Having great tools in your kitchen is essential to making great food. You do not need to spend a small fortune or that you need every gadget that is at Williams-Sonoma. Usually, it’s just the opposite.
I have bought so many kitchen tools over the years of teaching myself how to make great food at home; I have a pretty good idea what is necessary and what is superfluous.
This guide is for people who want to make incredible food at home. For people who enjoy cooking and want to practice and get better at making restaurant quality food, at home, for their family and friends. But it also breaks down the necessary tools that every home cooks need in their kitchen and a few nice to have that have made my life a whole lot easier and leaves out a lot of the “junk” that stores try to sell you which you end up putting in a drawer and never using.
Having good knives in your kitchen is probably the best way to take your food from good to incredible. Knives in your kitchen should be an extension of your arm. You’ll use them to slice, dice, chop and a variety of other terms that become chef-y very quickly.
Unfortunately, most home kitchens I walk into have, frankly, terrible knives. Terrible knives will make it almost impossible to cook, will frustrate you and at worst can be quite dangerous (a dull knife is a dangerous knife).
Making matters worse, most stores sell these 16 piece sets that skimp on quality at the expense of quality, and worse, you don’t need that many knives. About 99% of the time I use just three knives.
The Chef’s knife is the workhorse in the kitchen. You’ll use this knife almost all the time, for the vast majority of your cuts.
- I use:
- This 8″ Chef’s knife by Victorinox. It’s cheap, it’s quality the only downside is it loses its edge a little quick, so it requires a bit more honing and sharpening (more on this later)
- More expensive option:
- If you are going to spend a few hundred dollars on a really good chef’s knife, I would go into a kitchen store and test a few out. There are a lot of variables involved, like how it feels, comfort, etc that contribute to what will work for you. I like Global knives, but there are lots of great brands.
The next two knives I use infrequently, but they have a purpose that the Chef’s knife can’t cover. The first is a paring knife. The paring knife is a small knife that is used to make very fine or small cuts. Whether it’s chopping a shallot or taking the top of a strawberry a paring knife is essential.
I think a serrated, or a bread knife is an important tool in a home cooks arsenal. It’s excellent for that French baguette, but it’s also great at several other tasks. For instance, have you ever crushed a tomato trying to cut it with a chef’s knife? Use a serrated knife, and it’ll slide right through!
- I use:
– No surprise here, the Victorinox serrated knife is a great knife for the home cook.
Honing Steel & Sharpener
I mentioned earlier my favorite chef’s knife loses it’s edge quickly. Well, these two tools are essential to make sure you always have sharp and safe knives. But they are two different tools that serve two different purposes.
The first tool that a home chef should have is honing steel. These are the things that you see chefs running the edge of their blade on several times before using them. These realign the blade; they do not sharpen the blade. They’re great to use every time you pull out your knife.
- I use:
- I bought mine at a kitchen store in Toronto’s Chinatown, but this one looks close to what I have.
The second tool is not essential but a useful skill for a more advanced chef, which is a sharpening stone. It’s a whole other article to show how to use one of these. Make sure you look into how to use one of these, because you can very easily ruin your knives! If you don’t get one, take your knives to get sharpened every once in a while.
- I use:
- This whetstone with a plastic base is useful and a great starter stone. But as I said above, make sure you research this before going ahead and sharpening your knives.
One of my biggest pet peeves, when I walk into a home kitchen, is crappy cutting boards. Never… ever, buy glass cutting boards. They are terrible for your knives. What should you use? Well, I have two different kinds of cutting boards, a big wood board and several plastic cutting boards. Wood is the best thing to use your knives on, b
- I use:
- I can’t find the exact board I have, but this one is very close. John Boos Cutting Boards are the Rolls Royce of cutting boards. Buy the biggest one you can get on your counter. Buy a square; circle cutting boards are a waste of space
- I use these 18″ x 12″ plastic cutting boards. Choose the size that works for you. These are thick enough to stay in place (with a wet towel underneath) and cheap enough that I can have a few for different uses (one for chicken, one for fish, etc.)
2. Pots and Pans
Pots and Pan’s have the same problem that knives have. Typically they are packaged in sets of 12, 16 or even 24, and often people think that more is better when just like the section above, you need a few quality items that you will use a lot, instead of a whole bunch of pots.
There are tons of different kinds of pans; stainless steel, copper, cast iron, non-stick and even more variations that are too long for me to list. So, before we go on, let’s answer a basic question. What makes a good pan? Well, the most important thing is for the pan to heat evenly. The pan transfers heat from your burner to your food. Cheap pans will have “hot spots” and not cook your food evenly.
While I love the look of copper pots, and they are the best at distributing heat, they are extremely expensive… too expensive for me! What I like, and the brand that regularly wins recommendations from all review sites is stainless steel, and All-Clad makes the best that money can buy
What about non-stick? Well, a non-stick pan is an excellent specialty tool. It’s essential for things like fish or eggs. But you can’t do a whole lot of sauteeing in them, because if you overheat them, the coating will rub off and into your food. Not only are you eating Teflon, but you’ve ruined the whole purpose of the pan! If you are making a lot of scrambled eggs, an excellent cheap nonstick pan is great to have.
