The 10 Best Kitchen Tools You Don’t Have

toolsA funny thing happens when you write a food blog: people get the impression that you know how to cook. Because, like so many of us these days, my friends & family are scattered far and wide, I do a fair bit of traveling to keep in touch with my nearest and dearest. And because I write about food a couple of times a week, most of these folks have figured it out: I cook. Quite a bit, actually. Invariably, when I visit a friend’s house these days, I get a cheerful, “Oh, great! You can cook for us!” (Although just as often, I will admit, I offer first: because, hey, what do you know? I like to cook. And it’s just possible that I’m a nice person, who is more than happy to offer up a home-cooked meal in exchange for the hospitality of friends. But if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it with my last breath.)

The upshot being: I’ve cooked in a lot of places, a lot of different kitchens, and a lot of fun times. Three in the morning post-soccer-and-bar-crawl pasta? I’m your girl. Veggie frittata on safari in Mapungubwe National Park? Been there, done that. Grilled chicken and fire-roasted potatoes on top of Mount Bigelow? Check. All this is to say, I’m not some kitchen wuss. I can make a meal under nearly any circumstances: after all, if worst comes to worst, all you really need is fire and a stick. But, more challenging kitchen adventures aside, most of my away-from-home cooking happens in kitchens: the home kitchens of my Mom, Tai’s family, or our friends.

Most of these kitchens lay in the vast middle ground between titanium-pot-over-open-fire and fully-equipped dream kitchen. Some of my friends don’t cook at all; some of them cook dinner every night. Some I would classify as adventurous home cooks, the kind of people willing to tackle homemade croissants or a complicated Thai curry; some consider it a roaring success to get a dinner on the table that the kids will actually eat. What all of these kitchens have in common, however, is this: something is missing. Something that I’ve come to rely on every day in my own cooking; something that, without which, I have to step back and think about how to proceed; something that I am tempted to whip out to the nearest kitchen store and pick up, or better yet, something that I actually do.

So, this is my list. It’s not a The One & Only Kitchen Tool You Ever Need!! list. It’s not the Top 10 Essential Kitchen Tools list. It’s not even the My Favorite Kitchen Tools list. These are the tools that I use every day, that are exceptionally good at performing their given task, yet are rarely, if ever, found in a “regular” kitchen. Chances are, you have a couple of these: maybe you have a Dutch oven that you love, a huge cutting board that you use every day, a gorgeous cast iron skillet that was your grandmother’s. Chances are good, though, that you don’t have all of these: and I’m here to tell you, if you spend time in the kitchen, they are all worth having.

I’m not really a “Buy this kitchen gadget, now!” kind of girl. I’m much too Yankee for that, and I derive a perverse sense of pride from MacGyvering together a solution to the problem of not-the-right-gear. I am, however, a big fan of The Right Tool For The Right Job, especially when it makes my life in the kitchen easier, more efficient, more productive, and fun. So I guess this is my Tools That You’ll Wonder How You Ever Lived Without list. I had fun putting it together: I hope you have fun reading it through. And I wonder: what tools do you wonder how you ever lived without? I’d love to know.

knives1. Big Sharp Knife

It’s happened more times than I can count: I’m in a friend’s kitchen, standing over a butternut squash, or a watermelon, or a stack of tomatoes & onions. “Where do you keep your knives?”, I ask. My friend pulls open a kitchen drawer and apologetically hands me a dinky little knife; invariably it’s either a dinner table steak knife (like the one in the middle above) or one of those indestructible bamboo prep knives we all bought in the 90’s. “Sorry, but it’s the only one that’s sharp,” she says.

It’s just possible that we are a wee bit knife-obsessed at my house; but what do you expect from a culinary school grad and an adventurous home cook? And yes, I realize that decent knives are expensive. My point is, you don’t have to have a dozen good knives; you don’t even have to have two. One, just one good-sized (8 – 10 inch), sharp chef’s knife is all you need. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will improve your cooking experience more than a really good, really sharp knife. Want to feel like a bad-ass kitchen ninja? Get yourself a bad-ass kitchen ninja knife.

sharpen2. A Way to Sharpen Your Big Knife

Once you have your bad-ass ninja knife, you need a way to keep it sharp. How many ninjas have you seen with a knife so dull they have to saw through an orange? That’s right: none. The best way to keep your knives sharp, in my opinion, is to have them professionally sharpened a couple of times a year. In between sharpenings, get used to using a honing steel, every time you use your knife. You only need a couple of passes, knife over steel, on each side, each time you use the knife, to ensure that little dings and burrs do not dull your blade. Bob Kramer explains in detail how to hone your knife here. It’s such a simple habit to get into, and once again, it will make your cooking experience more enjoyable every time. We have a few steels, including the white-handled one above, which is Tai’s favorite. My favorite is the short ceramic steel, which I feel gives the knife a better edge.

Should you not be able to find a good knife sharpening service (do not take your good knives to the hardware store: I know from bitter experience that they will destroy your beautiful ninja knife), you can look into the many home-sharpening devices available. The traditional (and dare I say, ninja) method is a Japanese water stone (in picture above on left). Bob Kramer, once again, on how to sharpen your knife on a stone. The DuoSharp is a similar concept, yet with diamond instead of stone (although, I have to say that I have not been a big fan).

Keep your favorite knife sharp and feel like a bad-ass kitchen ninja every time you cook dinner. It’ll make you happy: I guarantee it.

peeler3. Sharp Vegetable Peeler

While we’re talking about sharp: when is the last time you replaced your vegetable peeler? 1992? Uh huh. I thought so. Everywhere I go, there’s either an ancient, rusty harp-style peeler, a giant Good Grips model with blades so dull they might as well be cardboard, or none at all. Yes, I know, you could use a knife. But vegetable peelers get the job done much more efficiently, and let’s face it: they’re sort of fun. I always have a couple of spares on hand for when friends come over and want to help with dinner. And? Vegetable peelers are cheap. The little plastic Y peelers are $4 at Crate and Barrel, and a “nice” peeler will only run you about $12. OXO even makes replacement blades that fit their i-Series models.

