I often get asked about my essential kitchen tools: the things we absolutely couldn’t cook without. Now that’s not an easy task: we’ve got a lot of things in our kitchen… how on earth will I ever narrow them down? But, if you look closer, there are things we use, and then things we use on a regular basis (and there are probably some things we never use that we need to purge, but that’s another issue altogether). It’s the items that are constantly in and out of the dishwasher, the items that have migrated to the most accessible shelves and drawers where they’re easiest to grab. If you look for those items, well, it’s pretty easy to see what gets used the most often around here.
These are our kitchen essentials.
I plan to follow up this post with a more specific Baking Essentials and even Pantry Essentials (and maybe even a Blogger Essentials?) but for now, we’ll just focus on the basics.
Use this post as a foundation to build your own well stocked kitchen. It’s also a great gift guide, if, perhaps, maybe you know a newlywed couple or a graduate just getting settled in their first apartment or a take-out-reliant friend who wants to learn to cook… this is a great place to start!
Disclaimer: while this post is not sponsored and no brands have paid to be included here, many of these products were received as part of past/present brand partnerships. That said, should our kitchen be reduced to rubble today, we wouldn’t hesitate to buy them again ourselves tomorrow. Meaning, everything on this list is something we own and love and use on a regular, if not daily, basis. There are also affiliate links in this post, FYI. And if you’re reading this post in RSS or email you might want to click through to the post page for easy clickable links to every item on this list!
Stand Mixer – I use my KitchenAid® Artisan Stand Mixer regularly for all things baking, but also the array of attachments that can extend its functionality even further. I had my old lime green mixer for 12 years and it was still going strong when I passed it on to a neighbor (I’ll admit, I just wanted a new color… isn’t that cobalt blue gorgeous??) If you’re short on space, the new Mini mixer is adorable, and perfect for mixing single batches of cookies or pizza dough.
Mini Food Processor – I adore this mini food processor from KitchenAid: it’s cheap and lightweight and ultra efficient for small batches of pesto, and just big enough to grind a batch of vanilla wafers for pie crust. Not to mention adorable. I think I’ve used my full size food processor maybe twice since I got this, which shows you just how rarely you really need a full size food processor.
Blender – We use our Vitamix 5200 Blender every day for smoothies in the morning and homemade nut milk each week. I love the Vitamix because it is powerful and most importantly, light (since we store it in a lower cabinet and need to pull it out every day). If you have the space to keep a blender out on your counter all the time, KitchenAid’s Pro Line and High Performance Series blenders are superb (and much nicer looking), with an equal if not more powerful motor. (Keep your eyes peeled, I’ll be giving one of these away on Instagram in the coming weeks!)
Slow Cooker – I’d say a slow cooker is essential if you have the space for it (which, before last year, we definitely didn’t, and we managed just fine). That said, now that we have one, we love it, especially in the winter when we can cook up a hearty stew and enjoy the fragrant scents of it cooking wafting up to the office all day. We have a KitchenAid® Slow Cooker and love it!
Rice Cooker – Ok this one is a new addition, and one of those things that if you have the space for it, and cook rice on a regular basis (or maybe you want to cook more rice but struggle with getting it right) it’s a worthwhile gadget to have. We splurged for the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker. It’s basically a giant Tomagatchi that cooks perfect rice and sings when it’s done… well worth the money in my opinion. lol.
Air Popper – This Hot Air Popper was one of the most unexpectedly useful wedding gifts we received, and it’s still going strong 8 years later. We love to toss our freshly popped corn with a bit of melted butter or olive oil and fine sea salt. Mmmm!
Cookware & Bakeware
Dutch Oven – I bought this Le Creuset 5 1/2 Quart Dutch Oven for my birthday nearly 8 years ago when I wanted to jump on the no-knead-bread train. Granted it’s a bit grubby on the inside from years of constant use, but this pan is our go-to for not only bread but also soups, stews, and braises.
Cast Iron Skillet – For perfect steaks, roast chicken, skillet cookies, and more. The 10″ Lodge Skillet is probably the most versatile, though if you have space, the smaller sizes are perfect for skillet cookies. :)
Large Nonstick Skillet – I won this 12″ Anolon Nonstick Pan at a conference probably 5 years ago, and it is probably the one we reach for the most often for everyday cooking (and even after near-daily use it’s still in great shape). It the perfect size and shape for stir fries and sautees, risotto and pasta dishes: the flat bottom and taller, rounded sides a perfect for those times you need something in between a skillet and a saucepan (which is pretty much all the time). The skillet on its own doesn’t come with a lid, but if you buy the full set, it does (and we use the lid regularly so I’d recommend it!)
Half Sheet Pans – Not just for baking! We regularly use our sheet pans to roast chicken breasts, fish, and vegetables, as well as bake up biscuits and breads. We’ve got a set of KitchenAid pans and King Arthur pans for baking, as well as some cheap restaurant-grade aluminum ones for messier jobs where I don’t want to gum up my nice pans.
Quarter Sheet Pans – For smaller baking jobs, I love having a quarter sheet pan handy. KitchenAid has a great set that includes both a half and a quarter sheet pan, though you’ll likely find yourself wanting two of each if you do any considerable cooking or baking.
Pizza Stone – If you want to make crispy, restaurant quality pizza at home, a pizza stone is essential. We also use it for homemade pita bread! Ours (Old Stone Oven brand) was a wedding gift 8 years ago. It’s well used and nearly black at this point, but it still bakes beautifully crispy crusts.
