Whether you are just beginning your journey into the bountiful world of cooking, are an accomplished home cook, or even a world-renowned chef — discovering new tools to improve your craft is part of what makes cooking fun! Having the right tools for the job can make cooking (and your life) both easier and more pleasurable. Below I’ve listed ten of my favorite tools that I simply can’t imagine cooking without. (Note: if you end up buying something from the list or already own an item be sure to let me know how you like it!)
#1) Chef’s knife
A great knife is the foundation on which a great kitchen, a great cook, and great food is built. If there is one item that is a “must-have” from this list, a super sharp and well-constructed chef’s knife is it. With a little know-how, no other item in the kitchen is as versatile or as essential as a sharp knife. Best of all, it doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to come in an elaborate knife set. One great knife can perform the majority of tasks in a kitchen so only fill in your knife collection as needed. Look for knives that are forged from a single piece of metal and feel great in your hand. But if all else fails, just make sure it’s sharp!And for those out there weary of a sharp blade, contrary to popular belief, the sharper the knife the less you’ll cut yourself. The majority of kitchen cuts result from improper use of dull knives. Save yourself the pain and make yourself a better cook and buy a chef’s knife!
#2) Carbon steel fry pans
An array of of heavy fry pans are indispensable for searing, sautéing, and any number of other high-heat activities. High quality pans made from carbon steel are much more than just fry pans, however. Once seasoned, they can handle nearly anything you can throw at them — pan-searing fish, roasting chickens, glazing vegetables, and even frying eggs and omelets (try that stainless!) What’s better,they’re built to last several lifetimes and, much like cast iron, the better they’re seasoned the better they’ll cook. Unlike cast iron, however, the classic French Lyon-style shape of these pans make them much more versatile and easier to use in the kitchen. Skeptical? Go ahead and buy a single pan and see how you like it. If you like it nearly as much as I do, I’m sure you’ll go back for more. (Note: Amazon usually has special set of 3 pans for sale that may be worth waiting for that isn’t available at the time of writing this).
#3) Heavy saucepans
Saucepans come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials which can make the decision of what to buy and for what reason pretty confusing. Should you buy a set of copper pots? Stainless steel? Aluminum? Teflon-coated? What’s a saucier pot? Do I need a butter warmer? Hell, don’t they just make pans? Truthfully, the logic behind what to buy and why is out of the scope of this article. The one thing I can tell you, however, is that a good set of pans will be heavy, regardless of the material they are made of. You see, the heavier the pan (especially at the bottom) the more even the heat distribution will be. Even heat distribution is the absolute key to a great functioning set of pans. Hot spots caused by uneven heat distribution can scorch a delicate sauce in the blink of an eye. Trust me, it’s worth the expense to invest in a few great saucepans of varying sizes. Shop around and see what fits your needs, but if all else fails, I’d recommend you purchase a 2qt and a 4qt saucepan along with a 3.5qt saucier. As far as quality brands, check out All Clad, Viking, CIA, Calphalon, and even Emeril if you’re on a budget.
#4) Enameled cast iron Dutch oven
The logic for buying an enameled cast iron Dutch oven is simple; it’s big, it’s heavy, it’s non-stick and it’s virtually necessary for a great stew. The real debate comes down to what brand to purchase, with expensive French brands like Staub and Le Creuset generally winning out over the competition. Others hold the opinion that cheap Dutch ovens perform the same tasks nearly as well as the aforementioned brands at a fraction of the cost. However, the cheaper models are prone to chipping, staining, and warping and will likely wear out considerably faster than a higher quality product. So it’s settled, right? You should go buy the Le Creuset of your dreams and call off the search– well, not exactly. If you have the money ($200+) to shell out towards a great Dutch oven, by all means, go for it! If you’re like me, however, and spending that much money just isn’t going to happen, try and find something priced in the mid-range. Lodge, Calphalon, and Mario Batali all make great ovens at an affordable price.
#5) Immersion blender
Whether blending soups, sauces, smoothies, milkshakes, or even pie fillings a powerful immersion blender can’t be beat and renders a traditional blender virtually useless. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a blender that’s exploded with hot liquid, then you know the struggles of using a stand blender. The ability to simply blend directly in the pot with no fuss and no mess is truly a blessing. For best results, look for a model that is powerful (200 watts+), has a detachable base allowing for simple cleanup, and plugs into the wall (not battery powered!) Adjustable speed control is also a handy feature, but is not necessary for great results.
#6) Mandolin Slicer
It doesn’t matter how well you handle a knife, you can’t beat a quality mandolin slicer in terms of sheer output, efficiency, and evenness of cutting.
#7) Citrus Juicer
Unless you’re stranded on a deserted island, there’s really no reason to hand-squeeze anything (talk about tedious). Instead, skip the hard work, invest a few dollars into a manual juicer, and enjoy the delights of fresh squeezed juice more often!
#8) Microplane Graters/Zester
#9) Silicone Spatula
#10) Pizza Stone