Tuesday 10: My Favorite Kitchen Tools

Here’s an insider secret for you: I don’t have a fancy, pro-level kitchen. Our cute little house was originally intended to be a rental property, so the applicances are bottom-of-the-line. Both our gas stove/oven and refrigerator successfully fulfill their functions — making things hot and keeping them cool, as required — but they would not appear in anyone’s dream kitchen. Add to that the fact that I don’t like to have a lot of gadgets around, and my kitchen isn’t really anything too special. I like to think that I bring the magic and that not much more than quality ingredients are required to make awesome food.

I’m asked a lot for recommendations on the best kitchen gadgets and appliances to make cooking more fun and less time-consuming, so I thought I’d share 10 of my favorite, mostly-affordable kitchen basics.  The tools on the list below are the ones I use in my kitchen every day. (Plus, I totally recommend all the stuff in my Amazon store.)

10 Favorite Kitchen Tools

1. A good knife
Just about everything worth eating begins by chopping some stuff. Don’t believe me? Chocolate Chili. Turkish Chopped Salad. Meat and Spinach Muffins. Tabbouleh. Vietnamese Chicken Salad. They all start with chopping. And to avoid lopping off fingertips and to make kitchen prep as fast as possible, you need a knife that’s an extension of you. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but you need to feel confident using it, and it needs to be sharp. I use an 8-inch chef’s knife for just about everything. Here are two my favorites: a somewhat expensive Wusthof and an inexpensive, but awesomely reliable Komachi (in pink, no less!)

1a. A knife sharpener
The knife is no good to you if it’s not sharp. And the way you’ll cut yourself most often in the kitchen is by using a dull knife on something slippery, like an onion. I became an expert on dicing onions with my hand wrapped in a towel because I cut myself so many times, then I got smart and spent $20 on a knife sharpener. Be smart right outta the gate! Get a knife sharpener at the same time you buy your knife and keep that blade honed. This Westhof sharpener was recommended to me by the chef at Whole Foods, and it works really well.

2. A slow cooker
I’m not a fan of stew and chili cooked in the slow cooker because no matter how carefully I follow a recipe, everything always comes out kind of mushy and watery. But man, oh, man! I love to roast meat in my Crock-Pot (like the 5-Spice Pork Ribs). After my ’70s-inspired model bit the dust, I bought myself this programmable Crock-Pot, and it is badass.

3. A big cutting board
For years, I used a bamboo cutting board that was 18 inches long. As much as I liked the look and feel of it, I was always running out of real estate. A few months ago, I bought myself this monster, and it’s AWESOME. You don’t need to cover your entire counter top like I did, but — just as you always need a bigger bowl than you initially think — you can’t really have a cutting board that’s too big.

4. A solid sauté pan
We own two of these Analon 12-inch sauté pans, and I use them for everything — to steam-sauté veggies, fry egg foo yong, make the Hot Plates I describe in Well Fed, re-heat soup and chili. It’s my go-to pan, and at most meal times, I have both going at the same time: one for me and one for Dave. This thing is a workhorse!

5. Graduated measuring spoons
Although I prefer my clothes, shoes, and hair to be jet black, I like my kitchen gadgets colorful. And even though I have a set of grown-up stainless steel measuring spoons, the ones I reach for most often are the plastic sets in bright colors. Both measure with equal accuracy, so you can choose the ones that you like the best. I have four sets of measuring spoons in the drawer because we use so many, so often. Fun and colorful, or serious stainless, you choose.

6. Graduated measuring cups
Ditto on the measuring cups. At one point, I had two sets of white plastic measuring cups in graduated sizes. All that’s left of them are two 1-cup and one 1/2-cup, and they’re my favorite. I also own a set of brightly-colored measuring cups and stainless steel including odd sizes (1/3 cup, 2/3 cup, 3/4 cup) and a honkin’ 2-cup that Dave got me for Christmas one year. That man knows what I like! Fun and colorful, or serious stainless, you choose.

