My Wusthof Knives, virtually the only ones I use, all photos by Donna

I get asked a lot about cooking tools and while I could do anything I really needed with just five tools—my truly minimalist kitchen would have a chef’s knife, cutting board, large sauté pan, flat-edged wood spoon and a large Pyrex bowl—I’ve got lots of tools I like and a box of tools I never use down in the basement.  In a world where all kinds of companies pitch all kinds of products, I’d like to talk about the actual tools I use and love.

First things first: Knives.  You don’t need a big block of knives.  You need a big knife and a little knife.  Invest in good quality knives.  I use Wusthof, have been for 20 years.  I think they’re the best.  (Here they are at Amazon.)  Find a good sharpening service near you, get them sharpened twice a year; buy and learn how to use a steel, to maintain that edge.  Nothing is more common in the American home kitchen than a dull knife, and nothing, nothing, makes cooking harder than a dull knife.  (You spouses of cooks.  Remember this: nothing says “I love you” like a really sharp knife.)

A Boos cutting board.  Again, quality.  These are thick heavy boards.  This is the one I use and recommend, Amazon price at OpenSky.  Another way home cooks make it hard on themselves is by not giving themselves enough space to work in. Buy the big one if you have room.

You need four good pans, and one large pot.  I use and love All-Clad pans—they are, hands down, the best brand available.  You should have a small sauté pan and a large sauté pan, a small sauce pan and a larger sauce pan, and a pot for cooking large quantities of water in (pasta, green beans, stock, etc.)  Once you have these, then you can broaden out as your needs and wallet allow.  (For instance, I do not need this pan, but it is my absolute favorite because of its sloping sides, and I love owning it.)

Cast iron pans are highly recommended.  These are outstanding if you maintain them properly (and maintaining them properly basically means never washing them with soap).  They’re inexpensive, heavy, will keep a virtual non-stick surface, and can take a serious beating (or even give one!). I recommend you find old ones in flea markets or on ebay and refurbish. I haven’t loved the modern “pre-seasoned” versions (though they’re probably fine).

I highly recommend cast iron enamel Dutch ovens—enameled cast iron is an excellent cooking material; it’s heavy, heats evenly and stays hot.  Its surface allows browning but is virtually non-stick.  It can be used on top of or in the oven.  And they’re attractive.  There is no better brand out there than Le Creuset.  Absolutely one of my most favorite cooking tools—this is the one I use, @amazon.

Non-stick pans: Buy one very good one and treat it like royalty.  (I recommend this one by All-Clad.) There are few cooking tools more useless than a cheap non-stick pan. Even the best should be limited to special uses.  When you do need a non-stick pan, for delicate fish for instance, you want a good one that has been well maintained.  The problem with even the best non-stick pans is that they make it difficult to develop a fond on your food or in your pan, that very tasty browning of proteins.  You want most food you sauté to stick long enough to develop flavor.

Appliances: I could not live without my KitchenAid standing mixer.  This is the most useful tool in my kitchen, the true workhorse.  Be sure to get one with at least a 5 quart bowl.  I also use this KitchenAid food processor, but not nearly as often as my mixer.

Other tools I love that some may see as gadgets are a Benriner mandoline and an immersion blender.  There are all kinds of plastic mandolins out there, almost all of them worthless in my opinion. The Benriner mandoline is the industry standard among cooks.  This is the one I recommend.  For 21 bucks, you can’t beat it.

My most frequently used small appliance is a handblender.  This is the one I use because someone gave it to me.  It works great.  So do the ones from KitchenAid and Cuisinart.  I use it for sauces, soups and mixing vinaigrettes.  I keep it at the ready at all times.

Here’s one that people don’t give a lot of thought to: their pepper mill.  I believe most pepper mills grind too too coarsely.  If I want it coarse, I’ll crush and chop it myself, but for everyday freshly ground pepper, the best make is Peugeot.  Can’t be beat. Here’s one at Amazon, and at OpenSky.

A digital instant read thermometer is a must.  I normally would have gone this way, with a basic Taylor digital from amazon, and this one for deep fry and candy from OpenSky, but I was perusing thermometers offered at OpenSky and saw this one, an instant read that can be used for deep frying and candy.  This is definitely the way to go! Please do not buy, and if you have one, throw away, those silly “Meat Thermometers,” unless you’re nostalgic for the 60s.

Microplane zester

I also use a RediCheck remote cable thermometer, which my cousin gave me, but it’s the cable part and the alarm that beeps at a designated temp is what’s really important.  Here’s the RediCheck at Amazon, but a cable thermometer, remote or not, is the point.

I love my zester, this is another must.  For many chefs, this was a game changer.  Instant last moment dynamic flavor, thanks to this thing.

There are of course countless tools and gadgets, crowding the walls and the shelves of kitchen supply stores, and I could go on—you should have good baking sheets, a couple of good ladles, preferably that measure, a scale of course, a fine mesh strainer (a comprehensive essay of on what I recommend can be found in my book The Elements of Cooking)—but the above tools are the ones I’m most passionate about.

What’s the single tool you’re most passionate about?

Share

143 Wonderful responses to “My Essential Kitchen Tools”

  • melissa

    I would consider a good bread knife another essential (since I bake all my own bread) – cutting a fresh loaf of crusty bread nicely is the one thing a chef knife is crap at doing. ;)

  • Bradley

    Scale
    Global Santoku
    KA Mixer
    Metal Mixing Bowls
    Whisk
    and of course Ratio!

  • Ben

    Agree with almost everything except the All-Clad pans. They are very nice (I have one myself), but seriously, what do you get from them that you won’t get from less expensive pans that you can buy from any restaurant supply store for 1/4 of the price?

    • JB in San Diego

      @ Ben: I swear by All-Clad as well. We have a non-stick griddle that was warped when my wife dropped it. We took it to the store where we bought it and they immediately exchanged it, no questions asked, because All-Clad has such a great warranty policy. And I love the fact that, unlike my old cheap pans, the All-Clads never just warp over time (they are solidly built) and the handles are riveted and welded and never, ever get loose. And one other, truly essential thing: The handles are cleverly designed thermodynamically (very narrow near the pan and wider at the end) and when used on the stove top never get too hot to touch. You never need to grab them with a hot pad unless they were in the oven. For completeness I’ll mention that inside the stainless steel is an aluminum and/or copper core that distributes heat like the best copper or cast iron pans. No hot spots.

