These are the 21 essential tools for every kitchen, whether you are a first-time cook or a seasoned pro. This comprehensive list includes the knives, hand-held tools, and cooking instruments essential for home cooking.
You don’t need a can opener to open a can. Instead of clipping a gadget onto your next can of beans and spinning it around in a perfect circle to loosen the aluminum top, you could stab the can with a knife. And make hacks that sound like nails on a chalkboard to carve out enough jagged slices that you can finally extract those beans.
But if this doesn’t sound like the most pleasant kitchen activity (or a good use of your best knives), it can be nice to have a can opener to rely on. A kitchen set up with the rights tools is a kitchen that’s a pleasure to use. Not to mention, one that you’re more likely to cook in! When you’re not held back by the tools and equipment on hand at home, you can have more experimentation and creativity in the kitchen. Plus, filling your kitchen with these essential tools will help you enjoy the act of making food at home, whether it’s just for yourself or for a crowd.
On the other hand, having a well-stocked kitchen does not mean that you have to go crazy and buy every gadget late-night infomercials have to offer. There’s no need to stuff your kitchen storage areas so full that you’re hit with an avalanche every time you open a cabinet. It’s best to find a healthy balance that suits your cooking needs and interests and the space available in your kitchen.
Here is a comprehensive list of the 21 essential tools for your kitchen (once you have that can opener handled):
21 Essential Cooking Tools Every Kitchen Needs
1. One good chef’s knife
While you’ll find knives in all kinds of fun shapes, you really just need one large knife, long enough to chop up a head of romaine in one slice and wide enough to also be used as a surface to transfer a few minced garlic cloves to a pan.
2. A paring knife
For smaller tasks, like taking the tops off strawberries, it helps to have a shorter, more wieldy tool.
For any recipe that has you flippin’ and flappin’ (pancakes, fish, burgers, roasted veggies, and much more), you’re going to need a spatula. A fish turner is useful for its low profile and angled edge. No fish required.
There’s only so many times you’re willing to try to whisk something with a fork, just to realize an actual whisk will get the job done before your forearms start to ache.
5. Slotted spoon
This handy tool allows you to enjoy noodles without the sauce or to fish out simmered vegetables from a pot of water.
6. Silicone Spatulas
These flexible spatulas are key for getting that last bit of brownie batter out of the bowl, for reaching that peanut butter on the bottom of the jar, for the last drip of anything. A variety of sizes of flexible silicone spatulas are your best friend.
These are like fingers, only without that tendency to sizzle and burn when they touch scaling hot chicken. Tongs are an extension of your self, your robo-grabbers. Those with a locking ability will help you grab heavy items more securely and keep your drawers more organized.
No one wants to accidentally dump out a whole pot of pasta because you were trying to get that last bit of water out. Invest in a colander with small holes for draining and washing fruits and veggies. The best ones have feet on the bottom to hold them steady and above the flat of your sink.
9. Meat thermometer
Some people like to pretend they have some kind of mystical relationship with meat where they just know when it’s done. Good for them. The rest of us can now get thermometers that beep when it’s perfect.
10. Measuring cups and spoons
With some recipes, you can wing it and guesstimate. But others, especially those of baking, require exact measurements. If you get measuring utensils with the amount etched rather than printed on the surface, that essential info won’t wash off in the dishwasher.
11. Prep Bowls
From small ramekins that hold your mixed spices to large bowls where you can toss chopped potatoes in oil, prep bowls give you room to get everything ready before you turn on the heat.
12. Non-stick frying pan
Your eggs with thank you. These pans help you keep oil use down and still have a no-mess meal. Make sure you use plastic or wooden utensils so you don’t scratch the surface.
13. Kitchen shears
A sharp, clean pair of kitchen shears are not for opening the mail. They can cut pizza, quarter a chicken, and make quick work of a bunch of cilantro. Make sure you get the kind that easily come apart for easy cleaning.
14. Cast-Iron Skillet
If you ever want to cook steak indoors, you’ll need a good cast-iron skillet. They’re also wonderful for browning, baking, and can be taken on your camping trips. They do require a little bit of extra care to prevent rusting and to keep them in tip-top condition. You don’t want to use soap on them, you have to dry them immediately, and you should rub some oil in the bottom after every use.
The higher sides of saucepans discourage evaporation and allow you to make soups, stews, and (of course) sauces. A set with glass lids will allow you to peak in at the action below. Get a variety of sizes for small jobs to big batch-cooked meals. The larger ones are often called stock pots, and are great for soups, stews and making pasta.
16. Sheet pan
Also called a cookie or a baking sheet, these are classic for roasting veggies and any other task where you need lots of horizontal space in the oven. Look for ones with a lip around the edge so juices don’t waterfall down and make a mess on the bottom of your oven. If you want to minimize clean-up, line yours with parchment paper every time.
17. 13×9 Baking Dish
Do you want to make lasagna? You need a baking dish. Where would the ‘50s have been without them? Some now come with plastic lids to keep that casserole fresh in the fridge. Make sure yours is oven-safe, and bonus if it’s broiler-safe too!
18. Box Grater
This kind of grater not only makes delightful powder or large shards of cheese from whole blocks, it also keeps it all in a nice pile within the gadget. The other kind of grater, a flat grater, requires you to grate food directly over a bowl while keeping both still and trying to not grate and you can see why the box is a better idea. Even better if your box grater has an attachment on the bottom to catch all of those delicious falling bits of cheese!
19. Vegetable peeler
So technically, this is one job you could do with a small paring knife, but a peeler is much faster, easier, and makes perfect cuts that don’t waste a lot of food. You can use them not only to get the skin off potatoes, but to make slivers of carrots or zucchini to top salads.
20. Cutting boards
Large and small, plastic and wood. Skip glass, which is too hard for your knives and will dull their blades (not to mention they’re breakable and loud to cut on). A large bamboo board is great for major prep, a small one nice for slicing citrus for drinks, and you’ll want plastic for any raw meat. Keep your meat and vegetable cutting boards separate for food safety.
21. Can opener
Last, but certainly not least, the tool that let’s you extract food from cans! Without it, we’re left with a difficult to nearly impossible task. A mechanical hand-cranked can opener is easy to use, small to store and will last for decades.
And there you have it: the 21 essential tools that every kitchen needs to be fully functional and, most importantly, fun to cook in! Many of these tools can be found in sets together and most of them cost less than $20. Garage sales and thrift stores are also a great place to pick these up if you need a full kitchen and want to stay in budget. Many of the items above will last a lifetime, so making a small investment today will pay off with years of delicious home cooking.
Don’t forget to leave us a comment below if you have other tools you use frequently enough to consider essential.