Defining the 10 Essential Tools for Beginner Cooks

What you need to know about the top 10 essential tools for your kitchen.

A client of mine just bought a second home near a lake. She faced the same problem all cooks face when stocking a new kitchen – what are the basics necessary to prepare meals for her and her family?  What are the absolute essential kitchen tools?

One of my favorite websites, Bon Appetit, posted an article titled 10 Essential Tools for Beginner Cooks. Here are my notes on the ‘Essential 10’.

The first item is a 10” stainless steel skillet. “Stainless steel” because you don’t want anything that will chip, stain, or break. Personally speaking, ‘non-stick’ surfaces are a ‘non-starter’ for the “essential” list because this will be your workhorse tool. Nothing against ‘non-stick’ (I have a small one for my morning eggs) but they do need a bit of extra care to protect them from scratches. Cast iron is another favorite, but these also require some careful cleaning and regular seasoning. As with many of these “essentials,” it’s all about personal preference.

Next is a good chef’s knife. You can do most of your kitchen chores with this one knife–so make it the first one you buy before you add other knives. Your biggest consideration is the length of the blade. For me, the 8-inch blade is a nice size but, you may prefer the 10-inch. There’s really no formula for which one is better. It’s personal preference—how it feels in your hand, balance and how long of a blade you’re comfortable working with. You should also consider getting a honing steel to sharpen your knife each time you use it—a dull knife is one of the most dangerous things to have around the kitchen.

Read: The Essential 5 Must Have Knives for your Kitchen

There’s always a lot of chatter about cutting boards, myself included. There are two things to think about: food safety and utility. I know people who swear that their glass cutting boards help them permanently solve the food safety issue (you can sanitize them). They also last longer than wood, bamboo, or plastic. But a glass cutting board will dull your knives faster than you can read this sentence. Actually, glass can ruin your chef’s knife.

So, what’s the perfect cutting board in my kitchen? A good hardwood (walnut, hickory, oak). If you want to preserve your knife and don’t care that you’ll have to replace your board often, softer woods like cypress are great. Good wood boards are perhaps 2” thick, so they don’t warp when they get wet. A Bamboo board—which is a nice compromise between hardwood and softwoods—will be about ¾” thick. As for the food safety issue, you should have a separate board for vegetables and another for animal proteins—you don’t want to cross contaminate. That’s where plastic cutting boards come in. You can stick them in the dishwasher and they’re cheap to replace when they warp, start to chip or get heavily scratched.  By the way, never stick your wood or bamboo board in a dishwasher.

Read: Don’t Take Your Cutting Board for Granted!

You need a 5 to 8-quart heavy stockpot. You will use this for boiling pasta, blanching veggies, and cooking up batches of your favorite chili or soup recipes. You want a heavy-bottomed one so that the heat is distributed evenly. Make sure that the lid is tight fitting.

It may seem obvious, but you’ll want a large cooking spoon—wood or stainless steel. I have several. Stainless is durable but can scratch some surfaces. Replace wood spoons as often as you replace wood cutting boards.

People sometimes forget how important it is to have a good set of measuring spoons and measuring cups. I like metal ones—they’re sturdy, and they retain their shape after years of use. You’ll find sets with eight or more different spoons and cups. Go for the simplicity of the basic four. In spoons, that’s one-tablespoon, one-teaspoon, half-teaspoon, and quarter-teaspoon. In cups, you’ll want one-cup, half-cup, one-third cup, and quarter-cup. Any more than that is just clutter.

That leads me to your basic liquid measuring cup. Glass is fabulous—but get one that’s tempered glass, so it doesn’t shatter the moment you put boiling liquid into it. Forget the one cup size because you already have that in your set of measuring tools. Go straight for the 2-cup and then add a 4-cup later.

You’ll want a rimmed sheet tray. Emphasis on “rimmed”—I like the ones with taller rims that are about half-inch tall. You’ll use this for roasting and baking.

A veggie peeler is definitely an essential. There are all kinds of designs but, I love my Y-peeler. It’s faster than a swivel peeler, easier to handle, and so cheap that when it finally gets dull, you can just replace it.

Lastly, a set of fine-mesh sieves. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that you can do all with big mesh colanders. Big mesh is suitable for draining big veggies, but not very useful otherwise. No plastic, it can become warped if you put hot liquid in it. You want a thin-rimmed metal sieve. Some come with plastic handles—but the simplicity of all metal is better. I say “set” because you’ll want perhaps three sizes. One should be about 6” in diameter that will double as a spider in the kitchen for scooping out blanched veggies, pasta, rinsing beans or grains, draining stock and sauces. I also use that one for poaching eggs.

That’s my “essential 10”—check out my video so you can see them for yourself.

You may think of other tools like saucepans, spatulas, whisks, and a slotted spoon. But if you’re a beginner, don’t clutter up your kitchen with all the accessories. Take it one step at a time. Learn your tools, and you’ll have more fun. I promise!

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