Do you whip up your own dishes on the fly or subscribe to a meal kit service? Being equipped with the right tools in the kitchen makes the job easier and more enjoyable. Here’s a list of ten essential tools every home chef should have.
1. Set of Knives
Good quality knives are essential for any serious home cook. It’s essential to have the right tools for the job to work effortlessly and prevent injury. The three most useful knives to own are a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.
A chef’s knife will be your best friend in the kitchen. It’s extremely versatile and suits a variety of purposes, from slicing vegetables to trimming meat to chopping nuts. Look for a knife that’s weighty yet not too heavy, with a length that feels comfortable to you.
Paring knives are ideal for more fine work, such as slicing garlic or grape tomatoes, peeling a cooked potato, or deveining shrimp. When it comes to slicing bread, a serrated knife is an obvious choice, but these knives also come in handy when slicing larger tomatoes.
If you’re still unsure of what knives are best for the job, try subscribing to a meal kit service, such as Blue Apron. The step-by-step instructions teach you which knives are appropriate for each task, along with cooking techniques you can apply to future recipes.
2. Solid Wood Cutting Board
A large wood cutting board is a kitchen staple. It’s essential to have a cutting board wide enough to accommodate a large roast or longer vegetables, such as celery or carrots. Not only is it awkward to use a plate or countertop to cut on, but these surfaces can damage the blade of your knives.
If you’re looking for something more durable, aim for a thickness of around 1 ½ to 2 inches. Thicker boards are less likely to split or crack. They also tend to be heavier, which prevents slipping and accidents. For extra protection, place a damp paper towel or a shelf liner under the board to stabilize it.
Just keep in mind wooden cutting boards require a good scrub with hot soapy water to disinfect them but should not be submerged in water. This will potentially lead to cracks, and the dampness is also a breeding ground for bacteria. Speaking of bacteria, it’s a good idea to have a separate plastic board dedicated to raw meat and poultry.
3. Set of Pots and Pans
A variety of pots and pans can get you far in the kitchen. Whether you’re an intuitive cook or love using meal kits such as HelloFresh, it’s crucial to have a few different sizes to accommodate different types of foods. You also may need the flexibility to prepare multiple courses simultaneously on the stovetop.
If you’re looking for pans that are the easiest to cook with and clean, aim for nonstick. Nonstick pans are much lower maintenance than stainless steel and are also less expensive. Stainless steel, on the other hand, lasts longer when properly cared for.
4. High-Quality Blender
A powerful blender may be more versatile than you’d think. From smoothies to soups and sauces to hummus, pesto, and nut butters, you’ll have little need for that immersion blender or food processor anymore.
Good quality blenders can even help you save time or improve your nutritional intake. Compared to the traditional blenders, it’s incredible how smooth and creamy the result is with a more modern model. Gone are the days when you need to strain your pureed soups or sauces after blending them. This not only saves time but also ensures we’re not missing out on the fiber and vitamins typically left behind after straining.
Good blenders are also capable of processing foods with very little water content, such as hummus and nut butters. For thicker foods such as these, I suggest using the tamper while blending to keep things moving and prevent the machine from overheating.
5. Stand Mixer
A stand mixer is essential for any home baker. You can whip up anything from meringues to bread to cakes and cookies. These machines can also double duty as a pasta roller or meat grinder if you purchase the appropriate attachments.
Most stand mixers come with a flat beater, dough hook, and wire whisk. Certain models even come with a pouring shield. For safety purposes, make sure the mixer is locked while mixing and always start at the slowest setting before gradually increasing the speed.
6. Combo Pressure/Slow Cooker
If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, don’t discount the convenience of a pressure cooker or slow cooker, especially when it’s a two in one deal. Regardless of your skill level in cooking, your time is valuable and likely in short supply.
The set it and forget it nature of a slow cooker makes it easy to start dinner in the morning and have it ready and waiting for you after a long day at work. On the other hand, if you’re craving a slow-cooked stew or braise and don’t have the time to prepare in advance, a pressure cooker can cut the cook time drastically without sacrificing flavor or texture.