    • ruhlman

      Ben, you’re assured of great quality that will last, forever. They all have really solid construction that makes cooking more successful. I’m not saying there aren’t other good pans out there. I just think they’re the best, and if you can afford them, they’re worth the money.

      • Carol Blymire

        And, the great thing about All-Clad is that they do a big warehouse sale twice a year (if you live near Pittsburgh), and you can always find All-Clad at Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and HomeGoods for more than 50% off list price.

  • Walt

    Great list Michael, thanks.

    I’m in the market for a new blender and I’m really interested in the Vita Prep 3. Would you consider this a bit over the top for a home cook? (My wife certainly does!) If so what might you recommend?

    • Nelson

      A blender should be on the list. I personally own a Vita Prep 3 for home use and would recommend it with some qualifications. The first being, how much are you going to use it and the second what do you want your blender to be able to do. I use mine for all sorts of applications, making smoothies, making soups, custard bases, exceptionally smooth purees, grind large batches of spices and even to grind flours from grains like oatmeal. The tool you have in your kitchen should fit your use and needs. Not the other way around.

    • Barbra

      I’m not Michael, but I bought a Vita-Mix 5200 a few years ago and absolutely love it. Is it over the top for a home cook? Not any more than any other tool. If you can afford it, go for it.

      I love it for making blended soups, and it’s unsurpassed for anything that involves reconstituted dried chiles (no bits of skin left un-ground, I’ve never seen another blender do that.) Great for any sort of blended sauces, grinding nuts, and making smoothies (no frozen chunks of fruit floating around.)

      • Chuck

        +1 for a good blender. I’ve owned a lot of cheap blenders over the years, but being such, the ones I didn’t burn up I didn’t bother to use because I was expecting them croak, blend badly, and be a pain to clean.

        I finally begrudgingly spent the money and bought a VM5200 a few months ago, and I love it and use it a couple of times a day. This thing would blend rocks if I asked it to, and cleanup is dead simple (bit of water, drop of soap, crank on full, rinse).

        I wish I’d have bought one years ago.

      • Walt

        Michael, Nelson and Barbra,

        Thanks for your helpful opinions. Vita Prep it is!

      • Hal in Seattle

        I second the Thermapen. They are absolutely the fastest reacting thermometer I have ever used, analog or digital.

      • Matt B.

        To me the best part about the Thermapen is that they use a thermocouple instead of a thermistor as the sensing element. That means it’s more accurate (evidenced by the calibration data included with the unit) and rugged than any other food-grade thermometer.

      • jenny

        Well, the thermapen is unrealistic, 100$ + for a thermometer is out of the price range of many home cooks.

  • Nancy Singleton Hachisu

    It’s past 1 am here in Japan, so what am I doing up?

    Well, one thing for sure, I’m not going to be contributing thoughtfully to the passionate tool discussion. I will say one thing (or two). I used to buy little do-da’s at Williams Sonoma (both here & in the States), but most of those cute, but essentially ineffectual tools are packed away somewhere now. You are so right. A few really good pieces in the kitchen are essential.

    And readers, head well the advice about knives. My Japanese husband is our resident master knife sharpener, but I know I need to learn the art of sharpening as well. My sons can. I just have to stop and take the time while my husband does his thing. (Too busy.)

    Knives should be like razors. Otherwise, forget it. And truly, a super sharp knife is your best tool in the kitchen.

    • Lou Doench

      I’d like to be the heretic here and say that I don’t really like supersharp knives. I mean, I sharpen mine twice a year like yer sposeto. and I alway hate working with them for almost the first month afterwards. Now I’m not talking dull, but right off the sharpener sharp is too sharp for me. If I need a razor sharp cut, well I have a razor. But I like my chef’s knife to have a little feel to it that I don’t get when its razor sharp.

  • Jeff

    What a great post. I need to revamp my pots/pans to get rid of the cheap wedding present stuff that really hasn’t lasted. Definitely want to go stainless steel – I have a Le Creuset stainless fry pan that I picked up on sale at the outlet store and I find myself using it more than anything else now.

    That last link for your book is wrong btw – it’s pointing to the zester.

  • Rory

    Silicon baking mats!!! They are a dream for baking, and they are reusable rather than tossing them out. Also very useful for rolling jelly rolls, etc.

    I also have to say Paderno pots have become my favourite, good quality, solid base to them, and a plus for me is they are a Canadian company!

    • MelissaD

      Rory, I’ll second that about the Paderno pots. My mom got me a set when I bought my house, and I use them every day. They cook better, they stand up well, and they aren’t high maintenance. I have a Paderno stainless steel frying pan as well that I adore. Of course, being from PEI I am somewhat biased. ;)

      Michael, I’d also add stock pot to your list. I don’t use it every day (or even every month), but I do make all my own stock and it is invaluable to me. I use it for pickles and chow, too, and this year I even made my own tomato sauce. So even though I don’t use it all the time, I use the fruit of its labours every day. (And my stockpot is Paderno, too – those summer blowout sales rock!)

  • Camille

    If I had to pick one, and only one kitchen tool to pledge my undying devotion, it would have to be an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. It was the first thing I bought upon moving into a really crappily-equipped Parisian apartment a few years ago. (Right after the sharp knives, now that I think about it. Can’t do anything at all without a good knife.)

  • Walt

    Michael,

    I think you meant to respond to Ben here. My question was about a blender. Thanks.

  • Barbra

    Aside from all the stuff you list, I use my pastry scraper an awful lot. Not only for pastry, but for scraping stuff off the cutting board and/or the counter when I spill and for cutting soft items.

