Kitchen Tools To Change The Way You Cook

Cooking is much more fun when you have all the right gear to turn your food dreams into food reality. If you have a contentious relationship with your kitchen, the problem may well be dull knives or the wrong tools, forcing you to slave over boring, repetitive tasks to make the simplest dishes. We teamed up with a group of chefs to come up with a list of gear for your kitchen that will transform the way you cook — and eat — without breaking the bank.

I love to cook, and I think part of the fun for me is having the toys in my kitchen to play with when a recipe strikes my fancy or I get a crazy idea. Cooking is always more fun when you have the right equipment — labouring in an under-equipped kitchen can lead to lots of time-consuming manual labour that could be easily accomplished with the right multi-taskers in your kitchen drawers. You just need to have the right equipment on hand to make cooking fun again. To find out the best choices, I asked three chefs which kitchen items they can't live without, and the tools they suggest every home cook have. Here's what they said.

A Good, Sharp Knife

If you haven't used a quality knife while cooking, you haven't lived. There's nothing like flying through kitchen tasks with a trusty, sharp blade to make you feel like at home in the kitchen. Just make sure you buy quality, buy sharp, and buy a knife that compliments you. You don't have to break the bank on quality knives — consider them an investment, but there's no need to take out a second mortgage. Chef Anthony Thomas explains:

Your knives do not need to be the latest and greatest available, only well maintained. Knives should fit who you are, your cooking style, your hand, and most importantly, your budget.

We agree. Make sure you try out before you buy, and you should probably have two or three good, sharp knives that you like in your kitchen.

Keep Your Knives in Top Condition

Chef Thomas also suggests you keep your knives happy: "Sharp knives cut and dull knives tear. This is something that a chef in culinary school taught me and I will never forget it. Sharp knives allow you to be precise, get professional grade cuts, butcher proteins with ease and make chopping veggies a lot easier." He notes that if your knives are losing their edge, pick up a honing steel — something we've shown you how to use before. If you wait too long to use a honing steel and your knife is damaged, he suggests a 1000/6000 grit sharpening stone and a practiced hand. If you're not sure how to use a sharpening stone, read up first or find someone to do the job for you.

A Reliable Standing/Immersion Blender

Our chefs all agreed on the importance of having a good standing blender in your home and an immersion blender (one you hold in your hand). They're versatile, useful for making drinks, soups, sauces, salad dressings and just about anything else that requires you to mix liquids — and best of all, they save you from doing it by hand. Chef Shaya Klechevsky explained that an immersion blender changed everything for him:

My life has literally been transformed from the invention of this amazing item. It's amazing for any kind of blending and instead of having to pour whatever you wish to blend into a blender, then pour it back out and have to wash the pesky blender pitcher, you just stick it into the pot or whatever is holding your ingredients, blend away, remove and then rinse! You're done!

Sounds good, but which one should you buy? He explains, "There are a bunch of different companies that make immersion blenders with various attachments (some have a food processor attachment and even a whisk attachment). The really good ones have at least 2 speed settings and some attachments. I would stick to known kitchenware brands however since you'd want a company you can trust in case you need to fix it."

What about a traditional standing blender? Chef Thomas says he can't live without his. "As a chef the blender is my go to tool. I love using it for a multitude of things. I can make sauces, emulsify vinaigrette, make soups (bisque), blend broths and much much more. You need a good, high quality blender, so if you are planning to splurge on your kitchen items this should be on the top of your list."

A Microplane Or Fine Zester/Grater

A fine hand grater is great for shredding cheese, grating spices, and more. Best of all, they're easily stored and inexpensive. You can pick one up without doing too much shopping around — just stick to a known brand and you'll be fine. Chef Chris Whitpan has a tip for you when you get one:

It shaves things very fine like hard cheeses and chocolate, but where it really shines is grating fresh nutmeg. It does a wonderful job of zesting citrus too.

We couldn't agree more — there's nothing like grabbing a nutmeg seed and grating a little fresh nutmeg into your coffee, or getting real lemon or orange zest for your recipes as opposed to trying to peel off thin layers by hand. Photo by thebittenword.com.

