People often ask me about my favorite kitchen gear. First of all, I always try to balance quality with cost. Secondly, I only keep what I can use. If a piece fails to make the cut, it soon finds a new home, while my favorites become dependable old friends I can hardly live without. In fact, when heading off on an extended trip, I have been known to dedicate an entire suitcase to my favorite gear in lieu of extra clothes. Many times I have watched airport security lean towards the x-ray with squinted eyes just before selecting my bag for further inspection. To me, it is worth it.
Here is a list of my favorite kitchen gear, complete with links to help you find versions of your own. I am sure my list will continue to evolve over time as I find new treasures, but for now it is a pretty accurate snapshot.
Baking dishes are not as conductive as metal, cooking custards and quiches more gently around the edges. They are also nonreactive, which makes it an excellent choice for recipes containing acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, lemons, or limes.
Bench scrapers are as effective at clearing work surfaces as they are for dividing bread. The stainless steel version is safe to use on granite, but can damage softer surfaces such as formica. That brings us to the heat resistant silicone option, which is safe to use on all surfaces. I personally love the built-in ruler in both versions.
Blender: motor on top
My favorite Ninja model is the one with its motor on the top. The motor lifts off easily and the blade slips out for a quick wash. The pitchers have stable bases and come with covers, allowing them to double as storage containers.
Bowls (stainless steel): 1-cup,1-quart, 3-quart, 5-quart (part of a larger set)
These stainless steel bowls are versatile. You can toss a salad, cover resting bread dough, or even devise an impromptu double boiler. Stainless steel is nonreactive, which means it will not alter the color or taste of acidic ingredients.
Bowls (tempered glass): 1-cup, 1-quart, 3-quart (part of a larger set)
When melting or heating ingredients in the microwave (like chocolate), tempered glass is much safer than regular glass.
Aluminum is an excellent conductor, browning baked goods beautifully. When it comes to lightweight baking pans I avoid stainless steel, which yields crusts to blond, or dark coatings, which yield crusts too dark. I particularly like these pans because they are anodized, rendering them nonreactive with acid ingredients. Plus, they have removable bottoms, allowing them to function as springform pans. Everything pops out of the pan.
Can Opener: smooth edge
This opener breaks the seal between can and lid instead of cutting the metal. No more sharp edges.
These work as well for storing leftovers as they do for canning pickles. The clear glass makes it easy to see the contents. The plastic lids seal tightly, restraining even the most pungent onion from overtaking the refrigerator. I even use them to store grains and pastas in the pantry and for culturing yogurt. The dishwasher sanitizes the jars effortlessly.
Cooling Racks (wire): 10×16-inch
I’ve tried large cooling racks, thinking bigger was better. Turns out, they were just difficult to store. These are large enough to be serviceable and yet small enough to tuck behind the cutting boards.
My bamboo cutting boards do double duty. The knife action happens on one side, while the second side makes a lovely presentation platter. For preparing raw meat and fish, I only use plastic because I can sanitize them in the dishwasher. These have grippers which hold them tight to the counter while slicing and dicing.
Dutch Oven (enameled cast iron): 6-quart
Lodge has an excellent reputation and is reasonably priced. The enameled is more versatile than the seasoned because is nonreactive, which means you can deglaze it when making a lovely stew. The dutch oven also bakes beautiful a loaf of bread, and roasts a chicken to perfection.
Egg Slicer: Egg slicer
This tool isn’t just for eggs… it works for any soft ingredient. Just slice, then rotate to cut across the slices, resulting in a perfect julienne or dice every time.
Ice Cream Maker: Ice cream maker
This ice cream maker comes with a 2-quart bowl that stores easily in the freezer. The machine makes fabulous ice cream, gelato, sherbet, and sorbet. I always throw a towel over the top to get an extra firm freeze.
Ice Cream Scoops (stainless steel): approximately 1-inch (#100), 2-inch (#24), 2 1/2-inch (#12)
These scoops earn their place in the kitchen, measuring out cookie dough, meatballs, yogurt cheese… anything that needs to be scooped out uniformly and dropped easily.
Griddle (seasoned cast iron): 10-inch round
Years ago I bought a square griddle because it promised more cooking surface, only to discover that it cooked unevenly. The heat from the burner simply could not reach the corners. That square griddle found a new home and I went back to the round classic.
Grill Pan (seasoned cast iron): 10-inch round
A seasoned cast iron grill pan gets hot, holds temperature, browns food beautifully, and cleans up with a metal scrub brush and hot water. I tried enamel and found it expensive and all but impossible to clean. Soaking and scrubbing still left it discolored. It had to find a new home.