    Another thing I use in my kitchen a lot but seldom see mentioned is a ruler – useful for cutting things in straight lines, measuring stuff you’re making from a recipe (“cut into 3/4″ chunks”, “roll into a 6×9″ square”, “pound to 1/4″ thickness”). A lot of those I can eyeball, but actually measuring every once in a while keeps you accurate.

  • AJ

    spoons
    the “good” deli containers collected from only the finest chinese take out places
    non-slip drawer liner so I don’t have to burn a towel just to keep my cutting board from moving

    • Bob

      Have you tried the RollPat? Same concept, but it’s a silicone mat designed for working with dough, and not for the oven.

  • Susan

    Your list is right on! I am mostly interested in baking and couldn’t live without several sizes of whisks, offset and rubber spatulas, a bench scraper, and a good wooden board; Your’s gives me board envy! I also wonder how I ever got along without a good Pitter! I know you can pit olives and stone fruit with a cut and a twist or just break them, but I’ve used and liked my pitter more than I ever thought I would.
    .
    I’ve lucked out at the thrift stores, I’ve gotten most of my kitchen outfitted at a 10th of the price of new. (I love that people buy friviolously then toss the stuff away because their kitchen is too crowded) In fact, I just recently obtained a La Cruset dutch, approx 6qt, in perfect condition, for thirteen bucks! Of course, not everyone has the time or patience to do that!

    • Rhonda

      Susan, I think you are absolutely spot on!

      Check your garage sales and thrift stores. Great advice!!

      Except, please buy cutting boards new.

      Oh, and everyone needs a Bench Scraper!!!!

  • Jeff

    It would be impossible to list everything in a post, but I do love my coffee/spice grinder and my Peugot peppermill and lastly i did not see a collander with a foot.

    Pots should be a post all by itself, what do you think of stainless steel lined copper pots. Expensive, yes but will last more than a lifetime!

  • Andy Coan

    I agree with you on the “pre-seasoned” cast iron stuff. Totally worthless if you ask me. I’ll never buy another one. The old cat iron skillet my mom gave me is like glass, but the new stuff won’t let of cornbread without sticking.

    • Matthew

      “Pre-seasoned” just means that you need to season it. I’ve bought three pans in the last two years, and after seasoning the heck out of them, their surfaces are pretty much shiny, black sheets of carbon. I’m not even sure I could get something to stick to them, unless I basically charred it to the pan on high heat for 30 minutes.

  • Larry D'Anna

    The seasoning on those pre-seasoned pans can be removed by running them through your oven’s self-clean cycle. After that you can wash it with soap, dry it, and re-season it properly.

      • Sean

        I’ve also “un-seasoned” a cast iron pan by leaving it on a hot Webber grill when I’m done with a cookout. Covered, a grill full of charcoal will stay at 500-600 degrees for long enough to burn off the factory seasoning.

    • lawsontl

      I swear by using lard for my re-seasoning. I’ve rescued two heirloom cast iron skillets with it after various other fats failed to keep them from rusting.

      And on that note, I can’t see my kitchen without lard in it, nevermind gadgets!

  • Rob

    I agree on the sharp knives and the non-stick pans: pains in the rear if they’re not working properly.

    I also figure the tools would depend on what you tend to cook. I really like the wok my wife and I have because it’s easy to do a lot of stir-fry in them. Plus it’s deep enough where a growing-yet-still-novice cook such as myself can’t spill stuff out too easily.

  • Bunnee

    I use most of the above but I also find a needle-nose pliers (which I stole from the workshop — and cleaned, of course) for pulling little bones from fish really convenient. I use my citrus juicer daily. I have little tool that pops the seal on jars – extremely useful now that a little arthritis has set in. I also like little bowls for setting up my mise en place.

  • Dave Mata

    Hey Chef.
    I have one to which I think has become essential:
    -Meat Grinder (manual or Kitchen Aid attachment.)

    You need it for quickly working through meat for sausages, as well as a way to reduce exposures to various e.coli recalls that supermarket ground meats have become so well known for. A good manual one could probably deliver a better beating than an iron pan as well.

    An optional, but important one:
    -Coffee/ Spice Mill for grinding up fresh spices.

    D

  • Russ

    Does anyone have a recommendation for a knife sharpener (service) in the Cleveland area? I’m in the Detroit-Shoreway, but since it’s probably a once-a-year thing for us I’d be fine with driving almost anywhere in Cleveland or inner-ring.

    • ruhlman

      ambrose antiques wet grinds knives prospect and 20th or thereabouts, across from convocation ctr.

  • Jeni

    There’s a couple of other things I consider mandatory:

    A set of locking tongs
    A couple of good spatulas (of both the flipping variety and the scraping/mixing variety)
    An oven thermometer (ah, apartment living)
    A bench scraper

    But, of course, it’s my scale that’s my true workhorse. I have celiac and thus bake everything from scratch, and I couldn’t do it without a scale.

    (As an aside, can I mention how amazing _Ratio_ is for gluten-free baking? Save bread dough, nearly every ratio translates perfectly from traditional flours to gluten-free flours. My family thinks I’m a genius.)

  • Leela

    That’s a very good list for a minimalist kitchen.

    The only thing I would add is that for anyone who is considering buying a Benriner, it’s better to get a Super Benriner which is wider and makes it possible for you to slice larger fruits and vegetables that are too big for the original Benriner to handle. I wish someone had told me that before I bought my Benriner.

    • ruhlman

      i disagree, leela. the big ones are a bad because they use two screws to adjust thinness, making uniform thinness all but impossible. stick with the narrow one!

  • Nancy

    My favorite tools – all the ones on your list Michael but would add kitchen shears.Use them for snipping herbs, cutting parchment, butcher’s twine, etc., etc.

    Tried a new non stick pan – “scanpan” and think it’s got All Clad beat – you can sear items in it and it can go into a 500 degree oven.

    • Cinda

      Agree with you about Scanpan. I have two sizes. They work really well and allow you to get enough heat to really sear and develop the fond. Also, they can go in the oven. Fish, frittatas, etc. all turn out great.

