There are a few things that everyone needs in the kitchen. I shall refer to these things as the basics. I shall also be very formal and use words like "shall". You know the kind of things that I’m talking about—they’re the basic kitchen tools even a frat boy would probably have in his dorm room if he happens to be in culinary school. The basics are a whisk, a wooden spoon, measuring cups, measuring spoons, Pyrex bowl, baking sheet, pots, non-stick pan, spatula, and a slotted spoon. If you don’t own the basics you probably don’t own a kitchen either so you can disregard this post and get back to foraging in the woods, gnawing mushrooms right off of the side of a tree.
These 13 tools are the next step in the kitchenry hierarchy. These are the things that are BEYOND the basics. They're things you should have, but maybe don’t. Today is the day you turn the corner from frat-boy kitchen stumbler to home chef.
We shall commence.
1) The Foodsaver
The Foodsaver is a small machine that sucks—I mean that in the kindest way, of course. Basically you shove your food in a Foodsaver bag, shove the Foodsaver bag into the machine and it sucks all the air out of it.
This way you can go to Costco, muscle your way past all the plebes buying individual steaks, head straight to the whole Beef Tenderloin section and head out the door. When you get home with your big hunk of expensive meat, you freeze it for a little bit to make it easier to work with, cut it into individual steaks and then Foodsaver them. Just like I showed you in this post. Pop ’em in the freezer for later use. I usually get about 12–14 steaks from a $90 tenderloin. That averages out to around $6-7 per thick, ready-to-be-perfectly-seared, succulent morsels of meat.
You can Foodsaver anything really, but using it for freezing meat is where it earns it’s place in my already overcrowded kitchen cupboards. I actually banished my breadmaker to the basement to make room for it. You can also order attachments for it that suck the life out of anything. A gadget that goes over mason jars makes marinating meat disgustingly gory, but really fast and effective. Another attachment sucks the air out of wine bottles so you can continue to serve that crappy bottle of homemade wine someone gave you for months on end, while you enjoy the good stuff.
I recommend the CHEAPEST Foodsaver in their line the Foodsaver V2244. It works exactly the same as their more expensive ones and it's smaller so it takes up less space.
2) A Costco membership
See above about the Foodsaver. Once you get a Foodsaver you can actually portion out and freeze the pillowcase sized bag of green beans you bought.
3) A potato ricer
When I was growing up, my mother’s mother used to send her a box of unidentified stuff for Christmas. It was usually weird kitchen stuff. Being a 1950’s housewife, anything other than a wooden spoon or a bottle of Crème de Menthe meant it was weird and unidentifiable to my mother. Since she couldn’t recognize any of it, we would often make up other uses for it. The orange rind peeler became a futuristic ring, good for scratching mosquito bites for example.
Then one Christmas she got what she somehow recognized as a potato ricer. So, for the next few months, we got the gourmet version of mashed potatoes. Only my mother wasn’t exactly sure how it worked so she just smashed the potatoes through the ricer directly onto our plates. For dramatic tableside flare. That’s about the time I decided I hated potato ricers. Gross, dry, wiggly potatoes. Blech.
When I first moved into my own house and started experimenting with cooking I wanted to try a recipe that called for riced potatoes. I was unimpressed with the thought but gave them another try. My life has never been the same since and I truly believe I could end a multitude of wars with these potatoes. Maybe not religious wars, but certainly most other types. Definitely a schoolyard scuffle.
I discovered you’re supposed to rice your potatoes into a bowl, add a ginormous amount of melted butter, stir with a wooden spoon and then add in a ginormous amount of hot milk or cream. Whisk and then watch their faces light up. You can add cheddar cheese, sour cream, cream cheese or sliced green onions as well. But only if you want the person you’re serving to fall completely in love with you. Awkward at a dinner party. Otherwise, just use the butter and milk.
If that description of how to rice potatoes wasn't good enough for you I have an ENTIRE post on how to do it.
And just like with the Foodsaver, I've gone through a LOT of potato ricers from the most expensive, restaurant quality ones to cheap plastic ones. And I've found the very cheapest one to be the best. I love, love, LOVE the $13 plastic Fox run potato ricer. It also comes in metal but I haven't tried that one so I can't personally recommend it but I'm sure it's great as well.
4) A really good Chef’s knife
Not much to explain here. They say a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, but I’ve cut myself with both so, either way, be careful and don’t watch television while chopping. My personal brand of knife is the 8" Wusfhof chef’s knife. It’s the only good knife I own. The rest are just crappy bread knifes, and one little paring knife. And now that I think of it, I've somehow lost one of my bread knifes.
5) An easy-to-use knife sharpener
There’s a difference between a honing steel and a knife sharpener. You should probably own both. A knife sharpener actually reshapes the blade of your knife by cutting away bits of it. That’s what makes it sharp again. There are electric knife sharpeners and simple handheld ones that you just pass your knife through. Probably 100 passes or so if your knife is really dull.
