Everything you Need to Outfit your Essential Kitchen from Top to Bottom
March 21, 2021
I’ve been cooking professionally for well over a decade, but more importantly, I cook at home every day, in my real kitchen with practical needs. For this post, I asked myself: How would I outfit my kitchen if I was starting from scratch? After much testing and debate, I pulled together this guide to highlight the absolute best tools and cookware for any home cook. Meet my essential kitchen, my most beloved and trusted tools of all.
KNIVES + CUTTING BOARDS
Everyone should own a good, sharp, chef’s knife. I love that this 5″ Wusthof knife is excellent quality and made out of one piece of steel. I also love how comfortable the grip is, and the size of the blade and finger guard. Ultimately you should select a chef’s knife that feels best in your hand. I also really like Global and Shun Knives.
I think a serrated knife is a must-have – especially if you love bread. There’s a chance you’ve never heard of Mercer Culinary, but it’s a staple for culinary students (I received one in my first kit!), so you know it’s good quality for a good price. Other than bread, you can use this to slice tomatoes and other soft-skinned fruits.
Another Mercer Kitchen knife made my list for the same reasons I listed above. It’s great quality for a great price. When it comes to investing in knives, I’d spend the most investment on your chef’s knife making sure it feels good in your hand and is well made and always sharp. When it comes to serrated and paring knives, I think they’re essential, but it’s not necessary to overspend on them.
I think far too many home cooks are using flimsy cutting boards that are likely making prep a lot more difficult than it should be. Every home cook should own a BIG cutting board that makes slicing and dicing more manageable while also remaining easy to use and clean. Epicurean is my favorite on the market because of its composite structure, ability to go in the dishwasher, and non-slip “feet” making it super stable.
I like having a separate cutting board for all of my proteins. This gel board is what I use when handling any sort of raw meat and I simply set it right on top of my big Epicurean board then toss it in the dishwasher once I’m finished. It’s non-porous surfaces resist odors and won’t dull knife blades and it also has the non-slip “feet” so it won’t budge.
Kitchen shears are easily overlooked as an essential, but once you have a great set of shears, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. They can tackle both tough and delicate jobs. From trimming pie dough to cutting up a homemade pizza, or snippings herbs, they are awesome. And if you have a baby or toddler, they are crucial for getting those tiny bites. Plus, they are dishwasher safe!
I swear by having a great box grater. It’s an indispensable tool. All four sides of this Cuisipro box grater are at what they’re designed to do. It has coarse, medium, and fine holes, and a slicer, which means it can grate whole spices like nutmeg, shred a block of cheddar cheese, slice a zucchini, and even zest an orange in a pinch.
Everyone should own a Microplane zester. I use it daily for things like zesting lemon or turning a wedge of Parmesan into “cheese snow” as my kids call it. A Microplane (which is the brandy but is now synonymous with zesters) is not a grater; it’s a tool to add an extra oomph of flavor. I like to position the zester over a mixing bowl and move whatever I’m grating back and forth instead of moving the actual zester. I’ve had mine for years and regularly give them as gifts to food lovers because once you have one, you’ll never want to be cooking in the kitchen without one.
This is the world’s most user-friendly peeler. I’ve worked with a lot of chefs and professionals in the kitchen and this peeler is hands down the universal favorite. It’s lightweight, super sturdy, and affordable. The sharp blade is super sharp blade is still delicate so it only peels away a thin layer.
The best way to tell when meat is done is to use a reliable instant-read thermometer to accurately check the internal temperature. I love my Thermoworks Thermapen – but admittedly it’s an investment. But I strongly feel that having a good digital thermometer is like having an insurance policy for dinner. So worth it.
I love that the OXO Nesting Bowls were built with functionality and compact storage in mind. The colanders are great quality and the lids provide a lot of versatility in food prep. After using these for a few months I started wishing that everything in my kitchen would stack or neatly nest in itself.
I’ve always preferred cooking with a wooden spoon over most cooking utensils. These have the look and feel of traditional wood but are far superior. These Epicurean utensils are made of a composite material won’t crack or stain and are dishwasher safe. Perfect for everyday use.
This set comes with a Small Spatula (best with saucepans and small mixing bowls), an Everyday Spatula (perfect tool for stirring, mixing, scraping), and a Spoon Spatula (a double-duty tool for scraping and scooping). The flexible edges are polished and beveled to get every bit from bowls and jar. I also like the long handles that have a sturdy nylon core and soft, non-slip grip. Finally, the non-scratch heat-resistant silicone construction is dishwasher safe.
This thin flexible spatula slips under and lifts even the most delicate fish filet, papery crepe, or Saturday morning pancake. This classic spatula has a nylon head heat resistant to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (so it won’t melt!), a stainless-steel wire neck, and soft, sure-grip handle. The turner is ideal for use on nonstick cookware and bakeware, and is dishwasher-safe.
