Like every other type of success in life, a successful chef uses institutional knowledge, determination, and curiosity to get “to the next level.” But there are tools to every trade, especially in the kitchen. So I’ve been thinking recently about how my cooking has improved as a direct result of the tools I use. Today I’m sharing my 8 favorite kitchen tools – my A team, if you will. I use these tools almost daily and they have undoubtedly improved the quality of my cooking.
Quality is important when it comes to cookware. But you need to know when quality is important. Here’s a general hint: if you are cooking the food on it, you want to seek out quality. These things are likely to cost you a few bucks, but they will prevent uneven cooking, burns, etc.
Because there’s nothing worse than buying a new gadget and not knowing where it gets its best use, I’ve also included links to great recipes that benefit from each tool. Let’s just say I’ve got you covered!
1. Good Knives
I got my first “good” knife about two years ago. That’s after I started this blog, so yes, you can function without one. But a good, sharp knife gives you two gifts: speed and confidence. You can work faster because the knife is sharper. And believe it or not, a sharp knife is safer than a dull one. Why? If you need to apply strenuous pressure to chop something such that it makes the knife slip – OUCH! Since the upgrade to these knives, I’ve never had to apply so much pressure that I cannot control the blade. It doesn’t mean that cuts don’t happen, but they happen way less often. I’ve only cut myself (a minor cut!) once or twice since I upgraded, and chopping food is so much easier. I feel much safer knowing that my knife can do the work with minimal effort on my part.
Pricey? Yes. I swear by the Wusthof Classic line, at around $110 per knife. But you don’t need that many. I cook 7 days a week with just these two knives. I haven’t purchased the expensive line of pairing knives, etc. because these two knives do about 90% of chopping, dicing, and slicing in my home.
2. Fine Mesh Strainer
For urbanites like me, multi-purpose is king. I use this strainer to wash fruits and veggies, drain small quantities of pasta, and sift baking ingredients! I almost always hand wash this guy because I use it 3-5x/week and we simply don’t run our dishwasher often enough! It also nests nicely with all of my mixing bowls.
Expensive purchase? No. I honestly bought this strainer 5 years ago at the grocery store. For $6. I’ve never had a problem with it.
3. Meat Thermometer
This meat thermometer single-handedly changed my life in the kitchen. I transitioned from a great baker to a great overall chef. Beforehand, I almost always overcooked the meat. Nothing makes a meal more amateurish that overcooked meat. I use a meat thermometer almost every night, even though I’ve learned over time about how much time each cut of meat uses. It takes a few seconds to use and never fails me.
Expensive purchase? Not a chance. This little guy cost about $18, and it tells me the meat’s temperature in about 5 seconds. It even has a cool feature that will tell me whether the meat is ready based on the type and “doneness” I’ve selected on the thermometer. You can’t see it, but on this model the needle folds over the back into the black module, making it sleek and easy to store.
4. Wooden Spoons
I’m so into wooden spoons. They’re fantastic sidekicks. You can use them to stir liquids, or push around meats or veggies in a stir-fry. When it’s almost done you can use them to taste. And then, you can use them to serve the dish. As I said before, multifunctional is key. Wooden spoons stand up especially well to thicker textured dishes where a plastic spoon may have difficulty actually stirring.
Pricey purchase? Nope! These were about $6-9 each. I’ve had them for a few years and while they may appear a bit worn, they work just as well. And no, the wood doesn’t splinter off into the food! Just make sure you buy a nice set. A spoon that costs 99 cents is unlikely to last!
5. Meat Mallet & 6. Microplane Zester
Meat mallets are wonderful things – and not just useful for meat! But lets start with the meat. You can tenderize meat with it before marinating. Or you can flatten meat out, like for a stir-fry or curry. But you can also crack things with a meat tenderizer! I like to put nuts in a Ziploc bag and use the tenderizer to crush them over a cutting board. It’s a fantastic little gadget that does take up some space, but its well worth the small investment.
The Microplane zester is a fairly new addition to my kitchen – I got it about 3 years ago. It can be used to zest fruits, as a tool to finely grate cheese, or to make pastes without having to wrestle the food processor out of the pantry! I love using this to make ginger-garlic pastes, and it literally only takes a few minutes. Clean up is much easier, too!
Expensive? Neither is pricey. The meat mallet is another purchase that I made over 5 years ago….at Ikea. I think this may have cost me $3. The microplane zester cost me less than $20.
7. Heavy Duty Baking Pans
Ever hear that pop in your oven while you’re trying to roast something? It happens at around 400 degrees and you open the oven to find your baking pan a little twisted? That’s evidence that you need heavier-duty baking pans. As you can see, I’ve had the quarter sheet pan a little longer than the half sheet pan. And as you can also see, it gets a lot of use. I like the quarter sheet pans because it allows me to make small batches of anything: cookies, potatoes, roasted vegetables – you name it! But the half sheets are also great to have around for exactly the opposite, large batches. You will not regret this purchase. Everything comes out more evenly cooked and you are way less likely to burn the bottom of your food like happens with a cheap, thin pan.
Price point? Fairly expensive. The quarter pan cost me about $30 at Williams Sonoma. They sell two half-sheet pans for $50. But honesty you will have to replace your other rusty pans so much more often that you will spend a similar amount of money over time. I love this product and while I’m sure other heavy-duty pans work just fine, I’m a huge advocate for this line (No, I’m not paid to say that!).
8. Cast Iron Dutch Oven
I own 2 dutch ovens in 2 different sizes and I use them both all of the time. I use this one to make soups, rice pilaf, casseroles, risotto, bread, and much more. I especially love that it goes from the burner straight to the oven with no consequence. E.g. I can brown some meat, add some stock or sauce, and then transfer to the oven to finish it off. Beautiful. Anything that can cook this many kinds of food is a necessary tool in my book!
Price point. Not cheap, but you can get a good deal. There are a variety of different lines of dutch ovens. I own a couple of Le Creusets that I got on sale at Williams Sonoma after Christmas. I’ve seen this sale several years in a row, so I encourage you to scope it out. I’ve also seen this and Lodge brand cast iron dutch ovens on sale at TjMaxx and/or Homegoods. Make sure that whatever brand you buy, the handle can go in the oven (and withstand up to 500 degrees). Otherwise you’re just buying another stove-top pot.
So there they are. The tools I swear by in my kitchen. My sous chef(s) if you will. They may vary in price, but they all excel in utility. And just because I like you so much, here’s a bonus tip: Keep a utensil bin, oil, and salt container right next to the stove. These things should be easily accessible and usable so that you can quickly and seamlessly reach over for a pinch of salt, a dash of oil, or a clean utensil.
Hungry for more? Explore the Lawyer in the Kitchen Recipe Gallery!