7. Large, rimmed baking sheets
I’m a Cook’s Illustrated devotee, and they almost always recommend a rimmed baking sheet in their recipes — and I routinely ignored their suggestion, sometimes to my detriment. For my birthday this year, Dave got me two big rimmed baking sheets (by request, and in addition to other gifts… I don’t want you thinkin’ he’s unromantic!), and they’ve made working with the oven exponentially easier. They’re perfect for lining up meatballs for baking, roasting spaghetti squash, and making kale chipsThese are the ones I use. Trust me; get two!

8. A julienne peeler
Since going full paleo/Whole30 in 2009, I’ve lost the taste for pasta. Honestly. It’s like a mouthful of wet sand — so bland and gluten-y. But the experience of winding longs strands, preferably doused in something scrumptious, is something I still crave. Which is why I always include spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles in my Weekly Cookup. A julienne peeler is a must-have for turning zucchini, cucumbers, and other long vegetables into noodles. The OXO makes fatter strands (like regular spaghetti), and this Kuhn makes very thin strands (like angel hair). I have both, naturally.

9. A workhorse food processor
Delicious dino-chow would be almost impossible without a food processor. A processor makes stuff like cauliflower rice, baba ghanoush, pesto, tahini dressing, and Sunshine Sauce in a flash. This is the model I have, and it’s highly rated by Cook’s Illustrated, too. Plus, you can always use it to make homemade mayo — although I like my blender for that. If you don’t mind having one more kitchen gadget, a stick blender has highly recommended for homemade mayo by many of my readers; I just can’t bring myself to add another gadget to my cabinets.

10. A mandoline slicer
I resisted investing in a mandoline slicer for ages because, as I already mentioned, I didn’t want more clutter in my kitchen. I was a fool! There is nothing better for making cucumber salad than a mandoline slicer — and now that I have the damn thing, I use it every day. Zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, onions… the taste and texture change when they’re sliced paper-thin. It’s lovely! I got this one from Swissmar Borner, and it works like a champ. NOTE: Be sure to buy a mandoline that comes with a hand guard and never, EVER, NEVER-EVER use it without the hand guard. Ever.

Turn it up to 11: Other fun gadgets
Those 10 are my big essentials to keep thing hummin’ in my kitchen. Here are some other gadgets that I added to my arsenal. I use them all at least once a week, so I don’t resent them for taking up room in my drawers and cabinets.

garlic press: I’m terrible at mincing garlic with a knife, so I love this press. It’s pricey, but worth it.
silicone pancake rings: for making egg foo yong patties
bamboo spoons: essential for everything from tossing salad to stirring chili to sautéeing veggies
lemon zester: citrus zest adds zing to just about anything (and this thing does wonders on garlic, too)
lemon squeezer: I thought I didn’t need one until I got one. So much easier than the “insert fork and twist” method
kitchen scale: Super helpful when scaling recipes to double, halve, etc.

Do you have a favorite kitchen gadget I missed?

Let’s talk business: The links above go to Amazon, and if you buy something using those links, I get a little $$-kickback. But that’s not why they’re listed; this is the stuff that makes my kitchen life better and you might like it, too.

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  • Weekly cookup–please, oh please, make a video for the cooking impaired – how do you get it all done so quickly? And, really, a 5-minute clean-up. I need training. Would be happy to buy a video like this. Well Fed is the cookbook I go to most often — love it!

    • Veronica says:

      Me too! I have tried but I invariably spend 3 hours in the kitchen and am exhausted by the time I’m done. I swear I’m not slow! I’d pay for a video.

      • Megan says:

        me three! I really lack in the speedy kitchen skills – trying to cook real food meals even for just two seems to take a minimum an hour for cooking, plus other food projects, plus cleaning – I feel like I never leave the kitchen from the time I get home from work until the time I go to bed!

  • hilah says:

    long time reader, first time poster 🙂

    I love your blog. Love your recipes. Love the cookbook. Have ordered so many to take as hostess gifts.

    Favorite not on your list: my vitamix. It does it all.

  • Patrick says:

    It was an investment, but we absolutely love our All-Clad d5 4 qt saute/simmer pan, which we use daily. It heats quickly, cooks evenly, and cleans easily…that’s the Triple Crown for me.

  • Kelly R says:

    My favorite kitchen gadget is my food processor. It was the best money I ever spent! I find myself hauling it out from the bottom cabinet at least three times/week. Now if only I could find someone to wash it when I’m done using it!