…”but what if I don’t like or cook fish often?” You still need this spatula. I received my first on in my culinary school kit and have used it every week since. It’s flippy edge, elongated shape makes it perfect for maneuvering ingredients in a skillet, flipping odd shaped foods, or even easily transferring foods from a cooking surface to a platter. Honestly, it’s just one of those tools that is a general workhorse in my kitchen and I love it.
Spring loaded tongs are like an extension of your hands in the kitchen. I literally cannot cook comfortably without them. They can be used for everything from turning steaks to plating pasta or even serving salad. I like having a set with stainless steel tips and a second set with silicone tips for my non-stick cookware.
I’m a fan of having a few different sizes of whisk, and if I’m being honest, I prefer the smaller ones. I feel like I have more control with a smaller tool in my hand. So whether I’m whipping eggs, a vinaigrette, or something bigger like a mousse, you’ve always got the perfect size to get the job done.
One of those tools you didn’t know you needed until you have it…this whisk is designed to efficiently whisk gravy, roux, and sauces. The handle is comfortable and the durable stainless steel wires mix thoroughly with minimal effort. I also like the angled head and long handle efficiently reach into the edges and corners of pans.
I was first introduced to this as a baking tool (mostly used to scrape up dough and divide it into segments), but I’m convinced ALL home cooks need a bench scraper in their kitchens. I use it to transfer ingredients from a cutting board to pot or even to break up my shredded rotisserie chicken a bit more. It’s amazing for general kitchen cleanup and for scraping food off a countertop.
I like that this FUN stainless steel measuring cup set is rust resistant and that the measurements are engraved on the top which make them easy to read and a guarantee that they’ll never fade. I also like that I quickly associated a color with a specific measurement making it easier to grab the exact cup that I’m looking for.
Beyond loving a matching set…these magnetic measuring spoons are awesome. They easily stick together and they’re dual sided with a rounded end (ideal for measuring liquids) and a more narrow end (ideal for spice jars). The magnetic feature is what I love most. They store SO easily!
After having a can opener for years that I hated, I finally found a can opener I can always count on. I use a lot of canned beans and broths in cooking so I wanted a heavy duty option. This one doesn’t feel “cheap” in your hand and the knob turns really easily. Plus, it’s got a built-in magnet, which grabs the lid, and a special release lever, so you never have to get your hands dirty.
I use this tool for far more than just ice cream. This spring-loaded scoop has super powers. It’s great for LOTS of other things — like cookie dough, meatballs, watermelon, and more. If you’re only going to buy one, buy the medium sized scoop as it’s the most versatile, but I like having a small, medium, and large option.
I use A LOT of citrus in my cooking. A little citrus goes a long way when it comes to brightening up a flavor profile. Practically any recipe can be punched up with a squeeze of lemon juice. This juicer squeezes out every last drop, filters out seeds, and requires minimal effort to get maximum results. I like the two sizes incorporated depending on the size of your lemons or limes.
I use salt and pepper in nearly every savory recipe that I make. You simply can’t be cracked black pepper. You don’t need a fancy pepper grinder, just one that’s reliable. You’ll use this nearly every day. I like to situate it right next to my salt cellar and olive oil bottle.
Every beginner cook or newlywed couple should have a cast iron skillet (great gift idea!). A cast iron skillet is destined to become a family heirloom. Just think of all of the meals and memories you’ll make in this thing! I use this skillet in my oven, on my grill, for making steak, and weeknight dinners. Because they’re heavy (which means they conduct heat well), I really like a dual handle style.
I use my Always Pan every day most often multiple times a day from cooking eggs to boiling small batch pasta and making weeknight skillet recipes. This product promises to replace your fry pan, sauté pan, steamer, skillet, saucier, saucepan, non-stick pan, spatula, and spoon rest. That’s a tall order, and I still have some of those pots/pans, but I genuinely love this as a piece of multi-purpose cookware.
A Dutch oven is the perfect vessel for practically anything . There are lots of Dutch ovens out there, but this one is by far the best bang for your buck. It functions just as well as some of the “fancier” more expensive brands (Le Creuset, Staub, etc.). It’s consistently well reviewed and you can’t beat the price. With its tight-fitting lid it keeps moisture in the pot which results in tender cuts of meat and heart stews and chilis.
Home cooks place so much focus on skillets and frying pans which are important, but neglect the sauté pan. A sauté pan is a deeper skillet and the perfect blend between a saucepan and a skillet. It has enough surface area to sear, and enough depth to then add some liquid and braise low and slow.
I LOVE my non-stick bakeware for easy cleanup and even baking. The Non Stick line also utilizes a micro textured pattern to promote airflow and minimize surface contact for even baking. The square rolled edges make each piece easy to grip, and they are dishwasher safe. This is a great starter set that includes a sheet tray, muffin pan, cake pans, and a loaf pan.
No kitchen should be without an essential 13×9-inch pan. Whether it’s sweet or savory, there are countless recipes that call for this standard size baking dish. This non-stick option is go-to for brownies, blondies, sheet cake, casseroles, lasagna, etc. It’s great at delivering crispy edges to boot!
