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21 Cooking Tools You Need in Your Kitchen

Prepare your kitchen with our list of the basic tools you’ll need.

The quarantine period was a great time to re-ignite my cooking skills. At first, it was challenging because my cupboard didn’t have the essential kitchen tools.

Kitchen utensils on wooden background

Being a single woman who ate out or at my friends’ frequently, stocking up on kitchen tools hardly crossed my mind until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

I started stocking up on kitchen items and have developed the habit. However, I quickly discovered it could be challenging to buy every other kitchen item at once because the cost can be appalling.

I also didn’t want to clutter my kitchen. Being a minimalist, I find these essential kitchen tools pretty handy.

Essential Kitchen Tools

If you don’t have these basics, stock your kitchen with these essential tools.


Cutting Board

A cutting board is a necessary tool for cutting fruits, vegetables, meats, and more. Some people cut directly on the countertop, but this is both bad for your counter surfaces and for hygiene.

A cutting board also provides a surface to cut against without destroying the counter space or plates.

The butcher block has been my favorite due to its durability, sturdy construction, and resistance to force.

Most such cutting boards are either made from flat grain or end grain wood, meaning the ends of panels have been glued together to create a firmer surface than single-plank boards.

Newer types of cutting boards like plastic and bamboo cutting boards also get the job done.


Measuring Cups and Spoons

Pastry recipes are all about precision, and measuring cups and spoons make the task easier.

I’m guilty of eyeballing ingredients, but I use these kitchen tools when I want to cook decent muffins, cakes, or bread.

They help measure small quantities of dry and wet ingredients more accurately, and I like that they come in different sizes (from ¼ teaspoons to a whole tablespoon), colors, and materials.

I’ve always preferred plastic ones because I only use them to measure ingredients, but if you want them to be dishwasher-safe, look for stainless steel measuring cups and spoons.

They’re easy to clean and won’t absorb the taste or odor of the cooking ingredients.


Tongs

I like treating my tongs as extensions of my hands because they’re super-handy.

Besides using them to flip chicken breasts and large pieces of meat in the oven, they can also be used to move ingredients on the sheet pan and frying pan.

They also help flip roasted veggies on the range and retrieve pasta from boiling water.

Buying tongs isn’t too complicated; simply look for one with stainless steel arms connected by a riveted hinge.

A metal spring controls the opening and closing system, but advanced versions have a locking mechanism.

I also love tongs with rubber or silicone handles, which make them easy to grip for extended periods.


Whisk

We can relate to the hassle of using spoons and forks to mix pancake batter, gravy, or whipping cream.

It’s taxing and doesn’t always yield the best results. A whisk is fast and more efficient, especially when mixing ingredients like oils and kinds of vinegar.

Whisks come in varying sizes, shapes, and colors, and they can be made from different materials like silicone and metal.

The most common balloon whisk is the best for beating egg whites and most other mixtures.

Like its name, it has a large, round shape that helps sweep the bottom of the bowl, eliminating the clumping of batters in the whisk’s crevices.

However, a French Whisk comes in handy if mixing thick batters or cooking mixtures like polenta.

I find stainless steel whisks better for pastry applications because they hardly impart their flavors to acidic recipes.


Colander

Draining pasta, rice, veggies, grains, and other foods is never easy without a colander.

The classic footed colander works great, but I find one that balances on the edges of the sink handier.

I started with a plastic colander before discovering the metal and ceramic ones. Now, I used a metal colander with fine holes, so none of my ingredients accidentally escape.

Metal is also safer when using boiling water, as it won’t melt or warp.


Large Baking Dish

This was the first item I added to my kitchen arsenal as soon as I started baking.

I found the large 13 x 9-inch baking dish pretty handy because I could serve various dishes in it.

Whether baking cake, roasting meat, or cooking lasagna, I could take it directly from the oven to the dining table and refrigerate the leftovers.

I carefully chose one with large handles to make lifting and carrying easy. The handles also make it easy to grab the dish with various implements, including silicone mitt and folded towels.

Make sure you have at least one large baking dish in your kitchen so that you can make casseroles, baked goods, roasts, and more.


Microplane Grater

I’ve always been a fan of the box grater until I discovered the Microplane grater.

It’s not as bulky as the box grater and is an excellent tool for grating hard cheeses, spices like nutmeg, and zesting fruits. I also love that it’s easy to clean and store, and it’s multi-functional.

I often use it to add thin sprinkles of Parmesan over pasta, or when baking recipes that require lemon zest.

