No fancy gadgets here—these are the kitchen tools we rely on day in and day out to make cooking at home as easy as can be. 

By Dawn Perry
June 14, 2018
Philip Friedman

Outfitting your kitchen for superior performance doesn't mean investing in a ton of specialty gear. With a streamlined cache of hardworking tools and equipment, cooking in your kitchen can be easy and empowering. Here's everything you need to get started. 

Locking Tongs
Think of these as an extension of your hands. Use them to help turn sturdy items in a skillet like chicken pieces, pork chops, steak, etc. They can pull long noodles out of a pot, even reach things on a hard to reach shelf (just kidding, kind of). Once you get used to using tongs you’ll never know how you lived without them.

Cast Iron Skillet
You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again. Cast iron is great because it gets hot and stays hot, ensuring that whatever you’re cooking in it cooks evenly. Plu, it conducts heat so well that you’ll get a beautiful golden sear. Also, it goes seamlessly from stovetop to oven. Just make sure you use a potholder or towel to grab it and protect yourself when it comes out of the oven. Because like I said it gets hot and stays hot. You can also make frittatas in it, you can even bake in it. It’s truly a workhorse in the kitchen.

Rimmed Baking Sheets
Another indispensable item and a must-have in every kitchen, it’s not just for baking cookies, although it’s perfect for that. A rimmed baking sheet is generally 18 inches by 13 inches, and it keep things contained, whether that means bits and pieces, like nuts or small vegetables, or liquids, like meat juices. Roast meat or vegetables on it, or use it to make bacon in the oven. Fit it with a wire rack and use it as a tray to catch drips after frying or when decorating cookies. As you can see,I could list the benefits all day. Buy one in the standard “half-sheet” size as well as a couple of “quarter-sheet” pans. Those are great for smaller quantities of stuff like nuts, seeds, coconut, and that kind of thing.

RELATED: Sheet Pan Chicken and Sweet Potatoes

Big Pot/Medium Pot
I’m about to save you some money: you don’t need that 20 piece pot and pan set with lids. The majority of those pots you won’t use and they take up too much room in the cupboards. Instead, I suggest just 2 pots: a medium that’s about 4-quarts and a big heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch Oven that can accommodate 7 to 8 servings (bet on a quart per serving). Use the medium pot for rice, oatmeal and other grains, small batches of soup or pasta. Use the big one for tomato sauce-making, homemade stock, braising, pasta, or blanching vegetables.

Microplane
My choice for grating cheese, citrus zest, garlic, ginger, and whole spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. The long metal part has lots of tiny teeth that easily tackle hard cheeses like Parmesan, pecorino, even a sturdy cheddar. It’s lightweight and lean so you can hold it one hand and grate with the other. Something you can’t do with a box grater.

Fish Spatula
Like a regular metal spatula but with a bigger thinner blade. It can do everything a regular spatula can do but a regular spatula can’t do everything it can. The blade is thin and slightly beveled at the edge so it slides easily under delicate fish filets, fried eggs, pancakes, and cookies. Plus it narrow enough that you can use it as a pie and cake server too.

Rubber Spatula
Look for rubber, rather, silicone spatulas made out of a single piece of material. Spatulas with wooden handles tend to have heads that are glued on. The glue loosens over time and gunk gets up between the handle—yuck. Silicone withstands high heat so it won’t melt if you set it on the side of a big pot. Buy at least two: one for everyday mixing and scrambling, and one with a smaller head for getting every last bit out of your mustard and mayo jars.

Knives (chef’s; paring; bread)
You don’t need fancy knives you just need sharp knives that feel comfortable in your hands. I like a chef’s knife with a 6 to 8-inch blade and opt for something on the lighter side. But if you prefer something with more heft to it, go for it—this is really a matter of preference and comfort. You’ll use your chef’s knife most: for chopping, slicing and dicing and carving. Paring knives need not be expensive either. Victorinox makes great inexpensive paring knives that I buy in bulk. Use them for your detail work: slicing smaller items, trimming tender vegetables, and tightening your eyeglasses. Bread knives should have a serrated blade, that means it will have little shark teeth along the blade. I really like ones with an offset blade which makes it super easy to cut all the way through a loaf without a struggle.

Y-Peeler
so far superior to the old metal weapons of yore. They’re inexpensive, sturdy, dishwasher safe and hold an edge (that means it stays sharp). They make easy work peeling thick skinned produce like potatoes and beets as well as thinner-skinned items like apples, pears, peaches and kiwis.

Salad Spinner
What good is buying all those greens if you don’t treat them right? The best and easiest way to clean them is with one of these. Place the greens in the spinner basket—don’t overfill it or it won’t do it’s job. Fill the bowl with cold water and swish the greens aroun. Any dirt or grit should loosen from the greens and fall to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the basket out to the bowl, leaving the dirt and dirty water behind. Repeat if necessary for very dirty or sandy bunches. Replace the basket and lid and spin to force the water off the leaves.

Colander/Fine-Mesh Seive
Essential for washing vegetables, rinsing beans or grains, and draining boiled potatoes, or pasta. Be wary of colanders with large holes. You don’t want to lose any of your angel hair down the drain.

Slotted Spoon
Pick a sturdy spoon with relatively small holes. You’ll use this for fishing out blanched vegetables, potatoes, peas, and small pasta shapes from boiling salted water, as well as maneuvering fried things in hot oil.

Timer
Look for an easy to read timer with buttons for both minutes and seconds. I like one with magnets for sticking on the fridge so you always know where to find it.

Peppermill
Freshly. Ground. Pepper. Always. Go ahead and throw away that canister of the pre-ground stuff. We’ll wait.

Measuring Cups and Spoons
While decorative measures are pretty, they can be awkward to handle and tend to measure inaccurately. Look for spoons and cups with handles that are level to their cup/bowl rims for easy scooping and leveling.

Liquid Measuring Cup
Nothing fancy needed here. If you have room for them, buy 4 cup, 2 cup and ¼ cup sizes. Tight on space? Just buy a 2 cup measure.

Instant Read Thermometer
Pick a thermometer that’s easy to read and easy to use. Look for one with thinner probe (the thicker ones will tear up your steaks) and be prepared to invest: a good thermometer will stay accurate over time and last you years. With the right one, you’ll never cut into an undercooked chicken breast again.

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