Kitchen Shears: stainless steel
These shears are sturdy and sharp, and they disassemble so that you can clean all the nooks and crannies.
Knives (stainless steel): 8-inch chef, utility, pairing
Knives should feel good in the hand. I like sturdy heels that flair smoothly to meet the handles because it gives a nice balance and reduces the nooks and crannies where bacteria likes to lurk. Strong rivets hold in a full tang (the part of the steel that goes into the handle). For the chef knife, a curve on the front end makes it easy to rock the blade while chopping or mincing.
Knife Sharpener: hand-held
This is easy to use and removes the guesswork from sharpening knives, which makes it a satisfying pleasure instead of a chore. The long handle keeps hands out of harm’s way.
My two favorite loaf pans are oldies, but goodies. Pyrex and Lodge. With Pyrex, you can monitor the browning process right through the tempered glass, eliminating guesswork. With cast iron, the pan builds up heat during baking, promoting a rich, hefty brown crust. Anodized aluminum also works well, but not the glazed stoneware. It leaves crusts pale and soft.
Measuring/Batter Bowl (tempered glass): 2-quart with plastic cover
A tempered glass batter bowl is perfect for measuring, mixing, bread proofing, baking, chilling… you name it. Having the plastic cover at hand is incredibly convenient.
Measuring Cups: stainless steel
These measuring cups are heavy stainless steel, which is durable and cleans up well in the dishwasher. I stay away from plastic because fats tend to cling to the surface and it is prone to mishap around hot surfaces. This set includes two extra measurement cups (2/3 and 3/4) that are helpful to have on hand when you are in the middle of a recipe.
Measuring Cups (tempered glass): 1-cup, 1-pint, 1-quart
When your cups are tempered glass, you can measure and microwave without changing containers. It is incredibly convenient when you need hot milk for a bechamel or hot broth for a risotto.
I like these because they are easy to use, easy to clean, and easy to read. Stainless steel cleans beautifully in the dishwasher and is worry free when working around hot surfaces.
Mesh Strainer/Sieve (stainless steel): small, medium, large
These nest nicely for easy storage. I tend to use the small and medium sieves for sifting, and the large one for draining pasta or straining custards. Stainless steel won’t react with acidic ingredients, and cleanup is snap in the dishwasher.
Mixing Utensils: bamboo
Bamboo is strong, nonabrasive, inexpensive, and not conductive. It is strong enough to mix bread, it can be used with any type of cookware (or the ice cream freezer bowl) without scratching, and it doesn’t melt my gelato when I am transferring it out of the ice cream freezer bowl.
I finally gave in and invested in a KitchenAid, and it is worth every penny. The classic series is powerful enough to knead my 100% whole wheat bread and it is incredibly convenient. I just start it, set a timer, and then walk away until it is finished doing all the work.
Pot Holders: Oven mitts
San Jamar makes excellent oven mitts/pads. They explicitly state the heat resistance and the duration, and they are the best brand I’ve tried in over 20 years.
Parchment Paper: 12×16-inch sheets
These lay perfectly flat in a half sheet pan, or they may be creased and torn in half to line quarter sheet pans. I fit them into the bottom of brownie, cheesecake, and cake pans to eliminate the risk of sticking. Even caramel releases easily from parchment.
Pastry Blender: metal
Using a pastry blender is much like using a potato masher, but it cuts the pieces of fat without developing gluten. The result is super tender pastry crusts.
Pie Plate (tempered glass): 9.5-inch, deep dish (6-cup)
Pyrex remains the standard for me. I have tried stainless steel, which resulted in poorly browned lower crusts. Next I tried glazed stoneware, which had similar results. Aluminum works well, as long as it is anodized, but I can’t find it as a deep dish. Finally, I circled back to Pyrex. The glass makes it easy to monitor the browning of the bottom crust, and the pie can be truly deep dish.
Pizza Pan (seasoned cast iron): 14-inch
Seasoned cast iron offers outstanding browning. This pan can be used for making pizza, baking artisan style breads, roasting vegetables… you name it. Put it on the grill, put it on the campfire. It all works.
Potato Peeler: soft handled
The rubberized handle makes peeling potatoes, carrots, and cucumbers easy on the hand.
Potato Ricer: plastic handled
This ricer offers the option of fine or coarse presses, and its heavy-duty plastic construction is easy on the hands. I prefer it to my metal version, which feels harsh around the handle and only allows a fine press.