Bottom line? No one sharpens vegetable peelers, but they do get dull. When you find yourself cursing at the butternut squash on your counter, in tatters because you’ve hacked it to death with your dull veggie peeler: do yourself a favor. Toss it, and get yourself a nice, new, sharp one. You’re welcome.

cutting board4. Big Cutting Board

True story: Tai & I were up in Maine over the holidays, browsing through our favorite kitchen store, Rooster Brother in Ellsworth. While there, I happened to spot this huge, gorgeous wooden cutting board from Catskill Craftsmen (trust me to go all the way to Maine to find a cutting board made only a couple of hours from my house). It was enormous (a full 23 inches across), heavy, made from sustainably harvested wood from managed forests in New York’s Catskill mountains, and ludicrously cheap (boards like this usually start at $150 and go up from there): could it be any more perfect? But still: I hemmed and hawed, pulled out every board in the store, talked over the pros & cons with Tai (who nodded and smiled, nodded and smiled), then finally decided it was too good a bargain to resist. When I finally brought it to the counter, the checkout clerk said matter-of-factly, “This is on account?” I gave her a blank look. “Um, what?” She laughed and said,”Oh, never mind. I assumed you were a chef.” I refrained from saying, “What, you mean all of your customers don’t obsess over cutting boards for 40 minutes?

Cutting boardsJust like a good knife, having a good, solid and BIG cutting board is a joy. No really, I mean that: this thing is a joy to use. I have another board about this size (the one with the lip in the picture above), that I picked up in Asheville the Christmas before last, but since it is designed for working with bread and pastry I haven’t wanted to cut on it. Aside from that, the biggest board I had was that dinky-by-comparison green one (on the left above), the standard slightly-bigger-than-a-notebook size. And I still use it of course, for small jobs, but the big one? The big one lives on my counter now (kept steady on our non-level counter tops by another awesome purchase, the non-slip mat by Architec, above left.) I don’t have to use prep bowls, or have chopped vegetables piled willy-nilly on the counter: I can prep for an entire meal on this bad boy, and keep finding corners of space. I never realized how constrained I felt, how subtly annoying it was to always be using a cutting board that was too small for the task at hand. Want to feel like a bad-ass kitchen ninja having a kick-ass time? Get yourself a BIG board.

big bowls + pots5. Big Pot & Bowl (& Sheet Pan & Skillet)

Before you start thinking I’m some sort of size queen, hear me out. Somehow we seem to have come to the conclusion that our kitchens will be less cluttered if we buy smaller things. I see this all the time: “I want a big stock pot, but where would I put it?” , or “Handy 6-inch cutting board is a convenient size to tuck in a drawer!” And then, because we’ve made chopping vegetables such a chore with our tiny, dull knives and our tiny, slippy cutting boards (buried in a drawer no less), we go out and buy a big, honking food processor that takes up half the counter.

I spent a couple of weeks with Tai’s grandmother over the holidays, and while I was there, I was determined to stock her up on healthy staples like soup, stew, granola and such that she could eat once I went back home. Now, Grandma doesn’t cook much anymore, but she used to cook all the time. So I was surprised to find that, her biggest stock pot? 3 quarts. Her cutting board? 6 inches. Her knife? The dull-as-dishwater Joyce Chef bamboo knife. Her mixing bowl? A 1-quart plastic Tupperware that had lost its lid back in the ’80’s. It didn’t take more than a single day of cooking until I was at Rooster Brothers, stocking up on the essentials: a big mixing bowl and cutting board; a sharp knife, tongs, wooden & silicone spatulas.

Everything is more difficult in a too-small pan: you can’t see what’s happening because the food is piled too high; the food doesn’t cook evenly because it’s not evenly in contact with the heat source or the pan; the meat doesn’t brown because the pan is too crowded; the soup or beans or jam threatens to boil over, making you turn the heat to below optimal; and let’s not even talk about the too-small-pot immersion blender disaster, hmm? The same is true of bowls or sheet pans or skillets. Ever try to efficiently fold flour into a quick bread batter in a bowl that’s full to overflowing? To evenly cook a stir-fry in a jam-packed skillet? Ideally, we would always have just the right sized pan for the job. But if I had to choose between too big and too small? Too big wins every time. Sorry, guys: size really does matter.

skillet6. Cast Iron Skillet

If I had a magic kitchen genie who would grant me three cooking-related wishes, one of them would have to be to abolish the non-stick skillet. Or, at the very least, make people sign an affidavit that the only thing they will ever cook in it is an omelet. Much like we were sold the “smaller = less clutter!” myth by companies with small kitchen gadgets to sell, we’ve also been sold the “cooking with fat = evil!” myth by people with processed food and non-stick pans to sell. And since Fat = Evil has been the mantra for about 30 years now, non-stick pans have proliferated like black mold: just as toxic, just as hard to get rid of, and about as useful.

My second genie wish? To replace all of those non-stick pans with just one good, heavy, big, cast iron skillet. Aside from eggs, which I will admit, really don’t stick in a non-stick pan, non-stick does nothing well: it won’t sear meat, it doesn’t get hot enough, it scratches at the drop of a hat, it can’t go in the oven, it leeches toxic chemicals, and it constantly needs replacing. Cast iron, on the other hand, heats beautifully, sears like a dream, is oven-safe, is non-toxic, gets better with each use, and will last beyond your lifetime. Suck it, Teflon. Bad-ass kitchen ninjas swing iron.

dutchoven7. Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Speaking of cast iron: do you have an enameled cast iron Dutch oven yet? I know: the good ones are expensive. Very expensive. And you wonder what you’ll do with it. How is it different from any other BAP? (Big Ass Pot, for the uninitiated.) All I can say is: I bought my first Le Creuset two and a half years ago and it has changed the way I cook. I never used to braise: I’m not sure that I knew what braise meant. Now? From whole chickens to pork shoulders, and even beef tacos, I braise with the best of ‘em. Soups, stews, a big pot of beans; fruit butter, barbecue sauce, marmalade & jam; caramel and candy and citrus curd too. These babies do it all and they do it better than any other pot you own. They heat more evenly: food almost never sticks or burns, meaning less stirring and more sipping wine and contemplating your awesome cooking chops; they retain heat very well, meaning they will cook food faster and at lower temperatures (thereby saving you time, energy and money); they clean easily, and properly cared for, they will last forever.

