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What Everyday Kitchen Essentials to Buy (or Not Buy) From Someone Who Knows

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photo by zeke ruelas for ehd | from: modern deco kitchen reveal

As a 34-year-old “elder millennial,” it strangely feels like I’m one of the only people I know my age who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. Sara on our team and maybe two of my friends seem to be the only exception. So, of course, that makes me the token advice giver when anyone needs help distinguishing between a zucchini and a cucumber or knowing what to buy when you suddenly get tired of eating out and want to cook more than frozen Trader Joe’s go-tos.

Even our dear, sweet Emily told me she was pretty helpless in terms of knowing what she needed to buy to set up her kitchen when she got DEEP into souping. She compared herself to a baby vampire from the Twilight franchise…she “rabidly, maniacally bought all the things, yet didn’t actually have any of the things I really needed.” I hear that. That was me about 9 years ago. While I learned how to cook at a young age out of (sort of) necessity (neither of my parents was very, uh, good at it and I liked to eat good, varied food), I didn’t get a chance to really dive into the world of kitchen tools for myself until I moved into my first apartment in my mid 20s. I BOUGHT EVERYTHING. If it looked cool or was pretty or I even sniffed that I could need it, I bought it and stupidly spent money I could have used as a “rainy day” fund on lemon zesters, ALL the pots and pans, only the best-looking vegetable peeler. Do not do this. Learn from me. After nearly a decade of cooking in my own kitchen, here’s what I learned: just because something looks good doesn’t mean it’ll work well and probably better yet, you do not need a special tool for everything. All that does is clutter up your counters and drawers. That Yonana machine you thought was a good idea can only do ONE thing: smoosh frozen bananas. Guess what can do the same thing and also a ton more? A really good food processor.

So, if you find yourself always asking your friends/coworkers/strangers on the street/the internet for what knife you should buy, or never having on hand what you need when meal prepping (or souping) or even just moving into a new home and starting from scratch, I hope my personal experience using (and not using) items in my kitchen will help guide you to getting what you really need that will hopefully last you a long, long while (instead of rusting over and cracking at the first go in a dishwasher…here’s looking at you KitchenAid can opener).

First up, my every day (as in, I use them every day) kitchen essentials:

Before diving in, I want to say something, though. My biggest tip for ANYONE just starting to cook or outfitting a kitchen is to know how and what you like to cook and start there. If you’re a souper like Emily, you’ll want to get a great chef’s knife for all that veggie chopping, a cutting board and a big stockpot. If you make a ton of family meals or want more hands-off cooking, invest in an Instant Pot or the large half sheets and Silpats I mention below. 30 minutes in, you have yourself dinner with very few dishes to wash. Make eggs or pancakes every morning? A non-stick pan is where it’s at. If you want to be the kind of person who makes a smoothie every morning but you know you never will, you do not need a fancy blender. You can always add more as you need it, but I bet you’ll find yourself not needing as much as you think. Okay, let’s get into my tried-and-true must-haves.

emily henderson kitchen utensils kitchen essentials2

1-2. Silpats + Half Baking Sheets: I honestly use these 3-4 times a week for just about everything. Veggies, potatoes, chicken, fish. I love a one-pan meal on a weekday and the half sheet is large enough to accommodate both protein and veggies (but still fit in my rental oven). I used to have those little dinky dark-coated non-stick cookie sheets and one day for my birthday, I gifted myself these larger versions (with the Silpats) and my cooking completely and utterly changed. I thought both of these things were more for whipping up tons of cookies or macarons, but I was so, so wrong. My Silpats, in particular, are probably one of my top “never be without ever again” kitchen items. These are “name brand” but people have told me the ones from the Amazon Basics line are also great.

3. End Grain Cutting Board: I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, so a quality cutting board is a MUST for me. This one is considered “end grain” (looks like it was made from lots of little wood blocks). These tend to be a little more expensive, but there’s something magical about the end grain that self-heals after coming in contact with a knife so it actually lasts much longer than an edge grain board. Just be sure to oil it often and DO NOT PUT IT IN THE DISHWASHER.

4. Dough Scraper: This little doohickey looks pretty unassuming, but man is it useful basically every day. I use it to scrape up, say, all the garlic I cut on my board (but because my stove has no counter space around it, I’d rather not walk my heavy cutting board across the kitchen with other veggies rolling off the side just to transport said garlic). It’s called a dough scraper, but it’s a little kitchen tool I find myself using regularly for far more than dough.

5. OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler: Repeat after me—Invest in a quality peeler even if it isn’t “cute.” For years, I fell victim to the need for “cute” things in the kitchen. That’s almost embarrassing to admit. My candy-colored KitchenAid peeler looked nice (in a drawer, where NO ONE SAW IT), but that thing rusted over, cracked, and the “metal” coating chipped off…TWICE). I finally wised up and got a VERY good peeler that’s so sharp, it’ll split a fingernail as easily as a hot knife through butter so be careful.

6. OXO Good Grips Can Opener: Same goes with a can opener. I also went the “attractive” route here and had the same issues with rusting, cracking…ugh. This one from OXO is fantastic and very high quality. No more jankily opened cans of crushed tomatoes in my kitchen.

7-9: J.A. Henckles Zwilling Gourmet 10-Pc Cutlery Set, Zwilling Kitchen Essentials Set, Zwilling 8-Inch Gourmet Chef’s Knife: Okay, so I have three different varieties of knives here. When I got my first apartment, I bought a very similar knife block as #7 one (I couldn’t find the one I had online anymore). Zwilling knives are my favorite for the price point. Very solid, well balanced and LONG lasting. I’ve had my set for 9 years and they still look and cut like new (with a little sharpening here and there). But, you absolutely positively do not need a 10-piece knife set. Honestly, I really only use my chef knife and paring knives, and I promise, unless you’re constantly deboning chickens and fish, you also do not need more knives than you have fingers. Budget hack: Look for these at HomeGoods and TJMaxx because they often sell this brand for WAY less than retail (same goes for A LOT of the stuff on this list).

