Here’s an insider secret for you: I don’t have a fancy, pro-level kitchen. Our cute little house was originally intended to be a rental property, so the applicances are bottom-of-the-line. Both our gas stove/oven and refrigerator successfully fulfill their functions — making things hot and keeping them cool, as required — but they would not appear in anyone’s dream kitchen. Add to that the fact that I don’t like to have a lot of gadgets around, and my kitchen isn’t really anything too special. I like to think that I bring the magic and that not much more than quality ingredients are required to make awesome food.
I’m asked a lot for recommendations on the best kitchen gadgets and appliances to make cooking more fun and less time-consuming. And since my Amazon store is woefully out-of-date — an update is coming soon — I thought I’d share 10 of my favorite, mostly-affordable kitchen basics. The tools on the list below are the ones I use in my kitchen every day.
10 Favorite Kitchen Tools
1. A good knife
Just about everything worth eating begins by chopping some stuff. Don’t believe me? Chocolate Chili. Turkish Chopped Salad. Meat and Spinach Muffins. Tabbouleh. Vietnamese Chicken Salad. They all start with chopping. And to avoid lopping off fingertips and to make kitchen prep as fast as possible, you need a knife that’s an extension of you. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but you need to feel confident using it, and it needs to be sharp. I use an 8-inch chef’s knife for just about everything. Here are two my favorites: a somewhat expensive Wusthof and an inexpensive, but awesomely reliable Komachi (in pink, no less!)
1a. A knife sharpener
The knife is no good to you if it’s not sharp. And the way you’ll cut yourself most often in the kitchen is by using a dull knife on something slippery, like an onion. I became an expert on dicing onions with my hand wrapped in a towel because I cut myself so many times, then I got smart and spent $20 on a knife sharpener. Be smart right outta the gate! Get a knife sharpener at the same time you buy your knife and keep that blade honed. This Westhof sharpener was recommended to me by the chef at Whole Foods, and it works really well.
2. A slow cooker
I’m not a fan of stew and chili cooked in the slow cooker because no matter how carefully I follow a recipe, everything always comes out kind of mushy and watery. But man, oh, man! I love to roast meat in my Crock-Pot (like the 5-Spice Pork Ribs). After my ’70s-inspired model bit the dust, I bought myself this programmable Crock-Pot, and it is badass.
3. A big cutting board
For years, I used a bamboo cutting board that was 18 inches long. As much as I liked the look and feel of it, I was always running out of real estate. A few months ago, I bought myself this monster, and it’s AWESOME. You don’t need to cover your entire counter top like I did, but — just as you always need a bigger bowl than you initially think — you can’t really have a cutting board that’s too big.
4. A solid sauté pan
We own two of these Analon 12-inch sauté pans, and I use them for everything — to steam-sauté veggies, fry egg foo yong, make the Hot Plates I describe in Well Fed, re-heat soup and chili. It’s my go-to pan, and at most meal times, I have both going at the same time: one for me and one for Dave. This thing is a workhorse!
5. Graduated measuring spoons
Although I prefer my clothes, shoes, and hair to be jet black, I like my kitchen gadgets colorful. And even though I have a set of grown-up stainless steel measuring spoons, the ones I reach for most often are the plastic sets in bright colors. Both measure with equal accuracy, so you can choose the ones that you like the best. I have four sets of measuring spoons in the drawer because we use so many, so often. Fun and colorful, or serious stainless, you choose.
6. Graduated measuring cups
Ditto on the measuring cups. At one point, I had two sets of white plastic measuring cups in graduated sizes. All that’s left of them are two 1-cup and one 1/2-cup, and they’re my favorite. I also own a set of brightly-colored measuring cups and stainless steel including odd sizes (1/3 cup, 2/3 cup, 3/4 cup) and a honkin’ 2-cup that Dave got me for Christmas one year. That man knows what I like! Fun and colorful, or serious stainless, you choose.
7. Large, rimmed baking sheets
I’m a Cook’s Illustrated devotee, and they almost always recommend a rimmed baking sheet in their recipes — and I routinely ignored their suggestion, sometimes to my detriment. For my birthday this year, Dave got me two big rimmed baking sheets (by request, and in addition to other gifts… I don’t want you thinkin’ he’s unromantic!), and they’ve made working with the oven exponentially easier. They’re perfect for lining up meatballs for baking, roasting spaghetti squash, and making kale chips. These are the ones I use. Trust me; get two!
8. A julienne peeler
Since going full paleo/Whole30 in 2009, I’ve lost the taste for pasta. Honestly. It’s like a mouthful of wet sand — so bland and gluten-y. But the experience of winding longs strands, preferably doused in something scrumptious, is something I still crave. Which is why I always include spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles in my Weekly Cookup. A julienne peeler is a must-have for turning zucchini, cucumbers, and other long vegetables into noodles. The OXO makes fatter strands (like regular spaghetti), and this Kuhn makes very thin strands (like angel hair). I have both, naturally.
9. A workhorse food processor
Delicious dino-chow would be almost impossible without a food processor. A processor makes stuff like cauliflower rice, baba ghanoush, pesto, tahini dressing, and Sunshine Sauce in a flash. This is the model I have, and it’s highly rated by Cook’s Illustrated, too. Plus, you can always use it to make homemade mayo — although I like my blender for that. If you don’t mind having one more kitchen gadget, a stick blender has highly recommended for homemade mayo by many of my readers; I just can’t bring myself to add another gadget to my cabinets.
10. A mandoline slicer
I resisted investing in a mandoline slicer for ages because, as I already mentioned, I didn’t want more clutter in my kitchen. I was a fool! There is nothing better for making cucumber salad than a mandoline slicer — and now that I have the damn thing, I use it every day. Zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, onions… the taste and texture change when they’re sliced paper-thin. It’s lovely! I got this one from Swissmar Borner, and it works like a champ. NOTE: Be sure to buy a mandoline that comes with a hand guard and never, EVER, NEVER-EVER use it without the hand guard. Ever.
Turn it up to 11: Other fun gadgets
Those 10 are my big essentials to keep thing hummin’ in my kitchen. Here are some other gadgets that I added to my arsenal. I use them all at least once a week, so I don’t resent them for taking up room in my drawers and cabinets.
garlic press: I’m terrible at mincing garlic with a knife, so I love this press. It’s pricey, but worth it.
silicone pancake rings: for making egg foo yong patties
bamboo spoons: essential for everything from tossing salad to stirring chili to sautéeing veggies
lemon zester: citrus zest adds zing to just about anything (and this thing does wonders on garlic, too)
lemon squeezer: I thought I didn’t need one until I got one. So much easier than the “insert fork and twist” method
kitchen scale: Super helpful when scaling recipes to double, halve, etc.
Do you have a favorite kitchen gadget I missed?
Let’s talk business: The links above go to Amazon, and if you buy something using those links, I get a little $$-kickback. But that’s not why they’re listed; this is the stuff that makes my kitchen life better and you might like it, too.
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