Any experienced home cook will tell you that it only takes a few fundamental tools to make a great meal. I am sure a professional chef would say the same. I truly believe, a well-equipped kitchen is more about the basics rather than fancy gadgets and expensive equipment. Don’t get me wrong, I have my fair share of elaborate chef tools but they aren’t necessary and quite frankly they usually end up being a waste of money, costing me time, and taking up too much space.
I compiled a list of the key tools or what I call the “Essential Utensils” (say that 5 times) that will help you make delicious, healthy and impressive meals at home and save you money, time, and storage space at the same time. Let my mistakes save you the money that you would have spent on the extraneous and expensive gadgets that you just don’t need. You will save time because you won’t be slowed down by having to rummage through all of the kitchen clutter that too many tools invariably causes. And you will be able to save space because you will be able to pare down to the essentials and get rid of what you have not and will not use.
These are super important when it comes to cooking and baking. Measuring spoons come in many different styles and materials. Whichever you choose make sure they are clearly marked…you don’t want to confuse a Tablespoon for a teaspoon, take my word for it, I have done it.
These are imperative weight management tools for tracking your intake of certain foods that are calorically dense, like oils and nut butters. It is important to know what a teaspoon or a tablespoon looks like of these foods so that you can eyeball it when eating out of the house.
A great set of measuring spoons with have the measurements of 1 Tablespoon, ½ Tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, ½ teaspoon, ¼ teaspoon and 1/8 teaspoon. My favorite measuring spoons are by KitchenArt. These are adjustable measuring spoons that save a lot of space and time since I am only storing 2 spoons and I don’t have to rummage around looking for them. I have several of these at home.
Dry Ingredient and Liquid/Wet Ingredient Measuring Cups
What — there’s a difference between wet and dry measuring cups? Absolutely! Liquid measuring cups are calibrated differently than dry ingredient cups. Liquid measuring cups usually have spouts so that you can pour the wet ingredients from it. Look for a liquid measuring cup that is clearly marked and easy to read. They come in all different materials but I prefer glass, sure it is breakable and heavy but I can place it in the microwave if ingredients need to be boiled or heated without having to clean an extra bowl. As far as dry ingredient measuring cups look for ones with long handles so you can scoop into deep containers easily. My favorite dry measuring cups are from Oxo and I like the simple Pyrex measuring cups for liquid ingredients.
I have 2 different nesting sets that consist of 5 bowls ranging in sizes from 8-64 oz. One of my sets is a colorful melamine set and the other is a glass set. I prefer the melamine set so much more, it is light way, virtually indestructible and my kids can use them too. However, they aren’t something I would display. Manufacturers are now also making mixing bowls with a spout so one can conveniently poor contents from your bowl into a pot or other container.
Every kitchen should have at least 2 cutting boards. One allocated for raw meat and one for “everything else” (cooked meats, produce, herbs, etc). Having 2 cutting boards will help prevent foodbourne illness and cross contamination when cooking. Wood cutting boards are easier on your knives but are bulkier and usually harder to clean, for this reason I stick with polyethylene plastic or other safe and durable plastic like these since they are inexpensive, dishwasher safe and durable.
This is a very useful and a multi-tasker kitchen tool. You will use a colander to drain pasta and other grains. It can also be used to clean fruit and rinse beans. If you are buying only one colander it should be the fine mesh wire type so when draining small pieces of food it catches each grain. However, it can be tricky to clean since little pieces tend to get stuck unless you put it in the dishwasher. I recently bought a set of stainless steel colanders that come in various sizes. They are super convenient and easy to clean and can be used the same way as my fine wire mesh colander. Whichever colander you use make sure it fits in your sink and has 4 feet or a footed bottom so that it can stand-up.
Tongs can be used for many cooking activities. Tongs are excellent for flipping, mixing, shifting and moving food wherever and whenever it is needed. Smaller tongs are great for picking up ice from an ice bucket but you can use a big pair as well in a pinch. You will get the most use of your tongs if they are stainless steel.
Rubber and Silicone Spatulas
I can’t get enough of my rubber and silicon spatulas. They are the workhorse of the kitchen utensils. I have more rubber and silicone spatulas than any other cooking utensil, at last count I had 6. Nothing works better at getting every last bit of cake batter from the bowl into the pan. These spatulas can stir, blend, scrape, and fold ingredients with the most efficiency. Skip the old-school plastic variety, although it will get most jobs done they aren’t heat resistant and will melt into hot dishes. Silicone and rubber are your best bets.