10. Anchor Hocking Glass 4-Cup: I’m pretty sure even my 90-year-old Puerto Rican grandma used Anchor-brand measuring cups decades ago so I learned to trust the brand. Yes, I also have dry measuring cups and spoons, but this baby is a regular protagonist in my home cooking show. I bought the set of 3, but the 4-cup is the only one you need. I NEVER use the 1-cup or 2-cup because, uh, the 4-cup also has those same measurements.

11. Snapware Glass Food Storage 24-Piece: I have a household of two, but cook for four so we have lunch for the next day, and these are the best storage containers I’ve found. I bought mine at Costco for about the same price.

12. 10-Piece Glass Mixing Bowl Set: My glass prep bowls are like my right hand in the kitchen. I’m not a huge mise en place-er (too much to wash), but I use these for almost everything. There’s a size bowl for basically anything you need, plus they neatly stack into each other to save a ton of space.

13. OXO Locking Tongs: Tongs that pinch you or easily open are a huge pet peeve of mine. I love these and recommend you get two (one of each size) to avoid having to rush to wash raw chicken juice off before turning your asparagus. They’re also great for tossing and serving salad (so you def don’t need a specific serving set for that).

14. Sur La Table Flex Core Mini Silicone Spatula & Spatula Spoon Set: I’ve had my fair share of beautiful rubber spatulas with pretty wood handles. Guess what? You can’t put that in the dishwasher (or at least, it’s not recommended that you do…they will dull, crack, fall apart). These are all rubber and one-piece construction, and ideal to throw in the dishwasher over and over again.

15-18. All-Clad Hard Anodized 8″ & 10″ Nonstick Frying Pan Set, Cuisinart MultiClad 5 1/2-Quart Saute Pan with Lid, Cuisinart Stainless Steel 3-Quart Cook and Pour Saucepan with Lid, Cuisinart Stainless Steel 8-Quart Stock Pot with Lid: I have a lot to say about pots and pans, but mostly it’s this: just like knives, you likely do not need a set of 6-10 pieces. I cook A LOT, and consider myself a pretty adventurous cook as in I make lots of different varieties of things, and even I only really use these four things. I make eggs about 4 times a week, so a non-stick pan is clutch for me and these are GREAT. I also use these regularly for sauteing without too much added fat. Aside from these that basically just sit out on my stove because I use them that much, I use a higher walled saute pan with lid, a 3-quart sauce pan for almost everything (rice, small servings of pasta, sauces, beans, etc.) and a stock pot for large batches of pasta, boiling corn, making soup, etc.

Next up is my list of “nice to haves.”

These are things I have in my kitchen that I don’t necessarily use EVERY day but still think are very good to have on hand if you have the space to store them.

emily henderson kitchen utensils kitchen essentials2

1. Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor: This is another scenario where “Arlyn picks the cute kitchen appliance” turns out to not work all that well. I had a KitchenAid food processor which was perfectly fine, but the lid broke on it after not much use (and yes, I took great care of it). It also didn’t come with the attachments I needed and found it collecting dust on the shelves of my laundry room. BUT THIS ONE IS DIFFERENT. My friend who is another avid cook recommended it to me and man I love it. It’s pretty no-frills in that it only has a “pulse” and “on” button (i.e. no speeds), but it’s powerful, can fit a whole head of cauliflower (or, let’s get real, block of cheese), comes with three blade attachments and is just generally awesome.

2. 6-Quart Instant Pot: I know the Instant Pot has a lot of devotees, but also, on the other side of the fence, people who are like “why?!?!?” (Emily being the latter). But as someone who has a habit for collecting small appliances, this thing has helped to replace my slow cooker and rice cooker, plus I probably use it for a VERY fast weeknight dinner about 2-3 times a week. It’s a one-pot wonder, people. The 6-quart is a great size for my smaller household, but if you’re cooking for more than 4, you might want the 8-quart. 

3. Cuisinart 9-Speed Handheld Mixer with Storage Case: I have a KitchenAid stand mixer. It is a prized possession (a 30th birthday gift), but I am here to tell you that YOU DO NOT NEED A $400 STAND MIXER. It looks good, yes, and I have fun attachments for pasta and whatnot, but it’s a pure luxury. If you whip up a batch of cupcakes like…3 times a year, a hand mixer is all you need. I have this one and I love it because it has a ton of speeds and has a snap-on case that stores all the attachments.

4. Staub Round Cocotte, 5.5-Quart: Okay, so a $340 cast iron French/Dutch oven will not make your chicken taste better than a $50 Dutch oven. But I understand wanting a “status” kitchen item. I’m personally a Staub girl (instead of Le Creuset) because the black interior doesn’t stain and scratch like the white ceramic interior of LC. Plus, I just like the dark inky colors of Staub better. OH, and Staub lids have these little raise dots on the underside that help to better distribute steam and juicy goodness that LC does not have (good for braising). I was lucky enough to find my first oval Staub for $60 on clearance at HomeGoods (check often because they have them), and my other two as “landmark” birthday and anniversary gifts. I will have them likely longer than I’ll be alive, which is why they’re worth the steep price tag.

5. Lodge 10″ Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet: “Hands and pans” videos will have you believing you can’t survive without a cast-iron skillet. You can. However, they are fantastic but high maintenance, which is why they are on my “nice to have” list instead of my everyday essentials. The time I spend scraping, oiling and re-seasoning my skillet makes it too annoying to use on a daily basis, but Lodge makes a great one (I have a 10″ but 12″ is also great) for very little money that, as long as you take care of it, will probably be found fossilized in your home because it’ll last THAT long.

6. OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner 4.0: I tend to not like “single purpose” kitchen items, but I have a few exceptions, including a salad spinner. It literally does nothing more than dry my greens, but I eat a lot of salad and detest wet sopping water messes at the bottom of my bowl so…this is a must in my kitchen. OXO makes a great one for under $30.

7. Microplane: Yes, I have a standard cheese grater, but I probably whip out my microplane more. I use it for, well, cheese (hard cheeses like parmesan only), ginger, fresh turmeric, lemon and lime zest, garlic (sometimes), nutmeg and beyond.

8. Orblue Garlic Press: The only other single-use item on my list is a garlic press. It’s a “nice to have” because you can absolutely just chop up garlic with a knife and be done with it, but if you have a recipe that calls for anything more than 3 or 4 gloves, a garlic press will be your best friend. This is my favorite one I’ve ever owned (I’ve had several that have all snapped) and I feel like it’ll last me a very long time, hasn’t rusted, has an easy-to-clean compartment and inflict brute force on those cloves.

9. Flexible Cutting Mats With Food Icons: These are probably more of a “you do not need these” item but I like to use them in conjunction with my wood cutting board (better for your knife) so I don’t have to spend time washing between cutting chicken and slicing carrots. Plus, if you’ve ever cut garlic on a wood cutting board and forgot, then went to cut up some luscious strawberries and were unpleasantly surprised…these will save you every time.

As if I haven’t written enough words here today, I can’t finish without telling you what, from experience, I have learned you absolutely do not need (some I’ve already touched on but want to revisit as a reminder):

  1. Niche one-use tools, like an avocado slicer (use a knife and big spoon), spiralizer (you can use that good-quality peeler I just recommended to you instead), lemon zester (use a microplane or fine cheese grater), Yonana (yes, I’ve owned one of these banana ice cream machines) or any other novelty items. They will take up space, collect dust, and you do not need them.
  2. A Vitamix. This is another one of those things. The internet will have you thinking that you are NOTHING without a luxury blender. I could never bite the bullet on one of these and bought this KitchenAid blender (after MUCH research, not just because it was pretty and blue…I promise I’ve learned my lessons) for like 1/4 of the cost and it’s EXCELLENT. I use it about two times a week for my homemade almond milk and it has never failed me. Wait, why didn’t I include it in the “nice to haves” roundup from above? Let’s pretend I did.
  3. A big knife block set. I already talked about this, but it’s a nice reminder. You really need 1-2 good quality knives and that’s it for most daily cooking. Save yourself the money and space if you’re short on both.
  4. A big, beautiful stand mixer. I love my KitchenAid mixer, I do, but I probably use it like 4-5 times a year and it really is more of a “status” item than anything else.
  5. All the pots and pans from a set. Look, buying a set is typically a VERY good value, but when I think about the space all the sauce and fry pans I rarely use take up, I would have been better off just buying the three things I NOW know I only ever use. In general, unless you have a plethora of cabinet storage, I’d recommend starting with just a few pieces and building from there as you find the need for something else. But honestly, I think most of the time, you’ll find you are 100% fine with less.
photo by sara ligorria-tramp for ehd | from: arlyn’s dining room makeover takeover

I hope this was useful. I know it’s a lot, and you definitely do not need everything. Your life will go on without a microplane, it will. Mine is just made easier in the kitchen with these things without feeling like too much or kitchen “fluff.” P.S. that is a peek into my kitchen. It’s really not much bigger than what you see there (the stove is over to the right kind of on its own, and the fridge is alone on the opposite wall…awesome). Most of the stuff I included in here is stored inside that gray IKEA unit you see to the left of my dining room, FYI. That and a little console table I brought in next to my fridge.

Now, my inner cooking and kitchen tool enthusiast wants to know ALL about your must-have everyday essentials or best brands you use. Please spill all the details because I am not an expert, just someone who cooks a lot and is relatively proficient behind the stove.

Fin Mark

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Lisa

This was such a great post! Always love your voice, Arlyn, and I think your tips were spot on! You really truly don’t need that much and also I feel you on the garlic-strawberry thing….whoops.
My favourite kitchen tool is my knife that I use to slice everything except herbs and bread – it’s made out of super thin corroding steel and yes you read that right.. Apparently because they’re made of corroding/corrodable (how do you say?) steel instead of stainless one they can be made much thinner and much sharper than most other knives. They truly last foreveerrrr and are just the absolute BEST.

Not sure if they’re sold in the US but they’re called Windmühlenmesser (windmilll knives) in case anyone wants to check them out and are made by small manufacturer in Germany since like the 19th century and we’ve seriously had our family ones for more than twenty years and they’re great!!

Bea

My Mum is German. As a child, I remember my Oma, various Tanten and Mum using these small vegetable peeling knives with their wooden handles. They were usually peeling potatoes!

When my Oma passed away, Mum took hers and it’s still going strong despite having a curved blade by now. The only thing is that it shouldn’t go in the dishwasher otherwise they rust.

OOh. this is very tempting. brian is TERRIFIED of how I use knives, he can’t even watch so not sure if I’ll ever be able to peel a potato with it but I want to check them out. thank you!

Alexandra Rose

You should take a knife skills class if you haven’t already! My husband and I took one together at Sur la Tab as a date (with dinner after) and it was a lot of fun. Plus I prep so much faster now.

Kat

Arlyn, your list is spot on. And this is weirdly something I’ve given a lot of thought to. I do think a food processor is more of a must but like you said it depends on your cooking routine. Also, I have a larger food processor and a really cheap small one for when I’m making smaller portions of things and I use them about equally.

As a beginning cook out of college, I bought a “slap chop” because mincing garlic was the bane of my cooking existence. It was such a hilarious waste of time and money! I literally LOL when I think about it. It drove me and my now-husband to take the Sur La Table knife skills class and it totally changed my cooking trajectory. It made me so efficient at fruit and veg prep! I STILL rep this class to anyone who mentions they struggle in the kitchen. Knife skills class graduates unite haha!