Mix, Measure, & Store
Liquid Measuring Cups – At the very least, get the 2 Cup Pyrex. But I’d highly recommend a 1 cup and a 4 cup as well (I actually prefer Anchor’s 4 cup, which I use regularly in my jam-making escapades, as it has a more defined pour spout that’s less prone to dribbles).
Plunger Measuring Cups – I love these things for measuring sticky, goopy ingredients like honey and peanut butter. We have a set we got years ago from the Alton Brown gift shop, but OXO has a similar product in 1 and 2 cup sizes.
Mini Beakers – You have liquid measuring cups for large quantities, why not small too? These OXO® Mini Beakers are fun and functional, perfect for measuring vanilla extract, lemon juice, milk and more. Also, cocktails!
Kitchen Scale – I’ve waxed poetic about kitchen scales before, and I’d say having one is most definitely essential. This OXO® Good Grips Scale one is our go-to and weights up to 11 pounds, but any scale that accurately measures ounces and grams is perfectly acceptable.
Triple Timer – When one timer simply isn’t enough…. this Triple Timer from OXO has 3 counters, so it’s perfect for when you are multitasking. I also often use it for recipe development, as I’m baking, I’ll start one timer on a countdown and one counting up, so if I have to put something back in the oven for a few more minutes, I’ll have a final count of just how long it baked.
Instant-Read Thermometer – I got this Thermoworks Thermapen for Taylor a few years ago for Valentine’s day (can you say, romantic?) and it’s the quickest, most accurate thermometer we’ve ever used, be it for meat, chocolate, or caramel. A good thermometer is worth its weight in gold!
Pyrex Mixing Bowls – This set of 3 Pyrex mixing bowls is a favorite around here, especially because they come with lids too (so they’re perfect for mixing and storing!)
Glass Storage Containers – Speaking of food storage, a few years ago we tossed all our plastic containers and bought a few sets of these Anchor® TrueSeal glass storage containers with silicone lids. We’ve only had to throw out one lid (we, uh, left something for a bit too long in the fridge and unfortunately there were spots on the inside of the lid that just wouldn’t come out) but the rest have held up beautifully after hundreds of uses with no odor or residue.
Plastic Soup Containers – These deli food containers are the best. They’re dirt cheap, freezer safe, and so practical in situations where glass is just too cumbersome, like freezer storage of soups. We also use them regularly to soak our nuts for homemade nut milk.
Gadgets & Tools
Ultimate Spatula – These Ultimate Spatulas from GIR are my absolute favorite spatulas. I own a half dozen of them, both in the regular size as well as a few skinny and mini sizes. I love that they are completely silicone, which means no grime gets stuck where the handle meets the head. The silicone grip also makes it no slip and extremely comfortable to hold and use.
Little Whisk – I’ve got a lot of whisks, but this 9″ whisk from OXO is the one I reach for the most, whether I’m whisking together dry ingredients for cake or mixing up a small batch of salad dressing, it’s the perfect size for just about anything.
Cookie Scoops – I use these scoops regularly for baking. The largest size is the perfect for portioning cupcakes, the middle size ideal for chocolate chip cookies, and the small size for truffles and smaller drop cookies. Mine are Pampered Chef, but OXO also has a set with more comfortable grips.
Tongs – One or more sets of tons is certainly essential to any modern kitchen. We’ve got a few different kinds and sizes, including nylon, silicone, and metal heads, as well as large and smaller sizes. They’re all good for different purposes, and you might have your own personal preferences. Luckily, there are plenty of options available.
Fine Mesh Sieve – Fine mesh sieves are indispensable for straining everything from homemade jelly to rinsing rice to straining the cooked egg bits from homemade ice cream base. A 6″ sieve is the most practical size, but I also have a 3″ and a 8″ for various purposes. Despite the fact I use it so regularly, I can never (NEVER) spell ‘sieve’ right on the first try. Seive. Sieve. I before E… I before E…
Pepper Mill – Freshly ground pepper is essential to cooking. We love our matte blue Peugeot pepper mill (I can’t seem to find the same style/color available), but there are a number of less expensive options out there too. Just make sure it is adjustable (meaning you can choose your grind size). Skip the salt mill though in lieu of a salt cellar filled with kosher salt.
Salt Cellar – A la Alton Brown, this salt cellar sits by our stove and we keep it constantly full of kosher salt for easy pinching and seasoning as we cook. (Also, kosher salt should probably be included on this list too as it is most definitely a kitchen essential!) I can’t figure out the exact brand/model of ours (we’ve probably had it for 10 years), but there are lots of options on Amazon.
Little Salad Spinner – This smaller-sized salad spinner from OXO works great and takes up minimal space in our cabinet. We like the smaller size for our two-person household, but they also have a larger size is your a big salad person. We also use this spinner for, wait for it: grated potatoes! If you’re making hash browns or latkes, having dry potatoes is key to a crispy finish. Simply line the salad spinner with paper towels and spin your potatoes dry.
Chef/Paring Knife – Any functional kitchen needs good, sharp knives. While you probably don’t need a full 20-pice set, a good chef’s knife and a paring knife are essential. For chef’s knifes, I love KitchenAid’s 6-inch Chef Knife and the petty knife from New West Knifeworks. Both are smaller than the standard 8-inch chef’s knife and thus much more functional for my small hands. This is a very personal choice, as everyone’s hands and chopping styles are different: I’d suggest going somewhere where you can actually hold the knives in your hand and see what feels best to you.
Of course, this is just the beginning (I had to keep this post to a reasonable length), but it’s a good place to start.
What are your essential kitchen tools?