Whether you’re looking to declutter or just starting out, we’ve rounded up a list of essential kitchen tools for every home cook.
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No matter what size your kitchen is, you’ll always find a way to fill it – right? But when space is limited and you’re cooking in a tiny apartment kitchen like ours, you learn to stick with just the essentials. Maximizing the versatility of your utensils, cookware, and appliances not only helps you save on space, but can actually help you cook more efficiently. So even if you’re blessed with a large, spacious kitchen, you can also benefit from paring down your kitchen tools to only what you need.
We’ve put together a list of our essential kitchen tools, from cast iron pans to spatulas and cutting boards, organized by type below. These are the tools we use every day in our own kitchen, for every recipe we make, and they’ve never let us down! Whether you’re just starting to build your arsenal or looking to declutter your kitchen cabinets, use this list as a guide to sticking with just the essentials.
Knives and cooking utensils come in many shapes and sizes – and there’s no shortage of task-specific gadgets you could collect and fill all your kitchen cabinets with. But you only really need 3 knives, a pair of scissors, and a few spoons, spatulas, and tongs to chop, slice, dice, and stir your way to success.
Here are our recommendations for essential kitchen utensils:
- Chef’s knife, 8-inch – For chopping, slicing, and dicing vegetables (see our recommended knife here); works great for larger foods like onions, potatoes, and meat.
- Paring knife – For making more precise cuts; great for slicing strawberries, apples, or cheese
- Serrated knife – For slicing bread
- Scissors – Useful for cutting everything, from opening packets to slicing pizza
- Wooden spoon – For making sauces, risottos, and stir-fries
- Ladle – For serving soups, chilis, and sauces
- Metal spatula – Perfect for use on cast iron (as long as they have a beveled edge)
- Plastic spatula – For use with nonstick pans, so as not to damage the coating
- Rubber spatula – For scraping out appliances, pots, and pans when making sauces, condiments, and baked goods
- Small spatula, rubber or metal – For serving casseroles, small baked goods, and other foods
- Metal tongs – For flipping, tossing, and transferring foods to and from hot surfaces
- Silicone tongs – Great for picking up more delicate foods that metal tongs might damage, and best for nonstick pans
There are a few odds and ends you’ll need to make any recipe – cutting boards, strainers, measuring cups and spoons, etc. While these items may seem like no-brainers, it’s helpful to put some extra thought into their form and function when purchasing them for your kitchen. Carefully choosing the right materials, sizes, and multi-purpose items can really help you maximize efficiency in your kitchen – both when it comes to actually cooking and finding storage space.
Here are the kitchen tools we rely on that every home cook should have:
- Wooden cutting boards, large and small – If you take care of them properly, wooden cutting boards are more sanitary (and nicer to your knives) than plastic cutting boards
- Plastic cutting board – We recommend owning at least one large plastic cutting board for handling raw meats to avoid cross-contamination (plus, it’s easy to deep-clean in the dishwasher)
- Sieve/fine mesh strainer – For straining and/or rinsing pasta, vegetables, or canned beans
- Spider strainer – These special types of strainers are particularly helpful for frying or boiling
- Whisk – A small or medium-sized whisk is handy for making sauces and baked goods (we use this mini one for almost everything)
- Cheese grater – We always recommend shredding or grating cheese fresh from a block for the best results
- Peeler – A high-quality, super sharp peeler like this self-sharpening one will last a lifetime and take the hassle out of peeling vegetables
- Can opener – If you want to take advantage of using canned goods in your recipes, you need a way to open them!
- Digital meat thermometer – An essential tool to avoid under- or over-cooking meat (and stop having to guess if it’s cooked or not)
- Silicone pastry brush – For brushing foods with melted butter, egg washes, sauces, or glazes during cooking or baking
- Measuring cups – Essential for baking, highly recommended for cooking
- Measuring spoons – Same as the measuring cups, just smaller
- Mixing bowl set – Useful for mixing ingredients, dredging, and marinating
- Prep bowl set with lids – A large set of small bowls with lids like these ones is so handy for prepping, like portioning chopped veggies, mixing spice blends, and cracking eggs (otherwise known as your mise en place), plus they’re great for storing leftover veggies, sauces, and condiments in the fridge
- Kitchen towels – They’re not just for drying the dishes; use them to grab hot pans or lids, dry produce after washing, keep tortillas warm, or cover raw doughs as they rise
From mismatched cookie sheets to a towering stack of frying pans, pots and pans can be the biggest storage headache in any kitchen. So why not try to downsize and keep only what you actually need?
As long as you’re not cooking a 5-course meal for 10 people and have a ton of things on the stove at once, you can really cook anything with a few simple pots and pans:
- Cast iron skillet, 10-inch – You can cook pretty much anything in a cast iron skillet, and as long as you know how to properly care for cast iron it will last for generations
- Frying pan, 8-inch – Useful for anything you don’t want to make in cast iron (or when you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to clean the cast iron after dinner)
- Large sauté pan – Helpful for making large batches of anything you’d cook on the stovetop, like veggies, rice dishes, or enchilada filling
- Cast iron grill pan – This is an essential piece of cookware if you want to grill but don’t have a grill (or a yard to put one in!); in our experience, this cast iron pan works just as well as a gas grill
- Wok – Essential if you do any Asian cooking and want to make delicious stir-fries (and if you invest in a high-quality wok like this one, it will last a lifetime)
- Aluminum sheet pans – We recommend having 2 to 3 large sheet pans like these that stack together for easy storage; they can be used to bake anything from cookies and pizza to roasted veggies and chicken
- Pots – Just a few different sizes can provide all the versatility you need in the kitchen; we use our 1.5-quart and 3-quart saucepans for making sauces and small batches of soup, and our 5-quart pot for boiling pasta, potatoes, and veggies
Small kitchen appliances like blenders, mixers, and air fryers are what we like to call “optionally essential.” Meaning that you can technically go without them, but having them around will make your life so much easier. They can speed up processes that would take forever to do by hand, and can produce more consistent results than other methods.
Depending on what you like to cook at home, we recommend these essential appliances:
- Blender – You can use a powerful blender like this one to easily make sauces, purées, and other condiments (they’re not just for smoothies!)
- Food processor – Helpful for quickly pulverizing vegetables and making chunkier and/or thicker dips and sauces that might not work as well in the blender, like hummus or salsa
- Stand mixer – A game-changer and time-saver for making homemade doughs, batters, and more (check out our pick here – it’s cheaper than a KitchenAid and well worth the investment)
- Air fryer – Not necessarily essential for everyone, but we definitely recommend owning one if you’re a fan of fried food or frozen french fries
- Slow cooker – Another non-essential essential, depending on your cooking style; we recommend slow cookers for anyone who’s always busy and likes to meal prep in big batches
What are your essential cooking tools? Are there any items that didn’t make the cut but you think should be listed? Sound off in the comments below!