Trusty Cast-Iron Pans

You should definitely have a few quality pans. Chef Thomas notes: "Spend a little extra to purchase copper bottomed pans and be wary of buying sets at huge retail stores. If they also sell clothes, it's probably not the best place to buy your pots and pans.". When it comes to pans, we — and the chefs we spoke to — agree: cast iron is the way to go.

"When seasoned and maintained correctly they provide a unrivalled kitchen companion with even heating, a non-stick surface, and durability," Chef Thomas explained. "This is a must have for any home cook." Chef Klechevsky went further: "Any self-respecting kitchen will have, at minimum, a cast iron skillet. Maintenance on cast iron is mid-to-high, but I find that the benefits of the cookware outweigh the slight difficulty and of course its heft. Cast iron is great for good even heat, its versatility in being able to go from stovetop to oven immediately, and prolonged use (and proper cleaning) makes for even better seasoned cookware."

Bonus Gear: Salt and Pepper Mills, Pressure Cookers, and Other Items to Splurge On

In addition to the budget gear that we asked our chefs to put together, we also asked them what they thought would make a big impact in a home cook's life if they were to save the cash to buy it. Some of the items are small purchases that may sound superfluous (at least, until you have one in your own kitchen), and others are big purchases that are for the most dedicated home cooks and home bakers. Here's a quick rundown.

  • A quality salt mill and pepper grinder. Chef Thomas noted that both of these are small purchases, but there's no replacement for a good wooden salt mill and a quality pepper grinder. Find two that match your style, grinds the way you like, and use them often.
  • A good cutting board. Again, the rules are pretty loose here, and you should get one that matches your style and the amount of prep space you have in our kitchen. If we can offer a few basic rules though, consider wood before plastic, and never glass — they'll damage your knives and if they ever break, you'll regret it. Chef Thomas reminds us that a good cutting board will make your job easier and even keep your knives sharper longer.
  • A pressure cooker. Chef Klechevsky says his pressure cooker is one of his favourite kitchen appliances. "I have one of those old-school ones where you lock it into place and then it just builds up the pressure and you just cook. I also received as a gift a pressure cooker with a low and high-pressure setting so you have a greater level of control over the kind of pressure inside your pot. Whenever I can, I pull those pots out and get to work - it really saves me a tremendous amount of time in the kitchen."

It's quite a shopping list, but odds are that if you're reading Lifehacker, you already have some of these in your kitchen. So what would you add to the list? Do you have alternative suggestions for the gear we mentioned above? What does your must-have kitchen gear list look like? Share the tools you'd never set up a kitchen without in the comments below.

Chef Anthony Thomas hails from California and works for Fresh and Natural Food Service. Chef Shaya Klechevsky is the owner of At Your Palate and the author of the At Your Palate Blog. He competed on an episode of Food Network's competition cooking show Chopped, and is a personal chef and food writer in the New York metro area. Chef Chris Whitpan is a 20-year kitchen and restaurant management veteran, and the author of The Kitchen Hacker. All of these gentlemen volunteered their expertise and experience for this post, and we thank them.


Comments

    I did a post last year about my favourite kitchen stuff. My pressure cooker is in there - I use it practically every day, either as a pressure cooker or just as a big stainless steel pot with a good fitting lid. I have a stick blender, but I actually love my food processor better, and with either, you need a decent sized motor and not junk with plastic cogs. Good knives are in my list too. But you don't need a lot of complicated equipment - just a few quality, much loved things.

    NEVER use a steel that is corrugated, your butcher's steel, or honing steel should be relatively smooth steel. If there are channels or ridges on your steel: if you saw your knife edge under a microscope after honing, you would break down and weep.

    ...If you love your knives that is. Doesn't everybody?

    TO be more clear, the ridged/textured steels tear up and ruin the finish of your knife. They rip out the fine teeth and carbides, leaving teeth here and there, flat spots, chipping; a general mess. Go slowly, be very very gentle (the steel you are moving is so fine, you don't need much force) and a few strokes should do. If your knife isn't sharp after 5 gentle strokes each side, use a stone, not a hone.

