Whether you’re a novice just starting to venture away from the microwave or an experienced home cook looking to step up your game, you need the right tools. Here are items that should be in every home kitchen.
1. 10-inch chef’s knife
A chef’s knife (aka French knife) is the most important and frequently used tool for any cook — professional or hobbyist. This piece of cutlery can be utilized for the vast majority of kitchen prep tasks. Remember to sharpen it semi-regularly with a stone and maintain with a honing steel. Buy a good one and it can last a lifetime.
2. Wooden spoon
This tool is soft enough to not damage cookware and essential for scraping (deglazing) the fond that develops on the bottom of a pan while sautéing.
3. Kosher salt
The go-to ingredient in every chef’s arsenal to draw out and develop flavor in your cooking. The large crystals make for easy and even sprinkling. I sometimes carry a small container with me while traveling.
4. Immersion blender (aka stick blender)
Quickly make purees, smoothies, or any other items that require blending. The advantage of using one of these rather than a stand blender is that you can process larger amounts at one time and can do so directly in almost any vessel.
5. Digital kitchen scale
Measure out ingredients with more accuracy by weight rather than by volume. This is especially useful when scaling out quantities for baking. This tool is also key for those monitoring portion sizes for health (Example: I use a kitchen scale whenever I cook pasta to measure one portion as detailed on the product packaging).
6. Instant-read thermometer
As seen in the side pocket on the jacket sleeve of any pro chef worth their salt, this tool is essential to cooking steaks, chops, poached eggs, and custards to their proper degree of doneness and eliminates any guesswork. Without one, even skilled chefs find it a challenge to yield ideal finished products. I rely on one — especially during summer grilling season.
7. Joy of Cooking
Whenever anyone asks me what go-to cookbook I use, I refer this all-purpose tool. The 75th anniversary edition, published in 2006, retains many traditional recipes, but has been updated to reflect contemporary cooking techniques and ingredients.
8. Nonstick sauté pan
Professional chefs rely on the nonstick surface for easy release of fragile products like eggs and seafood. Without one, a properly executed omelet can be difficult to impossible.
9. Fine-mesh strainer set
You can typically purchase these in sets of three (small, medium, and large). Use these strainers to make luxuriously smooth pureed soups and sauces, strain stocks, and to rescue some kitchen mistakes.
10. Japanese mandolin
These are less expensive and easier to handle and wash than the French counterpart. Use this tool to speed things up in your kitchen when slicing and julienning (for dishes like coleslaw or when large quantities are required).
Every professional cook that I know keeps one of these in their toolkit. They are easier and quicker to use, and frequently less expensive, than the older swivel versions that were customary in most of our kitchens growing up.
12. Large cutting board
I find that I work cleaner and more efficiently with a large work area. When using a big cutting board you can prepare vegetables and leave them on your work surface in small piles, while still having space for further prep.
13. Salad spinner
This tool is essential for washing and drying greens and herbs. I use one almost daily. Without one, it’s nearly impossible to remove excess rinse water from leafy greens.
Michael Geiger has been an instructor at The Art Institute of Michigan and Holiday Market’s Mirepoix Cooking School. He was also the education manager at Detroit’s Eastern Market Development Corporation. He is a restaurant and hospitality consultant, specializing in operations. Contact him at 734-306-3527.