The difference between a cook and a chef welcomes many different opinions, but when I heard Christopher Kimball of Milk Street’s definition distinguishing between the two, I took note.
He enumerated a few more contrasts, but these three stood out in my mind and stuck in my memory, primarily because they make sense. Often the cook adheres to the recipe as they haven’t cooked often or that particular dish/recipe often and may not trust themselves to create the flavors as they go. As well, when we don’t know the function of salt or don’t have quality salt, we may have never experienced what it can do for the ingredients selected when used properly.
Most important to note, one role (chef or cook) is not better than the other; I find it simply interesting to consider what may define someone as a chef versus a cook. And with that said, as someone who enjoys cooking, the more I cook in the kitchen, the more I push my explorations with ingredients, with recipes and have more fun exploring without the guidance of a recipe. I also use more salt (quality salt) while I cook.
Recently, I made a flourless chocolate cake, and I appreciated that the recipe explicitly stated, add more salt than you may be comfortable with. 🙂 This made me smile because doing so made ALL the difference in bringing out the deep rich flavor of the quality chocolate used – contrasting the sweet with the savory and creating a delicious bite. I didn’t taste ‘salt’. I tasted a decadent chocolate cake. 🙂
Salt I recommend, but there are many:
- Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel (sea salt)
- Jacobsen’s Salts
- Maldon Flaky Salt (for finishing)
All of this is to say, the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more I dance with my kitchen and move about, reaching for what I need, using what is necessary, I have found these 15 kitchen tools to be essential and pretty much all I need to make most recipes whenever I cook. Now notice, I am not making a baking utensils list (that can be found in my first book), as I am much more of a cook than a baker (although I do love making a good tart quite frequently :)).
Again, these tools are for everyday cooking, and as you know what you enjoy making in your own kitchen and eating, you will know what key tools are essential in your kitchen. But if you are just getting started or looking to fine-tune and invest in quality items, these 15 will treat you well, and yes, purchase quality, and they will last and perform well allowing you to be the cook, and not become disappointed by inconsistencies.
1. Lots of Rubber Spatulas!!
Whether the one or two are being washed and not readily available or I need a larger one versus a smaller one, I find I need at least three, but thankfully have five spatulas now in my kitchen of three different sizes.
2. Dutch Oven (enough for 5-6 servings)
My big splurge upon returning home from my first solo trip to France (aside from studying abroad in my early 20s) was to buy myself my very own Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Used constantly for browning meat, making lentils, soups, and so many other dishes, when you are able, give yourself the gift of Le Creuset or another quality brand – Staab comes highly recommended. They will last your lifetime.
3. Fine Mesh Strainer (medium size)
To drain my black rice or farro after having boiled on the stove, I regularly use my medium-sized strainer (I have the large and small mesh strainers, but rarely use them). I also use my strainer to sieve batter for lemon tarts and anything that I want to remove the lumps from when in a liquid. They sit easily on top of a mixing bowl, and keep in what you want and let through what you need to pass through.
4. Ditto for Spoons – Lots!
One of the most inexpensive extras to have in your kitchen for stirring, scraping and simply tending to whatever is on top of the stove, when you find a style, shape or size that works for you, buy multiples.
5. Pepper Grinder
Freshly ground pepper is added to at least one meal if not every single meal I cook each and every day. This is my go to grinder. It looks nice, isn’t too fancy and functions wonderfully.
6. At least two 9-10″ traditional fry pans made of either copper, cast iron or carbon steel
I love my copper – heats up quickly, distributes the heat evenly, retains heat well and will last forever. Cast iron and carbon steel are just as wonderful for their own reasons. I have one cast iron pan I use every single day and so long as it is seasoned, it is my non-stick wonder pan. While I don’t have a carbon steel pan, these are recommended highly by chefs as they too become naturally non-stick after their first seasoning and are much lighter than the cast iron pans. Also, their handles (shop de Buyer) are made in such a way to not become hot while the pan is on the stovetop.
7. Box Grater
From grating cheese, vegetables or anything else that needs the fine removal of its goodness, a box grater’s sturdiness and ease of use is a must-have in my kitchen. Offering four different ways of slicing or grating, it is multi-functional as well which makes it even nicer without having to add separate sizes, etc.. The fewer accoutrements to store the better.