You will definitely need a metal spatula for lifting or sliding heavy foods like meats and baked goods. I typically use my metal spatulas when I am barbecuing or lifting food from a casserole or loaf pan such as meatloaf or lasagna. The thinner the front edge of the spatula the better it will be at picking up food cleanly.
Just like rubber and silicone spatulas, I can never have enough wooden spoons, I wonder if I have as many wooden spoons as rubber and silicone spatulas. I love using wooden spoons so much I use them over metal spoons when cooking. Wooden spoons are inexpensive and durable. They won’t scratch nonstick pots and pans and they don’t conduct heat, making them a go-to-spoon no matter what I am cooking. They can be used in anything from shuffling food over heat and to mixing a cake batter in a mixing bowl.
These cumbersome gloves really have only one purpose. Try doing anything with oven mitts on and you are bound to have a calamity in the kitchen. Regardless, a good pair of oven mitts are a must-have in any kitchen. There is no other safe way to handle hot pots and pans then with a pair of oven mitts.
Super inexpensive and easy to store, steamer baskets are a fool proof way to steam vegetables to perfection. I use the traditional steamer basket made out of stainless steel that is collapsible to fit in most size pots. Today they are also made of durable and flexible silicone.
Vegetable peelers are used to remove the outer skin or peel from fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, apples and pears. A paring knife can also be used in its place. However, a vegetable peeler is quicker and easier to use for this purpose. A vegetable peeler like this can also be used in place of a spiralizer when you want to make thin ribbons of vegetables like zucchini or if you want to julienne vegetables. I use a simple vegetable peeler which has a slotted metal blade that is connected to a handle. One edge of the slotted blade is sharp so that it removes the peel while the other side prevents the blade from peeling too deep past the skin of the fruit and vegetable.
Originally used in wood shops, the microplane grater is an incredibly efficient and effective tool to grate cheeses and herbs such as ginger and zest skins of fruit such as limes, lemons and oranges. These come in much smaller sizes than the traditional cheese grater and they are easier to handle, I for one no longer worry about slicing my hand when I use my microplane grater. My favorite grater is from Edgeware and comes with a storage compartment that catches whatever I am zesting or grating that also doubles as a measuring spoon….Super convenient!
Kitchen shears are simply food scissors. It is important to have a scissor in the kitchen that you allocate for food only. There are all sorts of things I cut with my kitchen shears. I trim fat from meats (link to chicken white meat), snip herbs, cut scallions and celery (especially when making Greenlight Chicken Salad…yum!), and cut meats into thin slices or cubes for stir-fries, kabobs and the like. I have also used them to cut sundried tomatoes into slivers. Kitchen shears have proven over and over again to be useful in my busy kitchen. I use one like these at least once per day.
A paring knife, chef’s knife and serrated knife are the 3 knife necessities. Each of them come in a variety of blade lengths and weights. Typically, your hand size will determine which one you are most comfortable with.
A paring knife is the small wonder of kitchen knives. This is the knife to use when peeling fruits and vegetables by hand, slicing garlic cloves or shallots. I use it most often when hulling and slicing strawberries or cutting grapes for my young children and their friends. One of my closest friends Ruanne is a master baker and tells me the paring knife is an invaluable tool to making her delicious cookies and cakes into visual masterpieces. Since the paring knife is small she can easily manipulate it when she needs to cut dough and fondant into different shapes and sizes for her creations. You see, a paring knife is super versatile. When a task calls for it, no other knife will do, hence the reason why it is on this list and an essential utensil. A 3 inch paring knife is the most versatile.
The chef’s knife is the knife powerhouse. If you only have one knife this would be it. Traditionally it was used to slice meat and separate meat from it’s individual parts but it can truly do any job in the kitchen. Chef’s knives are a great tool whether you are slicing, dicing, chopping, or mincing. Japanese chef’s knives called Santoku knives are favorites of professional chefs and are catching on with home cooks too. And like chef’s knives they come in a range of sizes. I find the most versatile and easy to use blade is a 9 inch blade.
A bread or serrated knife is the only knife that will cut breads and in my opinion vegetables such as tomatoes and onions (although professional chefs use a chef’s knife). This is what I use when cutting open spaghetti squash or any type of melon. My favorites serrated knives have 7 and 8 inch blades.