The honing steel (or sharpening steel) is the long stick thing that you run the knife down at a 22 ½ degree angle. Whenever you watch a tv show or movie where they’re trying to make someone look like they know what they’re doing in the kitchen, they have them quickly run a knife up and down a honing steel. It doesn’t necessarily sharpen the knife, so much as gets rid of the burrs and wiggles the knife sharpener puts into it.
First you sharpen, then you use the honing steel. Then you’re supposed to cut your knife through a single piece of paper with ease. Which I have never been able to do. I don’t use much paper in my cooking anyway.
6) Butcher’s twine
You won’t need this a lot, but when you need it, you need it. I use it mostly to tie around steaks that are a bit raggedy to keep them in shape so they cook evenly. Also to tie up roasts of all kinds. And occasionally for playing cat’s cradle.
You DON'T need to buy something specifically called Butcher's Twine. As with a lot of things, just calling it something special means they're going to jack the price up. All Butcher's Twine is, is 100% cotton twine. As long as you're using 100%, unbleached, cotton twine you're good to go.
7) Non-stick pizza pans for the BBQ
I realize that not everyone has the kind of personality that drives them to build their own pizza oven but if you love pizza you can still get that fire oven taste by cooking pizzas on your BBQ. Seriously. All you need is a non-stick pizza pan for the BBQ. When I bought them myself, prior to building my pizza oven, I actually said out loud in the grocery store, “this is stupid.” But sometimes there are things you have to buy on the off chance that they aren’t stupid. That they are going to work. This was one of those things. In fact, they are a bona fide miracle. If I were on better terms with the Pope I’d definitely mention these pizza pans to him.
If you're going to buy a non stick pizza pan for the BBQ you have two options. A pizza pan WITH a long handle, or you can go with a pizza pan without a handle. I prefer the pizza pan with the long handle, but it's up to your own preference.
8) Mortar & Pestle
Seriously. How the hell are you going to grind your spices? For the love of God.
9) Good old fashioned cookbooks
Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook
America’s Test Kitchen’s The New Family Cookbook
Just go buy ’em. Don’t ask questions. Basic recipes like gravy, roast chicken etc. Tried and true techniques. No it’s not food porn like you might get with trendy celebrity chef cookbooks. Just no-fail recipes for the starter cook. GREAT cheese soufflé recipe in the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook by the way.
10) Pepper Grinder
Get yourself a pepper grinder because fresh cracked pepper makes everything better. Especially steaks! Trust me. You can buy whichever one you like but the bigger it is, the less you have to fill it. Also, if you're buying an investment pepper grinder make sure when you flip it over, the grinding mechanism is made from steel not plastic. In a lot of cases a pepper grinder might look really cool and probably even be expensive but it still has a plastic grinding mechanism. Make sure you aren't paying only for cool design, but also quality.
I use the Classic Peugeot Chateauneuf Pepper Mill with adjustable grind.
11) Cuisinox “Elite” saute pan
The number one workhorse in my kitchen is my Cuisinox “Elite” saute pan. It’s around $100. It’s hard to describe why it’s so much better than other stainless pans, but I’ll try. It cooks evenly and quickly adjusts itself to temperature. Unlike my other favourite pan, the cast iron pan, the stainless pan reacts better when you have to turn down the heat. If you’re cooking onions for instance and you suddenly realize they’re going to brown when you don’t want them to, if you turn the heat down the pan loses heat more quickly than a cast iron pan. Some might not see this as a positive, but for certain purposes, I do. It cleans easily and because of the metal handle can go from stove to oven. Food sticks enough to it to get a good sear, but it doesn’t stay stuck there forever. It’s like a perfect combination between a non stick pan and a too much stick pan. If you don’t have a good stainless pan, as soon as you can afford one … buy one.
I have the 11" Cuisinox Elite Frypan.
12) Maldon salt
I first heard about Maldon salt several years ago from my friend Michelle. It was harder to find then, but I sussed out a box at a local specialty food store. A box about the size of a deck of cards was $10. For salt.
I’m gonna be honest with you now. I love my $10 salt. I’m going to be even more honest with you. I’m really not sure I can taste the difference between it and a regular container of sea salt, but much like my Chanel lipstick, it makes me feel good when I use it. Makes me feel special. How big of a loser do you have to be for SALT to make you feel special?
It’s a beautiful, crystal flaked sea salt that you can crush up and sprinkle with your fingers. This salt isn't the kind of salt you'd use for salting your water or even in a recipe. It's a seasoning salt for when your dish is done.
At the moment, Amazon has 2 box deal on Maldon salt for $11.
13) Stone baking sheet
Easily my most favourite thing on any given day in my kitchen is my stone baking sheet. Now, I’ve owned pizza stones, and other stone cooking pieces, but none of them impressed me. So when I opened this from my mother for Christmas one year I think I might have said “What did you get me this stupid thing for? These things don’t work. I hate them. I wanted a pasta maker! You’re the worst mother ever.”