Rusty

We bought Wusthoff knives 19 years ago….who knew that you can love knives?! I do, now. They cost so much, but were on a big sale and my partner went to buy a few (?), but a retired chef was looking at them and told hkm which ones we’d actually use and he bought those. He bought a “sandwich knife” too and we never use it! That chef knew his stuff! 🙂

Lisa

Aw that is such a sweet story about your Mum and family, Bea, thanks for sharing! 🙂 And I’m so excited somebody else knew what I was talking about 😀

Kristina

This is a great roundup! I totally agree with avoiding single use gadgets with one exception: my lemon/lime squeezer! As someone who is always making lemon-based vinaigrettes or margaritas, this tool is a game changer. My other go-to gadget is my immersion blender – which is great for soups and sauces.

Kat

Yes to both of these! I actually USE all the citrus I buy now because it’s so much easier to juice. And anything that decreases the time and effort between myself and a margarita is essential. The immersion blender is so much easier to clean than a normal blender – because there’s not a separate carafe. And it’s easier to store!

stephZ

Yes, I use my squeezer so much. I have one that is attached to a measuring cup and its so nice to have it easily pourable after. Its one of those things you don’t think you will use until you almost use it daily.

Zoe

Yes, moving to one of these with the measuring cup attached from a wooden reamer (though I still use that too) was a game changer for me.

Jessie

Yes to both of these! I like to make large batches of soup (more tomato bisque and potato soup, not just EHD healthy soup) and HATED having to transfer it into a blender in batches to get a nice puree. My immersion blender is a lifesaver – and it’s something that doesn’t take up much space or cost a ton of money. If you’re living alone, I would even say just get an immersion blender INSTEAD of a normal blender – you can easily make a smoothie with one! My other single use item I love love love and will never regret – a marble cheese slicer board (it’s a small cutting board with a wire slicer handle attached – I got mine from Crate & Barrel, but I’ve since seen them at Target). I know a knife is usually sufficient for slicing cheese, but you just can’t get as thin or uniform of slices. Making a cheese and cracker board for a party takes half the time and looks so much better! Plus, if you just buy a cute one, you can leave it out on a countertop with your pretty wood cutting board or use it as a… Read more »

Cici Haus

My lemon/lime squeezer (which I use all the time – also for watermelon! ha) is from the Dominican Republic so it’s well-made, beautiful and has a great patina now. But, it’s small. It’s so hard for me to think about buying another, bigger one that works better because I love mine so much!

sarah

Yes to both of these! I consider them essential items in my kitchen and use them frequently.

Elisabeth Brinson

Yes! I primarily cook Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food and I go through 10-12 lemons a week at the very least, so my lemon squeezer is probably my most-used kitchen tool after my knives!

Jessica L

Great advice Arlyn! My husband and I cook often and I agree with nearly everything on here, my list would look pretty much the same! The only thing I’d add off the top of my head is a small hand-held lemon-lime squeezer (gets more juice out and prevents my hands from being burned by the acid – game changer) and a digital kitchen scale, particularly if you’re into baking. Happy cooking!

Caitlin

Oh 100% agree with the scale. We make aeropress coffee every morning and I bake, so our scale is definitely a daily essential.

Jess

This is a great list Arlyn!! I’m a lifelong home cook and I also happen to own a small kitchen supply shop (I opened it almost 12 years ago). The microplane, enameled Dutch oven and of course great knives are absolutely at the top of my list of must haves. And the USA Pan sheet pans that you’ve commended are the best out there! They’re made in PA and they’re an awesome commercial weight so they bake evenly and won’t buckle in the oven under high heat, like when roasting veggies. Just my professional two cents here: beware of some of those hard-anodized nonstick pans, like the skillets that you linked. They won’t always stand the test of time (go, team cast iron!). My store is in a tiny city of 8,000 people (Montpelier, VT) and I’ve continued to thrive because locals here are committed to shopping locally. I don’t sell anything online, just an old-fashioned brick and mortar operation! I know not everyone has access to an independently owned kitchen shop in their neighborhood, but there are lots of us out there who do! Just a little reminder that if we only shop on Amazon, someday we’ll only be… Read more »

Marianne

Personally my cast iron skillet takes the place of the need for ANY other frying/sautee pan. The key is to find a vintage one. So much better than Lodge! Vintage pans have a smoother finish than Lodge pans, hence easier to clean and season as needed.

Katie

I second this! A couple of years ago I started finding old no-name cast iron pans at goodwill for about $10. They’re usually in pretty rough shape, with a lot of baked on nastyness and/or rust, but that all comes off with some elbow grease and oven cleaner. You can re-season them with flax oil and they are the BEST nonstick pans i have ever found. So if you’re in for a project with excellent payoff to effort ratio, i’d recommend keeping your eyes out for those when you’re thrifting. Or, you know, spend the money on ebay for an old one that someone has re-seasoned for you.

Min

How do you know if they’re vintage? I’ll be on the look out next time I go to Goodwill but want to make sure I pick up a good one.

Katie

There’s usually markings on them that don’t make a ton of sense (letters and numbers) that you can look up online. I’m not super sure since i don’t really care about the pedigree (Griswold pans are going to be $$$), but I think most of mine are originally from around the 30’s-50’s! If it’s a Lodge, it probably isn’t old, but I’d look up any markings you can see on them. Also, you can really see the difference in the old vs the new ones in the quality of the surface (bumpy or not). If it’s smooth, snag it.