  • MessyONE

    We have all of those appliances (weirdly), but I have to say that I use the heck out of our Kitchenaid food processor. There’s nothing like it for cutting butter into flour, and if you use your butter frozen, the end temperature is perfect. I make banana bread dough in it regularly and it comes out perfectly every time.

    The small bowl insert is good for making pesto and chopping small things like nuts.

    You left out a hand mixer. I use it a lot if I’m baking small things – like a small batch of cupcakes or a single layer cake. There are some jobs that the big stand mixer is just too massive to manage.

  • Jose Canseco

    All-Clad manufactures great cookware (much of it in the USA), my favorites are my 3 qt saucier and saute pan.

    Recently I’ve started collecting Falk Culinair copper cookware, which is equally if not more expensive than All-Clad. That’s just a personal preference though, since I like the temperature response, feel, and looks of heavy copper.

    Lifetime warranty for high quality cookware is a given – don’t consider brands that don’t offer it. Well made pots and pan SHOULDN’T ever need replacing in your lifetime…unless they’re abused.

  • Jennifer S

    locking tongs
    a good whisk
    half-size baking sheets
    vegetable peeler
    cooling rack with narrow spaces between the wires

  • Walker Lawrence

    A quality whisk is a must. I can’t emphasis how much I love my whisk.

    I also think silicone spatulas are unbelievably important. It’s useful to have varying types, by size and strength.

  • Katerina

    Great post, I did something like this at Xmas for gift ideas for foodies. I have almost all of these. Never really gotten into the mandoline… :)

  • kaela

    I have a Mario Batali enameled cast iron Dutch oven and I find it hard to believe that Le Cruset could top it; it has quickly become my favorite pot. At about 1/3rd of the price of Le Cruset, definitely worth it!

      • kaela

        I also have the measuring cups, spoons and dough scraper; all great pieces.

        One thing I like about the Dutch oven is the lid has braising spikes, which Le Cruset does not.

  • marc

    I see you like the 2-1/4 inch thick cutting board. Any reason to really prefer that over the 1-1/2 inch thick?

  • Jack Cheng

    Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to cook without a pair of wooden chopsticks. They turn or stir the food in pans, they beat eggs, they remove pasta from boiling water, they even check baked goods for doneness when I can’t find a toothpick. They take up no room in a drawer and cost about $0.25.

    • Matthew

      that is awesome! so few american cooks are skilled enough with chopsticks to make them useful, but they really can be indispensable if you know what you’re doing. i used to have a long, heavy-duty pair of cooking chopsticks that i used for just about everything. man, i should get me another set of those things!

    • Laurie Cohen

      Try to find a real long pair of chop sticks. I found a pair for my daughter at an import store. Perfect for getting a lot done, including rescuing that piece of food that didn’t make it into the pot and will become char if left on the burner!

  • Mark

    I have assigned cutting boards. One just for fruits, another for not harsh veggies (sweet peppers mostly), another just for garlic, onion, etc.

    I dont like my apples tasting like fresh clove of garlic.

  • consumable Joy

    I love this post — I especially value your recommendations on the most critical pots and pans for a kitchen to have. We’ve got a lot of the same tools you have, and actually also have All-Clad non-stick (and regular) as well as Le Creuset (I’m dying to get their pot that’s big enough for a goose but that’s certainly not an essential).

    I also had a huge laugh at the meat thermometer comment you made – we’ve looked for a good meat thermometer for years and I guess I’ll just tell my husband (or mom) to throw in the towel on that one.

    Re: pots and pans, I find Le Creuset to be really heavy. Recently I read an article about Moneta’s Ceramica cookware (http://gocookware.com/) on the Atlantic Food Channel and I picked up the oven-safe skillet for my husband. And we are seriously in love. To the point that I am ready to use this cookware to replace any of my non-stick items that are ready to be turned over and showing too many signs of wear (I don’t want to be eating any peeling teflon). It’s lighter, it heats well, and it is amazingly non-stick. Doesn’t sound like you need any more pots or pans (I mean, why would you), but these are worth a look if you are actually building a set.

  • NYCook

    Aside from my knives, and Ruhlman I would have to throw my boning knife in as a nessacery 3rd. I need my

    1.Scale
    2.Silpat
    3.GREY KUNZ SPOONS!!! A MUST HAVE
    4.Immersion Blender
    5.Vaccum Sealer

  • Kate @Savour Fare

    Your kitchen sounds like my kitchen, but I really love my Oxo Swivel Peeler, too. I am evangelical about that thing. And a Mexican style citrus juicer. And don’t forget the ubiquitous ramekins!

    I think that pots and pans are pretty standard, actually, but tools are a little more personalized. If you want to make cherry clafoutis every day in the month of July then for God’s sake get yourself a cherry pitter. If you only eat cherries raw, it’s a pointless waste of space.

  • Mantonat

    Items that have recently changed the way I cook:
    - Immersion blender. I use this way more than the food processor now.
    - digital kitchen scale. Thanks, Ratios!
    - microplaner. Zesting made easy. I also use it for hard cheeses or adding small amounts of just about anything grate-able.
    - All-Clad pans. They heat so quickly and evenly and don’t warp, unlike many cheap immitators. It’s amazing how even something as simple as boiling water becomes much quicker and more controlable.
    - Cast iron skillet. My wife had one when we got married and now I swear by it. I never knew what browned meat really looked like until I used the skillet.

    Items I hold a grudge against:
    - Kitchen Aid food processor. It leaks, it’s hard to clean, it sucks for smaller amounts. Every time I use it, I wonder why.
    - $20 stock pot from Target. It’s big, that’s about it. The bottom warped at pretty low temp. One of these days I’ll replace it and it will serve a second life as a scrap bucket for composting.

    Spme day:
    - a good mesh strainer or tamis. I broke mine yesterday pushing boiled potatoes through it. Any recommendations for one that I can’t accidentally push the screen out of?
    - Immersion circulator. I’ve experimented with sous vide cooking and it’s really changed the way I’ve thought about cooking meat, but temp. control is too difficult on the stovetop and anything more than a couple of hours is just impractical. This is something I think I would use ALOT. Hoping they come down in price soon.

