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Tools Every Kitchen Should Have

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.


In the Beginning

Assembling your first kitchen can be a daunting task—what do you really need?

You might dream of some day being a pastry chef or a gourmet cook—but that’s a few weeks, months, or years away, right?

Keep it simple in the kitchen. If you use quality ingredients, you don’t need anything fancy to make food delicious: just a knife, a cutting board, and some good nonstick cookware, and you’re set.

— Curtis Stone

Keep it Simple

Some people love gadgets.

Me, not so much. Why use up valuable space on a one-trick pony? When Mr. Carb Diva and I moved into our first home, I brought my pots and pans, mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas, and my knives. He brought a strawberry huller.

1. Pots and Pans

First and foremost, you must invest in pots and pans. If you buy low-quality pans they will most certainly under-perform. But good-quality doesn’t mean high-price. You need to find pans that:

  • Have tight-fitting lids
  • Are safe to use in the oven (no plastic handles)
  • Not Teflon-coated

Your decision on the type of pan you purchase (stainless steel, aluminum, cast iron, or copper) is really a personal choice. All of them have advantages and disadvantages. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What foods will you be cooking most?
  2. How many people are you cooking for?
  3. What kind of cooktop do you have? (Induction cooktops require stainless steel, cast iron, or another magnetic material).
  4. How much time are you willing to spend on cleanup?

Pots and Pans Every Cook Should Have

  • 1-, 2-, 4-, and 8-quart saucepans with lids
  • 10 qt. stockpot
  • 6-inch sauté pan
  • 12-inch sauté pan with lid

Pots and Pans: Which Material Is Best?

What Type of Pan Would Best Suit Your Needs?

 Stainless SteelCast IronAluminumCopper


inexpensive, durable, scratch resistant,stays shiny, won't warp, won't react to acid foods

inexpensive, durable, good heat conductor

excellent heat conductor

excellent heat conductor


not a good heat conductor

reacts with foods unless seasoned, high maintenance, heavy, can rust if not cared for properly

reacts with acid foods, scratches and dents easily

expensive, high-maintenance, reacts with acid foods

2. Knives (for Cutting, Slicing, Dicing)

Butcher blocks filled with gleaming wood-handled knives look so professional, but you really need just four—a serrated knife, a chef’s knife, a utility knife, and a paring knife.

  • A serrated knife has a toothed blade with is useful in slicing bread and tender fruits such as tomatoes.
  • Chef's knives come in many sizes, but I am most comfortable with a knife about 8-10 inches in length. The chef's knife is an all-purpose knife used for chopping, dicing, mincing, and slices meats, fruits, vegetables, and some cheeses.
  • Utility knives are all-purpose knives with a 5 to 8-inch blade. They are used to carve, bone, slice, fillet and cut fruits and vegetables.
  • Paring knives are small, usually about 4 inches long and are used for routine tasks such as trimming small food items (fruits and vegetables).
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Features of a High-Quality Knife

There are only a few features of a knife that determine its quality. The most important part of any knife is the blade. Although ceramic blades are now the "in thing" and have an amazing sharpness, they are also fragile and can break easily. I prefer forged stainless steel.

The next consideration is the shape, material, and structure of the handle.

  • The shape of the handle should be comfortable in your hand. Pick up the knife, hold it, and imagine using it in your kitchen. Is it comfortable? I'm petite (5 feet tall) and so large tools feel very unwieldy for me.
  • The material of the handle is also very important. Plastic handles will splinter and shatter easily. Look for a polycarbonate--dishwasher safe and sturdy.
  • Another common feature of the best quality knives is that the tail of the blade, called the tang. It should be solidly riveted into the handle. The length of the steel should be visible from tip of the blade to the butt of the handle. If the handle solidly encases the blade, walk away.

What's Wrong With Using Cheap Knives?

Less expensive knives are made from a much lighter gauge of steel which means that they will not keep a sharp edge for very long. The blades of cheaper knives are also often very thin, making them brittle and more likely to break or for the edge to chip. Handles made from wood or plastic perish very quickly and are usually not dishwasher-safe. Also, the blades are not always set into the handle very securely. All of this makes cheap knives more likely to be blunt which forces you to use more force when cutting with them which in turn makes them more likely to break or for the blade to come loose from the handle.

anatomy of a knife

anatomy of a knife

More "Sharps"

Other "sharps" that are handy to have, but not mandatory are:

  • cheese grater
  • kitchen shears
  • microplane
  • vegetable peeler

3. Mixing and Measuring Tools

Bowls: A set of 3 stainless steel mixing bowls that fit inside one another is a space saver. They are inexpensive, versatile and will last a lifetime. And they can be used along with saucepans to create a double boiler.

Measuring Cups and Spoons: There are two types of measuring cups—the ones with handles are for measuring dry ingredients. The glass ones with a lip are for measuring liquids. Buy two sets of spoons and two sets of dry measuring cups. (Trust me, you'll be glad you have two sets).

4. Baking Tools

Pans for baking can be made of aluminum with shiny or dull/dark finishes, glass, or ceramic. Which kind works best for you depends on how you will be using your pans. For baking in the oven only, aluminum pans with a dull finish are best. However, if you plan to bake or reheat in the microwave, glass or ceramic is the obvious choice. Keep in mind that:

  • Pans with dark finishes often cook and brown foods more quickly.
  • Insulated pans generally take longer to bake and brown foods.
  • Always use glass or ceramic baking dishes when marinating foods or making dishes with tomato sauce.
  • If you substitute a glass baking dish in a recipe calling for a metal baking pan, reduce the oven temperature by 25° to avoid overbaking.

More Baking Tools You Should Have

  • cooling racks
  • rolling pin
  • pastry blender

Suggested Pans/Sizes

  • cookie sheets (2)
  • 9 x 13-inch cake pan
  • 8- or 9-inch square cake pan
  • 9 x 5-inch loaf pan
  • 12-cup muffin tin
  • 9-inch pie pan
  • 2-quart baking dish

More Helpful Pans (Optional)

  • 10-inch tube pan
  • 15 x 10-inch baking pan (jelly-roll pan)
  • 9-inch springform pan
  • 6-oz. custard cups (set of 4 or 6)

5. Miscellaneous Useful Kitchen Tools

  • Bottle opener
  • Can opener
  • Colander
  • Dual kitchen timer
  • Instant read thermometer
  • Ladle
  • Potato masher
  • Silicone scrapers
  • Slotted spoon
  • Slow cooker
  • Spatulas (at least 2)
  • Tongs
  • Whisk

© 2015 Linda Lum

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