Saima

I bought my vintage cast iron pan at the Rose Bowl Flea, and it’s awesome! I had to reseason it, of course, but I find that it actually requires very little maintenance. I cook in it and then I scrub it clean with hot water and some sort of abrasive item – you can use a scrubby sponge (NO SOAP), nifty chain-mail scrubbers (found on Amazon), or even balled up tin foil. Every time you use it, you’re adding to the “seasoning”. The maintenance is different than other pots and pans but not necessarily MORE. And it’s true these pans will last a lifetime or longer (literally).

Katie

Looks good…but everyone needs a strainer too, right? PASTA!!!!!

Whitney

Sil Pat’s are the best!
Also we LOVE our Vitamix and have used it almost every day for 8 years. I’ve used it as a food processor (although it is harder to clean out)
If you bake a lot I also love my Kitchenaid. You can gwt a stainless steel one on sale for a lot cheaper than the colorful ones. I store mine so the color doesn’t matter.
ALSO I used to use my garlic press but now….I just buy a giant thing of pre-minced garlic at Costco. Saves me SO MUCH TIME. In mincing and cleaning. I know some people are picky about cutting it yourself but if you don’t love cutting or pressing garlic (probably 99% of people) I really haven’t noticed a difference in taste. Try it!!

Susan

Love, love this post. I am an avid cook and I would put together an almost identical list, except that my food processor would go on the “must have” list. I have seriously considered buying dough scrapers as host gifts (so much better than flowers).

Melinda

Most of this list is SPOT on. However, I whole heatedly disagree about the need for a *nice* spiralizer (i.e. not plastic). We got the attachment for our stand mixer, but I have seen other metal ones that look quality. Our family of 2 will easily eat one pound of zucchini in a single meal as a pasta substitute (we are both really active and tall, haha). You will never spiralize anything if you try to crank out a pound or more by hand with a handheld one (or even the crank ones out of plastic, it’ll fall apart eventually)… it takes up too much time and is exhausting. Our’s is automatic and takes minutes, rather than a half hour or more like it used to before we upgraded.

Annie K

Susan and Arlyn, can you clarify what you use a food processor for regularly? I didn’t grow up with one and am curious about it…what does it do/how do you use it that makes it such a key item?
Thanks!

MitSpeck

A few examples of where it can be very helpful/indispensible.
–Bulk production of baby food
–Smoothies that involve anything frozen
–Purees of fruits for jam or summer popsicles
–Pesto in large batches for freezing (this is a family staple of ours in the rainy months
–Shredding block cheese and vegetables (like when your standard mac and cheese recipe makes a 9 x 13 pan or more)
–Making homemade bulk chorizo or Italian sausage where you know exactly what’s in there
(freeze chunks of meat first)
–Lightning kneading of bread or pizza dough (Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads outlines this technique)
Immersion blenders are also very helpful especially for soup makers but don’t have the power/capacity to do all of the above. I have both and use them regularly.

Alex

I completely agree with your “basics” recommendation, and the tip that you have to learn what you like is a great point. I personally use my cast iron and my Dutch ovens more than I use any other pot or pan, but that’s fully personal preference. I also love having a good bread knife. I’ll also add that I got a ninja blender as a wedding gift and I use it both as a blender and a food processor—it’s a beast and cleans up super super well (a must for me!!)

Rusty

Yessssssss! Good bread knife!
My brother still uses our grandmother’s!

Yes, totally agree that a serrated bread knife is essential. It’s not only good for cutting bread, but for anything soft but with a skin that you don’t want to crush when cutting… like tomatoes. I also think wooden spoons and a colander are essential.

LJ

Is there an avid baker on the team that could do this same thing? I feel like there are just a handful more items to add if you love to bake… rolling pin (is it a necessity or a nice to have, cause I’m using wine bottles currently, cause you know, I always have one of those), baking trays (how many do you REALLY need to efficiently make cookies for your daughters classroom?), and surely everyone needs measuring spoons!?!

Catherine

I’d recommend 3 half-sheet baking pans: one cooling off, one loaded with cookie dough ready to pop in the oven, and one baking in the oven. I may try Arlynn’s recommended pans, because I still haven’t found ones that will hold up to the Christmas baking marathons. And make them half-sheets, so your Silpats will fit on them.

Ellen

Love this post!! The only thing I would add to the nice to have list are prep bowls. They are the best for getting your veggies chopped and ingredients premeasured. My husband likes stainless, I like the anchor hocking glass ones. I am actually buying a smaller set this week!

Kd

Buy a set of Pyrex 8, 4, 2 and 1 cup glass measuring cups. They nest together so don’t take up too much space and the larger ones double as mixing bowls with pouring spouts. TWO sets of nice heavy measuring cups and measuring spoons (so you don’t have to rinse them while in the middle of a recipe). Zeroll ice cream scoop. And good potholders.

MitSpeck

I concur with all of these.
Pyrex measuring cups can also be used for mise en place.
The 8 cup one can also sub in as a casserole dish.

Jessica

I just got 3 Green Pan ceramic non stick pans and they have changed my life over traditional hard anodized non stick pans! Just use coconut oil not ghee. And as someone whose husband just got stitches from using a knife to get an avocado pit out, I’d say get the silly utensil. We walked into insta care and apparently it’s their number one injury. They had posters hung up all over saying go get the avocado slicer on amazon haha. My husband left with hearing about it a solid 10 times from every different employee that came in! So for the less knife skilled people…get that untensil.

Jamie

I’ve got a digital must-have: the Paprika app. It has saved me so much time and so many dollars! Let’s say you’ve got a few mint leaves in the fridge that have a few days left. Or maybe your grocery store is advertising a super blowout special on mint. Go on Paprika and search your recipes for the ingredient “mint.” If you don’t have a recipe, grab any from the internet, copy-paste the link, and it will be uploaded for you instantaneously. Once you choose a recipe, add it to your meal plan calendar. Scan the ingredients and see what you’re missing. Press the grocery cart button and add it to your shopping list. I hit the grocery store with phone in hand, and the list is organized automatically for you by aisle. Makes shopping quick! Go to your meal plan calendar to pull up your recipe when it’s time to cook. There are timers built in for cooking time, and a scale converter for ingredients if you are cooking for more or fewer people than the original recipe serves. I usually plan out 5 meals at a time and then go shopping. Food in my fridge almost never goes… Read more »

WOW. ok i’m going to try this. thank you!