    • Hal in Seattle

      I started out with a Sous Vide Magic which controlls a slow cooker or a rice cooker — accurate temperature but no circulation other than convection. It was a couple hundred bucks, plus your desired size of rice cooker. It worked fine. When the sous vide supreme came out I bought that as a one-piece solution. Still no forced circulation but results have been very satisfactory. It’s around $500.

  • Mark Christenson

    For knife sharpening, the best guy in the US is Dave Martell at D&R Sharpening (www.drsharpening.com). I live in San Diego and ship my knives to him in Philly–my German knives and my Japanese knives and my American (Michael Rader) knives. Expensive but he’s the best. (No connection other than a very satisfied customer!)

  • Natalie Sztern

    My biggest nemesis are my two cast iron pans no matter what I do they are sticky like hell and I have tried everything to get a proper season….everything including almost burning the house down. Even Monsieur Le Grosso could not help me…http://blog.ruhlman.com/2008/07/elements-cast-i.html

    Cannot live without my juice squeezer: round with two handles and holes. which I happen to have in all 3 sizes for oranges, lemons and limes….

    biggest waste of money and I am sorry Ming Tsai: ceramic knives

  • Karen Downie Makley

    A couple years ago I had a date with another cook. The first thing he did when he came to visit my apartment was to check out my pans! I thought that was about the funniest thing ever. I met his approval with a comment something suggesting that what I lacked in quantity I more than made up for in quality. Hi-larious!

  • shogunmoon

    Ugh! Again with the Wusthof’s!

    For the very steep price you pay for these butter soft knives, you can do a whole lot better. Who has time to sit and sharpen knives every five minutes? (I am a pro line cook, yes I know how to steel and sharpen my knives.) We get paid to cook, not stand around honing knives all day.

    I suppose, maybe the Wusthof is fine for home use. For a line cook, they do not hold an edge long enough. I still see pro cooks using them now and again, but I see a lot more Chef’s using either High Carbon blades (like Sebatier or the Misono Swedish Steel series) or some other kind of Japanese knives. The old Wusthof tends to hang around for situations where you may not want to use a thin Japanese knife, such as busting raw squash or something. Then again, the Japanese knives are fine for this as well.

    Wusthofs are fine, but at $80 or more for an 8″ Chef’s knife, you can get a MAC or a Misono Swedish Steel.

    http://www.chefknivestogo.com/misono3.html

  • Dan Chase

    I couldn’t disagree more with the folks that think ceramic knives are a waste of money. I got one as a gift a few years ago, and I too thought that it would be a worthless, but expensive toy. I agree that a $120 knife that has to be babied isn’t very appealing, but how wrong I was! It’s sharper than even the best steel blades, the blade is thinner as well, making it easier to cut things finely, and it’s jazzy looking (which is just a bonus). I’ve never really babied the blade, but I do go out of my way to make sure it can’t come into contact with anything harder than it. It’s great for vegetation and boneless meats. Don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it, because you might just like it.

  • Michelle

    I was in the market for a mandoline a while back and bought the OXO, used it once and took it back, useless tool. Then I got smart and checked your site and bought the Benriner, and have been very happy. It is sharp, so you have to be careful. -Also, love my immersion blender. Every time I get it out, I think to myself, “It is such a good day, I get to use the immersion blender.” Just started making my own tortillas and love my new Tortilla Press, although wish I’d bought a bigger one. Not sure if this is a tool, but I like parchment paper, saves time and cleanup and good for en papillote.

  • Eric

    Michael,

    I don’t follow why you need two thermometers. I use a digital cable thermometer for everything (meat, frying, candy, etc.)

    All Clad pans are definitely good quality, but I have a problem with the handles. On my All-Clad pan, the base of the handle is too narrow. This causes the pan to become unbalanced, and could flip over to the side if the ingredients aren’t balanced on either side of the handle. The first time I used it I almost dumped a pan full of pasta on the floor because most of the pasta was on one side.

    • Hal in Seattle

      The reason the base of the handle is narrow is to reduce heat transfer from the pan to the handle, hopefully keeping the handle cool.

  • BobY

    Re the sharp knife discussion, one of my most essential tools is the Chef’sChoice electric sharpener. Recommended years ago by Craig Claiborne in the NY Times and have had mine ever since. Easy, accurate and it works!

  • cybercita

    i so completely agree with you about the wusthof, all clad {that saucier make the best tarte tatin!} zester, cast iron.

    i couldn’t live without my flat bottom wooden spatula/spoon. i use it constantly for stirring everything in pots and for scrambling eggs.

  • Mary Beth Paul

    Bench scraper – cannot do without mine.
    Kitchen scale- goes without saying!

    Nordic Ware commercial weight baking sheets- 1/2 sheet size. I use them for everything from roasting vegetables, for all kinds of baked goods, even as kitchen trays for carrying things from here to there. They clean up easily and are a pleasure to use. No more warped cookie sheets ever again.

  • Penny Simone

    Agree with your list with the addition of tongs, spatulas and vegetable peelers. Some of the items are one my wish list. I don’t bake much and think or justify that if I had a stand mixer I would. I inherited a beautiful, well cared for, well seasoned cast iron pan from my mom who received it as a wedding gift in 1949. As far a the high end non-stick- well we went that route. I’m not naming names. We treated it like royalty. It held a special berth in the cabinet, not to be touched by another lower cast pan. Only used with special tools. Off limits to visiting cooks unless they were worthy. It eventually, and many years later, it went the way of the cheap pans and started to flake (maybe its the hard water in Florida). Right about this time I read an article by two chefs that said about non-stick “either go expensive or go cheap, but know you will replace it frequently.” Shortly after reading this we were strolling through Ikea and came across a non-stick that was just the right size, nice slope on the sides, nicely weighted with a shapely modern handle. $19.99. Had to get it. Have had it a year. Not exactly treated like royalty. Used a lot. Looks brand new. Best non-stick I’ve owned.

