If you have the right tools for the job your life will be so much easier. Although cooking at home is already very easy, if you don’t have the right tools you’re going to have a tough go at it. Here is my list of the top ten things you need… the basics for your kitchen. And, just a quick disclaimer: although the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I get a commission if you purchase from these links, I am recommending these specific items because I own them and/or believe in them. Some of these items you may want to take a look at retail stores like Home Goods and Kohls.
A good set of sharp knives are absolutely the most critical and basic kitchen tools you can own. You should consider this a necessary investment as the right knife can last decades. Some of the best knives have actually been passed down between generations.
Start with a basic chef’s knife, something of quality and at minimum 10 inches. Add to that a small but versatile paring knife to tackle the little jobs. I personally use Wustoff knives. They are light, well balanced and made in Germany out of high-carbon stainless steel. Very good quality. You definitely want to hold these in your hands before you buy them. Comfort is key.
Keeping your knife sharp is also paramount. Cutting with a dull knife is the number one cause of injury in the kitchen. That and trying to cut a carrot after having to much wine. You can use a sharpening steel (like Gordon Ramsay) but most home cooks find this a little daunting. Honestly, it’s not needed because Wustoff makes an amazing sharpener and it’s very inexpensive. Go ahead and pick up one of these with your new knife set.
It’s also helpful to learn how to correctly use your knife. When I first started, I took classes at my local Sur La Table. It’s highly recommended and worth it. Your knife is a large investment and should be something in which you become comfortable and proficient.
Depending on your needs, I think there are two types of cutting boards that you should consider. The first are a set of small and easily maneuverable boards made of bamboo and/or neo flam poly. These are great for small areas and can be stored in cabinets out of view. I personally own a set of three small bamboo boards and a few poly boards. The poly boards are great for dealing with raw chicken, fish and meat whereas I use the bamboo boards for vegetable prep.
In addition to these small prep boards, I recommend a large surface maple or walnut John Boos Board. I would invest in the largest board that your room and budget will allow. Not only does it function very effectively but it serves as a beautiful addition to any kitchen. I find it difficult to walk by mine and not think about cooking.
For safety, make sure that you place something under your boards to keep them from moving around while in use. I personally cut a piece of Easy Grip Shelf Liner to size and place it under mine. Works like a charm.
Pots, Pans and Baking Trays
The foundation of being able to cook anything starts with good cookware. There are many brands and varieties out there from expensive to cheap. My experience has typically been you get what you pay for. However, here’s a few options that I have tried and prefer both actually.
If you are just starting out you definitely want to consider non-stick instead of stainless steel. It’s just going to make your life easier. I actually love the Rachel Ray sets and they are good quality products at a reasonable price point. The key to any set is to ensure that you have at least a large size stockpot, covered saucepans, covered saute pan and a 10” to 12” frying pan. These will become your go-to pans.
If you want to go with stainless then be aware that you’ll want a solid set with a nice thick and even bottom. For my set, I went with a Gordon Ramsay set by Royal Doulton. This is commercial grade stuff and I have been extremely happy with my purchase. It’s worth noting that although you can pick this set up for $400 retail, I purchased my set at Home Goods for $100. You just have to keep an eye out.
Also, make sure you pick up a set of various sized baking trays. It may not seem like it at first but these trays will become something you use consistently. Everything that you put in the oven will be on one of these trays. And, again, I really like the Rachel Ray Oven Lovin’ non-stick sets. All of her stuff is competitively priced online and in stores like Kohls.
Wooden Spoons, Spatulas and Tongs
Now that you’ve invested in a great set of non-stick pots and pans, you don’t want to start scraping them up with metal. I use tons of Bamboo kitchen tools. They are dirt cheap and I usually buy 20-30 at a time. They are great for stirring and cooking in general. They will last for about a year depending on how much you cook- and I cook a lot.
Don’t buy a cheap spatula. You’ll want a really good quality Silicone spatula. The last thing you want is a cheap plastic one that melts all over your food. This happened to me one thanksgiving and it almost ruined dinner. The stainless steel ones are amazing but know that they will scratch your nonstick pans so only use them on stainless steel pans or other surfaces.