Being able to grate directly into my food is a huge plus. I love this kitchen tool so much that I had to look for a larger one to shred potatoes and cheddar.


Saucepan 

A saucepan is the most versatile tool in a kitchen. I use it to boil potatoes, pasta, corn, and other frozen foods, as well as to make and heat sauces.

The vast surface area accommodates large food quantities, and the steep sides allow food to cook evenly.

The lid also makes it an excellent item for simmering broth and soup. The trick is to purchase different sizes for different uses.

I started with the small 1.5-quart saucepan because I lived alone and used it to boil small items like rice, eggs, and oatmeal.

However, I quickly realized I needed a larger one to prepare food for larger groups and went shopping for 3-quart and 4-quart saucepans.


Sheet Pan

The sheet pan is another handy kitchen item every cook should add to their arsenal.

Besides baking cookies, I use it to roast veggies, cook chicken with veggies and foil-wrapped fish fillets. I’ve also used it to transform boring leftovers into crunchy, edible delicacies.

A sheet pan also helps on those lazy afternoons when I’m not in the mood for lengthy prep recipes.

The large surface area means I can roast veggies alongside chicken thighs and potatoes for a complete meal that only requires an oven and a sheet pan.

The trick is to monitor their cooking times and mix ingredients that cook well together.


Vegetable Peeler

This item makes preparing recipes much easier. Invented as early as 1947, the veggie peeler was designed to peel potato skins.

The item has been re-invented over the years, making it a multi-purpose tool in the kitchen.

I use it to slice onions, slice and dice veggies for fancy salads, and make zucchini noodles.

And if the Microplane grater is dirty, I use the vegetable peeler to make cheese and chocolate shavings.

It produces long, thin strips that melt faster and complement some dishes. Chocolate shavings, for example, are an excellent addition to chocolate cakes.


Box Grater

The Microplane grater has made its way onto the essential kitchen tools list, nearly phasing out the traditional box grater.

In my opinion, the box grater is still a vital kitchen tool. It has four sides which are critical when grating food items like cheese.

The largest shredding holes are helpful when grating semi-hard cheeses like Fontina, cheddar, and Gruyere for making casseroles and tacos.

They also come in handy when grating fresh produce like apples, zucchini, or carrots.

The smaller holes are useful for recipes that need finely grated chips, while the tiniest make the finest strands of cheese or other ingredients.


Can Opener

Most cans don’t have pull tabs, making them challenging to open, but this task is a breeze with a can opener.

I use the basic hand-held can opener, which consists of two handles and a cutting wheel. 

If you want to eliminate the hand stress associated with squeezing the handles and turning the knob you can purchase an electronic can opener, usually mounted on the wall or the counter.

I’m careful to rinse the cutting wheels after use to remove food residue which causes rust.

Washing it in a dishwasher occasionally also goes a long way in lengthening its life.


Chef’s Knife

A good chef’s knife is one investment I can never regret making.

It makes chopping carrots, boning chicken, and mincing parsley, among other tasks, super-easy.

A good rule of thumb is to look for a sturdy knife with a balanced handle, solid riveted construction, and made from long-lasting material.

I have a carbon-plated stainless steel knife I’ve used for the last three years. I love that it doesn’t get blunt quickly and is comfortable handling.

It’s neither too heavy nor super-light to control; rather, it feels balanced in my hand. Dull knives can slide on slick food products easily and need lots of force to cut effectively.


Instant-Read Thermometer

I always eyeballed meat to find out if it was done. If it was tender and had changed color to a nice brown color, I was confident the food was ready to serve.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably returned the chicken, turkey, or beef to the oven because it was undercooked.

This was my life until I discovered the instant-read thermometer. It determines the doneness of poultry and meats, preventing you from undercooking or overcooking them.

Typically, you must cook food to a temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria. For steak, an internal temperature of 145 F means it’s safe to eat, while for poultry, a temperature of 165 F should suffice.

Check out our favorite meat thermometers to add to your kitchen.


Kitchen Shears

This is another must-have for any chef or home cook.

A pair of kitchen shears helps cut a whole chicken, snip fresh herbs, trim pie crusts, cut parchment paper, and much more.

I often assumed an arsenal of the chef’s knife, the regular kitchen scissors, bread knife, and serrated knife were enough to do routine chores until I discovered the kitchen shears.

Suddenly cutting a chicken’s backbone wasn’t much of a task. I also find it helpful when opening food packages, cutting dough to make rolls, and slicing bread dough to make decorative shapes.

Be sure to look for a pair made from rust-proof materials.