Jess

This app is a game changer for me as well! It’s a paid app; I have the iPhone and desktop versions (which sync to each other automatically). Worth every penny to me.

Amarjit

Hi, this is great, thanks! I am not a new cook and have many of these items. First off, yes to one pan meals!

Admittedly, I we also have the prestige items ?- Staub (birthday gift for my husband), kitchenaid stand mixer (gift from my mom) and a vitamix (gets used almost everyday).

The only thing I’ll disagree with is your opinion on cast iron pans! As someone who does not eat red meat and mother of a very picky vegetarian, we use our cast iron EVERYDAY! The iron from the cookware is great. My meat loving husband also loves it. Admittedly, we need a quality non-stick for eggs, but the cast iron is used all of the time. It’s easy to clean- NO SOAP! And easy to maintain- just cook with fat.

Angel

I use my cast iron for eggs. They don’t stick at all. The trick is to be generous with your oil or butter.

stephZ

Heavy duty cook here.
-You don’t need a garlic press. Use a knife to smash your garlic. Chop up if need be dependent on recipe. -Also don’t buy expensive nonstick pans. Buy cheap one. Nonstick wears out the same on all pans so why spend more money on the same worn out thing? I buy $20 or so farber pans, but there are multiple different ones you can get. They last at max a couple years if you cook a lot on non stick.
-Don’t ever buy full sets of pots and pans. pick and choose.
-You don’t need a knife block either. You should have a couple of good knives in different sizes that you sharpen regulary.
-I highly recommend a box grater and a juice squeeze (just one of the cheapy ones)I use them way more than I ever though possible.
-I also highly recommend a food processor. I waited so long to get one because my mom would tell me how she would never use hers and what a pain to clean they are. LIES. She also doesn’t cook like I cook.

Sarah

Great post! I’d add a non-wood cutting board for cutting raw meats. Also, inexpensive food grade mineral oil found at pharmacies works great to oil wood cutting boards. I think cast iron is super easy. Just rinse and wipe while it’s still hot and everything should lift right off. The residual heat in the pan will dry the water before it rusts. Must haves: a good chef knife, paring knife, tongs, large mixing bowls.

Emily

On the KitchenAid mixer: if you do much baking, the mixer is great to have. I make a lot of cookies and use it every single time. Also great for cakes, etc.

I also agree with a few other comments that the lime/lemon squeezer is a great item to have – we use ours all the time.

Thanks for the list!

Laur

Perfect list! Couldn’t agree more. Also: bullet blender is good for so many uses, and small! also a citrus squeezer. and an electric kettle for heating water (as the solo coffee drinker in the house, i make a lot of pour-overs…) 🙂

Leah

It is so weird to me that an electric kettle isn’t in every household. I’m Australian, and everyone has one. Same goes for the Brits. Need to know why??

Johanna

I’m from Germany and everyone here has an electric kettle, too. It is because of the lower voltage in America, the water would cook much slower than in Europe or Australia. Hope this helps!

Cathy Hemmerich

This was a great post. Would love to get my daughter to read it. She’ One of the not cooking people. My son,however, cooks all the time. Go figure. I agree with you that starting small and building your arsenal of cooking equipment is a must. I am retired and am downsizing my everyday cooking items for 2-4 people now. Great idea with the spatula’s I will definitely get some. Mine just don’t hold up in the dishwasher. Thanks for such an informative post. I have to disagree 1 place. You DON’T need a kitchen aide mixer, but I use mine probably 1-2 times per week, sometimes more because I bake often. So it depends on what you cook as you said.

Jessie

EMILY and all other souping fanatics! If you’re ever tired of how long it takes to dice things, search Amazon for a Vegetable Chopper. The one I have is the Vidalia Chop Wizard, and my in-laws have the Pampered Chef version, but there are many other similar ones out there. You still have to slice your veggies, but seriously it takes like 1/4 of the time to dice an onion or other veggies on this thing compared to doing it by hand. It doesn’t take up a ton of space, it can go in the dishwasher, it’s not terribly expensive. I thought for a long time that I didn’t need it, I have nice knives (Wusthoff is my preferred brand) yada yada yada, but I was wrong. I love it.

Cindy

I totally agree with this, but I use it for food prepping a lot of veggies at once. It has saved my life for onions. I chop up a ton, and freeze in single recipe portions because I can’t cut an onion without crying all my makeup off. But I also buy all my veggies for the week and precut them and out them in containers. It is much easier than storing different, odd sized veggies whole, and makes dinner during the week a breeze. I also love it for pre chopping veggies for juicing or smoothies.

Sara

I would add stainless mixing bowls to the must have. I have 2 in large and medium that I use practically every day. Gotta have a mixing bowl!