  • Diana Moll says:

    I use my little electric coffee grinder not for coffee, but to fresh grind spices like cumin, also for chia and raw chocolate nibs. But I loved the pink knife! had to get one of those <3

  • Beth Currie says:

    Mandolin slicer? I may have to buy another one. I had one. I had a really nasty experience with some parsnips, the slicer one early Sunday morning. Said incident was the third kitchen sharp-thing related incident I’d had (the two other were knife related). This incident was the worst. I tried to tape everything up, but the fingers were still bleeding the next day at work. This is a bad thing when attempting to prepare tax returns! Off to the Med-Express place for wound debridement and gluing. It was at this point that my husband, who was leaving to work 2,800 miles away from me and the kids for awhile, took away said mandolin slicer. Took away meaning – he threw it in the trash while I was not home.

    I have suggested a knife skills class for Hanukah to prevent further injuries and this might happen for 2012, but I don’t know about bringing another mandolin slicer into our house.

    I did notice some special gloves that could be purchased as a “recommended item.” Hmmm… I think I’d like the gloves better if they were actually ring mail!


    • Nelly says:

      I’m missing a knuckle due to being 17 and using a mandoline (as we call it – man-do-leen). The gloves or some kind of hand guard are probably a good buy. If you don’t chop yourself up, they are sooo useful, though!

  • Kim Kelly says:

    I love, love, love my Vitamix. It’s a relatively new item in my kitchen and now used multiple times a day.

    Also adore my cherry red Le Creuset collection. Love the big deep french ovens and braiser pots. But I went a bit nuts and I have the stone ware as well. Crazy for this stuff.

    And another love, is my Nespresso. Mmmmm Espresso!

    • Nelly says:

      I am in total lust with everything Le Creuset. Seriously, my friends and I went to a cookery store displaying like everything they make, aaand there were sex noises made. I just can’t decide between color schemes! When I’m rich and famous I’ll have multiple kitchens – one for each color.

      • Denise says:

        I love Le Creuset. I have a piece handed down to me from my grandmother, who brought it over from France when she immigrated 🙂
        I just buy the pieces I need when they go on sale. I have a few different colors, because they phase out certain colors every year and bring in new ones. I love having a big blue pot, a green sauté pan, a yellow sauce pan, etc. Makes everything in my kitchen so happy (and yummy! best cookware I ever bought!).

  • suzy says:

    My Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker. Pot roast and other braised meats in about an hour. Crazy.

  • Tina says:

    At the moment my favorite gadget is my dehydrator. I make jerky weekly with it. And the kids like when I make fruit leather and cinnamon apple chips. Thanks for the links, I will be checking them out!

    • You’ve just made me even more convinced of the need for one of these, just need to find the space in the kitchen for it!

      I’ll also put a tick in the box for a quality knife, I’ve had a longing for a Kai Shun Nakiri knife for a while now, but it’s damn expensive, and I already have 3 other nice knives, so it’ll be a great treat at some point (http://www.russums-shop.co.uk/knives-c44/shun-knives-c440/kai-shun-nakiri-knife-16cm-p4853)

      I also love using my slow cooker; last nights tea was slow cooked lamb with mushrooms (browned and shrunk in the lamb browning juices so they didn’t go rubbery) with freshly picked marjoram, local beetroot and garlic and ginger. Lovely when mixed with some green beans and white cabbage….

      Keep cooking!

  • Amy says:

    – Cast iron skillet, a nice deep one. Or a cast iron dutch oven.

    – Silicone spatulas

    – A timer, heck, two timers!

    – The Spootle from Jonathan’s spoons. Half spoon, half spatula, all awesome.

  • Mary says:

    Tongs! I use them for everything and have short one and long ones. Can’t have enough tongs.

  • Marian says:

    I keep a box of the medical, disposable gloves for working with onions, garlic, peppers, etc. they are awesome, can’t imagine prepping without them. No smelly fingers or burned skin! Most drug stores sell them.