You can also get a full arsenal of knives at once with knife sets that include all the types of knives you need.


Spatulas

I find a spatula equally valuable for any modern kitchen. It makes it easy to flip pancakes and delicate fish pieces without breaking them.

I also use it to scrape thick sauces out of bowls, fold whipped egg whites, spread frosting, and dislodge batter from the bowl.

The silicone-coated spatula has been my all-time favorite because it doesn’t scratch my non-stick pans.

Adding other types like a metal spatula, high-heat silicone spatula, and metal turner increases the versatility of your kitchen arsenal.

The metal fish spatula, for example, has a slim edge that slips under browned foods easily, while the metal turner lifts lasagna and bar cookies effortlessly.


Nonstick Skillet

The nonstick skillet is a great multi-purpose item in a kitchen.

Its thick, heavy bottom and sides ensure heat is distributed evenly and retained for long periods.

I also love the beautiful sear it creates on steak and the fact that I can place it in an oven directly when baking cornbread.

I love crowning my dishes with melted cheese, and the skillet makes it easy because it’s oven-safe. I usually place it in the oven directly from the stovetop to add that wow factor.

The nonstick skillet is also insanely versatile allowing me to roast, deep-fry, sauté, and braise foods.


Pepper Mill

Freshly-ground pepper beats pre-ground hands down. It has a unique fruity flavor and aroma you won’t find in pre-ground pepper.

That’s because peppercorns release volatile oils when cracked, which dissipate quickly in pre-ground pepper, causing the flavor to diminish over time. 

A pepper mill grinds the peppercorns into fragments, retaining their spicy flavor for a long time. It also makes it easy to choose a suitable grind size.

I prefer finely-grounded pepper, but coarse pepper is more helpful when preparing salads, poultry, meats, and fish. I also place it at the table for those who want to add some zing to their dishes.


Prep Bowls

A set of prep bowls helps organize ingredients, sometimes doubling up as serving dishes when friends visit.

I love the collapsible prep bowls because they save on counter space and come with covers to seal off ingredients until they’re ready to cook.

Metal and glass bowls are also handy for those looking for less porous materials than plastic.

They hardly pick up odors or stains, retaining the ingredients’ natural taste and flavor.

A prep bowl set comes with one large bowl for chopping salads, prepping cake mixes, and smaller ones to keep each component neatly organized.


Dutch Oven

The Dutch oven is another versatile kitchen accessory after the nonstick skillet.

I can sear proteins, simmer stews, braise cuts of meat, and even bake bread in the pot.

It has a cast-iron core that creates the perfect sear on meat and an enamel coating that prevents sticking when cooking veggies.

I also find a Dutch oven pretty handy when batch cooking because it retains heat. I can slow cook soups for hours while running errands.

Dutch ovens come in different sizes (2-9 quarts), but the 5.5 Quart oven is the most popular.

I can cook soup for a crowd, sear a whole chicken, and braise short ribs with this size.


Wooden Spoon

It’s called a cook’s best friend for a good reason.

The wood material is sturdy enough to scrape the bottom of pans but soft enough not to damage cookware.

The wood material is also heat-resistant preventing one from burning when stirring hot sauces and food.

I also love that wooden spoons are non-reactive to highly-acidic foods and hardly leave a nasty, metallic taste like metal spoons. 

I have half a dozen of them in different sizes and shapes for various applications.

I can stir a pot of stew, sauces, and brownie batter, taste soup, and make the creamiest risotto with a wooden spoon.


Essential Kitchen Tools

  1. Cutting Board
  2. Measuring Cups and Spoons
  3. Tongs
  4. Whisk
  5. Colander
  6. Large Baking Dish
  7. Microplane Grater
  8. Saucepan
  9. Sheet Pan
  10. Vegetable Peeler
  11. Box Grater
  12. Can Opener
  13. Chef’s Knife
  14. Instant-read Thermometer
  15. Kitchen Shears
  16. Spatulas
  17. Nonstick Skillet
  18. Pepper Mill
  19. Prep Bowls
  20. Dutch Oven
  21. Wooden Spoon

Final Thoughts

Of course, you’ll also need plates, bowls, forks, spoons, and knives to eat with!

This essential kitchen tools list gives you a great head start, whether you’re starting a cooking career, want to hone your home cooking skills, or improve the quality of utensils in your kitchen.

You don’t have to buy all the items at once. The trick is to start with multi-purpose items and stock on other things later.

Once you have the essentials, check out other kitchen tools like a magnetic strip to safely store your knives.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.