  • Penny Simone

    Agree with your list with the addition of tongs, spatulas and vegetable peelers. Some of the items are one my wish list. I don’t bake much and think or justify that if I had a stand mixer I would. I inherited a beautiful, well cared for, well seasoned cast iron pan from my mom who received it as a wedding gift in 1949. As far a the high end non-stick- well we went that route. I’m not naming names. We treated it like royalty. It held a special berth in the cabinet, not to be touched by another lower cast pan. Only used with special tools. Off limits to visiting cooks unless they were worthy. It eventually, and not many years later, it went the way of the cheap pans and started to flake (maybe its the hard water in Florida). Right about this time I read an article by two chefs that said about non-stick “either go expensive or go cheap, but know you will replace it frequently.” Shortly after reading this we were strolling through Ikea and came across a non-stick that was just the right size, nice slope on the sides, nicely weighted with a shapely modern handle. $19.99. Had to get it. Have had it a year. Not exactly treated like royalty. Used a lot. Looks brand new. Best non-stick I’ve owned.

  • Stephanie - Wasabimon

    This is going to sound silly, but I have a serious mandolin-phobia. Not sure where I got the idea that I might lose my fingertips, but they just give me the creeps.

    I agree with you on almost all of these things. I love my flat wooden stir-fry spoon, made of olive wood, and my antique cast iron pans. New pans have a weird textured finish on them that I really dislike. Would love it if you did a complete post on the care and feeding of cast irons, complete with images of dos and don’ts!

    • Matthew

      in my opinion, the best cast iron skillets being made today are Wagner Ware, an old brand brought back by American Culinary a few years ago. they don’t have that weird textured surface that Lodge has, and the handles have a more useful shape. the pan i have is very nice to cook with.

    • Sean

      I have some serious scars on my fingertips from my mandoline, but that does not necessarily mean your fears are well founded, because I am an idiot

  • Dave

    Similar choices for me…

    1. Wustof Classics – 8″ chef, 3″ paring and bread knife with steel
    2. Corkscrew with double hinge (restaurant style)
    3. All-Clad pots and pans with the exception of a 7″ saute non-stick aluminum saute pan that I like to cook omelets in. Restaurant supply for like $20
    4. KA immersion blender
    5. Cuisinart coffee/spice grinder — this has a detachable stainless steel cup and it’s so easy to clean. It does a wonderful job too.
    6. Stand box grater – I have a microplane as well, but if I had a choice – the box grater.

    PS – thank you for writing the books you do – I’m sure you go to bed each night with a smile knowing how many lives you have touched through your writing.

  • david williard

    Michael,

    All due respect to your accomplishments as an incredible food author and CIA-trained cook, but your knives aren’t nearly what they could–and should–be. Wusthof can’t make a knife that gets above 60 HRC (Hardness on the Rockwell C scale), which means rolled edges, frequent steeling, and most importantly, relatively fat angles.

    Try a Nenox S1 or SD series–or for that matter, any well made Japanese knife at HRC 60+–with a 10/15 compound beveled edge. You will never, ever pick up a Wusthof again.

    These, and the waterstones necessary to maintain them, are the kinds of tools that make “shallot brunoise” and other absurdities into possibilities. Seriously. Ask Morimoto.

    Oh, and a HUGE second to the poster who recommended Dave Martell at DR Sharpening. As with the previous reference, no connection other than a very satisfied customer.

  • Matthew

    Without a doubt: knives, and by extension, cutting boards. A large, wooden cutting board is a must.

    I’m torn on knives. Before I started cooking professionally, I was devoted to a large French rocker. I’d used a 10″ Victorinox literally since I was large enough to hold one (when i was about 11), and couldn’t think of anything better. But, for most things, I now use a cheap carbon steel santoku I picked up in the Montreal Chinatown last summer (I’ve generally become enamored with cheap Asian knives). And I steel it about every ten or twenty minutes. It takes literally 15 seconds, and I’ve never needed to have a knife sharpened!

    My favorite paring knife in the world (and I’ve used a lot) is the Sanelli 4″.

    As with most things, these preferences are incredibly idiosyncratic.

  • Saffoula

    @Stephanie-you have a wise fear of mandolines- sliced my thumb real “good” a few Thanksgivings ago. Now my husband runs the “dangerous machine”. My key items: Cuisinart mini prep, scissors, and a lemon reamer that collects the juice in a fairly large jar below.

  • Colleen

    I agree that a good whisk is essential. Mine has a very thin handle (I have small hands, and they get tired holding the standard restaurant whisk handle) and is very springy. I find that a lot of restaurants only stock stiff whisks meant for large quantities of thicker substances…..but if I need to make hollandaise or bearnaise, or whip some cream on the fly, those whisks are virtually useless. Mine has lots of play, and it makes the job faster and easier.

    I am also very attached to my paring knife. I use it for everything. It is sharp like a razor blade, and can bone out chickens, ducks, quails and poussin faster than my boning knife. (Once again, this could be a hand issue….) But I could not say anything better about my paring knife other than: “I would be lost without it!” I don’t believe in paying $30 or $50 for a paring knife that could get dumped in the garbage by accident in amongst some potato peels. Mine is this one:
    http://www.surlatable.com/product/cutlery/paring+%26+utility+knives/traditional+french+paring+knives+by+l%27econome%2C+red.do?sortby=ourPicks It’s nice that it comes in red, so it stands out!

    You like All Clad. Have you ever tried Demeyere? I love my All Clads, but I wouldn’t trade my Demeyeres for anything.

    You know what else I use all of the time? A timer. I multitask a lot in the kitchen, and if I didn’t have my timer I would seriously waste a lot of food.

    Mini offset spatulas are also very useful.

    Nice list!

  • Elias

    I would add a Thermomix (a blender that cooks) to this list. It is expensive but replaces a number of tools in the kitchen (blender, scales, steamer etc). Although this is an appliance designed for domestic use it is now used extensively in fine dining restaurants in Europe, Canada and Australia.

  • Carol Alaniz

    I’m in love with my All-Clad Copper Core 3 Qt. Saute Pan. All-Clad ARE the best, you’re right. My cooking has changed so much! Have only one Copper Core now but will buy a few more pans and that should be all the All-Clad I need.