  • ashley hibbitts says:

    I love my mandolin. I too use it daily. I never use the little slicer hand guard thing. Hmmm, word to the wise if you don’t use the guard, be CAREFUL. Monday I was multi tasking while slicing. I turned around to talk to my son while furiously slicing away. I got the top of my right middle finger sliced almost all the way off. I wrapped it up and held it together, took my son to football, then called my husband ( he is a surgeon). He brought all the equipment home and turned our kitchen table into an operating table. 3 stitches and lots of blood later, I finally served dinner. I will still use my mandolin, but I will pay better attention, lol. I love all of these gadget suggestions. Thanks!!

  • Mel says:

    Love this list! Thanks for sharing all your faves, my friends!

    And people, PLEASE! If you use a mandoline slicer, use the hand guard. I am 100% focused when I use that thing, and I always ALWAYS use the hand guard.

    Ashley, sorry to hear about your stitches!

  • Perfect! Just in time for updating my wedding registry! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  • DJDeeJay says:

    I second (or third?) the request for the video, but my preferred video would be to see how you make zucchini noodles, from the peeling through the cooking. I’ve done it twice now, using the Kuhn model and it just seems like so much work. I have a feeling that even though I’m following the instructions in Well Fed I’m somehow not performing them as efficiently as possible.

    And making mayo with a stick blender is SO much faster. No slowly drizzling in the oil! Just dump everything into your jar and blend for a minute or two. It’s awesome! But I totally understand the need to hold back on new kitchen gadgets. I’m trying to do the same thing. But that ice cream maker attachment for the KitchenAid mixer…

  • Carla Dake says:

    This item is so cool and not expensive! It makes noodle like strands out of all kinds of vegetables! It also makes slices and spirals! We all know how hard sweet potatoes are! This is amazing on sweet potatoes! In a matter of minutes you have strands of sweet potatoes! That alone makes it worth the money!

    World Cuisine A4982799 Tri-Blade Plastic Spiral Vegetable Slicer by Paderno World Cuisine
    Permalink: http://amzn.com/B0007Y9WHQ

  • Angel says:

    I love this list! The majority of these are also my go-to gadgets in the kitchen. My only difference is I love my Ninja blender (in place of the food processor).
    I lost the very tip of a finger to a mandoline slicer, so I also have to recommend using the hand guard! They also make kevlar gloves as well.

  • Kerri says:

    Great list! I recently got a Vitamix and seriously can’t imagine being without it now.

  • While I understand about not accumulating too many gadgets, I love my stick blender. It’s perfect for pureed soups, smoothies for one, chocolate avocado pudding, and since you can usually blend in the dish you cooked in, it means less clean up.

    And cooling racks, which I also use to bake bacon, roast chicken, and roast veggies–no turning required to brown both sides.

  • Alice says:

    Can’t agree more about having good quality knives. I have two favorites that I use multiple times every day, and they’re like extensions of my hands! To go along with that, I love having multiple cutting boards in lots of sizes. If I just need to mince garlic, I get out my little one. If I have lots of chopping to do, I’ll get out a couple of big ones and line them up on the counter.

  • Alice says:

    One other thing…it’s not really a gadget, but one of my very favorite cooking things is my Traeger grill/smoker. Best investment ever! I use it at least two or three times per week, even in the winter.

  • jhmomi says:

    My favorite since I bought it two months ago – Nordic Ware Microwave Egg Boiler. I promise it’s fabulous and makes perfect eggs. I use it EVERY DAY!

  • Cathy says:

    LOVE my pressure cooker. I can’t say that I use it daily, because that would be so much food in the fridge for leftovers, but it cooks meat and veggies quickly, and keeps all the good stuff in the pan. And it’s really nice on the summer to be able to have something not grilled, and yet only have to have the stove on for a few minutes.

  • Tasha says:

    A well seasoned cast iron skillet is my favorite/most used tool. Good spatulas/flippers are important (I don’t really have any, tips for best silicone ones?).

    Can a jar of bacon grease be a tool?

