These 10 best kitchen tools and gadgets are essential for new and experienced chefs alike to keep on hand. Not only will they save you time—they’ll save you money on products that are unnecessary or best avoided (I’m looking at you, salad spinners).
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When I first started cooking (really cooking, not just whipping up a grilled cheese sandwich on the stove at my parents’ house), the bare minimum tools graced my kitchen drawers and cabinets. I didn’t own a peeler for potatoes and carrots for the longest time. I used an old plastic strainer for pasta, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t possess a single matching set of measuring cups. Hodgepodge was the name of the game: the 1/2 cup was white, the 1/4 cup was metal, the 1/3 cup was MIA, and so on.
I wished I had a ton more than I did, sure. But the truth is that you can get by using just the basics for quite a while—especially when you’re uncertain how long your new hobby will last or preoccupied wondering whether you just added far too much salt to your family’s dinner (not to fear: you’ll get your bearings and grow a lot more confident with time and experience).
While I can’t help you undo your salty mistake (sorry), I can help you decide which products are worth investing in and which are not. You might be wondering: Do I really need to purchase a $1,000 set of German knives in a self-sharpening base? What the heck is a sieve? What’s the point of salad spinners and should I buy one? If you’re curious, I would tell you: No.; It’s a very thin mesh strainer.; They have no point, and no, you should absolutely not buy a salad spinner no matter how you much you think you will use it (you won’t).
Here’s the thing: you don’t need to invest a whole lot to achieve a collection of essentials that will make cooking exponentially more efficient and pleasant. The truth is that you shouldn’t run out and buy one of everything just because it exists, and you can get by using minimal products as long as you choose wisely and adhere to some common-sense protocols.
So, how do I keep costs down and decide what to buy and what not to? A few mottos I live by are:
- Be selective. Prioritize the items that you would realistically use often. If you’re deciding between a new stainless steel strainer (and already have a functioning one) and an all-purpose chopping knife (assuming you don’t already own one), spring for the chopping knife because you will use it on a near-daily basis. Upgrades can wait until they don’t work anymore. Invest in items that you will utilize time and time again and reach for every time you cook.
- Don’t buy single-use items. Confession: I don’t own a potato masher. Or a waffle iron. These items are nice to have, sure, but investing in multi-purpose items will go a lot further when it comes to both your wallet and saving space in your kitchen. How do I make mashed potatoes and waffles, you wonder? I use two forks to mash my potatoes (works like a charm), and I own a Cuisinart Griddler that does triple-duty as a grill, griddle, and waffle iron.
- Borrow specialty items when you can. For example, I’m 1/4 Austrian, and our family makes spaetzle (a buttery homemade pasta/noodle hybrid) every so often. I borrowed my mom’s spaetzle press at Christmas rather than going out and buying my own because I know I will only use it once per year or less often.
- Shop around. Amazon might have an amazing price on a new blender, but you may be able to apply a 20% off coupon at Bed Bath & Beyond, which will make the item less expensive overall. Or you may see a great food processor at Macy’s but find a better price online. Sometimes the same stores offer better deals online vs in-store or the other way around. Do your homework and save.
Now onto what you came for… the 10 best kitchen tools that all new (and veteran) cooks should own. I personally use all of these products often and as a result save countless time (by purchasing only the most efficient items), money (on products I really don’t need), and sanity (see saving time and frustration again).
10 Best Kitchen Tools for New Cooks
I can’t even begin to estimate how many hours of my life I’ve gotten back by investing in a slow-cooker. It is absolutely incredible what this unassuming device can do while you’re away at work or sleeping (literally). You can create an entire meal (a protein, potatoes, and veggies), a large batch of soup or chili, or a shredded meat of choice (chicken, pork, beef) you can use to top salads, sandwiches, etc throughout the week. Just add water, chicken broth, or sauce of choice (barbecue sauce, pesto, red tomato sauce, etc). I have this one.
Silicone Baking Mats
Never again will I live without silicone baking mats. Let me count the ways why I love them: they’re durable. They’re reusable. They leave my baking sheets spotlessly clean. I love the original French-based Silpat mats, but these and these look like quality (and more affordable) options with good ratings.
Multi-Purpose Indoor Grill
I touched on this one briefly above, but I can’t live without my multi-purpose indoor grill (I own a Cuisinart Griddler). I use the grilling plates to sear chicken, burgers, and even vegetables in the summer; they also double as a panini press. I use the griddle plates to make pancakes. And I use the waffle plates for the obvious.
Even if you own an actual grill, you’ll be happy to have one of these on hand to whip up a batch of pancakes for your house guests or to cook burgers when a thunderstorm starts brewing just when you are ready to eat.
Small Food Processor
By all means, you can invest in a larger 10-cup+ food processor. But I’ve personally been using this smaller 4-cup one for the past few years and it has handled everything I’ve needed and then some so far. If you’re new to cooking (and even if you’re not), chances are that this is all you’ll need, too. It’s the perfect size for whipping up fruit- and nut-based protein bites, a batch of fresh pesto, or a puree for a recipe I’m making.
No, you don’t really need the fanciest set on the block (pun intended). But you do want quality knives that will do the job quickly and efficiently or else chopping will quickly become the bane of your existence and you will cease eating vegetables until the end of time (okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration). I have this exact set from Top Chef and the craftsmanship and functionality are honestly amazing for the price.
I use my hand-held mixer all of the time when I’m baking something quick and don’t want to pull out my heavy stand mixer. Clean-up is so easy too! Mine is older from Home Goods, but I plan to upgrade to something similar to this one soon.
You can certainly purchase a quality chopping board or block on a budget by checking Home Goods, TJMaxx, Bed Bath & Beyond, or Amazon. These options often work just as well as more expensive ones, although some may show wear (ie, knife marks) more quickly than others. I have my eyes on this Square End Grain Cutting Board from Crate & Barrel which is nice and thick and should last for years to come as long as you take good care of it and apply block oil every so often.
Nested Mixing Bowls
These will be your go-to when prepping nearly every recipe under the sun, so you’ll want to buy a set that offers a large variety of sizes. I would strongly recommend purchasing a glass or ceramic set that is both microwaveable and dishwasher-safe so you can heat items (ie, melt butter in the small bowl) and enjoy easy clean-up when you’re done. This set and this set look like solid options.
Some people swear by these and others hate them—I get it. And I know this seems to go against what I said earlier about avoiding one-use products. However, my husband and I both happen to love garlic and as a result, I include it in my cooking often. Peeling and mincing garlic is one of the most time-consuming and annoying tasks of all time, and garlic presses are therefore magical in my eyes because all you have to do is insert the clove and press down and you have minced garlic (and your hands won’t smell pungent for days to come). Garlic presses are also rather inexpensive, so if you will be cooking with garlic, this is a must-have in my book! Check out this one, this one, and this one.
If you’re using non-stick pans, you’ll need to steer clear of metal-based cooking utensils in order to avoid scratches (the scratches also remove the non-stick coating, basically rendering your non-stick pans useless). I use my silicone-covered whisk often to thicken sauces or stir liquids right in the pan: think making a marinade for a ham or chicken, whipping up a homemade simple syrup, or making gravy. Check out this set of whisks or this solo option.
There you have it. By no means is this list comprehensive, but these are the 10 best kitchen tools you should look to purchase first and foremost. I promise you’ll reach for them every single time you put your chef’s hat on (wait, am I the only one who does that?).