The bottom line is: the only thing I use my old stock pots for these days is… stock. And boiling water for pasta. That’s about it. Everything else you can do in a big pot is done better in enameled cast iron.

spatulas8. Spatulas

All hail the mighty spatula! So many varieties, all of them brilliant at their particular forté. How did we get cake batter out of a mixing bowl before the silicone spatula came along? I don’t know, but I suspect a lot of cake batter got left behind. For the record, everyone loves the Le Creuset version, but I’m loyal to my battered pair from Crate & Barrel: I find them just slightly more flexible than the LC. And I know for a fact that I have frosted a cake with a butter knife in the past: but now that I’ve used an offset spatula, I’m ruined for life. Ruined, I tell you. Wooden spoons? Completely useless if you ask me. Flat-ended wooden spatulas? Can’t. live. without. I can’t tell you how many friend’s houses I have populated with a wooden spatula: it’s probably the thing I miss the most when I am cooking away from home.

Other people carry chef’s knives with them when they travel & cook. Me? I’m thinking I’ll make my own little chef roll with three spatulas: wood, silicone and small offset. With these three tools, I can conquer the world. Or at the very least, whip you up a mean bundt cake.

tongs9. Tongs

Rumor has it that Thomas Keller hates kitchen tongs, saying that they are “bad at every job.” Respectfully, Thomas, I say “whatever.” Maybe you have minions who like nothing better than turning over dozens of grilling sausages with a spoon and a spatula: I have places to go, people to see, tequila to drink. Tongs, tongs! Tongs are the tool for me.

scale10. Digital Kitchen Scale & Thermometer

Ah, the holy grail of Kitchen Tools That You Don’t Have: the humble kitchen scale and bonus digital thermometer. Why, people? Why? Why won’t you buy a scale? We bitch and moan that we can’t find time to cook; we obsess over 5-ingredient recipes and 15-minute meals; we lament our lack of baking prowess; we hate to do dishes. Well, good news, I have the answer to your prayers! The humble kitchen scale. How much easier is it to make bread, scones, pizza dough, muffins, quick breads, etc., when you can simply weigh everything into one bowl rather than measure (and measure and measure) into little cups? A lot. How much more accurate and precise, more reliable and dependable, are your recipes when you weigh instead of measure? A lot. How much easier is it to adjust preserving recipes on the fly when you use weights instead of vague volumes and random amounts? A lot.

I don’t get it, I really don’t. I don’t know why people simply refuse to buy a kitchen scale. Is it the need for batteries? The digital read-out? A vague fear of electronics? There is a tool out there that saves you time, energy, and dish-washing angst; that makes you a better and more reliable cook; and that saves you a trip to the post office when you don’t know the postage on that really over-stuffed envelope. What more do you want, people? Unicorns and rainbows?!?

The same goes for the digital thermometer, really. I use mine every day. Bread & muffins, chicken, pork and sausages, caramel and fruit curd, cheese and yogurt, jam and marmalade: if you want to know if it’s done, why go through pulling and poking, knocking and wiggling, slicing and peering, freezing and dipping and dolloping in water, when you could just buy. a. freaking. thermometer. Unicorns and rainbows, people. Unicorns and rainbows.

Full disclosure: No one has paid me to say nice things about their brand (although really, Le Creuset should consider tossing a few bucks my way. Jeez). There are no affiliate links and no nefarious purposes whatsoever: just sharing the love of good tools designed well. Unicorns and rainbows, people. Unicorns and rainbows.

124 comments

    • I hear you: it took a long time for me to bite the bullet on that one. Sooner or later, the stars will align and you’ll find the perfect one. And then you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!

      • Thanks for sharing, Chris. My only problem is it’s too small! I’m using a 12 quart stockpot all the time now for my family of 9. 6 quarts just sounds tiny; my frying pan is 5 quarts. (I haven’t switched to a cast iron skillet yet because I haven’t seen a 5-quart covered one out there. We actually have 2 5-quart frying pans, and if we want to make potatoes for breakfast for everyone we use both pans at once.)

        I do see an 8.5 quart dutch oven on there, but I just retired my 8 quart stockpot. The 12 quart serves me so much bettter. It gets used almost every single day.

    • Samantha

      I’m jealous of all of you who have Le Creuset in their culinary kitchen collection. I have something like it, but not a Le Creuset. My sister sent one over with lasagna it in, so we didn’t have to cook the first night we moved into our new home, and let me tell you, it was the easiest thing to wash. Everything else, I have to soak overnight and then scrub to get rid of stuck on food, but the baked on food, slipped right off like it was nothing. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t allow me to keep it:( Still haven’t had the money to buy one. One day!!

  1. I have never felt more validated in my life because I have all ten!!

    Thanks so much for the cutting board tip. I have a huge cutting board that I bought from Ikea, of all places, about 15 years ago. Same size, but about 2.5″ thick! It’s served me very well, but it’s starting to split.

    I try to encourage people to buy knives in restaurant supply stores. They’re SO cheap and totally get the job done. You can read more on my neglected blog! http://foodpile.com/2011/09/in-praise-of-a-cheap-knife/

  2. I agree with you on every point – especially that bigger is better. I like to chop things on an enormous cutting board so I don’t have to worry about stuff falling off the edge. Little ones slow me down (and I’m a slow chopper to begin with!).