For tongs, you should grab a cheap set of silicon tongs. These things you will end up using constantly and I often wonder how I ever cooked without them. Again, focus on silicon tips or bamboo tongs as they will be friendly to that nice nonstick cookware.
When I first started cooking it made absolutely no sense to me that I would need a scale. But once I learned the benefit it has made all the difference in the world. It makes it so easy to cook things like rice and cut recipes in half or double them.
Most recipes go wrong because of incorrect measurements. Flour is a great example. By measuring with a scale you will get consistent results. And, that is the power of great home cooking. Consistent results.
I highly recommend a nice digital scale that has coversion capability.
Colander and Strainer
If you are like me you are going to be making a lot of pasta. You absolutely need a good colander to drain your pasta and noodles. These are very inexpensive and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and types. It is an extremely focused kitchen tool so I suggest trying a few types out to see which ones work best for you.
In addition, a nice variety set of mesh stainless steel strainers are a must have in any kitchen. I drain everything from ground beef to chopped up bacon in these things. They can also be used to evenly distribute powdered sugar and sift flour to remove lumps.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
This is truly the most basic of things and, like your colander, there are so many variations on the market it’s hard to pick just one. Every recipe you’ve ever seen provides measurements based on teaspoons and cups (at least in the U.S.). Like bamboo spoons, these things are very inexpensive so you’ll want to buy two or three of each. You don’t have to but for me, inevitably, when I go to use one it’s dirty from the night before. Having duplicates have been a time saver.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say this is an absolute must-have for your kitchen. However, I will tell you that once you start cooking with a crock pot you may change your whole stance on cooking. You essentially just throw a bunch of ingredients in a bowl and let it cook. These things range from inexpensive to outrageous in price and feature sets. I tend to lean toward the lower end as I just like a nice and consistent cook with good heat control. You can pick up a nice size stainless steel crock pot for under $50. Or, for those that enjoy all the latest toys, why not get a wi-fi enabled one that you can control from your mobile phone while anywhere in the world. I must admit… I want one.
One of the first things people notice about all my recipes is that I am big on freshly grated cheeses. It absolutely takes your flavors to another level and requires only a few more minutes of preparation and a cheap stainless steel grater. I use a plain stainless steel box grater just like my mother and grandmother used to have. Don’t get fancy here. I’ve tried some really expensive and cool graters but they all sucked. While you are at it, go ahead and pick up a Microplane grater and zester. These are great for finishing off a dish with cheese, zesting a lemon or adding chocolate bits to ice cream.
A good stoneware casserole dish is an amazing thing. There will be times where you need to work on a recipe both stove top and in the oven. These dishes can go back and forth with ease and are designed to stand up to high temperatures. Your nonstick pots and pans can not go into the oven and your stainless steel pots and pans may be only rated up to 250-300 degrees. A good casserole dish can be rated to temperatures up to 600 degrees. These are great for stews and everything “casserole”.
A quick warning: beware of cheap knock offs here. I’ve tried some cheap dishes that I picked up at Home Goods. They literally cracked in the oven- what a mess. Make sure that you check the reviews and buy good quality stuff like Le Creuset or Pfaltzgraff. Although these are very expensive, it will be worth it in the long run. Again, Rachel Ray has a decent inexpensive option as well.
BONUS: Cast Iron Skillet
You already know that I’m from the south. What type of true southerner would I be if I didn’t have a cast iron skillet? This is truly my favorite pan. It will last forever and the longer you use it, your food will taste better. If you have the opportunity to receive one that has been in your family take it!
Like the casserole dish this skillet can operate easily on both stove top and in the oven. In fact, I don’t think you can get a higher heat rated pan than a cast iron skillet. I do a lot of recipes using my skillet. From dutch pancakes in the morning to cooking parmesan crusted chicken (stove and oven) to steak… you will never be sorry you made this acquisition.
And, as my grandmother use to say, it’s also very useful for keeping people in line. Good luck and enjoy cooking at home!4