A great gift for the season. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

This is a revised post from last year with one key difference being that my mandoline, above, is in need of replacing and so I am hoping that the photographer of the image can take a hint.

Continuing holiday shopping week, here are my recommendations for modestly priced kitchen tools that are essentials in my kitchen. (All but one of the following links is to Amazon; I’m a part of its affiliate program—when you shop at Amazon via this site, it helps to support this site.) I own and love everything mentioned below.

The above Benriner mandoline ($25) is one of my most valued kitchen tools for uniform slicing, julienning, and making brunoise (a julienne turned into a dice). By far my most valuable electric device in my kitchen is the hand blender—I use Braun that seems no longer unavailable, but I bought this Cuisinart version for my mom  ($60) and it works well—these devices all do the job of pureeing soups and sauces, easy whisking, quick mayonnaise, and I make vinaigrettes in the cup attachment, which will even emulsify a great Caesar dressing will pureeing the garlic. The hand blender is one of my most-used electrically powered tools.

Every kitchen needs a scale: this My Weigh KD8000 ($36) has been my go-to scale for years. Using a scale is the most reliable way of measuring, especially if you’re baking (which is why more cookbooks are including, if not leading with, metric weights, as does the ground-breaking Bouchon Bakery cookbook ($33)—another lovely gift, come to think of it!). I use two, the KD8000 for pounds of flour, say, and this pocket scale ($9) for small amounts, such as 3 grams of yeast.

An instant-read digital thermometer is a must. The professionals go for the Thermapen ($96), but there are less expensive one, such as this from my friends at Le Creeuset ($24).

For measuring temps of roasts in the oven or on the grill, a cable thermometer is a great asset. I’ve been using this RediCheck cable thermometer ($24) for years and love it. When I cook the roast beast this Christmas, the meat will have a cable thermometer in it and an alarm will go off when it reaches 120˚F to tell me I need to pay attention.

People often ask for knife sharpening recommendations. I get my knives sharpened professionally a couple times a year, and I maintain their edges with DMT sharpening “stone,” actually a diamond coated perforated metal sheet. At more than $100 depending on your needs, it’s more in the higher price range but I wanted to mention it.

Every kitchen needs a good pepper grinder for freshly ground pepper that, importantly, doesn’t grind too coarsely; you need a mill for fine grinding, and Peugeot’s are excellent ($55), the usual choice in the professional kitchen.

Can’t forget the Microplane, a real game changer when the company (which originally created them for woodworking) introduced models for the kitchen, for all manner of zesting and grating.

I love my fluted pastry wheel for making decorative edges to pastries, and lattice pies. Disposable pastry bags are a great inexpensive gift.

And last but not least, while I’m wary of what Alton Brown calls the unitasker, the kitchen tool that does only one thing, I would be very sad to lose this lemon juicer. Fresh lemon and lime juice are always in play in my kitchen and this baby makes juicing the work of a moment. Worth the $10? Yeah.

For stocking stuffers, a plastic bench scraper ($4). Seriously. It’s one of my most reached for tools in the kitchen, mainly for transferring chopped food into hot pans. It’s one Michael Symon’s favorite tools. When I did The Chew last week, there it was on his cutting board. Another stocking stuffer, for those literary cooks and aspiring food writers, my Kindle Single, about how I accidentally wound up writing about food and cooking, a short memoir called The Main Dish ($2).

Cooking is a craft, and good tools are a must with any craft.

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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12 Wonderful responses to “Holiday Shopping: Small Ticket Items”

  • Saratoga Curmudgeon

    Most places that supply tools for autobody shops have plastic scrapers that are used in putting filler into dents. They usually give them away if you buy a can of the filler. Wouldn’t surprise me if they would sell them individually dirt cheap. Worth a try.

  • Chappy

    +2 on the thermometer and scale recommendations. I have different versions than those listed but they are indeed essential and the best tools I use all the time. I have the wireless version of the RediCheck. I’m sure the one Michael recommends is excellent, but the wireless one is a game changer if you use a smoker or use it for something in the oven that takes a long time. I used to check my smoker every 30-60 minutes, but now I read or watch TV and only check if the oven/smoker starts heating/cooling-off too much.

  • John Robinson

    Zip-Lock gallon bags work just as good as disposable pastry bags.

  • Elsewhere

    What about Digital Timers? Mine (at least, one of mine) just passed over from timer to paperweight after an accidental drop into a sink full of water and I need to get a new one!

    • Michael Ruhlman

      I use my phone as a timer so haven’t bought a timer in years.

  • Plays With Food

    A resounding thumbs up for the citrus squeezer! Though I normally also eschew unitaskers, I haven’t found a better way to get juice from lemons or limes than the device you recommend. It’s a hand-saver when I’m cooking for 150 and need lots of lemon juice!

  • Frank Reiter

    Great list! Funny… Serious Eats has a list almost identical; I seriously hope they didn’t just copycat you, MR! But in all fairness, I think these items would show up on just damn near everyone’s list of small ticket “must haves”!

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