  3. jillian

    I just bought the new OXO 22# kitchen scale. I had been using the one like you have pictured above for the past five years. I agree with all your essentials. I would add a 10 qt pressure cooker to the list for myself.

  4. Liz

    This is a great list! Bigger is definitely better in this case! The only thing that’s on your list that I don’t have, and haven’t ever really considered getting is a kitchen digital scale. I don’t bake all that much, so it’s not ever seemed like a real need. But I just might need to reconsider…

    • I keep eyeing a smaller one as well; either a 2.75 or a 4-quart. As I said, ideally, we’d always have the right pot for the job; but if you can ONLY have one, a big one can do what a little one can’t. (Insert “that’s what she said joke here> :) )

  5. Well…I have to tell you that I can’t agree with you more :) I have all of the tools you have mentioned and many more! I happen to love microplane graters and with the work that I do, I replace them every six months. I adore Le Creuset and have about 10 different pots that I have collected over the years. I use them everyday and could not be without them. I also use my citrus squeezer every day. I purchased a knife sharpener as I could not live without it—I also own about 10 different knives, cleavers, boners, parers…they are my everything :) I own the dualit Analog Scale and I would not be without it. I have not gone digital :) Love you, blog looks great too!

  6. I have every one of these too! Although I must say I have a love-hate relationship with my digital scales. It chews through the batteries. At the most inopportune times. I’m seriously considering converting to the old fashioned kind.

  7. Cinnamon

    Well shoot, don’t I feel like a pro, I have all of these! BUT, I think I could use an even bigger cutting board, and I didn’t know about sharpening your knife EVERYTIME you use it. Thank you for that tip!

  8. MC

    I can totally relate!! I cook everywhere, and usually end up toting my very favorite-can’t-live-without-it items along with me…and then people think I’m crazy. I sadly admit to not yet having a kitchen scale- but not for not wanting one. It is totally on my list!- well, and also on my list is the LeCreuset. I’m trying to win the lottery so I can get one….ug. But I like your point. It should change my life, therefore, I should have one. Let me make my point to my husband…

  9. Ecoteri

    I don’t yet have some of those spatulas – I have a love hate on for the rubber ones, and the silicone ones with the separate ends squeem me out as the hollow bit gets wierd. BUT my stepson got me a one-piecer silicone spatula (handle is silicone but has something inside to make it firm) and it ROCKS. so much my sweetie went out and got another one – smaller.

    However I beg to differ with you about wooden spoons. They are much beloved in our kitchen, I have some from my mom that have to be 20+ years old. mind you, the older ones are flat on the bottom – didn’t start out that way = maybe this is why I prefer them? Snort

  10. Spot on! I have absolutely bought my friends and relatives knives, because using theirs made me nuts! Another thing I am sometimes surprised to find missing is a pie-serving spatula (can that really be the right term?), though, admittedly, that’s not “essential” to everyone.

    I don’t have a digital thermometer, but actually use my meat thermometer for more than meat – it’s grand for bread baking. No more thumping the loaves, then putting them back in the oven not sure if they’ll ever get back up to temp enough to finish baking!

    I really try to avoid plastic in my kitchen, but the spatula I use absolutely every time I need a rubber spatula isn’t on your list. But, it probably couldn’t be since you’d have to go to an art store not a cooking supplies shop for it. It’s a hand-held (no long stick) rubber “rib” used for smoothing wet clay while throwing pottery. I bought it as a clay studio supply, but purposely picked out one with enough flexibility to transfer into the kitchen. I’ve had it for nearly a decade, and it is amazing. Depending on how you hold it, it is extra firm or super flexible. (Insert another “that’s what she said” here. :) )

    It’s like the red ones in this pic: http://pincupottery.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/multi-ribs-group-2.jpg?w=300&h=254.

  11. AG

    I have all of these things, except the wooden spatula. What do you use it for? I actually have 3 enameled case iron Dutch ovens – 2 of the 6-quart (because I truly do use them both at the same time sometimes) and one that is 4 quart. Two of mine are badly stained. I’ve tried the boil with baking soda or dish soap or both. Any tips there? I still love them. Searing meat is what does it. After much research I ended up buying the Lodge brand. Check out the reviews. Many people like them better than Le Creuset. And they are far more affordable. I have a BA cutting board I got from Amazon by Totally Bamboo (or something like that). It has a permanent home on my island next to the sink. And I LOVE IT. The only complaint I have is I do wish it had a juice channel. Especially during canning season. Not that it would completely stop it. I agree with the salad spinner. For years I thought it was useless and refused to buy one, and when I did I cursed myself for being so stubborn.

    I have slowly collected my knives over the years. My first 3 were the paring knife, 6″ utility and 6″ chef. Then I got an 8″ chef and then a 10″ chef. I also got a tomato knife (which I love). I may someday get myself the 12″, but I haven’t decided. Mine are all Wusthof except for one: my cheese knife. It’s a (Cutco). I can’t believe I just admitted that. I hate Cutco knives. My MIL has them and they are pure torture to use, but I used this cheese knife at my SIL’s house and it was so wonderful that I bought the Wustof version thinking it had to be better. But it’s not (I can’t believe I just typed that)! I did a side by side comparison, and while the blades look the same, they cut very differently. I returned the Wusthof. I only wish Cutco made it in a longer blade. I’d buy it! I’ve never bothered with good steak knives. My meat is so tender we use table knives. If you need a knife that can cut through leather, you need to rethink your cooking skills and invest in some classes, not new knifes. As for the cast iron skillet, how do you make a respectable cornbread without it? I would also add my Blendtec blender and Bosch mixer to the list. I use them all the time. My husband always says if our house is ever robbed, they will likely overlook the most expensive room in the house: the kitchen. It’s true.

    • I think that wooden spatulas do everything a wooden spoon would do, but better. They are flat at the bottom, so you can scrape along the bottom of a pan to make sure nothing is sticking; they can get in the corners of a pot better than a spoon; they work much better to turn a baking sheet of roasting vegetables; and you can use two of them to turn a roast or life a whole bird out of a pot much easier than with two spoons. My husband likes the wooden spoons; otherwise they would probably be gone! I never use them anymore.

