This post contains Amazon Affiliate links which means that if you purchase something through one of these links, I will receive a small commission but your cost will remain the same. All items linked are the exact model/brand that I own unless I noted “similar” in parentheses.
When I’m leading cooking classes or lessons, the first thing that I usually talk about is the importance of setting up your kitchen with the tools and appliances that you will actually use most often, then getting rid of the “fluff” so you can stay organized and efficient. Sometimes the seemingly minor items can make a serious difference in your workflow.
I know for me, I own a lot of things that sounded cool at one point, but after a few years it’s clear that they might not have been the most practical choice. I know I’m not the only one – I have heard countless stories about ice cream makers, pasta machines and panini presses that sit in the back of the cabinet collecting dust.
I’ve written on this topic before, but I figured it would be fun to share a few of my must-have kitchen tools (in no particular order) plus a few not-so-frequently-used things that I could live without. Everything is linked so you can see the model I use. I would love to hear you chime in on this topic too so be sure to play along in the comments.
A versatile and well-maintained chef’s knife is hands-down the most important tool for any home-cook. I have several different ones but the one linked above is a recent favorite (disclosure: I actually received this knife for free to review it for another website – I ended up loving it!). In my experience, using dull knives is the quickest way to suck the joy out of cooking. It’s really hard to slice something thinly and worst of all, dangerous. If you invest in one thing on this list, make it a quality knife.
I use this cutting board every.single.day. I love that it’s made of silicon because it makes chopping a breeze, plus I can toss it right in the dishwasher if it comes in contact with any raw meat. Wood cutting boards are some of my favorite serving platters, but I prefer not to use them for actual chopping (unless it’s something dry like bread) because I feel like they are harder to clean/maintain and in my mind, the wood just soaks up all of that bacteria.
I am still digging my Instant Pot and I don’t care if I’m totally cliche for saying it. I use it for cooking big batches of grains and dry beans but it’s also seriously helpful for people with limited time to cook during the week. It’s easy to make meat for a crowd (like shredded chicken/pork) and can be used for any slow cooker recipe that you want to make about 6x faster (see my note on this further down). A few of my favorite instant pot recipes can be found here, here and here. If you have an IP, what is your favorite thing to make in it?
Adding fresh citrus juice is a great way to add brightness and flavor to a dish. Sure, you can squeeze limes and lemons by hand but you end up wasting a good portion of the fruit. Plus all of those lemon seeds… it can be a total pain. This citrus juicer has been a game-changer because it works really well to get the maximum amount of juice out – perfect for vinaigrettes, sauces, guacamole and cocktails. I use it almost daily.
A basic box grater is fine for most vegetables, but a microplane is a must-have for grating things directly into a mixing bowl or saute pan. Think fresh garlic or ginger, parmesan cheese, or lemon zest. It grates very finely as opposed to the larger shreds from a grater.
The cast-iron skillet isn’t totally necessary for cooking newbies, but it sure is a nice thing to have and you can find them really reasonably priced. I use it when I want to get a nice sear on a piece of protein or when I want to start something on the stove top then finish in the oven without transferring dishes. It’s great for frittatas, casseroles and pizzas. As a side note, if one of your life goals is to learn to make the perfect grilled cheese, this is a totally necessary purchase.
For years I used a run-of-the-mill, inexpensive blender but it never worked all that well. I splurged on the one linked with some gift cards and I can definitely say it was a great decision to spend a little bit more. If this broke tomorrow, I would hands-down purchase another one right away. I think someday I would like to do the Vitamix thing but for now, this one works great for the smoothies that I tend to make. The result is always perfectly smooth with no chunks left behind, and it doubles as our food processor. The Ninja isn’t as high an investment as the Vitamix, so it can be a nice in-between option. I also like that this model came with to-go cups and a separate blade attachment for when you want to make a single serving portable smoothie (so you don’t have to dirty the entire thing). We use these multiple times each week.
The Ones I Could Live Without
While there is nothing wrong with any of these, I probably just wouldn’t make an effort to replace them right away. I know many people swear by their slow cooker though so of course each person should form his/her own opinion.
The Instant Pot has essentially replaced my slow cooker. It does have a slow cooker setting but I mainly just use the pressure cooker setting to cook any of these recipes in way less time with the same results. I never really liked using the slow cooker to begin with because the timing never worked with our schedules. When I worked in an office, I would set it in the morning but then the meal would be done way earlier than we were ready to eat dinner so I worried about it over-cooking. It was all right for weekends, but again I just prefer to use the IP now.
This one might seem surprising. I love toast but I think when our toaster bites the dust I’ll be replacing it with a toaster oven instead because it’s so much more versatile. I like the idea of being able to bake, broil or even just heat up leftovers (mainly things like pizza or sandwiches) without turning on the full-size oven.
I actually really like the mandolin, but I don’t use it nearly enough. I rarely come across a recipe that requires using it, probably since most people don’t have one. It’s actually a great gift because it’s a fun tool to own, but for practicality sake I wouldn’t recommend it for amateur home cooks. The one I have has several parts and it can be a challenge to put together and adjust.
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