Lauren

Great round up! Investing in a quality chef knife changed my life in the kitchen forever. So along that same vein, I feel obligated to stress the importance of a KNIFE SHARPENER! I’d say it should absolutely be in there with the “essentials” list. Cue the long story to emphasize my point. My mom is a great cook, and growing up she made a delicious, healthy dinner every. single. night. Never a separate kid’s meal, we always ate the same thing my parents ate. Even when we were young, and she worked 40-60 hours a week and served as the main breadwinner. What a badass. And my dad is no slouch in the kitchen, either. Every Sunday, he’d get the pasta sauce going in the morning before church, then come home and make the pasta from scratch. He’s the king of breakfast. Currently, he’s obsessed with his Big Green Egg (talk about a luxury item) that my mom bought him for his 60th birthday, where he’ll cook up giant slabs of ribs, pork butt for pulled pork, steaks, beef tenderloin, you name it. So after my life-changing knife experience, I’m home for Thanksgiving and helping my mom cook, and it… Read more »

Marie

I had a very similar experience – my mom kept commenting on how nice my knives are. I bought her a good German one and a sharpener. The next time I visited & was helping with dinner, I couldn’t believe how dull it had gotten. Because… she uses a GLASS cutting board. And she won’t stop, which is why her knives all have terrible edges. Wood or plastic are so much better for a cutting surface!!
For that matter, I see that knife blocks are on the “unnecessary” list, but I do think they help keep both blades and fingers safe. We got a magnetic one that accommodates blades of all sizes because I no longer was happy with my odd-shaped cleaver etc in a drawer when we were baby-proofing.

Jessica

Definitely agree with your list, besides one thing! My microplane grater is a definite MUST have! I use that thing daily!

Also for sure don’t just buy a set of knives! If you have the time, go to Williams Sonoma – they will let you test every knife until you find the one for you! My knife block is a variety of different ones that fit my hands best, and then my husband has his own separate ones!

Selena

Great list! I think cast iron should replace the nonstick pan on the basic list though! It’s so versatile since it can go into the oven as well, and it’s non stick. I bought most of it cast iron at an auction for (for $1!) so it was already seasoned. But I recently got a cast iron grill pan at Bed Bath and Beyond for $20 that was already seasoned too!

Another benefit for anyone who is pregnant – cooking in cast iron naturally adds iron to your food.

Roberta Davis

I agree- a few basic tools can do most things! I also have a kitchen-full and several closets and extra cupboards filled with things I don’t use much, or ever. For me, a couple of cutting boards, chef knife, paring knife, peeler and a big stainless steel mixing bowl are what get the most use. Also a couple of pairs of cheap tongs and several silicone spatulas and wooden spoons. I don’t even have Silpat mats, but use parchment paper instead. Good pans- I am loving the All Clad NS1 pans because I WILL have an induction stove one day!

Angel

Ha ha, I bought a Yonanas machine. But I don’t feel too bad because I got it at goodwill for $5. Except that it’s cluttering up space.

Lily

Cook’s Illustrated has a wonderful resource for a list just like this— they test kitchen equipment (extensively) and rank different brands’ versions! I used their equipment reviews to build my kitchen. There are a lot of overlaps here with Arlyn’s list, so I highly recommend checking it out!

Heather

Great post but I have to argue the avocado slicer. We are a big avocado and guacamole house and i LOVE having one tool to cut, de-pit and scoop/slice the avocado. One tool to wash. Plus it’s cheap enough and takes up very little room. Just my opinion 🙂

Lisa

I recommend a Joseph Joseph garlic rocker in place of a press. Much easier to clean, and no moving parts to get gunky or break. Also it’s pretty:).

MitSpeck

Sometimes little garlic choppers and gadgets like that make it easier for your kids to help in the kitchen.
We had a little chopper that you could “drive” across the counter and the wheels would turn the blades and chop the garlic. My daughter loved it.

Personally, I take an unopened 15 ounce can and SMASH it with gusto (very satisfying) on unpeeled cloves of garlic. The skin comes off very easily and and the clove is already partially separated, and easy to mince or chop from there. It’s very easy to batch process garlic this way.

Lisa

I recommend the Joseph Joseph garlic rocker instead of a press. Much easier to clean, and no moving parts to clean or break. Also, it’s pretty:).

If this is a duplicate comment my apologies, had a weird disappearing text box situation.

Elisabeth

Why have I never heard of Silpats? I’ve been putting cookie dough right on the cookie sheet. What am I missing? Will they change my life? Please advise.

Jenica

I would add an instant thermometer to the must have list. For 15 bucks, it absolutely transformed my ability to cook meat, which I was never consistently good at before. Also, I’m a strong advocate for the y shaped veggie peeler and the humble $4 kiwi brand knife. The kiwi knives are super sharp, thin blades, and I find them in my local thai grocery store. 2x the price on amazon. I have Henckels and Wustof knives and except for serrated or paring knives, I always reach for the kiwi ones instead.

Eleanor

This is a great post! It’s true it depends on what one cooks. For me, a Dutch oven and Kitchen Aid mixer will be in the Essential list. I love my Ninja blender too. I would add a good wok to the list for stir frying veggies as well as an instant-read thermometer when roasting/grilling meat. Other things for the kitchen: trivets (especially if you have quartz countertops) – I love those silicone collapsible ones so you can put them away when not in use , oven mitts/gloves, microfiber cleaning cloths – these helped me cure my paper towel addiction

Steven

EXcellent tips, but I will go the my grave believing no one needs to own a garlic press.

Andrea

Such a great post! In addition to knowing what gadgets to buy, something great for beginning (and advanced cooks) is to watch America’s Test Kitchen. You can find tons of helpful tips on their PBS shows and YouTube channel. They cover best equipment (they are like a Consumer’s Report for cooking), best food items (i.e. – what are the best canned garbanzo to buy in the grocery store) and tips and tricks (like best way to dice an onion). I have learned so much from them and am constantly impressed by their suggestions.

Karyn

Oh man, this is a great post!! My son is 22 and determined to learn how to cook properly, since he just graduated from college soup noodles!!

I have the Williams Sonoma stacking glass bowls and I LOVE THEM. I use them for everything…mixing, marinating, serving, you name it! They are not that expensive for what you get. Also have the Silpat baking sheets and InstaPot and they are great. Nice post for the basic kitchen elements!!

KR

One tip on silicone spatulas with wooden handles. — usually you can just pop off the spatula part, put it in the dishwasher and then pop it back on the wooden handle when it’s clean.