  12. I love you. Unicorns and rainbows. Haha. I have all of these except the enamel dutch oven. We have a regular cast iron dutch oven though, so we’re halfway there. My husband is a cast iron addict. We have a 10 and 12 inch skillet, the almost flat one in 10inch for sandwiches, a round griddle/grill, the dutch oven, two mini casserole dishes and a 6 or 8inch skillet we use for cornbread. I’ve been replacing the cheap ones we bought with real Made in the US pieces picked up different places. So much nicer.

    I don’t have a salad spinner either. Can’t make a choice between the stainless and regular OXO. Maybe by summer when we’re back to eating lots of salads.

    I’ve been eying a lovely made in ME cutting board at Reny’s. $50, solid wood. Weighs the same as the dutch oven. We already have a small olive wood one for quick cutting, plus a large 24x24inch bamboo. I could really use one with the juice channel though…nothing has really appealed to me. I want solid wood, not made in China. And affordable. Hoping I may be able to find someone local we can trade embroidery to for a board.

    • I’m am such a cast iron convert that I just want more, more, more: but most of my pieces are good ones, and there is limited space in my 64 square-foot kitchen. What I have serves me well for now. And yes, my new cutting board is HEAVY. Such a nice heft to it. But if you can find one handmade and available for barter in Maine: you win!

  13. Very well-written post. I agree! I too have cooked on the tops of mountains and in the middle of the woods. Food is best that way. But even there, the essential tools are extremely helpful! I think the most important are the knife and the cutting board for sure.

  14. Okay. It’s time to buy that Le Creuset I’ve been staring at in the shop for a few years now. I’ll bring a printout of your blog to make sure I don’t back down. Thanks for another wonderful post. Always fun to read, even for a particularly picky writer.

    Keep up the good work!
    A reader from Holland

  15. Great post! And I agree with all of your essential choices! I have found that when I go to someone’s home that I know that I’ll be cooking in, I generally bring with me a little “Kitchen Kit” since so many kitchens are lacking in some very basic tools. Before bringing a kit with me I learned to get very creative as well. My favorite I think was making a pie and discovering they had no rolling pin. Enter a large drinking glass… :-)
    Kenley

  16. Dan

    Excellent list! Although I have all 10, many of my friends do not and it is indeed frustrating since most all of them really are/should be kitchen basics (especially a decent sharp knife). On the other hand, as a blacksmith, it does provide an excellent opportunity to gift them a hand forged blade.

    I am a little perplexed about the “titanium-over-an-open-fire”. If you’re going primitive it should be bronze, copper, or iron since titanium is a modern metal. (http://www.celticclans.org/re-livinghistory/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/blog-cooking3.jpg)

  17. Great post. Whenever I cook at someone else’s house I can see why they hate cooking so much: it’s so frustrating without the proper tools. (I have all of these, by the way.)

  18. I have all of these in my kitchen. So proud :-) For me, another essential is an immersion blender. I use it at least 3-4 times a week, for pureeing soup, emulsifying dressing, making smoothies, etc. So easy, and no more burns from hot soup spewing out of the food processor! I also use my mandoline several times a week, but I could probably live without that, if pressed. ;-)

  19. What a nice article! I had a lot of fun reading it and especially loved the opening passage :-). Thank’s for that – and I’m overwhelmed by the fact that I posess all the kitchen tools you described although there’s not much space in my tiny Berlin Mitte 6th floor kitchen.

  20. Lisa

    what is the difference between the Le Creuset braiser and the french oven? I want to surprise my husband who is a wonderful adventurous cook!

    • The braiser is more wide and shallow: about the size of a large, deep skillet, while the French oven is taller and more narrow, like a stockpot. You should be able to find actual measurements on LC’s website. For my money, the French oven is more flexible than the braiser.

  21. Kim Petroske

    Love this one. Kudo’s to me and being taught to cook by my grandmother I have everyone of these items in my kitchen!! I love them all for the same reasons you do and I swear by my large collection of Griswold, old griswold now, for cooking in!

  22. steadysteps

    Luckily, I have almost all the items you mentioned, except the digital scale. For some reason, it never occurred to me to weigh rather than measure! I’ll have to try that. Unfortunately, right now I rent a room in a house and my kitchen stuff is in storage. It drives me CRAZY to use my landlord’s dull knives, but I can’t bring myself to take the risk of mixing my good stuff with her stuff. I need to find my knife sharpener- thanks for the links on that! Soon, I hope to have my own place where I can cook and chop with glee!

  23. This article made me both happy :-) and sad :-( . Happy, because as I was reading it, I thought, “Hey, I own that! And I own that!” Turns out I own all 10, and you’re right, they are definitely necessary kitchen tools! However, I’m a bit sad to think about it, because I’m currently living in Malaysia (here with my husband for three years to teach) and my glorious kitchen equipment is all in a storage unit in Nashville. After reading your explanations of why these things are all so glorious, I miss my equipment more than ever. (For the record, I brought my delightfully big and sharp kitchen knives with me, and purchased a giant cutting board, peeler and spatulas galore when I got here. I packed my favorite digital scale — from Pampered Chef — and it broke in transit, so I’m without.) Personally, of the items you listed, the Dutch oven and the cast iron skillet are the ones I find it hardest to live without. I’m a fried chicken girl, and nothing gets it done like cast iron. Plus, I totally miss the luxury of the stovetop sear followed by the three-hour in-the-oven-simmer that only a Dutch oven can provide.

