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Recommended Kitchen Tools

A check mark ( ) indicates that I use that exact thing myself. Other stuff are things I’d buy if I were buying a tool of that sort now, or things I plan to buy at some point, or products almost identical to the one I use (but by a different manufacturer, etc.).

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Good things to have

Silicone spatula

This is a “spoon spatula”, slightly concave. It’s great for mixing batter, scraping down mixing bowls, transferring semi-liquid mixes of anything from one vessel (bowl, pot, etc.) to another, and lots of other tasks. I use this thing all the time. It’s also heat-resistant, and generally pretty sturdy. (I particularly like that it has no seams at all, and is very easy to clean.)

Mixing bowl

(See also the same product in other sizes: 4 quart, 6 quart, 8 quart, and the huge 12-quart version.)

You want your mixing bowls to be metal—thick and heavy. Enameled steel is good, stainless steel is good. Avoid rubberized bottoms, they just make the thing harder to clean. Glass bowls are pointlessly thick and heavy, and what if you drop it? Absolutely avoid plastic; the surface gets tiny scratches, oils settle in them, and then forget about ever whipping eggs whites in that bowl again… washing plastic is also much harder in general.

(The mixing bowl I use myself, most often, is an old enameled-steel bowl of Soviet manufacture.)

Pastry brush

Forget about those fancy silicone-bristled ones. Not worth it; in fact, they’re usually worse than the simple ones. Stick with the basics.

(What’s it for? Do you really need a brush to bake things? Most of the time, no; but for some recipes, it really comes in handy. See my blini recipe for an example.)

Wire whisks

The all-metal construction makes these easy to clean. (As a bonus, the straight cylindrical handles on whisks like these mean that you can roll them between your palms, making the whisk spin back and forth rapidly as it’s immersed in a measuring cup full of liquid ingredients you want to mix together—a simple and convenient impromptu alternative to breaking out the electric hand mixer.)

Measuring cups

Europeans who say you don’t need measuring cups for dry ingredients because you should measure everything by weight are just jealous of our freedom.

Measuring spoons

The spoons I use are no longer being made, but these are actually even better.

“Pyrex” measuring cups

These are good liquid measuring cups—thick, sturdy, convenient.

So why is “Pyrex” in quotes? Because these (and all Pyrex consumer products you can buy nowadays) are made of lime glass—not borosilicate, which is what the Pyrex brand name used to mean. Lime glass is more shatter-resistant, but less heat-resistant, than borosilicate. For “real” Pyrex, see the next entry.

Classic Pyrex measuring cup

This is for pouring really hot stuff into, like a boiling sugar syrup.

(No link for this one; you’ll have to go to eBay. Make sure you get the old Pyrex (borosilicate) and not the new “Pyrex” (lime glass). One way to tell is by comparing the logos; also, lime glass has a turquoise tinge, whereas borosilicate is colorless.)

Ladle

This ladle has a nice, deep bowl, and pours well. It’s made of heavy stainless steel throughout, making it easy to clean.

Pancake flipper spatula

For flipping pancakes, obviously. (Also crepes, blini, etc.) This sort of tool is also good for pushing ingredients around in a sauté pan as they’re sautéing.

Ceramic frying pan

Sturdy, easy to clean, things mostly don’t stick. Better than Teflon. I use this pan for many things: pan-grilling chicken, sautéing vegetables, cooking rice, frying potatoes… basically, everything but crepes/blini (for which see the next entry).

Pancake frying pan

Sadly, the pan I use (a ceramic model, with shallow, sloped sides) seems to be discontinued. This hard anodized pan looks like the next best thing.

Chef’s knife

Is this a high-end, expensive, carbon-steel, super fancy really cool chef’s knife? No. It is not. It’s basic and inexpensive. It does an excellent job for the price, and I’ve been using it for a long time with no problems.

The OXO Good Grips knife that I use has been discontinued. The new model is inferior; I can’t recommend it. Instead, get the J. A. Henckels knife at the above link.

Utility knife

Matches the chef’s knife (previous entry). Basic, inexpensive, good.

The utility knife that I use has been discontinued. I am still looking for a replacement model to recommend.

Bread knife

Using this bread knife makes me feel like I’m cutting Space Bread, in The Future. (And not one of those modern dystopian futures, either—a cool, retro sort of future. In space.)

It also cuts bread really well.

Wooden spoons

If you’ve never owned wooden spoons, you’d be surprised at how useful they are. They don’t get damaged by contact with hot surfaces (the way plastic will, and even silicone or nylon at higher temperatures, like when you’re stir-frying), and they also won’t scratch up your cookware. These spoons are sturdy, and long enough (18″) to stir hot stuff without having to have your hand right over the steam coming off your food.