    Also have a 6 qt Kitchen Aid stand mixer. The texture of the bread I make is so much better due to the kneading this workhorse does. I couldn’t part with this mixer.

  • Diane

    My single favorite items are the most basic.

    My knives of course are #1. I don’t own a food processor, so use them for everything. I have only 4 – chef’s knife, paring knife, bread knife, and large chinese cleaver.

    #2 are my mortar & pestles – my big granite mortar & pestle, which I use for making Thai curries and pesto, and my small mortar & pestle, which I use for grinding pepper, mashing garlic and ginger, etc. Love the control these give me. And my little used, but lovely clay mortar & wood pestle, which I use only for making green papaya salad.

    There are many other things I love, including the workhorse cast iron skillet I bought at a garage sale for $5, my kitchenaid mixer, etc – but the knives and the M&P are my must-have, top 2, never-gonna-give-them-up implements.

  • Carl Belles

    I think the correct answer when someone asks, “what brand of knife should I buy,” is, “whichever one feels best in your hand.” For me, that wound up being Shun, and I’ve been very happy with them. Tried Wusthof, tried Global, tried many others, and none of them felt right.

    My pry-it-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands tool is a Calphalon “chef’s pan” I got from Amazon’s discount page 5 or 6 years ago (I think it is from the Calphalon Contemporary series). Hands down *the* best egg pan I’ve ever used. I baby that pan because I’m afraid I’ll never find another that is so slick. It would be perfect if it had a long handle instead of the two “helper” handles, but the surface is so perfect for eggs that I’m not going to complain.

  • Barbara

    Kitchen shears. I need three pair to keep a clean one at the ready while two others are in the dishwasher. That’s how often I find a use for them.

  • Michael McCullen

    As much as good knives are imperative, they are useless unless kept sharpened. I use Wusthof as well, for over 25 years, and some of them I have had for 25 years. I use a diamond stone to keep them sharp, made by a company called EZE-lap. You can use it dry, with water, or with a little oil. Highly recommended.

  • Toma Culinary

    I would agree with others add a mortar and pestle. I would also add a melon ballers and small stainless containers for mis.

  • Dave F

    Great article, I love it! What pisses me off the most when cooking at my friends’ place is the lack of a proper knife. A bad pot/pan I can kinda deal with but a knife…. not so much. As a famous Aussie says, “You call that a knife?”

    I’m looking to upgrade my kitchen myself and I think I’m going to go for a couple of All Clad pans per the many recommendations.

  • Jason Bartholme

    It’s remarkable how many of these items I already have and use on a regular basis. I have the Wusthof Grand Prix knives, Kitchen Aid Mixer, a mandoline, a well-made pepper mill, and good pots.

    My single most useful tool is my adustable “over-the-sink” strainer. It is perfect for prepping and draining. I’ve had the same one for about 10 years.

  • Candace

    How do you clean your Boos cutting board? How do you get around cross-contamination when cutting meat for instance and vegetables?

  • Jacki

    I honestly don’t think I would be able to go too long without my cast-iron Dutch oven. The thing is huge and heavy and I have a problem lugging it around my kitchen (I weigh a scant 105), but I use it a lot.

    A close second is my Global 8-inch knife. It is awesome!

    An honorable mention would have to be my coffee pot. I don’t think it was mentioned here, but I love my coffee pot.

  • Paul

    Do you guys prefer the plain stainless all-clads or the hard anodised? I’ve been looking to get some new chef pans, and can’t decide if I should get stainless or anodised.

    Other important things in my kitchen …

    pressure cooker … great way to make fast stocks, curries, tagines.

    dough mixer … stick with a weird metal thing on the end for mixing wet bread doughs ( great for feeding sourdough starters )

    offset smoker … not in the kitchen, but you can’t beat a slow smoked brisket.

    • Sean

      I second the call for a pressure cooker. I use it to make quick stocks, beans, and I made a great osso bucco in a fraction of the time it would normally take

  • Jim Philips

    As a baker, I also find that a decent metal dough divider is essential. Aside from dividing dough, it’s fabulous for scraping off surfaces where I’ve been working. Brand hardly matters.

  • sharon scott

    Thanks for the comprehensive essentials list Michael, the whats and the whys are very helpful. I didn’t see a Kalamata olive pitter on your list. I suppose you could use the flat side of your multipurpose big chef’s knife for that. ;)

  • JJ

    Re: Knife sharpening.

    I’ve love my Spyderco ceramic knife sharpening kit. It’s a manual set up, easy to toss in my kitchen tool box and it has set angles as well as a set up for free hand sharpening. I have had mine for years and it has maintained the edges on my knives without taking off too much metal. It is also fantastic for sharpening serrated edges too!

    I’m sure you can find it cheaper, but here is the manufacturer’s site:
    http://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=77

  • JMW

    I love food mills. They are really pleasurable to use, easy to clean, and the OXO one is very well designed. Could not do without mine.

    Agree w mortar & pestle for sure. I have a gigantic heavy one for taking out my tax time frustrations on freshly toasted spices!

    Oh and I really, really want a Pacojet. :). Just tossing that out there …

  • tristero

    I have much of the same stuff in my kitchen. Other than what you’ve already listed, I’ve found the following to be extremely useful, bordering on essential:

    1. Pizza stone.
    2. Parchment paper (there’s a Thomas Keller trick: line a baking sheet with parchment and use it as a “garbage bowl.” Gather up the paper when done and toss the scraps. No cleanup.)
    3. Looseleaf notebooks for recipes and notes.
    4. Sharpies and scrap paper for labeling and dating food for the fridge and freezer.
    5. Brother Labeler for labeling jars, containers, etc.
    6. Wooden spoons.
    7. Family (and friends) to help prep dishes and clean up (rather the most important pieces of gear, if you ask me!)

    t

  • Carri

    I know this will sound silly, but truly, my best kitchen tool is my hands….too many people are afraid to use them and they don’t cost anything other that a good handwashing…before and after!