  • Tinamonster says:

    My 10:
    – Cast Iron Skillet with tall sides (chicken fryer)
    – Bamboo Steamer (I steam nearly all my veggies and fish and being able to stack various kinds in the separate compartments is so handy)
    – Crepe pan for eggs, fritters, etc.
    – Le Creuset French Oven (a 9 1/2 qt oval because I like to make a lot and freeze it)
    – a good kitchen knife along with the skills to use it (practice!)
    – A long handled wooden combo spatula/spoon (http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO-408427/Burnished-Bamboo-Stir-Fry-Spatula-for-Left-Handed-Cooks)
    – A 4 cup pyrex measuring cup that does triple duty as a measuring tool, a mixing/batter bowl and a thing with a pour spout that can take hot liquids.
    – a heavy half sheet pan like this: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/usa-pan-traditional-half-sheet-pan/?pkey=e|sheet%2Bpan|9|best|0|1|24||3&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-NoMerchRules-_-
    – Parchment Paper because I hate cleanup
    – Glass storage for leftovers. I use both pyrex bowls and mason jars for this and I couldn’t live without them.

  • debi says:

    Kitchen gadgets??? Did someone say…”KITCHEN GADGETS”??? I have a weakness for all kitchen gadgets…I have owned everything from weenie rollers to crank ice cream makers to the infamous “slice-o-matic…”. The pinnacle tool is my old faithful friend… I bought a Cuisinart food processor in 1981. the DL-7 Pro. It is yellowed and the bowl is cracked and scratched and I have to hold one side of the bowl down while it’s goin’ or it’ll just stop… STILL…the best thing EVER… But, that said…I wanted to share something really cool with you Paleo-ites… Yesterday, for the 112th time (it seems) I baked spaghetti squash. I hate scraping the crap outta there, so I usually just use each half as a bowl and smack it on the table with a hearty “Bon Appetit…” but I discovered something WAY COOL…check it out…. I used a grapefruit spoon to scrape it out after it came outta the oven and it was so fast, easy and not at all messy! Yay me 🙂 Even I can afford that one 🙂

  • debi says:

    And one more thing………….
    Mel…and any of you who will be attending this Saturday in Estes Park… or are close to the area…there is the best kitchen store in the FREE WORLD in Boulder on the Pearl Street Mall.
    It’s called the Peppercorn…it’s like dying and landing smack dab in cooking heaven! No kiddin’, that’s where I want my family to spread my ashes!!
    So, Mel, Michelle and Holly- you girls need to plan some extra time while you are here to check this joint out!!!
    See you in Estes! 🙂

  • Rose says:

    My FAVS…. Vitamix (love,love) and Microplane !

  • Melissa: I love our LeCreuset 4QT braising / dutch oven. It was pricey, but it has lasted a long time and the way it cooks is the BEST.

    Love your blog…keep doing what you’re doing. It’s good stuff!

  • Diana says:

    None of the Amazon links seem to be working for me 🙁 Not sure if it’s my computer or something else.

  • Deanna says:

    Thanks for the links! Now I actually know what a julienne slicer IS! I just kept using the julienne attachment on my mandoline, and it takes forever to get noodles, and I end up with a lot of waste. I’m gonna get me one of these bad boys!

  • Jill says:

    I couldn’t live without my Cutco knives! My mom bought them for me 29 years ago and they are warranted for life even passed down to kids they sharpen or replace for free always! No I am NOT a rep for them but I could be! I also have a Boos cutting board 36x36x4 it is fabulous!

  • sarah says:

    I <3 my cast iron pan best!

  • Allie says:

    My absolute favorite kitchen tool is my cast iron skillet. I cook everything in it. It’s well seasoned so clean-up is a snap.

    I actually came to this page to try to figure out what type of food processor I should buy:

    I’m thinking of getting a hand blender because I like the idea of blending right in the pot… but I also want to be able to make chunky things (like chunky mashed cauliflower) and I want to be able to make cauliflower rice.

    Do I really need to get both?

    Or… if i had to choose one… which should it be? Some hand blenders come with a whisk and chopper attachment.

  • Anis says:

    Knife Sharpener is my favorite kitchen tool & I love to collect Knife Sharpener set. Knives are worthless without this.

  • Unikarm says:

    I don’t have one but what do you think of a pressure cooker?
    I see Sarah Frogoso from everyday paleo cook pumpkins in it for like 12 minutes!! and my parents use one for canning.