Essential Kitchen Tools

“I want to dispel the notion that you need a lot of specialized equipment to cook good food,” writes Alice Waters in her 2010 book, In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart. “All you need is a core group of pots and pans and tools that will do most anything.”

Alice goes on to list the core group that she uses almost daily; there’s not a fancy whirligig among them. What she counts on, rather than something that slices and dices like magic!, are the basics of any good kitchen. Knives. Cutting boards. Bowls. A container to collect compost. Simple items that your grandmother would ably recognize and, if you’re lucky, owned before passing along to you.

We’re focused on tools this month at SHED, those sturdy durables that we reach for repeatedly when approaching tasks as varied as cooking eggs, weeding the garden, mincing garlic, picking fruit,  roasting squash, pruning trees and roses, or even just washing up. The whirligigs, even those as robust as a Cuisinart, certainly get hauled out on occasion, but the knives, the cutting boards, the bowls, and the compost bucket are used every single day. They have to be well-made, long-lasting, and a pleasure to handle.

In considering our own love of excellent tools, we did an informal survey to learn what other people consider favorites in the kitchen. Culinary consultant Lora Zarubin, a former House & Garden editor, didn’t hesitate with her answer: the mortar and pestle. “No electric appliance can control the texture and consistency like a mortar and pestle, no matter what you are making,” she says. “It’s magic, actually.”

Pastry chef Lorrette Patzwald, the genius behind SHED’s baked goods and ice cream, particularly favors the Acorn rolling pin for, she says, “the pleasure and beauty of it. It’s smooth, lightweight, and easy on your hands.”

Wooden spoons are one of SHED’s Chevon Holmes’ most essential kitchen tools. Chevon says, “They can be used regardless of the type of vessel: cast iron, stainless, carbon steel — and they never ruin my pans.”

SHED culinary director Miles Thompson favors DeBuyer steel pans, explaining that “They’re blue steel, so they get incredibly hot. They’re wonderful for searing and getting fish skin crisp. They’re also good for basting because of their deep sides. They’re a dream.”

But perhaps Miles’ favorite tool isn’t really a tool at all — until you begin to consider its utility. “Salt,” he says firmly with a smile. “Everything is better with salt.”

Here is Alice Waters’ In the Green Kitchen list of essential cooking equipment:

• Knives and cutting board

• Compost bucket

• Cast-iron skillets: 6, 10, and 12 inches

• 12-inch stainless steel-lined sauté pan

• 1-quart saucepan

• 2- to 3-quart stainless steel-lined saucepan with lid

• 3- to 4-gallon stockpot

• 4- to 6-quart ovenproof pot with lid

• Baking sheets and roasting pan

• Earthenware and gratin dishes of various sizes

• Steamer basket and sieves

• Salad spinner and colander

• Small food processor or blender, or a spice grinder

• Bowls of various sizes

• Mortars and pestles of various sizes

• Rolling pin, and tart and pie pans

• A selection of small tools: wooden spoons, spatulas, whisks, tongs, pepper grinder, vegetable peeler, grater, measuring cups and spoons, corkscrew

What essential is on your list? Add your must-haves to the comments below. We’d love to know!

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  1. Meline

    Blenders – I love my blenders and use them almost daily! They are used most often for making smooth dressings, sauces, and gravies. I also use them to grind seeds and nuts, whole grains into flour, and to process dates and other dried fruit I might be using in baking. My primary blender is a Vitamix (a powerful home blender), and I also have a smaller, less expensive, but still powerful blender (my Tribest Personal Blender) to do quick, smaller-volume job

  2. jack

    Thanks for sharing these maintenance tips!

  3. Thanks for useful tips, it helps me have more choices to choose for my home. I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

  4. Your work is very good and I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. Thanks for useful tips.

  5. Really a great article. I usually have salad in the breakfast. So the most common used equipment in my kitchen is Salad spinner and colander.

  6. Lucky to me when I found this post. I am trying to search all page that related this topic but I can see that this post gave me some more information. I will have to take care when I prepare for my kitchen.

  7. Nick

    I agree with Alice. It’s not the tools/equipment that makes a good chef, but rather the attitude and effort he or she puts into it to become skilled.

    It’s a different story when we talk about ingredients, though. Don’t go with the cheap meat & veggies etc. since they are contaminated. Moreover, think about getting a water filter. Especially, if you are leaving in an area that suffers under bad water quality.

    Best Regards


  8. valuable article really good one keep it up guys

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