When I got married at age 20, I had zero clues about cooking. It was bad. I was burning frozen pizza and putting entire pot roasts down the garbage disposal (which to my horror, came back up through the drain in our laundry room)! Thankfully, I’ve come a long way the last 21 years! And I’ve been encouraged by self-taught cooks like Ina Garten (she is my cooking hero)! One thing I’ve learned is that having the right equipment is critical to cooking well! But you don’t need a lot of fancy gadgets–just dependable basics that will last for years! Today I’m sharing the work horses of my kitchen–these 21 kitchen essentials are classics every home cook will use again and again! Some of the items are expensive–but investments that will last a lifetime. Others are inexpensive–but invaluable to daily cooking!
So in no particular order…
My Top 21 Kitchen Essentials:
1) Baking Dishes
Baking dishes not only come in handy for casseroles and brownies–I also use them to serve up veggie or fruit trays. It seems like there’s always a casserole dish in use at my house, which is why I highly suggest having at least two 13×9 inch baking dishes in your kitchen! In addition, I use a square 8×8 glass Pyrex–just not quite as much. With both sizes on hand, you should be able to cook up just about any casserole, side dish, or brownie treat that comes your way! (*As a side note–I do not cook above 375 degrees in my Pyrex glass dishes).
I started with simple glass Pyrex–but a few years ago I splurged on a pretty yellow Emile Henry ceramic baker…And I LOVE it! It cooks up food beautifully and makes me happy every time I pull it out of the cabinet!
2) Mixing Bowls
First off, I’m not sure that you can ever own enough mixing bowls! I’m forever needing another mixing bowl (or at least having to wash one sitting in my sink)!
My first set was glass from Pyrex–which does a great job. But now that I’m feeding a family of 8–I really needed a bigger bowl! Eventually I purchased a large (8 Quart) stainless steel bowl, and it is my absolute favorite thing…From a huge batch of meatballs to a huge batch of cookies–this bowl can handle it!
3) Cuisinart Food Processor
When I first started cooking–I HATED chopping veggies (now I find it strangely therapeutic…). So I threw just about anything that need chopped into my first Cuisinart mini-prep food processor. And almost 20 years later–that baby is still chopping!
But after years of watching Food Network–I realized, all my favorite chefs were actually using a much larger food processor, and I needed to upgrade. So I finally treated myself to Cuisinart 8 cup food processor…Life changing, friends! We use this all. the. time.
4) Good Knives
Eventually I got over my issues about chopping food by hand–probably because I finally got an amazing set of knives which rocked my world! Good knives are EVERYTHING!
I now have a beautiful set of Wusthof knives–and they are truly worth the investment. Nothing works harder in my kitchen (except maybe the dishwasher).
The set I have and recommend is their Grand Prix line…I have this exact 10-piece knife set with storage block–plus some extra pieces (which fit into the extra spots on the block).
If you can’t get the entire set at once–there are 2 knives I adore…my “go to,” knives which come through for me every single day!
One knife–the 5 inch Santoku— is actually NOT included in this 10 piece set. The Santoku knife is my absolute favorite and I use it for every. thing. If I was stranded on a desert island and could only bring one knife…
The other knife I use daily is the Wusthof 8 inch bread knife (which is included in the 10 piece set above). This knife is constantly in use at our house! We use it for so much more than slicing bagels–it actually works beautifully for cutting up baked goods (think pumpkin bread and cakes) and for getting into thick fruits like pineapples and watermelon (maybe not the most correct use –but because it’s serrated, this knife can tackle difficult jobs)!
Because we do a lot of entertaining (and we’re a large family)–we also bought the matching Wusthof Grand Prix II Steak Knife Set, which fits perfectly into the block. It’s been well worth it! (And there’s some strange joy in having matching knives!)
What don’t I use tongs for? These are essential! Use them for touching the raw meat you don’t want to be touching. Use them for tossing pasta or serving up salad. Use them for grabbing pizza out of the oven! Tongs may be one of the most versatile tools in my kitchen!
6) Wooden Spoons
Growing up, we did not have a whisk–we used forks to get the job done. Which I guess is fine and dandy, until you use a whisk and you realize you really haven’t been living. Get a whisk, friends!
Another thing we didn’t have around my house growing up was a zester. Perhaps this is another consequence of watching too much Food Network–but I LOVE this thing! I use my Microplane Zester Grater for grating fresh parmesan. (This was a non-issue growing up because we used the lovely green bottle of Kraft–which I think my mother still prefers.) I also use it for zesting lemon, oranges, and limes–which comes in super handy for making salad dressings! I’ve had mine for years–and it’s still extremely sharp!
9) A Good Coffee Maker
Maybe that’s all that needs to be said. If you drink coffee, you already know this is critical. I drink my coffee black–and start every morning with a cup. (Teach your children to make it for you as soon as they can!) My 15 year old usually has a pot waiting for me–she is an angel child! We recently purchased the Cuisinart PerfecTemp 14 cup Coffeemaker–so far we are loving it and I highly recommend!
10) KitchenAid Mixer
I didn’t start out with my beautiful mixer–just had a little hand-held mixer. But when we finally purchased our KitchenAid 6 Quart Stand Mixer…it was a game changer. At first, I didn’t know how much I would use it…Umm, how about all the time. If you bake–you will definitely put this to great use. (And it works miracles on mashed potatoes!) I ended up getting a brushed silvery blue color because I loved it…My kitchen is not a particular color scheme, but I leave mine out and I think it looks lovely! So when you decide to get one–I say get a color that makes your heart happy!
11) Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons and Cups
I have a matching set of stainless steel measuring spoons and cups–they are high quality and heavy duty. When you use something so much (like measuring spoons)–it’s nice to have the equipment be lovely. (I gave my old plastic set to the kids and saved a piece for scooping dog food.)
I can’t find my exact stainless steel set any more (I think I grabbed them at Williams Sonoma years ago)–but this set from Morgenhaan looks amazing. I particularly like the narrow measuring spoons–perfect for getting into all the spice jars!
12) Glass Measuring Cups
I use my one cup and one quart glass measuring cups daily. I have a couple different brands, but personally I prefer my Pyrex cups because they pour nicer and the measuring marks haven’t worn off like some others.
13) Slow Cooker
I’ve never become a slow cooker aficionado. You’d think with 6 kids this would be my best friend. Some people can make all the things in their slow cookers…Unfortunately, I haven’t quite mastered slow cooking–BUT. I do use mine for keeping food HOT! So I will make something–like spaghetti sauce, Italian sausage, and meatballs (our traditional Christmas Eve dinner), and let it simmer in my slow cooker for a few hours. Or when entertaining, I tend to serve everything buffet style–and my slow cookers are indispensable for keeping food warm and tasty! Obviously, I could be doing much more with my slow cookers than I’m doing–but I’m thankful I have mine when I need them!
I started out with a simple 4 quart Crock-Pot…It still works and does its thing 21 years later. This size is actually pretty perfect for my typical needs. However, I upgraded to an All-Clad 6.5 Quart Slow Cooker about 5 years ago–and I love the extra room for entertaining my large family. (Plus, I think the stainless steel looks a little nicer when I’m serving guests.). During the holidays both slow cookers get put to use!
14) Cooking Thermometer
I am a freak about food poisoning! I cannot even bear the thought of cooking meat without my thermometer. When I see professional chefs (and my mother) just knowing that the chicken is done–I don’t get it. I wish I could feel confident about my cooking like that–but no. No way.
And if you ever host Thanksgiving and make the turkey–you NEED a cooking thermometer! I own the Taylor Digital Cooking Thermometer with Probe. I’ve used this particular thermometer for years. However, I will say that I’m probably on my third one. This isn’t going to last you a lifetime–but I haven’t found a better one for the price.
What I particularly like about it is the cord and probe, which allows me to monitor the temperature of food without taking it out of the oven. I put the probe in my food (ie…Thanksgiving Turkey), set the alarm to the desired temperature, and let it cook without needing to take it out and check on doneness. I love it and find it entirely essential year-round. I test my hamburgers, meatballs, Italian sausage, chicken, fish–you name it, I check it with my thermometer!
15) Indoor Grill
We bought the Breville Smart Grill about 4 years ago–and I can’t image life without it! We easily use this grill 4-5 times per week. Usually we cook with it open (Barbecue Mode), but it can be closed like a panini press. It’s the perfect way to make a large amount of grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, burgers, grilled chicken, eggs, bacon, and pancakes for my hungry crew. It comes with a flat plate and a ribbed plate (both non-stick and dishwasher safe). We decided to buy extra plates so we could use 2 flat plates at one time or 2 grilling/ribbed plates at any time. I swap them out and use both types regularly.
16) Cutting Boards
Along the lines of mixing bowls–I’m not sure you can ever have enough cutting boards! My favorite cutting board is my Ironwood Large End Grain Prep Station. It works hard and is gorgeous–I leave it out on my kitchen island.
But it’s also great to have several cutting boards–I personally keep raw meat on it’s own board. That’s why these Dexas colored flexible cutting boards are so great! And–I love that I can easily bend the boards to transport chopped veggies to a pot or bowl!
17) Williams Sonoma Kitchen Towels
The classic striped towels from Williams Sonoma are a staple in my kitchen! They last for YEARS and are incredibly absorbent–I think they make the perfect gift!
18) All-Clad Pots and Pans
When my husband gave me this 10 piece set of All-Clad pots and pans for Christmas 12 years ago–I was stunned and so excited…They are beautiful. I immediately felt like my cooking game went up about 10 levels when I started using them. I treasure this set…
19) Baking Sheets
Baking sheets are a MUST have in any kitchen. I have two 12 x 16 inch baking sheets (a great size, IMO), and I use them for baking cookies, whipping up frozen food, and roasting everything from potatoes to turkey.
Yep–you need a blender…I just haven’t found the best one–yet. Currently I’m using a Cuisinart blender that I believe has been discontinued. I like that it heats up–so I can blend up spaghetti sauce and soup while also warming them up! But it’s just, “meh,” when it comes to making smoothies and is a bit of a beast to clean.
Here’s the blender on my wish list: Vitamix 5200 Blender, 64 ounce. Everything I’ve read says that Vitamix is amazing for smoothies, plus it heats up–so win, win for me!
Like my blender, my toaster has also been discontinued…It’s a 4 slot GE model. With the size of our family, a 4 slot toaster is imperative. I like mine just fine, but this Cuisinart 4-Slice Toaster has great reviews and looks like it would be a nice substitute. A toaster is probably not going to last you forever (at least not in my experience)–but then again, we use the heck out of ours!
Okay, Sweet Friends–that’s it! Whew! Those are my 21 kitchen essentials! What do you think? Did I forget anything? What kitchen tools do love and can’t live without? Please feel free to email me or comment with any questions or advice! I know the tips and tricks you’ve learned will bless others–so share away!