid measuring cup is the best on the market in my humble opinion. You can read it from nearly any angle without having to pick it up for a more accurate measurement. You’ll need a set of measuring cups for dry ingredients like flour and sugar and a set of measuring spoons.
So, lets talk about kitchen scales. Scales are a more accurate way of measuring, most serious bakers weigh their ingredients out. I think that when you’re first starting to cook, especially in America, most recipes will be written with measurements by cups and teaspoons. If you find that you love baking and do it often you will probably want to pick up a kitchen scale at some point. I just don’t think you need it to start cooking.
Half sheet pans are a work horse in my kitchen. Measuring about 13 by 18 by 1 inch high I use these sturdy pans for almost EVERYTHING! Need to bake cookies, use a half sheet pan- need to thaw meat in the fridge, put it on a half sheet pan to catch drips- roasting chicken and vegetables for dinner– put it all on a half sheet pan and throw it in the oven. Half sheet pans have tons of uses in the kitchen, I recommend stating with 4 of them, just make sure they can fit in your oven and fridge!
The absolute best way to know if your food is cooked through is to take it’s temperature. A digital thermometer is an important tool for food safety. With this thermometer you can set the temperature, insert the probe and an alarm will sound when the meat has reached the set temperature. Say goodbye guessing when your roast chicken is ready.
When selecting a saute pan I look for one with a nonstick interior and oven proof handles. The Cuisinart saute pan I use is non stick anodized aluminum with steel handles and it’s oven proof to 500 degrees. Often I will start a dish on the stove top and finish it in the oven. A 12 inch skillet is the perfect size for everyday use like pan frying tofu and stir frying vegetables. The 8 inch non stick skillet is great for omelets or smaller portions.
A 2 quart sauce pan is essential for making rice, using as the bottom of a double boiler with a stainless steel mixing bowl on top, or for making sauce. Get one with a sturdy handle and a tight fitting lid. The one I have pictured is an old one I got from my dad. I’ll replace it soon with a model that has a stainless steel handle so it will be oven safe.
PASTA/STOCK POT WITH STRAINER INSERT:
I love a large stock/pasta pot with a strainer insert so that I can reuse the water several times.It’s not just for pasta and stock, it’s perfect to make a low country boil which is one of my absolute FAVORITE meals. Use the strainer insert to remove the shrimp, crab and corn, then use the flavorful water left behind for my sweet potato and crab bisque recipe.
ENAMEL COATED CAST IRON DUTCH OVEN:
I LOVE a colorful enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven. They’re perfect for slow braising meats until they are meltingly tender, making dishes like this Chicken Enchilada Soup (that makes me hungry just thinking about it!) and they work well as a deep fryer. While French made Le Creuset is the king of enamel coated cast iron it’s quite expensive. A less expensive alternative is the enamel coated cast iron line from Lodge. I like a Dutch oven that’s between 5-7 quarts in capacity (this size is great to feed a crowd of 6-8 people, you can get a smaller one if you like) with a wide bottom. A wide cooking surface let’s you sear meats in larger batches, getting you out of the kitchen fast.
CAST IRON SKILLET:
I thought long and hard about adding a cast iron skillet to this list because I already included a non stick skillet. If you’re going to cook a steak you need a cast iron skillet, you really do. nothing is going to sear that steak like cast iron will. Cast iron is the absolute best pan for frying chicken or for getting an amazing crust on cornbread. I’ve found the 12 inch size to be the most useful. I roast whole chickens in it, I make an amazing peach cobbler topped with cinnamon rolls in my cast iron skillet , I even bake my apple upside down cake in it. A well seasoned cast iron skillet is versatile and will last for generations.
I really should have put the fire extinguisher at the beginning of the post of Essential Kitchen Tools because SAFETY FIRST! Store your fire extinguisher in you kitchen in plain sight away from the stove (so you can get to it if there is a fire), preferably near an exit so you can get out of the house if you need to. You can even mount it on the wall for better visibility. Be sure that everyone knows where it is and how to use it.
SMALL COOKING UTENSILS:
Wooden spoons, kitchen towels, heat proof spatulas, cooking spoons, vegetable peelers, slotted spoon/skimmer, whisks, can opener, turners and tongs finish up this list of Essential Kitchen Tools.
So, what do you think? Did I leave anything out of this list of Essential Kitchen Tools? Leave me a comment and let me know which kitchen tools you can’t live without!
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