8. Three knives – top quality: Chef’s knife (between 20-22″ in length), a serrated knife, a paring knife
Once you have quality knives, your love for cooking will deepen. At least it did for me. Keep them sharpened (simply use a sharpener such as this one – I prefer my sharpener flatter rather than round as it holds the knife in place more safely), and you will not only gain confidence in the kitchen, but the pace at which you can prepare your food to cook and bring to the plate will increase.
9. Metal tongs
I have used a handful of different tongs, but I find myself returning to the basic metal tongs that can be held closed when not in use by pulling up the top of the handle. They easily can grab the meat to flip or turn, even if the skin is stuck, and I also don’t use a long pair of tongs as they often get in the way. 9″ is my ideal.)
10. Whisks with a top hook – multiple (and at least two different sizes)
Whisks that can hang from a rack (as when they are stored in a canister often get tangled up with other utensils and when I pull them out, the entire contents come up and out with the whisk) and in multiple sizes. Every single day a whisk is used as I prepare my eggs for breakfast.
11. Metal spatulas – multiple
I have a few different sizes and styles – traditional – I have a few of this size alone (eggs and pancake flipping), super thin for helping me with my pastry dough and a fish spatula.
12. A deep metal pot for boiling water for pasta
Complete with handles on either size to be able to carry from the sink to the stovetop when it is filled with water, I have only needed one of these deep metal pots and I am thankful because they do take up a lot of space in the cupboard; however, having one is a necessity.
13. Sauce pans in 3-4 different sizes (with lids)
Whether for boiling and then simmering my black rice or farro or couscous, melting butter or chocolate or both, sauce pans in a variety of sizes are a must, and they store well because they can often nest within each other which is helpful for storage purposes.
14. 1/2 or 1/4 size baking sheets for roasting vegetables, cooking gougéres, etc. (full size baking sheets tend to be too big for the amount I make, but that size might be perfect for how many servings you need).
A peek at my oven and all three of the baking sheet sizes (I primarily use the top two – the bottom one is a full-size baking sheet)
I usually line these pans with parchment paper or tin foil when I use them, but they inevitably show their use. However, it doesn’t matter as they continue to work as they should, and I store them in my sheet pan drawer next to my stove for easy grab and use, I have two of each, and that has turned out to be just enough.
15. 3 graduating liquid measuring cups – 1 cup, 2 cup and 4 cup sizes
For quite some time I hand one liquid measuring cup (2cup size), but I found either it was in the dishwasher when I needed it (not washed yet – yes, I know I could have hand-washed it), or I needed to fill it twice or more for what I needed (the broth for risotto, for example). As these tools are not that expensive (Pyrex is my go-to), I went and finally purchased a smaller size – which is most often used for baking and then I purchased the 4-cup size which I use every single day to whisk up my eggs for breakfast.
With each year, more time spent in the kitchen, exposure to new recipes and meals and with inspiration from travel, this list will likely change as it has so far; however, simply knowing you have the essentials to make a great meal, elevates the enjoyment each time you step into your kitchen to prepare it. Be sure to tune in for Season 4 of The Simply Luxurious Kitchen this September, Saturday the 11th for more ideas for enjoying your food and enjoying ever more stepping into your kitchen.
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~View all of the posts from FRENCH WEEK 2021 here.
18 thoughts on “15 Essential Kitchen Utensils I Recommend for Everyday Cooking Success”
Hi, Shannon… I cooked a lot (too much) when I was growing up, and also in my 20s, and gradually it became a chore. So I developed a nutritious, serviceable, not very challenging or creative, menu of regular dishes – and it still felt like a chore.
I have to tell you, your posts on cooking and the kitchen have brought out a pleasure in cooking that I didn’t know was in me! It’s become something to play with, experiment with, and take deep pleasure in. Amazing what a little inspiration can do.
Pamela, Thank you for your sharing your journey. I can only imagine if you had to cook, especially at such a young age, cooking would not be seen as such a pleasure, especially if it wasn’t always for just you and you were dealing with many different appetites preferences. I am happy to hear you are beginning to play in the kitchen and finding great pleasure doing so. Thank you again for sharing. 🙂 xoxo
Bonjour, Shannon. I too value MULTIPLE silicone spatulas. Growing up in a kitchen with only one rubber spatula, I vowed My kitchen would have more. Now there are at least 3 large white (one that is shaped with a scoop) and 3 large red (one that is shaped with a scoop), plus four small ones that are great for scooping out mustard jars, etc. I love my copper pans also, but daily use is the triple-clad stainless steel, waterless-cookware that I bought as a senior in college (1975)!
