Let’s assume you already have the very basic building blocks of a stocked kitchen. If not, here are some fully-comprehensive guides to get you started from Cook Smarts, The Kitchn, and Serious Eats. Whether you’re more of a minimalist when it comes to the kitchen or you’re a gadget collector, we all have our go-to kitchen tools. I would say I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Over the years I’ve paired down my kitchen cupboards but still have more than a few things that only rarely get utilized. I’ll leave it to America’s Test Kitchen to tell you which exact products to purchase but I wanted to share with you the short list of my everyday kitchen essentials. These are basic kitchen tools that I use every single week.
A Good Set of Knives
I’m not sure how I cooked for so many years without a good set of knives. Sharp, high-quality knives will instantly transform your cooking experience. I had this set of Global knives that I picked out for my college graduation present hidden away in the back of my pantry while I cooked away with dull thrift store knives. I guess I was waiting to use them for my “real kitchen” someday. When I finally got over that silly notion and brought them out I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long. It is important to visit a store where you can test out different knives and pick the set that feels best in your hand. The different weights and shapes do make a difference so be sure to take the time to invest in the set best suited for you.
For years I passed over this inexpensive citrus press at the store. Instead I would squeeze citrus by hand, use a spoon to twist the juice out or use one of those pointy citrus cups to juice my limes and lemons. Looking back, I wasted a lot of time and energy. My citrus press is easily one of my most used items in the kitchen. I use it every day for my morning lemon water, to squeeze fresh citrus into sauces and vinaigrettes and to finish dishes with a touch of acid.
I was gifted my current microplane zester, which was an upgrade from the cheap one I had that I rarely used. With the addition of a nice handle, this kitchen tool somehow shot up to weekly use at my house. I use it mainly for citrus zest but it also comes in handy for garlic, ginger and more!
While it’s nice in theory to make everything from scratch, I’m far too practical for that. A good can opener, meaning one that doesn’t stick or grind gears, is important to have handy for pantry staples like canned beans and tomato sauce.
Half Sheet Pans
I’ll be honest, my half sheet pans are in serious need of an update. I’ve used the same pans, nearly daily, for years. The great thing about sheet pans is that, unlike pots and pans, there are really high quality options for under $25. I find rimmed pans more convenient and useful than cookie sheets. I use my half sheet pans mainly for roasting vegetables, which are a staple in my diet. I also use them for freezing overripe fruit for smoothies and of course baking the occasional cookie.
I love to cook in big batches so that I don’t spend every evening cooking a meal from scratch. Baking dishes are great for batch cooking enchiladas, baked oatmeal, fruit crisp. The midwesterner in me loves a good Hot Dish (casserole) or pasta bake. But a baking dish can also be used to roast meats and vegetables.
Everyone has their opinion about which type of cutting board is best. There are wooden ones, plastic ones, flexible ones, bamboo etc. Find the kind you like and get a couple of them. It’s nice to have separate cutting boards for fragrant items like onions and garlic, for fruits and vegetables and this is non-negotiable in my opinion, a separate cutting board for meat.
Another item I resisted for a long time is a salt bowl. I was loyal to the salt shaker but was always switching around which type of salt I used. Little did I know how much I was messing with my cooking with what seemed like such a small variance. After I read this article on salt I changed my ways. I now use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt and pinch it from my salt bowl to season to taste.
An Array of Spices
I don’t ever want to live in a world where salt and black pepper are the only spices used to season something. Spices are the flavor of life.. or something like that. I love to explore new spices and have a whole cupboard, in desperate need of re-organizing, bursting with spices but my go-to’s are cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, vanilla bean, ginger, paprika, chili flakes and bay leaves. I recommend reaching for recipes that challenge your usual spice routine so that you can more easily familiarize yourself with new flavors and interesting flavor combinations.
High-Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There are so many myths out there about olive oil, biggest of all that you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil. That’s just not true. First things first, you should only ever buy extra virgin olive oil, no other olive oil is worth your money because it’s void of flavor and health benefits. A true high-quality extra virgin olive oil has a high enough smoke point to roast, bake, even fry in! I use extra virgin olive oil for nearly every kitchen preparation. The only time I don’t is for a flavor preference, if I want sesame or coconut flavor in my dish. I don’t believe in “tasteless” or “neutral” oils – that means they stripped the flavor out of something that didn’t taste good in the first place, hello! So spend a little extra for extra virgin, find one that has a flavor you like and don’t ever look back.
All of these kitchen essentials are fairly budget friendly and will make cooking easier and more enjoyable. Next up, I’ll share some nice-to-haves and splurges. But first, I’d love to hear what your kitchen essentials are! What tools do you used every week in your kitchen?