Whether you're stocking a kitchen for the first time (finally kicking your grown kid out of the house? good for you!) or simply taking stock of what you already have, we've put together a list of the 10 essential gadgets that no kitchen should lack.
While most of the 100 commenters disagreed with us on our list of 10 useless kitchen gadgets, the common thread between all of those gadgets was that they served only one purpose and were primarily of use to only a niche group. But the essentials in any kitchen should be multi-purpose and should -- depending on how often you cook -- get almost daily use.
We aren't saying that these are the only utensils you'll ever need in a kitchen, but they're your core group. No kitchen should be without them, and you can build your army of gadgets from this foundation. Below are our essential items that we can't live without. What are yours?
10. Cutting Boards
Well, you can't exactly cut things without one, unless you go the college route and use a paper towel on top of your counter. And we really don't recommend that -- it's both unsanitary and slightly dangerous. Invest in a nice cutting board and you can not only use it for its intended purpose, you can also use it as a nice serving piece at parties, at the dinner table or when you're serving an indoor picnic of cheese and fruit to your honey.
9. Mixing and Prep Bowls
The best route here is to purchase an all-in-one set of bowls that serve many purposes: mixing bowls, mise en place bowls, prep bowls and serving bowls. The way to do that is to find a set of glass bowls in various sizes like this 10-pack from Williams-Sonoma -- and not a few random plastic or melamine bowls that you don't want company seeing. We purchased these years ago and they have never ceased to be useful. You can microwave them, they stack easily for storage and they even look gorgeous on the dining table.
You could purchase a wooden spoon, a mixing spatula or any number of other utensils, but the whisk can't be beaten for its versatility. You can use it in pretty much all of the same mixing applications as you would a spoon, but a spoon won't whip cream, beat eggs or incorporate air into your ingredients. Only a whisk will. But the traditional teardrop shaped whisk can be a little cumbersome in tight spaces, which is why we suggest an elongated French whisk. You'd be surprised at how many tasks this little piece of wire can accomplish.
Not a mixing spatula (also obnoxiously called a spoonula), but one you use in your pan. Stores sell all manner of differently shaped spatulas for your various culinary needs: omelette spatulas, fish spatulas, cookie spatulas, kitten spatulas. But you really need to start with just one, and make it a good one. A spatula with a sturdy yet flexible nylon head can be used for almost any application, whether you're flipping burgers or pancakes, or slipping snickerdoodles off a baking sheet.
Now this is where the spoonula comes in. We like a good silicone spoon because it won't absorb the tastes and colors of what you're cooking like wooden spoons or damage cookware like metal spoons. They also do double duty by scraping down bowls. You can certainly buy the previous three utensils in one of those cheap packages that also includes a precariously rotating holder of some sort, but don't. They'll all just break within a few months. Invest in these three key pieces and you'll own them for years.
5. Can Opener and Church Key
This should be a no-brainer. How are you supposed to open cans without a can opener? But its oft-forgotten counterpart, the church key, is just as important. You can use the bottle opener on the back of your can opener (or a corkscrew, if you own one), but it won't work as cleanly as a church key. Plus, you need the sharp end of that church key to puncture a can's metal top in order drain off liquid from a can of tuna, for example, or pour out a can of evaporated milk.
4. Kitchen Shears
Unless you plan on tearing open bags with your teeth, cutting cheesecloth with the sharp edge of the aluminum foil dispenser or otherwise finding elaborate ways to ruin your knives and nails, a pair of good shears is indispensable, as they will cut just about anything you bring into your kitchen. Don't use them for anything else around the house -- no gift wrapping, no craft projects, no coupon clipping -- and clean them by hand, and they'll stay strong and sharp for years, just like you need them to be.
These are an extension of a cook's hands in the kitchen. We cannot overemphasize the extreme and varied usefulness of a pair of tongs. Once you own a good pair -- preferably with silicone ends and a lock that allows them to stay shut when not in use -- you'll wonder how you ever got by without them. Use them for turning a piece of meat in the pan, pulling a hot baking sheet towards you if it's gone too far back in the oven, serving and plating food...you get it. The possibilities are endless.
2. Measuring Cups and Spoons
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This is really a no-brainer, but there are a few ways you can go wrong here. First, don't go with cheap, plastic measuring spoons. In measuring amounts that small, it's easy to ruin a recipe by putting too much or too little into your batch of cookies. Get sturdy, well-made stainless steel measuring spoons -- they're always accurate and they'll last forever. When it comes to measuring cups, the same dictum applies. However, if you're only getting one, this four-cup angled measuring cup from OXO is pure genius.
1. Chef's Knife
Invest in a good knife. We really can't stress this enough. If you buy one of those shitty knife three-packs from Walmart, your knives will be dull in a few months. So you'll go back and buy another shitty knife somewhere else, and the cycle will continue endlessly until you get a clue. Our grandfather always said, "I'm too poor to be cheap." Buying a large amount of cheap stuff will always cost more in the end than simply investing in something truly worthwhile to begin with. While we swear by our Wusthof chef's knife, other people prefer a Henckels or Global. The point is to buy something that will stay sharp, is comfortable in your hand and will last. (Oh, and make sure the tang goes all the way through, but you knew that.) A good chef's knife will truly be the investment of a lifetime and the most useful tool in your entire kitchen.
What did we miss? Share your own essentials with us below.