Turns out the thing is great. Love it. It’s a “Pampered Chef” item. It’s completely non stick, but things still brown on it. This is the go-to pan for my Sweet Potato Fries and pretty much anything I want to get crispy, but be able to remove from the pan without a bout of swearing. You wash it with just hot water and the oils from your cooking soak into the stone over time creating a beautiful non stick surface. Plus it gets all mottled looking, which I happen to like.
14) BONUS ITEM! Pasta attachment for Kitchen Aid mixer.
Now that I think of it, I really should add the pasta roller attachment to this list. It's only applicable if you own a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I know you think making pasta takes a long time. I know you think making pasta is hard. But it's not. In fact, a few weeks ago I was watching my 6 year old niece and my 9 year old nephew and in the hour that their mother was gone we made pasta from scratch and cooked it. Granted, we didn't let it rest quite as long as it should have but who cares?? It turned out fine!
The reason we could make it so fast was because I had the pasta attachment for my Kitchen Aid. It flattened it out and cut it up in no time.
If you don't believe me, here's my post on How to Make Pasta with easy step by step instructions plus a video.
I own The Triple Set Pasta Attachment that includes the roller, the spaghetti and fettuccine cutter.
Questions about what I kitchen gear I like or don't like? Ask away in the comments.
I shall now bid you adieu.
Joy of Cooking cookbook!! I also second the garlic press and black pepper grinder unless it's too basic to mention. And if you have money left over, the White Trash cookbook is pretty darn nice to have.
Favorite cookbook, my mom's 1943 edition of Joy of Cooking. Great fun to read.
What?..no well seasoned 50-100 year old cast iron skillet?...Mine never gets put away..Great list!
LOL, there are indeed several in my collection. This isn't an exhaustive list. :) Just a few suggestions. ~ karen!
Wooden spoons - I have one that is 34 years old, and has mixed everything from kool-aid to gumbo. I regularly use cutting board oil on it. Maybe it is the memories, but my daughter says it is hers when I no longer need it. I second the cast iron pans, especially the old ones. When we bought our house 30 years ago, there was a pan in the old stove. I reseasoned it, and that this is slicker than any non-stick pan. Best thing for corn bread. I have a 35 year old Cuisinart food processor that I bought my 2nd replacement bowl. I could prob get a new one cheaper than the bowl, but that thing is a powerful workhorse.
nice, i have all items plus many others due to a very generous mother in law who loved to collect cookbooks and kitchen tools, she would buy one for herself ,her daughter and me.
I love Maldons "'Smoked Salt" great on the rim of margarita or paloma. But also love this local one I buy https://www.sanjuanislandseasalt.com. I used to live in Friday Harbor WA. Lovely young couples new business. Salt ,honey, caramels and she does wedding flowers grown on island.
In the "basic cookbook" collection, if you can find one, I highly recommend "The Women's Home Companion Cookbook". I first discovered this book in 1977 when I wanted to learn to bake bread for 4-H. The copy we had was my grandmother's, published in 1953. It is extremely hard to find - I finally found a copy in 1993 in a used bookstore - but worth having. In addition to the breads, it has recipies for old fashioned cookies, detailed instructions on cooking meats, gravies, the list goes on.
My kitchen faves that come to mind- my microplane because of it's multiplicity, an old style apple peeler/corer for pies, crisps or sauce making, my kitchenAid, my narrow, rectangular metal measuring spoons that fit inside a spice bottle and metal, oval measuring cups (I think Martha Stewart brand makes some) for similar reason- I store some dry ingredients in mason jars and the measuring cup fits inside. Also, my mouli that coincidentally, I use most often for riceing mashed potatoes, a cheapo Oster stick blender with detachable S/S wand (if it fell apart tomorrow it will have paid for itself many times over as its used at least daily by the fam to make smoothies), a slow cooker and my handheld lemon squeezer (the one that turns your lemon inside out).
I have an InstantPot but it doesn't makes the cut- not even close.
Anyone have a good 4-slice toaster recommendation? We have twice bought new toasters that initially were great, then shortly after didn't toast properly, either overdone or underdone and then prematurely failing altogether.
The potato ricer is also fantastic for squeezing moisture out of cooked (or frozen) spinach, grated zucchini, grated potatoes, etc. So much easier and less messy than using a cloth.
That's a GREAT idea! ~ karen
You mentioned making sweet potato fries on a baking stone which I have. Your recipe for sp fries shows them on a cookie sheet. My question is: do I preheat the baking stone or do I use it just as you would a sheet pan?
Hi Leisa. It's always better if you preheat the baking stone. You don't *have* to of course, but you'll definitely get better results if you do. :) ~ karen!
Don't forget a decent bread knife, so you don't squash the loaf that's still warm from the oven when you can't wait for it to cool. Or a cheese grater, though I use mine more often for carrots and celery than cheese, as it allows me to "hide" veggies in almost any soup or stew I make. Oh, and a stick blender, for soups, sauces, and gravies!
Over Christmas I found out my sister doesn't own measuring spoons. I was so shocked! I own two sets because I hate having to clean them while I'm in the middle of a recipe!