Awesome! You’ve tailored your kitchen to you! Thank you for sharing what works and why. 🙂
I have all those boxes checked as I bake and cook most all of our meals. I am not the biggest dining out fan, usually disappointed. Spatulas are one of the most important savers in the kitchen. I cringe when I see videos of cooking demos and they use a wooden spoon…shudder** haha. You can scrape every ounce out and it also makes clean up way easier! You can also get a set for your bath essentials. like in the kitchen,there is so much more in the jar/tube/can!
So true about the spatulas scraping every ounce! 🙂
This list is spot on!
Great post, Shannon! I realized as I read it that over the decades I have winnowed my kitchen needs down to the important few — and yes, multiple spatulas (spatulae??) are on the list, plus whisks & good Pyrex measuring cups of different sizes. Three things I consider absolute essentials as well (I use mine almost daily): a BIG colander for washing lettuce & other greens & veg, a salad spinner & a digital scale. Two things I really need at the moment: a peppermill (my old wooden one, which I’d had for years, cracked in two a few months ago, something I’ve never seen happen before), & a new set of tongs, so I appreciate your recommendations. I do love poking around other people’s bookshelves and kitchens — you can tell a lot about someone from the contents of both! LOL!
Thanks for this Shannon. Happy to see I own most of your recommended items – I own a rubber spatula – and definitely need at least 2 more ! It must be the most used utensil in the kitchen !
Sarah, I think you may be right on the spatula point! 🙂 Thank you or stopping by.
Shannon as long as the basics are there one can create great dishes. I love to cook but am not one for kitchen gadgets. I have an old Magimix. I think if you invest in good quality basics they will serve you well. I still use my trusty le Creuset saucepans which I ‘ve had for 46 years (they were a wedding present). I would like to add to your list a Cash Mason mixing bowl. A British design Icon. Barely changed since 1901.They also do bakeware and cane pet bowls. In 1800 Master potter William Mason and businessman Tom Cash joined forces to create this classic. Also a good pair of kitchen scales either the traditional one with weights or one more modern . Although I think you probably don’t need one as in the US you use cup measurements.
Check, check, check! I love to cook. Sometimes I am a “cook” (recipe), sometimes I am a “chef”… (no recipe) 😉 I have my cooking utensils pared down to good quality essentials that have been serving me well for many years.
Agree with all of the list above, and strongly second the need for: a) BIG colander to wash vegetables and salads, and b) mixing bowl (or a set of them, different sizes, nestling, if possible, easier to store). I use both these items on daily basis. Also on a daily basis, I use a soup ladle (lots of soups eaten in this household!), so that goes certainly into my personal essentials list.
Regarding baking trays, I prefer traditional enamel ones (several sizes), always lined (parchment, tin foil), because they are easier to clean and look good for a long time. According to what I am cooking, I will use Pyrex baking dishes (different sizes), and also frequently, a Cazuela or other earthenware traditional from my country. To my palate, earthenware makes the best meat roast, at the same level of a Dutch oven.
I own both a kitchen scale (digital) and measuring cups, because I cook and bake quite a number of international dishes (UK, US) and that facilitates my life.
Looking forward to Season 4 of the TSLL Kitchen!
Just a note – I forgot to mention cutting boards. Good, sturdy cutting boards are essential, I think, in every kitchen. I recommend to have three: one for bread and cakes, one for fish and meat, and another for vegetables and fruit.
Ah yes!!!! A must and in multiples – as you have shared. 🙂
Isabel, Thank you for sharing the tools that work best for you! I am going to check out the enamel cooking trays!
This is a great list. One more item I might add is a spoon/utensil rest for the countertop. I use that every day in my kitchen.
Shannon, do you have a favorite supplier of kitchen goods? I often order from Sur La Table, but they do not have huge selections.
Laurie, Great item to add! That is a must! Hmmm, you know I am going to not surprise you at all, I shop when I am in Paris at e.dehillerin (you can shop online, but it’s not the same or easy on their website). There are a few places in Paris I visit, so I come with a list of items – my mixing bowls, whisks, many of my baking pans, as well as my knives and my new copper came from these shops and I don’t regret it – I just always pack an extra foldable suitcase for the return trip :).
Well I’ll just have to go over there when things clear up! Thanks Shannon.