Going to cooking school drastically changed how I felt about kitchen tools, and helped me realize that I could get away with very few tools in the kitchen.
The other day, my friend asked me to compile a list of kitchen essentials. She and her husband are moving into a house and wanted to know what the bare-bones essentials that one absolutely needs. So here’s my list!
- A really sharp chef’s knife. As the great old Anthony Bourdain said in Kitchen Confidential: “here’s all you you will ever need in the knife department: ONE good chef’s knife, as large as is comfortable for your hand.” A sharp knife is you best friend, and can replace most kitchen tools, like garlic presses and chop-chops. Your everyday knife should be about 6-8 inches, depending on what feels comfy in your hand, and should have a little curve at the tip. Don’t bother getting those expensive santoku knives – they’re really hard to chop onions with because they’re shaped like cleavers.
And they don’t have to be too expensive! At school, we use $15 Smart and Final knives, and they cut like magic. The key is to get your knife sharpened with a stone every once in a while (which cutlery stores do for about a buck an inch), and regularly do micro-maintenances with a sharpening steel.
- A good, sturdy cutting board. Polyurethane or wood, with a slip-free mat, if applicable. Those flippy things? They ruin your blade because they’re not shock absorbant. All you need is one, large, sturdy one and wash with soap, sanitize after handling poultry and pork.
- A large, heavy bottomed frying pan. Stainless steel or nonstick, your call. Heavy bottoms help to conduct heat better, so you won’t have weird hot/cold spots on your frying pan. Beware though, certain nonstick cookware can be harmful to birds and doesn’t heat up as high as stainless. Use it to sautee, shallow fry, or use it as a make-shift roasting pan.
- A large stockpot (8 qt +). Cook pasta in it! Make stock in it! Make a life time’s worth of BBQ sauce in it! Store other small pots in it!
- A handy saucepan with lid (1 qt+). For making sauces and boiling water.
- Measuring cups and spoons. You’ll need one set of dry measuring cups, one wet measuring cup (a 4 cup one should be fine), and a set of measuring spoons. We always lose them so we pick up the cheapo ones at Ikea.
- A wooden or plastic spatula. So that you can flip stuff over.
- A ladel. So you skim foam off of stock or maintain peace in your household by equally distributing the soup.
- A colander. You can strain and sift stuff through it. Also, handy for washing and drying vegetables.
- Bowls. You’ll want 3 or 4, in various sizes. You know, to hold stuff.
Other stuff that will make your life easier:
- A sharpening stone and steel… If you’re actually going to do it yourself.
- Tongs. For bbqs, roasting, and picking big chunks of food out.
- Wooden spoons. So that you can mix stuff without scraping the bottom of your pan.
- A blender. To blend smoothies and soups and milkshakes and all things wonderful.
- Bake ware like cookie sheets and muffin tins.
- A vegetable peeler.
- A grater. Grate cheese! Potatoes! Cassavas!
- More pots and pans for when you’ve used up your other ones.
- A probe thermometer (thanks Dan!)
Stuff that’s awesome but you can probably live without:
- A paring knife.
- A microplane grater. For zesting peels for desserts and sauces.
- A food processor.
- An immersion blender (stick blenders).
- A rice cooker (if you’re Asian, this one would be immediately bonked up to bare bones essential)
- Pastry brush (to do egg washes or put on BBQ sauce. Can be substituted with paper towels).
- Cheesecloth, or a chinois.