I highly recommend treating these thoroughly with walnut oil / butter after you get them; you want the surface to discolor heavily, until it takes on a deep, rich color. That’ll ensure that the spoons last you a good long time.

Chisel

“How is this a kitchen tool, Obormot?!” Simple: you use it (optionally, in combination with a decent hammer) to crack big blocks of chocolate (like this 1-kg brick of Russian 90% dark chocolate) into smaller chunks of chocolate (so you can melt it more quickly and without risk of burning the chocolate; or for incorporation into chocolate chunk cookies).

Could you a knife instead? Yeah. Does it work as well as the chisel? Nope. Have I damaged more than one knife, doing that? Yeah. The chisel’s better. This particular model is great; the core is one solid, heavy block of steel, from the tip to the striking plate.

(It also does other chisel things, probably.)

Vegetable brush

Despite the name, you can clean fruits with one of these things, too. It’s great for giving oranges or lemons a good scrubbing, to get all the wax/pesticides/dirt/who-knows-what out of the surface, before you zest them and use the zest to make something delicious, like limoncello or candied orange peel.

(I’ll be honest: when I bought this thing, it was black. Now I guess they made it neon green. I don’t know why.)

Honing steel

It says “sharpening steel”, but that’s not what a steel is for: it hones. If you have even semi-decent knives (like the ones listed on this page), you’ll want one of these.

Rolling pin

Do not get an “American-style” rolling pin (with the handles, and the cylindrical middle part). Get one of these: a “French” rolling pin, that is simply a single piece of wood, tapering at the ends. That gives you more control—invaluable for properly rolling out any sort of proper dough.

Offset spatula

This tool is for frosting cakes. For that, it’s great. If you bake a lot of cakes, you need this. Otherwise, probably not. This particular one is pretty good.

9″ round cake pan

This cake pan is perfect. I have zero complaints about it, and basically nothing to say but that it’s exactly what a cake pan should be like.

(See also the 8″ version.)

9″ pie plate

I have baked many a pie in this pie plate. I can imagine a better pie plate than this one, but have not found it. Of those I’ve tried (and I’ve tried many), this one’s the best.

Springform pan

To bake a cheesecake, you need a springform pan. (They’re also useful for some other things, such as things which are similar to, but not exactly identical with, cheesecakes.)

This pan is Correct, because the bottom plate is perfectly flat, and slots into the rim. (Springform pans with non-flat—knurled, grooved, etc.—bottom plates, or pans where the rim slots into the bottom, are Incorrect. This is not a matter of degree; there is a right answer and a wrong answer for these aspects of a springform pan’s design, and all pans that are designed differently from this one are wrong. Period.)

Food processor

I don’t like this thing.

Yeah, it’s the best you can get. There aren’t any better ones on the market today. If you need a food processor (and it is a very useful device), this is the one. But in my opinion, Cuisinart had a good thing going, and then they ruined it.

What am I talking about? It’s the feed tube. On the old model, it was simple: the whole lid was a single piece of plastic, the tube part of it was just a tube, the pusher was also one piece. Simple, sturdy, easy to use, easy to clean. On the new one, though, the lid + feed tube + pusher assembly is this complex, flimsy, rickety, plastic monstrosity, with a bunch of interlocking (but non-separable) components, that lock together in complex and fragile ways, that involve cheap, thin plastic parts that have to flex (and so will inevitably break soon enough)… it’s a fiasco. I hate it. It is of course a pain to clean.

But, alas, this is the best there is. Truly we live in a fallen world.

Ingredient bowls

These are necessary for mise en place, and have many uses besides (such as safely separating eggs). Basically, you use bowls like this as “swap space”.

(The bowls I use are decades-old French-made tempered-glass bowls that are no longer manufactured.)

Parchment paper

The box that this parchment paper comes in says “The simple secret to better baking!”, which may well be the single most literally true and accurate piece of advertising copy I have ever seen.

This stuff is great. Line your cookie sheets with it—the cookies won’t stick at all. Line your brownie pans with it, the brownies won’t stick, and they’ll be easy to get out of the pan. Line your cake pans with it… you get the idea. I use it all the time. There’s no substitute for it. (Forget about silicone “baking mats” or any such single-purpose nonsense—the paper is far more versatile.)

(You might be tempted to buy another brand of parchment paper. Don’t. I made that mistake once; never again. It’s Reynolds or nothing.)

Insulated cookie sheet

The idea of this cookie sheet is that there’s two layers of metal, separated by empty space, i.e. air. That means that the top layer—i.e., the metallic surface on which your cookies are in fact sitting (with a sheet of parchment paper under them of course)—does not heat up as quickly. This is good, because it means the cookies will bake more evenly, instead of the bottoms baking much more quickly than the tops.

(The sheet I use is an old Food Network one which is hard to find, but this one seems to be pretty close.)