  24. Susan

    I have over the years restocked my parent’s kitchen out of frustration while helping them make holiday dinners while visiting – I replaced their knives and bought them a sharpener (I hate dull knives!), a mini-food processor to make quick work of hummus and salsas, a few All-Clad pans, a new vegetable peeler (theirs was probably as old as I am and almost rusty), a large dutch oven, spatulas, and Reidel wine glasses. I have everything on your list times three as we have the luxury of two full-size kitchens in our house plus a summer cabin in Arkansas. Oh, and add microplanes of different sizes to the list too! Great post. Enjoyed it and reading everyone’s comments. Thanks!

    • Oh, yes, I’ve stocked my Mom’s kitchen with all sorts of things: wooden spatulas, rimmed baking sheets, tongs, digital thermometer; I’m sure there is more. Every time I’m there I swear I’m going to buy her a Dutch oven, but I haven’t bit the bullet on that one yet!

  25. Joan

    So brilliant! I’ve had the same problems when trying to cook in other’s homes. These are all items in my kitchen, too, in some form or another. Do you (or other readers) have advice for seasoning cast iron – or keeping it from rusting? I really would like to use my cast iron more frequently without them getting funky.

  26. Kary

    Sweet, I’m happy to know I have at least one of everything on the list. Favorites (and most used) being my digital scale and thermometer.

  27. Jessie

    I have a question about #10 – the only one I don’t have already. I understand the reasons for using one, and I really would like to start, but (I’m embarrassed to admit this) I don’t know how to do it. Most recipes I see are given in cups, tablespoons, etc., as are all of my family recipes. How on earth do you work with recipes like that using a scale?

    • More cooks & recipe developers are including weights in their recipes (usually weights AND volume); it is more of a standard in Europe, but you do see it here, though it is certainly not the norm. I always try to include weights in my baking recipes and in many of the preserving recipes; I know the Heidi at 101 Cookbooks is also very good about that. I think it is sort of a chicken/egg thing: the more people buy kitchen scales, the more they start clamoring for recipes with weights vs. volumes, and the more recipes are developed & published that way. One thing I’ve done to a lot of my old stand-by recipes is to prepare them once, using all of the directions for cups, etc., but weighing everything out. It’s a bit of a pain, but once you have it written down, the recipe is forever easier to prepare. Does that make sense?

  28. I love this list. I’ve got most everything on it (never even heard of a wooden spatula, and now I want 3, thanks for that. I got my pretty purple pot (LeCreuset 7 1/4 qt) and my kitchen scale, and probably the new tongs and the new peeler now that I think of it, using Bed Bath & Beyond coupons.

    I’d add a set of stainless steel measuring spoons that fit *inside* spice jars. I picked up some at a TJ Maxx or Marshall’s and love them each time I use them.

    The photo of the orange and green pots? The orange pot looks identical to the one my mom used to can in and handed down to me. I used it and loved it until I borrowed a friend’s pressure canner to do a meat sauce, and she handed me her 22 qt canner w/ jar rack. Wow–to do 7 qts at a time, and not get my OveGlove steamy? I picked up my own 22 qt at the antique barn for $8.50 last week. Woot!

    • What do you know? I too got that orange pot from my Mom (who rarely cooks, and bought it because it was pretty :)) and I use it as my canning pot when I don’t feel like hauling the big one out of the garage. And I’m telling you: wooden spatulas are where it’s at. You’ll never go back to wooden spoons!

  29. I also have all of these–except the digital thermometer. But I have a candy thermometer, so I think I’m doing ok there. I do wish my big cutting board had a lip, though! Of course, our counters are the tile kind with a bump before the edge, so it wouldn’t actually work as well…but oh man, the joy of a cutting board not moving!

    And my veg peeler? It’s at least 25 years old, and probably more like 30, but it does the job far, far better than any of the current cheapo OXO models. Super easy. I really wish OXO would get some stiff competition in the form of and affordable-yet-sturdy metal utensil company.

    • You’re right: one thing Tai’s grandmother does have is an ancient metal peeler that still works better than most. And that Architec non-slip mat for a cutting board is brilliant, I must say. We have natural wooden countertops that are lovely to look at, but they left some contour in the wood. Not so practical as they are not flat. I used to just use a damp kitchen towel (which also works quite well) but for $10 the non-slip mat was a great buy.

  30. My Mom has a salad spinner, which I am required (!) to use when I cook in her kitchen (“oh, it takes so long to dry the lettuce on a towel, let me get you the spinner!”) and I hate it. It’s bulky plastic, I have to finish the lettuce on a towel anyway, and it doesn’t just rinse out – you have to take a brush to the basket, or next day you’ll find bits of driy/wilted lettuce in it. I won’t own one. (Ditto the food-processor, for similar reasons.) Consider your other recommendations enthusiastically endorsed, however!

  31. Such good descriptions here of the “why” behind your choices. I have only had a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for a couple of years, and I now can’t live without that. I have a LeCreuset outlet nearby…I need to check it out! :-)

  32. Olga

    Ha! I have all of the above. Except the enameled cast iron Dutch oven (I got rig of mine). I have a pressure cooker instead. NOW that really changed the way I cook and what I cook. I braise and make hummus all the time as a casual kind of thing. Never looking back. I don’t know how I lived without a pressure cooker and it’s much lighter than the dutch oven.

  33. anotheryarn

    I’ve bought spatulas and tongs for several loved ones. Sometimes my motives are pure, other times they are very selfish. Oddly enough every time I cook at my mom’s I have to dig out the spatulas from the bottom of the drawer.

  34. This is a great, great article – kudos! I have honestly never thought about vegetable peelers getting dull, but it’s such a good point. Also, I spend my summers near Ellsworth and Rooster Brother is my favorite, favorite place. Especially the “seconds” shop upstairs – so good for blog props!

    • Isn’t it awesome? We are so rarely there in the summer that I’ve only been ‘upstairs’ once, but I agree: I snagged several one-off linens and little tools that I use for blog photos all the time.

  35. Pingback: The 10 Best Kitchen Tools You Don’t Have | therealmrssmith

  36. Laurie

    Whew, have them all except the scale. Not that I measure much anyway :) I do have a cheap way to save on the veggie peelers. When mine get dull I put a shout out to all my right handed friends. Seems only one side gets dull. Being a lefty, we each get a “new” peeler for free.