    Pull through carbide sharpeners are also a travesty. Also, I have yet to see a SINGLE TV chef demonstrate they know ANYTHING about sharpening/maintaining knives properly. If they are on TV, they don't sharpen their own knives. Most every-day chefs don't even sharpen their own knives properly.

      +1 for good knife care! also ceramic rods beat everything for honing.....

    I love the she shit out if my girlfriends stick blender. It's freaking Amazing for pasta, marinades and sauces. To be fair, a food processor can also do these, but stick blenders are a better size to perform these tasks due to their smaller mixing chamber.

    As mentioned in the article they are so much more convenient for soups as well.

    Also a rice cooker. Even a cheap one. They are literally fire and forget devices. They are amazing.

    I don't have one, but I think my ultimate top of my Want List of kitchen appliances is a dishwasher! I reckon I'd definitely do a whole lot more cooking if I had the luxury of chucking everything into a dishwasher when I'm done. :)

    I just went through the task of buying gear to set up a first kitchen. A lot of people recommend the Victorinox/Forschner knives as a outstanding bang for the bucks and I did get a couple of small Victorinox pairing knives - they're cheap and I don't do too much super fine cutting. But I'm the sort who likes to buy something a rung or two off the bottom so in researching I found put about the world of Japanese knives. Simply put they use better quality steel than the Europeans/Brazilians etc. so they get sharper and stay sharper for longer (by the way Global knives don't really count apparently, although they still have better steel than most other knives).
    If anyone else wants to follow this path I can recommend japanesechefknives.com because they ship to Australia for just $7 and my knives arrived in 6 days. The guys at knifeforums.com can give you good advise on which knife to buy, but a good entry level knife is the Fujiwara FKM series (stainless steel), or for another step up the JCK Orginal CarboNext series (semi-stainless and what I bought - couldn't be happier). I expect to use these knifes (particularly the chef's knife (the Japanese call it a gyoto) for many years to come and love the way it slices through meat and vegies without effort.
    As for sharpening you will need to buy a combination water stone (1000/4000 or 1000/6000) and practice a little then sharpen each month for 10mins per knife or so. No steels apparently for Japanese knifes (or any other knife you care about, though fine ceramic hones aren't too bad).

      Do you mean http://japanesechefsknife.com/ ???

        Yep, that's the site. Pretty old school looking I know but I can attest that they are legit.

    " If they also sell clothes, it’s probably not the best place to buy your pots and pans."

    Last time I checked Myer had the same stuff as any of those kitchen stores like House, Matchbox ect.

    How does one go about looking after a cast iron pan? Why would I use that over my Ikea brand non-stick pan?

      Salt to set the pan up and then warm soapy water if you ever need to wash it. Most people just scrape it out though as if you wash it everyday it will rust and you'll need to treat it will salt a lot more., anyway, when the thing is hot enough to cook it kills any leftover germs.
      And you would use one over your Ikea brand non-stick pan because your body will appreciate not having to filter out the Teflon flakes that are probably coming off your non-stick Ikea pan.

        I've got no flakes coming off any of my pans.......... Not sure why that would happen, I'd probably take it back though if it did.

        So still not sure why I'd go to the trouble of salting and *not* washing a pan (not sure how you get the gunk off it if you can't wash it), over my cheap ass pan........

    Regarding high quality pots and pans, I'd avoid copper based pots these days, as they may not work with an induction cooktop unless other ferrous metals are mixed. Selling
    Kitchen appliances, I have many customers who are reluctant to move away from gas because their pots cost so much. Get with the times people, induction is safer, more efficient, has greater control and is more reliable than any of the competing technologies. Try it and you will never go back.

    We've got a Furi knife sharpener which makes sharpening a breeze. Analogue controls are also near-mandatory: faffing with buttons on hobs, ovens and the like is pain. Jokes about preferring a big knob aside, I have not yet used a hob with digital controls that offers a decent degree of control.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now