I get asked a lot what kitchen tools I can’t live without. This is hard, because I love a kitchen gadget. To the point where there isn’t much I don’t have. Sous vide? Check! Himalayan salt block? Check! Yakatori grill? I think I have two?
But when you’re starting out, there are definitely things that I think every home cook should buy and buy well.
One Good Knife – $$$
Don’t skimp on this. Save the money. You’re going to spend at least $60. Maybe twice as much. But you only need one. No need for knife blocks or sets or whatever. Just get one good santoku or chef’s knife, and you’re good to go.
Because I have small hands, I tend towards the Shun knives. Their handles run a little smaller than the German brands, and I like the weight and balance.
My partner prefers Wüsthoff, which have a little bit of a thicker blade and heavier weight. Honestly, this is all preference, and if you can, try some out before you buy. Many stores will let you hold the knives or ask a friend to use theirs whenever we see friends again.
Food Processor – $$$
It’s a rare week for me to not use my food processor 2-3 times. Whether I’m making hummus or pesto or blending ingredients for a soup, a good food processor is a must.
This is a place where I think a lot of people try to skimp and get a small chopper or an off-brand lower-powered variation. You really need something that can handle raw beets or almonds, etc.
An 8-cup processor is fine. (If you have to do something in two batches, so be it.) Look to spend about $100 on this. I recommend the Cuisinart, which was a workhorse in my kitchen for 14 years before we upgraded this summer.
One Good Skillet – $$$
When I travel and stay at Air BnBs, I always travel with a knife and a skillet. (Because I’m a food nerd. I know.) For me, there is nothing that beats enamel cast iron. Yes the pan weighs a ton, but every study has shown that in terms of ease of use, consistency of cook, and quality of sear, a Staub or Le Creuset pan is going to be your best bet. (Lodge does a decent one as well, but they are more likely to have their enamel chip over time.)
This is not a cheap purchase, so watch for sales and try to be open to different colors. You can occasionally find one right at or around $100 if you’re keeping your eyes peeled. Remember, this is a one-time purchase. There is nothing that will damage this bad boy. (Mine has been to Poland and back!)
Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls – $$
Whether you’re making a salad or a cake, you are going to want some nice stainless steel mixing bowls. Like the skillet, these are a thing that you will have to buy once and then never again. Get a few in each size, making sure they are the same brand so they stack nicely. I’m fond of the Vollrath heavy duty bowls, which my partner surprised me with earlier this spring. They’re attractive and affordable.
Garlic Press – $$
This is always a controversial pick. Sure you can chop your own garlic, but if you’re like me and quadrupling the amount of garlic you put in every recipe, that can get tedious. Plus I prefer pressed garlic in salad dressings, which I make almost every day.
Like I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t hurt to buy a slightly more expensive version because it’ll work better and last way longer. For example, I’ve had a Zyliss garlic press for the past 15 years, and it’s the only one I’ve needed.
Cutting Board – $
The one exception I make to buying the fancier version is cutting boards. The most expensive they are, the stupider they become with design features that make no sense real sense in the kitchen. However, don’t buy any that are less than .3″ thick. You need some mass, weight, and grip to keep it from moving on the counter.
My standard is the thick, hard plastic cutting board you can pick up at Walmart. (In fact, this is my work horse.) The reason that I lean towards plastic over wood is two-fold: 1.) it can go in the dishwasher and 2.) you can cut meat on it. (Because of the porous nature of wooden cutting boards, juices from raw meats can stay in the wood grain, which can spread disease.)
Wooden Spoons – $
Plastic cooking implements are tools of the devil. Whenever possible, use wooden spoons, which won’t damage your cookware like metal will and won’t melt when accidentally left on a stove (like I have more times than I can count). There are places where you can spend $$$ on wooden spoons, but truly any will do. Buy a 3-pack, and call it a day.
Resist the urge to buy the super cheap versions from Walmart or elsewhere. You’ll end up replacing it three times, and it will ultimately cost most.
Juicer – $
Whether you’re making cocktails or juicing limes for a pozole, you’re going to want a simple, hand-held juicer. These you can pick up in the grocery store, often right by the citrus. Don’t get a reamer. Don’t spend $200 on a Vitamix unless you’re eating all your meals from a cup. Just a simple citrus squeezer.
You know I love all things Oxo, so I would recommend making the investment for this one, though I’ve bought plenty of $5 versions that have lasted for years.
What are the kitchen tools you can’t live without?