  • Merridith

    As far as electric appliances go, my “deserted island tool” as I like to call it is my immersion blender. It’s a Braun that comes with several attachments and gizmos that are extremely useful. These include a small chopper that I use for herbs and mincing as well as for emusifying small amounts of sauce; a larger chopper that works like a blender for emulsifying larger quantities; an ice crusher insert for the large blender that, amazingly, really works; a whisk attachment (my least favorite/least used); and, of course, the main head which is the one you immerse into soups, purees, sauces, etc.

  • Todd

    I love that after buying good kitchen tools, decades will pass before needing to purchase again.
    Wusthof knives bought 14 years, a lost of heavy use ago still phenomenal. Bought a new knife for the first time since just last year ’cause we were in Japan (sorry Wustof chef knife- you’re now secondary.)
    Good pots- only bought once over a decade ago. The cast iron pans are only getting better, too.
    Mortar & pestle – same. Couldn’t live without, either. Nothing creates the texture and releases the juices and oils like the m&p. We have 5 sizes, mostly because the larger ones are hard to hold when washing for one in the household.
    Even the electronic kitchen scale of over a decade’s age is still working beautifully despite much abuse and use.
    For me, I’d also add a huge stock pot because bones take up a lot of space (our 12qt is our smaller stock pot). And a good sharpening stone. Didn’t like having to depend on someone else to sharpen my knives, so with a little research and practice I’ve now found it easy to get an incredible edge.
    Thanks for the post getting us to give a little recognition to our kitchen beloveds.
    T

  • Alan W

    Put in another vote for the Thermapen. Found out about it years ago from Cook’s Illustrated. Pricey, but can’t live without mine!

  • Anton Zuiker

    I’m partial to my coconut scratcher, for fresh-grated coconut. Takes me back every time to my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the South Pacific.

  • Another Foodie

    What a great article! Thanks for sharing some of your favorite tools. :)

    For me, good knives, hands down. When it comes to baking, a good pair of one big and one small silicone spatulas are essential to me. It allows you to fold in delicate stuff more easily and cleanly; it makes all the measuring work you do more worthwhile; and it makes doing dishes less messy and faster! I have a pair from Japan and yet to find any others that measure up to it.

  • drb

    Plating tweezers can accomplish a lot of the tasks of tongs but more gracefully. Though I mainly cook professionaly, I have a set of tweezers for home and use them all the time.

  • Andreas Duess

    Personally I think that All-Clad is a gigantic waste of money, the same goes for non-stick pans, especially when you’re also taking health issues with these into consideration.

    For me it’s cast iron, rolled steel and a good copper sauté pan all the way. Cast iron and rolled steel are dirt cheap and will develop a natural non stick surface if treated properly.

    Copper is expensive, but the best there is and cheaper than a set of All-Clads.

  • Chris K

    Do storage containers count as tools? If they don’t, I think they should. I use Lock & Lock storage containers all the time. Freezer, microwave & dishwasher safe, with removable gaskets on the lids. They are tough as hell.

    Lock & Lock containers changed the way I use my freezer, and save me money in terms of wasted food. Maybe not as glamorous as knives or All Clad pans, but to me they are indispensable in my home kitchen.

  • Aaron M

    I really like this post in broad strokes – I have all this stuff and value the essentials above the occasional-use bits – but I think I’d tweak a couple of points.

    1. I don’t understand the Wusthof thing. I’m sure that you’ve come across people who prefer Japanese knives to German/French knives – and I’m talking about the double beveled knives meant for Western cooking (gyuto/chef’s knife, petty/utility or paring), NOT the single-bevel traditional knives. Did you have some reason to dismiss them? Did they come on too strong for your taste? Given a fairly comprehensive understanding of both approaches, an objective observer could ALWAYS find a better value on the Japanese side. German knives need to be sharpened often because of the soft steel, but the bolster blocks even a well-trained sharpener from getting the heel. There are multiple lines of knives that fall below the Wusthof/Henckels price points, including knives with similar heft and thickness but superior steel and shape. I understand that I’m not your average home cook in this regard, but there really is a whole world of knives that are superior to the Germans. And if you don’t want to get into that, just get a Forschner, which is maybe 15-20% the price of Wusthof while being a better performer for most tasks (and the parer is an unbeatable value, a favorite amongst pro cooks). I can understand that you started with Wusthof and have been resourceful enough to overcome its limitations, but that’s hardly the best reason to recommend it. Given that you’re only recommending two knives, I don’t think it’s too much trouble to figure out a better value recommendation. Chefknivestogo.com is a good, broad-ranging source with knives at a bunch of different price points and a helpful owner.

    2. All-Clads. They’re nice. Not way better functionally than, say, a professional line like Adcraft, but certainly more attractive. I guess I just don’t understand why you would seek the best and most expensive in cookware, which requires several pieces, but settle for average with the chef knife.

    3. Enameled cast iron – I love them for oven applications. I have a Batali dutch oven that I often use for braises or confits. But there’s an excellent article from Harold McGee http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/dining/08curi.html demonstrating that they’re quite uneven heating on the stovetop, and I can absolutely vouch for that through experience. You’re better off using that all-clad or seasoned cast-iron for searing and transferring to the enameled for the oven, even with the extra pan to wash.

    A few people were asking about a knife sharpening service in/near Cleveland. There is a fabulous knife sharpening service available by mail. Here is the web site: http://www.japaneseknifesharpening.com/ That site is also a great resource for supplies if you’re interested in learning to sharpen, and the owner, Dave Martell, is responsive, informative, and very highly regarded amongst kitchen knife aficionados/freaks ;). As in, substantially better than sending a knife to Korin, and a world away from some guy with a belt sander and a mean streak.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1.  Leftovers: The Day’s Stray Links « Catering Directory
  2.  Delights and Prejudices » News Feed: April 13
  3.  links for 2010-04-17 « Mandarine
  4.  My Essential Kitchen Tools | Michael Ruhlman « Blog de Steve Prud'Homme
  5.  KitchenAid 5-Speed Blender with Glass Blender Jar, Empire Red
  6.  Essential Kitchen Tools for Beginners « The Classy Geek