- I use:
- T-fal 8″ Nonstick Fry Pan – I use these because they are cheap and when the coating wears off I can easily replace them. I use an 8″ pan here as well, which may be small for some, but I like it for omelettes.
I also have a cast iron pan, which I would say is an option for most home chefs. But if you want something to sear a great steak, a good cast iron pan always does the trick!
- I use:
- My mother gave me my cast iron pan, it’s possible her mother gave it to her and so on. Lodge makes good ones.
I love my dutch oven. I make almost everything in this thing. I make pasta; I make stock, I roast a chicken, I make bread, I braise beef. It’s a workhorse that is easily worth the investment. These are heavy, big pots that have been around forever.
There are so many kitchen appliances out there, and I have a lot of them in my kitchen, but I questioned what I use as I wrote this. In this guide though, I’ve focused on the essentials. So, I tried to ask myself, if I was starting from scratch what would I include. Here are my best effort and rationale!
I think a good blender is essential. You can do so much with it. Making frozen drinks comes to mind right away, but I almost never use mine for that. A good blender helps you puree soup, you can make a Hollandaise sauce easily with it, you can make spice blends. There are many uses.
The problem is, cheap blenders are usually not up to the task of doing the things I need.
- I use:
- Other options:
- If you’re looking for something a little cheaper the Oster VERSA gets good reviews, but I have not used it.
You may have heard the crazy about the Instant Pot? Well I bought one purely for the pressure cooker, and it’s one of the best things I have in my kitchen. You can make incredible stock in about 20 or 30 minutes, which would usually take 4 or 5 hours (and a stock is one of the most important ingredients a home chef can have on and). It can make beans or a great pizza sauce in a short period. The Instant Pot has a variety of other features I almost never use, but if you like a rice cooker or yogurt maker you can throw some other stuff out!
- I use:
- Instant Pot DUO80. There are a lot of different versions of the Instant Pot, some with fewer functions, some with Bluetooth. Look into what you need. This one has everything I need.
I never thought I needed a stand mixer until I got one as a Christmas gift. It is fantastic. If you are going to bake, it is fundamentally essential. I make cookie doughs and cake batters easily in my Kitchen-Aid mixer. But it also helps with pizza dough and making pasta. Many add-ons (like a meat grinder, if you’re into that) put this on to my list.
- I use:
I thought about excluding this, but a food processor is a great tool to have, especially if you are cooking for a big family quickly. You can use it to chop up vegetables rapidly (even though it’s usually better to use a knife to get better), slice onions or also make a dough. I think its a great tool for busy people
- I use:
- The first time I bought a food processor, I bought a cheap one, it was a waste of money. Buy this one, it’ll last a long time and do everything you need. Cuisinart Pro 11-Cup Food Processor.
4. Small Tools
Last but not least are the small tools. I think this is where companies make most of their money, because the amount of useless, single-use tools are here. Does any person need an Avocado slicer? Isn’t that a knife? There are however a few things that I think should be in every home kitchen
It might surprise a lot of people to find a scale on the top of this list. But measuring by weight rather than volume is a game changer in the kitchen. While not every book shows weights (more and more good cookbooks are doing this) but it’s a great habit to get into the habit of the precision of weighing things.
Sieve and Strainer
A fine mesh sieve is something I discovered after reading several cookbooks by Anthony Bourdain and Thomas Keller. Professional kitchens use these things all the time. While I certainly don’t use these as much (I don’t have a paid dishwasher on site!), they can take things to a whole other level with minimal effort.
Spoons, Spatulas and Whisks
You’ll need some spoons and spatulas. I like basic and cheap wooden spoons of different sizes and a good silicon spatula for folding batters and flipping omelettes. A fish spatula is a most if you are making fish. Buy a whisk.
Mixing Bowls are used for, you know, mixing ingredients. But they also have other uses. Sometimes I store things in the fridge in a mixing bowl. They are used for ice baths when blanching vegetables. I like stainless steel mixing bowls.
Sheet pans are used all the time! They are used in the oven to make things, but they are also used to catch things that might fall when baking things (like making French Onion Soup and having cheese fall off when it’s baking). Sometimes they are just used to transport stuff to the BBQ. Good aluminum half sheet pans work the best. I have several.
I had a cheap vegetable peeler, and then I bought this Y peeler. It changed my life.
A microplane grater is, surprising, an essential tool in the kitchen. I use it to grate lemon zest, nutmeg and other things that easily take a recipe from alright to great. They’re a great tool. You’ll also need a regular box grater for larger jobs.
I went back and forth and whether to include tongs or not. A lot of professional chefs will tell you not to use them because they crush your food (like a flaky piece of fish) but for a home chef, I think they are essential. I prefer the shorter 9″ tongs so you have a bit more control.
A valuable tool, because canned food is excellent. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Canned tomatoes, canned tuna and a variety of others are essential for the home cook. I like this kind.