Ramekins (porcelain): 1-cup (8 ounce)
These little baking dishes are not as conductive as metal, cooking custards and quiches more gently around the edges. I utilize them for baking individual cakes or pot pies, serving dips, and storing leftovers.
Roasting Pan (tri-ply): 12x16x3-inch
Tri-ply construction offers an ideal combination of conductive aluminium sandwiched between nonreactive stainless steel. It is heavy duty, moving between oven and stovetop effortlessly. The handles are sturdy, upright, and riveted in place, which is an incredibly important safety feature when hauling that hot turkey out of the oven.
Rolling Pin (maple): French (no handles)
A French rolling pin is long and light, and its gentle curve leaves no lines. When rolling pasta, its small diameter makes it easy to control, pushing and rolling to stretch the dough.
Saucepan/Stockpot/Skillet set (tri-ply with tempered glass lids): 1.5-quart, 2.5-quart, 6-quart, 8-inch, 10-inch
I should start by mentioning that there is much confusion over labels. A stockpot is sometimes referred to as a saucepot, while a skillet is sometimes called a fry pan or an omelet pan. I opt to call it “skillet” because it is used for far more purposes than making omelets or frying food. Regardless of what they are called, these pieces are excellent sizes for most recipes. The lids are interchangeable and the tempered glass lets you easily keep an eye on things while you are cooking or baking. The tri-ply construction offers an ideal combination of conductive aluminium sandwiched between nonreactive stainless steel. Its heavy duty construction allows it to move between oven and stovetop effortlessly. I have used Calphalon tri-ply for almost 20 years.
Sauteuse (tri-ply with tempered glass lid): 12-inch
This piece is aptly referred to as an “everyday” pan. The tri-ply construction offers an ideal combination of conductive aluminium sandwiched between nonreactive stainless steel. It truly moves between oven and stovetop effortlessly. This model sports sloped sides, which eases turning or tossing foods. Its double looped handles allow it to function as a roasting pan or even a paella, and the tempered glass lid makes it easy to monitor the cooking or baking process.
Scales: Scales (digital)
This model converts between US and metric, and can handle a whopping 11 pounds. The display pulls out to clear oversized bowls.
These pans do not warp in a hot oven. The key feature is the reinforced, encapsulated (rolled) steel rim. They are not anodized, and so I tend to use parchment paper to eliminate potential reaction with ingredients. I’ve tried expensive, heavier versions, and even stainless steel. They all warped and so I happily came back to these.
Spatula: silicone over flexible stainless
This spatula is heat resistant to 600°F and has a thin edge. I also like the way the flexible stainless steel supports the silicone almost to the edge. I used to favor an old stainless steel spatula that I picked up at a flea market 23 years ago, but had to make a change because it was slowly scratching all my cookware.
These are heat resistant to 600°F and of seamless construction, making them durable and hygienic. I started with the small spatula and loved it so much I added the other pieces.
Bamboo steamer baskets are amazing. I first encountered them in India and immediately purchased a set when we arrived back home. I like the 6-inch, but added the 10-inch because it holds so much more. To use, bring about an inch of water to the boil into the bottom of a sauteuse (everyday) pan and place the steamer baskets over top. Perfectly steamed vegetables take just 8-10 minutes.
Thermometers are a terrific investment, and most of them are quite economical. The candy thermometer clips onto the edge of the pot, allowing hands-free monitoring. The instant-read quickly confirms when baked goods are at their fail-proof temperature and when meats have reached their safety zone. The oven thermometer simply lives in the oven to confirm that the oven has reached, and is holding, the correct temperature.
Tongs: stainless steel
Tongs are handy for fishing pasta out of hot water to test for doneness, plating salad, turning salmon, pulling hot bits of food out of the oven, and even snatching that stray piece of something that landed too close to the gas burner.
Toaster Oven: convection
I have an older, but similar model. It looks nice on the counter and the numbers are easy to read. I use it for quickly roasting a few vegetables, heating open faced sandwiches, and for any other roasting task that is too small for the main oven. We even use it for warming bowls before serving gnocchi or chowder.
I like the precision of digital, but I also have a inexpensive little twist timer from Ikeah for tasks that take less than an hour. Maximum time on this model is 99 minutes and 59 seconds.
Whisks (stainless steel): small, medium, large
These whisks have smooth handles, which are easy on the hands. The relatively open wires make them multi-taskers, mixing batter as easily as whipping eggs.