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

Continuing holiday shopping week, and again reposting from last year as the essentials rarely change, 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 ($23) 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 ($32) 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 ($25)—another lovely gift, come to think of it!). I use two, the KD8000 for pounds of flour, say, and this pocket scale ($7) 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 Creuset ($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.

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


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

  • jen

    Side note on the Benriner (which I’ve had for years) – I find the julienne blades to be basically useless. I almost immediately bent the large one trying to shred some carrots. You’re better off slicing to your desired thickness then cutting into matchsticks.

  • M.A. Kropp

    The Bouchon Bakery cook book is not only a source of delicious recipes, but it is a beautiful book, as well. And those plastic bench scrapers are so useful! They bend just enough to pull sticky bread dough out of a bowl in a snap. Love mine.

  • Kim

    Highly recommend The Main Dish… wonderful and inspirational quick read 🙂

  • Coleen

    I am looking for a remote thermometer, I have a ‘good’ one, but the receiver constantly looses it’s connection to the transmitted. It definitely does not reduce stress on a busy day of entertaining.
    If you read the Amazon reviews on this one, there are too many 1 star reviews, actually it is the same on nearly every Amazon thermometer.
    I would love a simple thermometer which did not have a remote receiver and that just worked, no fancy features, just show the temperature, I will walk over and check it periodically.

  • george

    For pepper mills i think Vic Firth makes the finest on the planet and its not close.

  • P Adams

    My favorite pepper mill is the Magnum from Unicorn Mills. I’ve owned many different mills including several Peugeots which are very nice but I always searched for one that had a fast output and could produce a very coarse grind. The Unicorn Magnum does both and is a bargain at $31.

  • Daniel Brown

    Yet another note about the Benriner: I’ve not had much of an issue with the julienne blades (not much success either) but the bigger issue is the gap between the adjustable “platform” and the cutting blade. Because the platform ends before the blade, it can be tough to slice narrower ingredients. I wish they’d make one without the gap and it would be pretty much perfect. As it is, it’s only really good. 🙂

  • Laura Stack

    I have your spatulas, tasting spoons and knife grabber and couldn’t be more pleased. I’ve been searching for a decent mandolin for a couple of years and now I know where to get it. Thanks Michael.

    But where do you get your knives sharpened professionally?

  • Victoria

    I keep a sugar shaker filled with Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt next to my pepper mill. I find it extremely useful; the only problem I have ever had was when my dad thought it was sugar and put it in his tea.

    But I think the handiest tiny ticket item is the Swissmar Stainless Steel Salt and Pepper Funnel – a real stocking stuffer. http://smile.amazon.com/Swissmar-Stainless-Steel-Pepper-Funnel/dp/B000VQSL6S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417731603&sr=8-1&keywords=swissmar+pepper+funnel

  • William Lundy

    Thank you for the recommendation of the pocket scale. It’s on order as I write. (Unfortunately, a bit more more than 7$ north of the 49th.)

  • Nan Walters

    Michael, I noticed that the link for the stick blender goes to one that is $110. It seems there is a newer model, the CSB-79, that is in the $56 price range.

  • rachele

    To echo Laura’s question, who sharpens your knives and are they in the NE Ohio area? Thanks!

  • rachele

    Awesome. Thanks! I just sent the hubs on a very important mission. I explained that sharp knives are the best way to show someone that you care…

  • Christine

    I was looking to buy a larger scale for my bread baking, and went with the My Weigh because of your recommendation. I’m very pleased with it, and now I wish I had ordered the pocket scale at the same time. Last night I was making a biga from Ken Forkish’s book, and it called for 0.64 grams of yeast. Neither the My Weigh or my old digital scale would measure anything less than a gram, so I had to eyeball the alternate 3/16 teaspoon called for (who has 1/16 teaspoons?). I remembered the mini-scale and came back to this post to order it. Thank you and Merry Christmas!


  1.  My Books for Cooks | Michael Ruhlman
  2.  Holiday Cookbook Gift Suggestions | Michael Ruhlman