7. Cast Iron Pan
Cast iron pans are considered workhorses of the kitchen, yet they often get neglected in depths of difficult-to-reach cabinets. There are so many benefits of cast iron. They’re extremely durable, relatively inexpensive, and great conductors of heat.
Cast iron pans are great for getting a good crust on a steak or other proteins or browning vegetables. You can even make a stir fry in cast iron, as the pan hold heats well, similarly to a wok. The fact that it holds heat well also makes cast iron great for shallow frying. Oh, and don’t forget cornbread or Dutch babies. The list goes on and on.
Some foods to generally avoid cooking in cast iron are eggs, delicate pieces of fish, and acidic foods. Even if you have a well-seasoned pan, eggs and fish may stick and break up in the pan. It’s safer to use a nonstick in this case. Acidic foods such as tomatoes or vinegar can react with metals in the pan, causing damage.
One reliable method to clean and care for cast iron pans is to fill the pan with about an inch of water and bring it to a simmer. Use a wooden spoon to gently scrape off any stuck-on foods and pour out the water. Give it a good rinse in the sink and wipe it out with a cloth or paper towel.
Use a small amount of dish soap occasionally, if needed. Then for a mini-seasoning which you can do each time after use, rub the pan with a couple of teaspoons of neutral oil, such as vegetable oil. Heat the pan with the oil in it. Remove it from the burner, wipe out the excess oil with a cloth and allow it to cool before storing.
8. Dutch Oven
If you’re considering purchasing a Dutch oven, enameled cast iron is the way to go. The surface is nonstick and easy to clean, yet it retains heat well due to the cast iron interior. These pots are incredibly versatile and vital to any serious home cook.
Dutch ovens are great for soups, stews, and braises. It makes deep frying at home easy and practical. You can even bake a loaf of bread inside of a Dutch oven, use it to roast large cuts of meat, or cook pasta in it. The possibilities are truly endless.
9. Salad Spinner
A salad spinner can be a huge game-changer and is for more than just salads. Salad spinners can be used to clean and dry any leafy vegetable from lettuces to kale to spinach. You may be able to wash vegetables just as well using a large bowl with a colander in it, but that spin-dry function can’t be beaten.
Whether you’re washing greens to use for a salad that night or cleaning some kale to store in the fridge for future use, it’s important to remove the excess water. Watery greens can thoroughly water down salad dressing, making your salads bland and limp. Excess water can also cause mold to grow on vegetables in the fridge.
Some alternative uses for a salad spinner include washing and drying herbs, cleaning berries, rinsing and draining canned beans, or soaking broccoli or leeks. They’re useful for cleaning so many types of produce and are worth the cost many times over.
10. Instant Read Thermometer
It’s important to have a reliable thermometer on hand, especially for foods that are otherwise difficult to check for doneness. It’s an absolute necessity for large cuts of meat, poultry, and fish, like roasts or whole chickens, but it can come in handy with smaller cuts as well. If you haven’t perfected the poke test to check for doneness on individual pieces of steak and chicken, the thermometer will take the guesswork out of it.
Thermometers are also handy for deep-frying. No matter how much of a seasoned pro you are, it’s difficult to tell the difference between oil at 350F versus 375F, for example. If the temperature is too low, the food may absorb too much oil and become soggy. If it’s too high, it may burn on the outside before the interior is cooked.
If you’re an intermediate to advanced baker, you may need a thermometer while cooking sugar or baking bread. Some recipes even indicate an ideal internal temperature for cakes and custards. Checking the temperature is the only sure-fire way to know your dessert is successful before the taste test.
These ten tools will go a long way in your kitchen journey. Your individual needs may vary, but everyone can use a good set of knives, pots, and pans. Once you build a solid foundation of equipment at your disposal, you’ll find cooking so much more relaxing and be able to quickly determine any gaps in your collection.