My Favorite Kitchen Tools

This is just a rough estimate, but I’m pretty sure I’ve spent about 1000 hours in the kitchen testing recipes and prepping the food for photos for the new cookbook. (Well Fed Weeknights, out November 1. Sign up for my newsletter to be notified when our awesome pre-sale starts on September 19!) And that 1000 hours doesn’t take into account the regular meal prep that kept us going while we did all the other things in our lives. As long-time readers know, I’m not really a gadget person. Nom Nom Paleo is the queen of the sous vide and the Instant Pot. I’m more of a knife/cutting board/skillet kind of cook. But there are a handful of other tools I use regularly to get the job done. After 1000 hours using them, I feel very confident saying this to you:

The right tools make cooking so much easier, faster, safer, and more fun.

Here are my must-have kitchen tools. Sure, I can squeak by without a spiralizer and mandoline slicer, if I must—but I’d rather not.

gogogadets

Large Cutting Board

Almost every recipe begins with chopping! A hefty cutting board—preferably wood or bamboo—protects the knife, your countertop, and you. I have an extremely large Boos board that could double as a weapon, if I could lift it quickly. (I also have a cheapo plastic cutting board I use for raw meat.) I recommend that you use the largest board that will comfortably fit in your work space.

Very Sharp Knife

In the kitchen, your knife is an extension of you. Choose a knife that feels comfortable in your hand. I like an 8-inch blade because I can use it on both meat and produce. My everyday knife is this totally kickass Wusthof 8-inch cook’s knife that was a gift from a sweet friend. (I mean, you know you’re good friends if you can give knives as gifts, right?!) Don’t forget a good knife sharpener, too!

Stick Blender

I resisted buying a stick blender for years, and now I wonder why I was so obstinate. I use my Cuisinart Stick Blender almost every day: to whip up a jar of homemade mayo in two minutes, or to purée my always-have-a-batch-in-the-fridge Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup. I’ve also been using it to make vinaigrettes because it helps with the emulsification so the dressing is less likely to separate. Even a really inexpensive model like this Proctor-Silex  (just $11 with 4 stars after more than 1000 reviews) works great! (I have a similar one I take with me on trips to use in vacation rental kitchens.)

Mason Jars

I know they’ve become kind of a hipster thing, but I’m too old to care about that. I only care that they work so well for so many kitchen tasks. A wide mouth, pint-size mason jar is perfect for mayo and salad dressings—and the quart-size jars are ideal for homemade sauerkraut and other ferments (especially when you top them with these airlocks).

Meat Hammer

Sure, the meat hammer is primarily designed for tenderizing meat, but mine is used most often to smash plantains! I’ve also been flattening chicken breasts and pork loin chops to turn them into quick-cooking fillets—and if you lightly tap the meat with the pointy side, it makes nice little divots in the meat that get crispy on the grill! The smooth side of the hammer is also awesome for lightly smashing garlic cloves to make removing the skins a snap.

Spiralizer

Again, I was late to the party on this one! I said I was fine using my julienne peeler to make zucchini noodles, and I was!  (I still take the julienne peeler with me to vacation rental kitchens!) But the spiralizer has two advantages: (1) It’s a lot faster. (2) It’s easier to spiralize other vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and beets. (Tip from our designer friend Michel: Spiralize potatoes, toss with extra-virgin olive oil and salt, then roast in a 425F oven until toasty and crisp.)

Mandoline Slicer

If you have a food processor with a good slicing blade, you can use that instead of a mandoline slicer. I like this mandoline because it’s lighter than the food processor,  and I perceive it as easier to use. (I’m not sure that’s a valid opinion, but sometimes when I’m in the kitchen, just the thought of something being easier can make it so.) My favorite setting is the thinnest, to slice cucumbers for cucumber salad and plantains for nachos. Always, always, always use the hand guard!

Non-Stick Pans

I have two pans that I love, and they cook everything just the say I like it. This 12-inch stir-fry pan  is the one I use to steam-sauté veggies and make giant stir-fries and things like Pad Thai and Moroccan Meatballs. This 12-inch skillet is the one I use to cook my crispy plantains, sweet plantains, home friesburgers, and eggs.

What’s the kitchen gadget you can’t cook without?

 

That Makes Me Blanch

Not this Blanche... Or this one...  Like this! I've shared my master technique for cooking massive amounts of vegetables with you before: my totally made up,...

Read More
Tuesday 10: Paleo Flavor Boosters

I don't know if it's the 100-degree temps or merely general laziness, but I've been craving super simple meals lately: crisp green salads, grilled chicken,...

Read More

Comments

  • Lydia says:

    I’ve had no luck spiralizing sweet potatoes. It just sticks there and won’t turn. I’m afraid if I crank too hard I’m going to break the teeth off *in* the potato. Tips, pretty please?

  • PatGLex says:

    I have a immersion blender, inherited from my mom, and to be honest it hasn’t been out of the box yet. [Haven’t made mayo yet, either, but as soon as I get a free weekend…. :-)] And the mandoline is on my to-buy list. But — you have MY stir-fry pan! I love it! Yes, the best thing to do stir fries with! And although I own a meat hammer I’ve rarely used it. But never thought of smashing garlic with it! Thanks for the ideas!

  • judi says:

    My favourite kitchen tool is a wooden mallet like the wood carvers use.
    It is great for smashing garlic pre and après peeling and great for hammering my knife through winter squashes!

    • Sue says:

      I’d love to know which wood mallet you use. I was using one for hammering my knife through winter squash and it broke so I’m looking for a new one.

      • Darlene says:

        use a good serrated bread knife. It works like a saw and much better and safer than a double edge knife.

        One of my favorite gadgets: a ceramic blade peeler! Stays sharp, doesn’t oxidize vegetables. Get them cheap at Asian markets and hardware stores.

  • IronGirlTrixie says:

    Cook the potato a little bit to soften it up! Something like a minute or 2 in the microwave.

  • Kelly says:

    Quick tip: For my heavier kitchen counter dwelling things, like the food processor, I go buy clearanced placemats/chargers in the accent color I like, and then put them under the appliances. They look nice, and my appliance slides on the counter instead of having to pick it up.

    I also just discovered spiralizer and wok – so amazing.

  • Petra says:

    Hi Mel, It’s not a gadget, but I’m wondering how you store your spices?

    • This is an old post about how I did it in my kitchen in Austin: http://meljoulwan.com/2011/05/09/whats-in-my-spice-cabinet Basically, jelly jars on a lazy susan with overflow in a box.

      In my enormous kitchen in the house we rent in Austin, I actually have a big, deep drawer — like, 4 feet wide and 1 foot deep — that is filled with spice jars. I still use the jelly jars, because they have a wide mouth that allows a tablespoon to fit inside, and I have a label on the side and on the top. Nothing fancy: just a white lable with sharpie. They’re arranged in VERY loose alpha order, from left to right, with spices like salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc. that I use all the time on the front right corner. It’s an ugly mess, or I would take a photo to show you. It’s VERY functional, and at this point, I can almost find with I need with my eyes closed.

      The biggest thing, in my opinion, is to get the spices out of the narrow jars they come in at the store. And if you order from Penzeys or bulk, then come in bags, which is even worse. Jelly jars with tight-fitting lids to keep them fresh is the best option. And a drawer or cabinet away from the stove is best for the flavor.

      • Petra says:

        Great tips – thank you! I can’t believe I never thought of wider jars instead of fighting with the spoons! Duh.
        Seems like the overflow box is inevitable…