Krista

Great list! I love Zwillig knives, and a $30 sharpener to go with them. Epicurean cutting boards are made of engineered wood so easy on your knives, but can also be put in the dishwasher which is really reassuring when working with raw meat. The USA baking pans with the silicone coating are life changing. After buying one of their muffin tins I immediately gave my other muffin tin away, they’re SO MUCH easier to clean, no greasing or liners needed ever again! I also love my set of Rosti-mepal mixing bowls WITH the matching lids. I prep salads & all kinds of other foods in these bowls, and put them away in the fridge without having to transfer to another container or use plastic wrap. So awesome.

Sarah

Nice roundup. I would say that you can get a glass measuring cup at Target or even the grocery store. And Vitamix has good deals including a warranty on their refurbished blenders—I use mine nearly every day. A couple of things I would add to your list are an apron and a set of chef’s towels

Anna

I use a KitchenAid stand mixer multiple times a month, so I’m ok that I have one. ?

Also, I have found that if you re-season or pre-season your cast iron skillet, really well, in the beginning, afterwards you can just wash it with hot water & Dawn (yes Dawn), with a scrubby, then put it on the burner (on high) to dry, then poor a little oil in it, let that sit for a tiny bit, when it starts to smoke, turn the burner off and brush or use a paper towel to wipe distribute the oil all over. It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t need to be reasoned.

Betsy

Great recommendations. I have one item that I cannot live without, it is a Joseph Joseph slotted spoon. It was a total impulse buy at Sur la Table years ago. But I end up having to hand wash it, since I use it every day. I love the rubber grippy handle, and the spoon is a flat round if that makes sense. So great for really scrapping the bottom of a pan if needed. I love this thing. My boyfriend know my obsession with “the spoon”, and regularly tries to hide it from me. I actually just bought a second one for fear of not being able to get another one if the first should disappear. Here’s a link for it: https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-10168-Elevate-Integrated-One-Size/dp/B07FMFD65J/ref=asc_df_B07FMFD65J/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=272009130200&hvpos=1o2&hvnetw=g&hvrand=17981974304347127484&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9023908&hvtargid=pla-490479167178&psc=1

Min

Novice here. Great tips! Can someone help me differentiate between a blender and food processor? Whenever the recipe calls for a food processor, I’ll just use my blender and pulse. However, I’ve found that I usually need to add more liquid to get everything going. Will a food processor help? Do I need a food processor?

andrea

As someone who cooks almost every day, I would add a box grater as a basic and then, (like some of the other people have) a lemon squeezer as a must because it makes that job go so much faster and an immersion blender as a nice to have because you can blend in the pot if you’re making soups or tomato sauce, etc. To me, a garlic press is a must…and a little known fact, the one from IKEA is fantastic. I would amend your measuring cup to the pyrex version that has slanted numbers so that you can look at the measurements from the top. No more tilting your head to see the measurements…genius! You can get it at Target or William Sonoma or Crate and Barrel. Also, if you have a Home Goods or TJMaXX or Marshalls store, always check for everything you have listed. It’s the kind of thing they always have on sale. And there’s huge satisfaction in that!

chrissie

My new favorite kitchen item that changed my life and makes me so happy on a daily basis is a silicone ‘rollup, over the sink’ dish/fruit/vegetable rack – $30 on Amazon. You roll it out over part of your sink when needed and can dry dishes, rinse and drain fruits and vegetable etc directly into the sink – then roll it back up. And it comes in lots of colors (I like the white) and looks fine when left out as well. Love love love it. No more ugly dish rack or wet counter.

Linda

Only thing I would change is replace the Silipats with parchment paper. I can’t live with out it

Sophia F.

I am also an older millennial and the serious cook/baker among my friends, partly because I’m a mom. Your list is mostly spot on for me, though I’d go with a few good knives over a whole knife block. Things I use constantly that aren’t on your list: a really good pepper grinder that won’t crap out in a month, an immersion blender (salad dressing, soup, pasta sauce, smoothies in a mason jar), and an electric kettle for French press coffee, tea, and hurrying up the boil of a pot of water.

Melissa

Thank you for not recommending a set of pots. Yes, you can find great deals on sets. But most of them are the wrong size, or all stainless and you need a few nonstick skillets, and they never include a really big enough stockpot for soup or pasta. Buy the ones you really want individually, save up and get good quality, take care of them and you can pass them down.

The best pans I have are a brand from Italy called Piazza. Decades ago you could buy them through Williams Sonoma. I’ve seen them recently new on eBay through a wholesale supplier.

Caitlin

Great guide. I think I’d flip flop the silpat mats and the bench scraper (I have both as a baker, but cooked for years without either) with the cast iron skillet and the food processor. Also, I probably buy and destroy 3-5 rubber spatulas a year. 100% necessity, but man I’m hard on those guys.

Christina

Perfect post! I have (and use) all of these items (maybe not same brand but same item). They really do encompass 99% of cooking and baking, and I appreciate the thought that went into finding quality items that aren’t outrageously expensive.

The one thing you listed that I always forget to bust out are the Silpats, so thanks for the reminder; I’ll be using them tonight to save some cleanup!

The one thing you don’t have that I use frequently is a silicone muffin tin (I food-prep egg ‘muffins’ for breakfasts each week and this thing was a Game Changer for sure). Read reviews – some have a tendency to stick more than others. I got mine for about $12 on Amazon and it was worth every penny.

Dena

I love this list but I am a die hard luxury blender person. I make smoothies every single day as well as other uses for it. Nothing blends as smoothly, ha ha! I prefer Blendtec!

NSL

I love this round up and agree with so many of the points here! The only thing I would add is that in addition to a chef’s knife and a smaller paring knife, a good bread knife is an excellent tool to have; I’ve got an 8″ bread knife from F. Dick (recommended by Smitten Kitchen) and I love it so, so much.

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