Similar to the pan above, this is another essential you should have in your kitchen. This is my official brownie pan, yielding perfectly crispy edges with chewy evenly cooked centers. The OXO micro-texture on the bottom promotes air flow and easy release when it’s time to slice.
These racks prevent cookies from continuing to bake on a sheet tray or having bread steam from the bottom up. I like that this particular style have little feet on the bottom so they can let air circulate while sitting on your counter. I also love that they fit in a half-size sheet tray (which I like to use for making bacon in the oven!).
If you’ve ever been annoyed by a basting brush that retains odors or bits of food, you must make the switch to a silicone basting brush. It works like natural bristle brush but with the added conveniences of heat resistance, odor resistance and cleanability. Multiple layers of silicone bristles tackle all tasks. Gaps in the center bristles hold liquid as you transfer sauce from the bowl to the work surface, and tapered outer bristles let you baste a turkey or roasts with ease. The silicone bristles are heat resistant to 600 degrees F so you can baste in a hot pan or on the grill, and the angled Brush head keeps bristles off the countertop. Cleanup is easy in the dishwasher, and these bristles won’t clump, frizz or retain odors.
Learning how to bake a pie is like a right of passage for a home cook. No kitchen should be without a proper pie dish. Whether you’re making pies for Thanksgiving, quiche for a baby shower, or a Chicken Pot Pie for a weeknight dinner, you’ll get a ton of use out of a proper pie dish.
An offset spatula is food for far more than just for frosting cakes and cupcakes. I use it to push brownie batter to the corners of my baking pans or to transfer cookies to a cooling rack. I also occasionally use it to test the doneness of baked potatoes or even flip pancakes. In a pinch, it’s what I’ll use to butter toast! I love this mighty little tool.
I’ve slowly started replacing all of my bakeware with the Non-Stick Pans by Nordic Ware because it saves me all that scrubbing time. When it comes to recommending product for successful sheet pan dinners, these non-stick sheet pans are #1 on my list. Oh! And there’s an amazing deal at Costco for them right now, so don’t wait!
I’m still a fan of owning a slow cooker in addition to the uber popular Instant Pot. (even though the Instant Pot has a slow cooker function.) Look for a slow cooker like this one that you can brown meat directly in the pot, it has three fully programmable cooking functions, and it will keep a dish warm for up to 24 hours. Love this one!
There’s a reason home cooks have been raving about air fryers for the past couple of years and if I’m being honest, I’m just disappointed that it took me so long to get on board. I think an air fryer is able to provide superior results to standard oven cooking when it comes to crispiness. An air fryer recreates the texture and crispiness you get when you fry food rather than softer texture you get when baking. I’ve found that even when I’m using the convection setting on my oven, I simply can’t get the results an air fryer provides when it comes to that crisp crunch.
The KitchenAid stand mixer was the one wedding gift I was crossing my fingers for. It’s a luxury item in the kitchen, but it’s a workhorse in the baking department. It can mix up cake batter, knead dough, shred chicken, even juice lemons, and more. This is the most popular model and the one that’s best for most home cooks.
Are you tired of dragging your huge blender out every time you need to puree baby food or make a quick sauce? So was I, that’s when this Braun blender came into my world. This product is a workhorse in the kitchen and one that assists the home cook with blending, chopping, whisking, pureeing, etc. (the list goes on). I find it easy to use and store with fantastic results thanks to the super sharp blade technology.
A good blender in an awesome investment that you’ll have forever. It churns out daily breakfast smoothies, the smoothest soups, frozen piña coladas, and even ice cream. It also has one of the most powerful motors on the market and comes with a seven-year warranty. I’ve worked in many professional restaurant kitchens that use this same model, if that tells you anything.
I use my Zojirushi Rice Cooker for nearly all grains. I use it so often it’s nearly earned a permanent spot on my kitchen counter. My favorite grain bowl lately has been the Apple Cheddar Grain Bowl. This is the ultimate “prep and forget” kitchen tool. The fact that it really only requires the push of a button to cook rice and grains properly is a gift to all home cooks.
My all time favorite food prep and leftover containers from Rubbermaid now come in both a durable plastic and glass! There is nothing as satisfying as that *click click* sound when I pop the lid on one of these containers. I use them for everything, and the best part is how well they stack in my fridge. I also love that the lids work with both the plastic and glass varieties. It’s the only food storage I use now!
I bought my first OXO pop-storage set while trying to maximize a pantry closet while living in a small NYC apartment. The sleek design, and uniformity of them sings to the inner organizer in my heart! I have slowly built a collection of almost exclusive OXO pop-storage in my pantry to keep ingredients fresh and maximize storage space. I like to empty pantry staples from their original packaging into an OXO container so that I can see and use it more readily.
For storing your dry goods for baking, these Prepworks containers are simply the best. The best thing about these containers is that they each have a special feature, depending on what they’re designed to hold. For example, the flour canister has a little bar across the top to help you level your measuring cup. And the brown sugar container comes with a terracotta disk to keep the sugar soft. So smart!