This September, we’re going “Back to School”. Each week, I’ll be sharing a basic technique or kitchen how-to to help you tackle healthy cooking with confidence. I’m kicking off the series by sharing my 13 must-have basic kitchen tools. (This post contains affiliate links.)
As anyone who’s ever prepared a meal outside of their home will tell you, cooking without your favorite tools can be challenging. Dull knife? It’ll double the time you spend on vegetable prep. No non-stick skillet? You can say goodbye to cooking pancakes, eggs, or any other delicate foods.
I’ve moved apartments four times in the past four years, which means I always think twice about buying new tools and constantly pare down my collection. The 13 basic kitchen tools listed below are ones I can’t live without – the ones that help me slice, dice, sear, sweat, fold, and roast with precision and speed.
These basic kitchen tools are all you need to tackle almost any recipe with ease:
1. Chef’s knife: A professional knife is the best gift you can give yourself as a home cook. That’s right, just one – there’s no need for that bulky knife set that sits on your counter and collects dust. A large, sharp knife will cut your overall prep time in half and make slicing fragile tomatoes, mincing fresh herbs, or dissecting bulky veg like butternut squash, a breeze.
I’ve used the same Mercer 8-inch chef’s knife for the past ten years and it’s still in great shape. If you keep it sharp and take good care of it, a pro knife can last a lifetime. Remember to never put your chef’s knife in the dishwasher since it’ll dull the blade. (Perhaps counterintuitively, a sharp knife is actually safer than a dull one because it’s less likely to slip and cut you.)
2. Large non-slip cutting board: Your board should be large enough for you to comfortably use both hands as you chop, freely rocking your knife back and forth, and allow you to chop a decent amount of produce without having to clear off the board. If your board isn’t non-slip, keep it from sliding around by placing a wet paper towel underneath.
3. Non-stick skillets: By now it must be obvious that I’m a kitchen minimalist. The number of skillets I own? Two. A 12-inch skillet for almost everything and a small one for frying eggs/toasting seeds, etc.
4. Wooden spoon: Must-have for stirring on non-stick skillets since it won’t scrape the surface.
5. Pots: I recommend 3 sizes: large (for boiling pasta and making stock), medium (for most jobs), and small for single servings of oatmeal or heating up leftovers (we don’t own a microwave).
7. Measuring cups and spoons: Using precise ingredient amounts is key for the success of almost any recipe – especially for baking. I break out these babies almost every time I cook, but find them especially important for measuring grains, flours, leaveners (i.e. baking powder/soda), and salt.
8. Oven thermometer: As someone who’s moved a lot and cooked on-site for various events, I know that turning the dial to 375ºF doesn’t always guarantee a 375ºF oven. Using an oven thermometer helps me be sure every time and get the exact result I’m going for. (If a recipe calls for a pre-heated oven, remember it may take an oven 15 to 30 minutes to come to full temperature.)
11. Pepper mill: Freshly ground black pepper is a beautiful thing. If you’re still buying that little blue shaker of pre-ground pepper, sorry – we can’t be friends…
13. Rubber spatula: This tool is perfect for folding (combining wet ingredients into dry ones, like when making pancakes) and scraping mixtures from one vessel into another (like cake batter from a mixing bowl into a cake pan.)
Whisk: Ideal for combining dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, etc.) for recipes like pancakes or cookies.
OXO herb keeper: I put herbs on nearly everything and this ingenious invention keeps most herbs fresh and perky for over a week.
Dutch oven: This bulky oval-shaped enamel-coated pot has excellent heat retention and it a must-have for recipes that involve stovetop-to-oven transfers like braised beans. Also great for large batches of soup or occasional deep-frying (did somebody say tempura night?!).