18 Essential Kitchen Tools We Wouldn’t Want to Cook Without
How many do you have?
You know that feeling when you’re cooking in a new kitchen, and you reach for that thing you just assume everyone has, only to find…nope? Pots and pans are relatively universal, but the kitchen tools we rely on wind up much more specific.
Here are the ones we use day in, day out. Some of them you might already own. Others are culled from our time in commercial kitchens, where efficiency and durability is prized above all. And some are less common versions of items we all rely on, that we think are more than worth the investment. So: How many do you have?
There’s no substitute for good knife skills, but unless you put in serious training time, chances are a mandolin will slice faster than you, and with greater precision. That’s important for salads with consistent textures and vegetables that cook at the same rate for even doneness. While we’d stick with a knife for one or two carrots, if you’re slicing a bunch, a mandolin’s a major time saver that yields better results. You can get paper-thin slices of onions for salads that don’t leave you with bitter onion breath and wispy shreds of cabbage that form fluffy clouds for sauerkraut. Remember that perfect technicolor ratatouille (actually a tian) from the film Ratatouille? A mandolin’s the best way we know to make it happen. And here’s why we love the Benriner. Amazon
Sturdy but thin and a little flexible, with a neat offset for added reach in a deep pan, this slotted spatula is perfect for flipping burgers, fish, pancakes, and fritters while they fry. It’s way more reliable, and can be built thinner, than a plastic version, which you only really need to avoid scratching a non-stick pan, which you really only need for cooking eggs, and frankly this can leave your pans just as slick if you’re careful. This one’s a bit of a no-brainer, but one we don’t see often enough. Amazon
Mortar and Pestle
Maybe you want to make coconut chutney or curry paste completely from scratch, even when the canned stuff is pretty decent, or you want to mash your guacamole like the restaurants do, tableside with a massive molcajete. Or you see a recipe call for a tablespoon of ginger-garlic paste and you just cannot, for the life of you, imagine that your cobbled-together version with finely minced ginger and garlic could be as good. So you begin to wonder, maybe I do need one of those, even though it’s heavy and bulky and you have nowhere to put it. You do. Buy a mortar and pestle, suffer a half hour at most of buyer’s remorse, and then be a slightly better cook forever. Matt Taylor-Gross
These chunky little containers are, hands down, the very best way to store large amounts of food at home. Food service containers are sized for restaurants, which means they usually start at a two-quart capacity and go up to a couple gallons. At first glance, that may seen way too large for home use, but they’re really just the thing for storing big batches of soup, greens, or bulk grains and pasta. They’re also perfect for dry goods like flour and sugar, are stackable for easy storage, and nigh-indestructible. Matt Taylor-Gross
Showers of citrus zest and nutmeg on pasta, grilled meat, soup, and braises are pretty transformative things (see: gremolata), and there’s no better tool for fine zesting than a Microplane. It removes oil-rich citrus skin into fine shavings without touching any of the bitter pith, and can be cleaned with just running it under the sink. Get one, then zest forever. Amazon
Glass bowls look good on TV cooking shows, and those hefty ceramic ones are gorgeous in that Pinterest kitchen, but in terms of work bowls that we actually want to, you know, work with, nothing beats a lightweight set of stainless steel bowls that nest into each other. You can really never have enough—get two large ones and you can peel a head of garlic in 10 seconds or fewer—and unlike those heavy (and breakable) glass and ceramic bowls, these light, indestructible ones won’t weigh you down while cooking, and can even tolerate open flame. Get bowls that are wider than they are tall for better mixing of salads, pastas, and biscuit dough. Amazon
American cooks don’t steam enough, which is a shame, considering the rest of the world has figured out that steaming is a quick and easy way to gently cook vegetables, fish, and other proteins. And these bamboo steamers—good for more than dumplings—are the simplest and best steamers we know. They don’t overheat and cause sticking and stack to multiply your steaming volume. Get a set that fits over your widest pot for maximal steaming surface area. Heami Lee
Any professional baker will tell you: Baking by weight is far more reliable than volumetric measurements. Your cup of flour and your brother’s cup of flour could be totally different amounts, depending on how you scoop, how humid it is where you live, what brand of flour you buy, whether Mercury is in retrograde—you get the idea. Baking by weight’s also more efficient: instead dirtying of a bunch of measuring cups and spoons, you just add what you need from the container to your mixing bowl. This scale—we have four of them in the test kitchen—has a handy tare function to zero out weights for quick measuring, is easy to read, has a pull-out display for big bowls that obscure the bottom otherwise, and is plenty accurate. A great value and a pastry essential. Amazon
Another baker’s essential, and not just for baking. Bench scrapers are perfect for shoveling chopped vegetables into work bowls, cutting bread and pasta dough, and generally keeping your work surface clean. A knife can get you part of the way there, but not without dulling the blade, scratching your countertop, and picking up a quarter of the vegetable volume with more spillage. Seriously, we use one of these every day. Amazon
Aluminum Half-Sheet Pan
Repeat after us: non-stick baking pans are terrible. Terrible. They’re too dark, which means too-fast heat absorption and burnt cookie bottoms, and any baked good worth its flaky sea salt has enough fat in it to lubricate itself with a little help from some no-stick spray or a swipe of butter. These are the only baking sheets we buy: aluminum with thick, sturdy rims (rimless cookie sheets have led us to burns, spilled food, and tears), perfect for roasting vegetables and other savory stuff as well. The patina they develop as you use them only makes them better, so don’t worry about keeping them spotless. Amazon
We admit: Part of the appeal of salt pigs is the cool factor of how they look near your stove. But there’s nothing better for grabbing a pinch of salt (coarser-grained kosher salt, please!) and sprinkling it into your food. Why’s that matter? Because your fingers are more accurate for measuring and dispersing salt than the pour spout on a container, and a salt pig is also wide enough for sticking in measuring spoons when you need to be more precise. Amazon
A Proper Cutting Board
How to buy a cutting board: measure the diagonal length of your kitchen sink, then buy a thick rubberized plastic board like the one above two inches smaller than that length. Small cutting boards seem like space-savers, until you realize you need more space on the actual board and you find yourself pulling out other bowls and boards for storage. So do yourself a kindness and get at least one big one. The Winco brand is a restaurant favorite for being, you guessed it, sturdy, reliable, and durable. Amazon
Cutting Board With a Moat
The other great alternative to Wincos? Oxo’s thinner cutting boards with rubberized side grips. These aren’t as durable as Wincos—they scratch more easily and deeply—but the handy moat around the rim makes them essential in our kitchen for carving juicy meat and anything else where you don’t want a river of liquid running down your countertop. Amazon
This long-handled silicone spatula is common in restaurant kitchens, both savory and sweet. It’s heat-resistant enough to go straight into a hot pan and doesn’t bend or break, but has just enough give like a rubber spatula should. Skip the (admittedly prettier) wood-handled one for this model. Amazon
These 12-inch stainless steel tongs will keep your hands at safe distances and are sturdy enough to handle flipping steaks, chickens, pork chops, and even big roasts and briskets. But they’re also precise enough to pick up a few bits of roasted vegetables, and have a durable lock to keep them in their taut state when not in use. Amazon