  37. So, I see this post in my RSS feed and get excited. Stuff I DON’T have? AWESOME. I usually love this blog. Teach me about sweet new kitchen tools! Then item number 1 is a …. knife? And then 3 is a vegetable peeler, followed by a big cutting board? Great list, but the title is misleading. It seems like we all have most of these already …

    • aprilgrow

      I would add along with my amazing knife collection, I also went to a knife skills class at the Viking store. Awesome. Awesome. What good are BA knives if you don’t know how to use them properly?

      I have bought so many things for my mom’s kitchen, including a set of nice knives (which she puts in the dishwasher and it makes me really upset. We’ve discussed it numerous times), food processor, non-glass cutting boards so she doesn’t ruin the knives she’s ruining in the dishwasher, all kinds of things mostly I use when I’m there.

  38. I have a Le Creuset stock pot that I bought at the Volunteers of America on Houston off the Bowery back when the it was the end of Little Italy, poorer than dirt and bums bars ruled the streets in 1962.
    It was missing the cover and quite far from new but was well used then and is well used still and going strong. The best spent 50 cents in memory. Hey, that was almost half the hourly wage then. My trusty, pale, old lady is loved. Respectfully, I might add I use tongs but rarely to the point that I don’t know where they are exactly as I also dislike them. Saying “respectfully” and “whatever” is rude and far from respectful. But then I have “whatever” in a lower category than tongs. Oh! And I flip sausages with my fingers usually or my English 1867 fork. It’s got long, flat, tines and looks beautiful to boot. Part of me says it should be reserved for the table but I love it for everything and life is short. We have a great time together. LOL

  39. dra

    Last year I bought a 12″ Lodge preseasoned skillet. SOLD SOLD SOLD. All the non stick crap is in the dumper and we now have a 10″ and a 8 1/2″ – they live permanently on the stove and that’s all we use. Treat them well and you never have to inhale toxic fumes from non stick again.

    I purchased my first La Creuset cast enameled pot in a Habitat store at the end of Walton Street in Knightsbridge in London before I left for Canada in 1970. I still cook in that puppy – the enamel is a little crazed on the bottom, but it will be with me until I die.

    The thing I would add to this list is a food mill. I do a lot of mexican cooking and make my own enchilada sauces (have a big garden), tomato sauces, mashed spuds, squash for soup, anything you want evenly smushed. Love that thing. I buy them as presents for my friends – I have made a lot of friends.

    I still have a set of three Greens Gripstand bowls I bought in Toronto in the early 1970’s, now they’re considered antiques though I can’t figure why, mine were new. Only bowl to raise bread in.

    And wooden spatulas rule as long as you don’t leave them within reach of a doggie. lol

  40. i have all the things on your list, i love them all and i’m 100% behind you on every one, but the thing about nonstick being nasty & toxic is simply an urban fairy tale, and not true at all. that being said, cast-iron kicks its ass, anyway.

  41. Ed

    I’d like you consider another sharpening alternative. One that is simple and can even sharpen serrated blades and, hold your breath, vegetable peelers! Seriously, you should check out the Spyderco Sharpmaker. Super easy to use and does a great job. I’d also suggest reading Chad Ward’s book “An Edge in the Kitchen” to learn about kitchen knifes and how to sharpen them. Very educational and actually fun to read.

  42. Sie

    I’m a little late to this post, but…. I also have all of these.

    When I go on vacation (not flying) I take a bag of things with me–knives, spices and herbs and my cutting board. As for weighing foods, King Arthur Flour has a web page with nothing but weight equivalents; they list almost ever kind of sweetener, flour and nut and more.

  43. EL

    I have all of these except the digital scale, offset spatula and cast iron pan. Instead of digital I have a wonderful old fashioned scale that came with its own bowl and has the added advantage that I never have to change batteries. I also have an enameled skillet (instead of cast iron) which is essentially non-stick and which (thank god!!!) I don’t have to season. I disagree about non-stick. I happen to have one of the new ceramic “green” non-stick pans that I use as my indian style wok. I love it! I make more stir fry in it than I ever did in a normal pan or wok and never have a problem. I much prefer the indian style wok to the chinese style and It works pretty well as a sautee pan when I don’t want to get out the enameled cast iron. You should clean it with a plastic scrunge instead of a metal pad, but I have one just for that and also for my combo pizza/cookie sheet that is non-stick and that I love.

    I live by myself and rarely if ever cook for anyone else. So some smaller pans are a must, as I don’t have enough freezer space to store a lot of left overs. Right now I am using a 2 quart copco pot to make corn chowder. It works really well for that. I do braise a lot and use some oval shaped enamel dutch ovens that I got a TJMaxx. I also saw some gorgeous italian made wooden cutting boards there the last time I went (very cheap too), but am living at poverty level (I shouldn’t even be in TJMaxx).

    I tend to use rice paddles for cooking instead of either spatulas or wooden spoons. I do have wooden spoons and love them. I think that I like rice paddles because most of my pots are curved in some way and the rice paddles are made for that. They are also flat, and can be used as spatulas (and I do use them that way). My favorite is my old wood one that I got over 30 years ago in Chicago. Nowadays they are made of bamboo and aren’t half as nice.

    The wooden spatulas are too long for me (I don’t like long handles on my wooden ware) but I do have one or two. What’s with the snob factor rubber spatulas? I just get my at local garage sales and they work just fine and cost a lot less than le creuset. I don’t have the offset spatula because I don’t frost cakes. I don’t frost cakes because I don’t have to. On the other hand, if one absolutely has to frost a cake, one can do it with a rubber spatula. . .

    I use a palm peeler (and a palm veggie brush) as seen here: http://www.amazon.com/PalmPeeler-Palm-Held-Vegetable-Peeler/dp/B004Z4CMOY. They are ergonomic and I love them. They are also extremely cheap (but seem to last a long time).