Hand mixer

One day—when I am living in a residence with at least thrice the cupboard space of my current place—I hope to get one of those big, fancy KitchenAid stand mixers. Until then (and probably even then), I have this hand mixer, and it’s great. It makes stiff whipped cream in 30 seconds flat. Egg whites (for meringues, etc.) are a breeze. Buttercream is easy. Setup is easy—plug into the outlet, insert the attachments—and cleanup’s easy, too: eject the attachments, wash them, done.

Now, a tip and a warning. The tip: get this whisk attachment. Yes, the mixer comes with a pair of whisk attachments, and yes, they’re great, but the trick with this accessory (which, yes, is by a different manufacturer than the mixer itself—don’t worry, it fits!) is that instead of two small whisks, this is one big whisk, and what you can do with it is use it with a 2-cup measuring cup like the ones listed on this page—which greatly increases the mixer’s effectiveness, when you need to whip up small quantities of things, that fit in such a container.

The warning: the motor of this mixer is loud, especially at the higher speeds. It’s got such a high-pitched whine that I legitimately worry about hearing damage. I use earplugs when whipping cream or egg whites with this thing. Yes, really.

Ice-cream scoop

This ice-cream scoop is great for portioning out thick batters (for cookies, muffins, cream puffs, etc.). It’s the right size for a decently-sized cookie, and two scoops make a good muffin or cupcake.

(It also does just fine at scooping ice cream, for anyone who cares about that sort of thing.)

Old-style can/bottle opener

This is not a medieval instrument of torture. It’s for opening cans (and bottles) the old way, which is the best way. It’s compact, durable, and effective. It will probably survive long enough for you to pass it down to your grandchildren. In a pinch, you can use it for self-defense.

(No, I have no idea where you might get one. Mine was passed down to me by my grandparents.)

Modern manual can opener

There’s no link for this one, nor a picture. Why? Because the can opener I have (an old one by Good Cook) is no longer sold; they’ve apparently switched to some cheap Chinese knock-off that doesn’t work and breaks immediately; and I have no idea where you’d get a good modern-style can opener these days.

A can opener is a useful tool, but you’ll have to go elsewhere for a specific brand/model recommendation.

Potato masher

You can mash all sorts of things with it, not just potatoes—applesauce, for example, or cranberries (when you’re making homemade cranberry juice). Making mashed potatoes is, of course, my primary use for this tool.

Do not get the much-praised OXO brand masher. It’s terrible. Try to find one that’s as close in design as the one in the picture here (which is an ancient model; you might check some thrift stores, perhaps).

Box grater

Things I have used a box grater for:

  • grating cheese
  • zesting lemons (or limes, or oranges, etc.)
  • shaving chocolate (for sprinkling on desserts)
  • grating butter (yes, really; it helps when making pie crust without a food processor)
  • carrots (for carrot cake, or stuffed peppers, etc.)

And probably more stuff I’m forgetting. It’s a pretty versatile tool! (But see the next entry.)

(By the way, certain reputable sources—including Christopher Kimball himself—will tell you that the “spiky” side of a box grater is good for grating hard cheeses. Don’t believe them. The cheese will just clog up the holes and then will stop grating. Either use the fine “regular” surface, or buy a Microplane zester.)

Microplane zester

You can zest citrus fruits, or grate parmesan and other hard cheeses, with a box grater (see previous entry). But it works a surprisingly good deal better, and is easier and more convenient, with a Microplane zester.

A caution: the zester is not a sturdily built tool; in fact, it’s rather delicate in construction. Don’t discard the plastic sheath that comes with it! It protects the zester from being bent or otherwise damaged, when you throw it in a kitchen tool drawer with a bunch of other stuff, like I do.

Things you don’t need

Obviously, a complete list of “things you don’t need” would be infinite. This section lists some kitchen tools that I sometimes, or even often, see recommended, but which I don’t think you need.

Egg separator

Learn to separate your eggs by hand! It’s not hard. (Just remember that “by hand” does not mean that you should actually touch the yolk or (especially!) the white with your hands. Definitely don’t do that.) Make sure the eggs are cold (right from the fridge is best) when you’re separating them, and you’ll be good to go. “Egg separators” are superfluous devices that don’t really make it much easier to separate eggs anyway!

Double boiler

Stack two saucepans of different sizes/shapes! Or a saucepan and a mixing bowl! This isn’t rocket science. An “actual” double boiler is a waste of money and, more importantly, of precious kitchen space.

Citrus juicer

You don’t need this device unless your grip is weak. In that case, get your significant other / neighbor / easily-bribable-with-snacks-friend to help you. (And get one of them grip-strength-training balls, so you can squeeze your own limes next time.)

(You also can’t hand-squeeze citrus fruits if you have arthritis or something. But in that case, a citrus juicer won’t help you. Get a younger person to assist you—or just buy some juice.)