  44. celvet0

    I forgot above — In order to use really large equipment (cutting boards and pots), you need to be able to clean them. My sink is not large enough to clean my lovely large pizza/cookie pan and is barely large enough for my stockpot and my cutting board. So sizing up is a real problem. I live in a turn of the century (1908, not 2008) house and water pressure can be a problem, so no dishwasher.

    I love my salad spinner. It does get everything dry.

    • I have a double sink with crappy white enamel and an 11-inch business side. ELEVEN inches. Half of my pans, and of course the new BIG board, get cleaned on the counter, and awkwardly rinsed with one hand while I beef up my forearm muscles trying to hold up cast iron or solid wood with the other. I would never put that stuff in a dishwasher anyway, but yes: if I could change one thing about my rental kitchen, even more than cabinet space, I would choose a new sink. A BIG one.

  45. Kathy Beirne

    I got our Le Creusets at Home Goods. Other things I think are helpful – a bench scraper, and gool oven mitts/gloves. The glove gives much more flexibility, while a longer mitt saves arm burns

  46. susancyclist

    My dutch ovens, which are Lodge by the way, are not enameled. I don’t feel the need. I made a lovely beouf bourguignon just last night.

  47. I LOVE this! Great advice and incredibly useful kitchen gadgets. I have to say one of my other favorites is a mandolin especially for thin salad toppings like deliciously crisp radishes and many have interchangeable sizes or uses like swift cut dreamy fresh french fries!

  48. bad ass kitchen ninjas talking about unicorns and rainbows? Are you sure we aren’t related? Excellent post, and yes, size really does matter. I hate cooking at other peoples houses sometimes because of their knives! One big sharp knife is all you need, I wish I could buy one for everybody I know!

  49. K

    Wow. I could really use some help. My mom has cast iron and I’m sure I used it when I lived at home but I’m not strong enough for cast iron. I’m 45 now and have a chronic tendinitis in my wrists. Some days I’m not strong enough to wash the dishes much less cook with something so heavy. I have a set of aluminum Faberware that I got at about 20 years ago. I’m wanting to ditch the teflon but can’t turn to cast iron. Any opinion on the new ceramic coatings?

    • I have actually tried the new Orgreenic omelet pan (my husband’s grandmother has one) and it worked fine, in terms of non-stick, new. I wonder how well it will hold up over continued use; it does seem rather cheaply constructed and liable to dent & chip. I would guess that there are other, more reliable brands making ceramic coatings these days: my concern about such cookware is that it’s very difficult to tell what exactly goes into the “proprietary” ceramic surface: I’m fairly sure it’s not just pottery (or it would be porcelain enamel like LC & Staub). So there may well be some chemical substance worth worrying about on the newer ceramic pans as well, one that we just don’t know about yet. However, it seems that you have little choice if your tendinitis prevents you from using heavy cast iron, so it may be worth investing in a good-quality ceramic skillet and using it for a while, to see how you like it.

  50. This is where I’m confused… never have I desired a flat wooden spatula over a wooden spoon.. they sit in the utensil bucket and collet dust. I love cooking and baking (use my kitchen aide all the time) but when it comes to stirring things around I deff prefer a spoon… not sure where i’m failing to see the potential of flat.
    Other than that I totally agree with this post and plan on taking your advice :)

  51. Chris

    LOL, I have every single one of these, even down to the Staub pot, and couldn’t agree more! You might want to try a Messermeister peeler. We bought one years ago for 99 cents, when they were first introduced, and it’s still nice and sharp even though it sees almost daily use. Now they are a little more expensive though. You should see this cheap spatula I have, all burnt. It was in a pack with other wooden spoons for about $1 (which I’ve never really used) but that spatula is my favorite cooking utensil. At least I’m not alone with my spatula!

  52. Karla

    I especially like my kitchen scale for things that are hard to measure by volume, like dried hibiscus flowers and dried chiles. For winter squashes, my go-to tool is not a cleaver or other large blade, but rather one of the little serrated tools that come in the pumpkin carving kits – effective and safe.

  53. EL

    Hi Kaela:

    I thought that I would comment here as it seems most appropriate. Would you consider doing a post on cast iron care? One of the reasons I use cast iron enamelware is because I never could get how to season the stuff! I understand in theory how it is done, but I never seem to make it work. Perhaps some of your other readers also have questions. Here are a couple of mine: What kind of oil works best? How do you clean the pan (especially if you’ve made something that sticks/burns) so that it stays seasoned (or is that impossible)?

    Thanks in advance?

    EL

    • Hi EL,

      I’m not very good at it honestly: but I could do a post on it, telling people what I do, what seems to work best and what doesn’t, and open it up to people more experienced (and talented!) than I. I’ll try to slot it into the cue!

  54. Pingback: 10 Tips to Help You Get Started Cooking From Scratch - Home Ready Home

  55. Roger Simmons

    On seasoning cast Iron: The hardest part of keeping it seasoned is TO TURN DOWN THE HEAT, AFTER IT COMES TO TEMP while cooking. Also to clean: I have found that deglazing ( with hot water ) while it is still hot is the best (? ) for me,Then I renew the seasoning -while still hot- With ( are you ready for this—-) coconut oil. ( it has about the highest smoke point of oils ) The old timers seasoned with lard and did all of the cooking with it also. I also have all + and can’t abide a dull knife. Roger from Maine and not to far from Roosters. Great blog !!

    • I’m envious of your Rooster-adjacent locale, Roger! :)

      Thanks for the tips on cast iron. My skillet is coming along, slowly but surely. I rendered a bunch of pork fat-back in it a while ago: definitely helped things along.

  56. Jennifer

    I totally agree with each of the tools in this list, in fact I have all of them except the last one. :) I think it would also be great if you’ll write about cooking outfits for serious cooks like me. I recently found a nice shop which sells nice aprons the last time I visited my granny in Surrey. :)

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