My Cooking Kit, Part 3 — Basic General Tools
A little about me: I cook a lot, mostly dinner at home for my family and friends but sometimes for massive parties of upwards of 200 people. I’ve been doing sous vide cooking since 2010. I run a food blog called Unselling Convenience (also @unsellingconvenience on Instagram if you’d rather follow along there), which is mostly an inspiration board and memory database of things I’ve enjoyed cooking and probably want to cook again. I believe that shortcuts are great, but not at the expense of quality. I administer the Everyday Sous Vide and Instant Pot Love groups on Facebook.
I enjoy inspiring other people to cook and giving advice. Also, I love gadgets, and I’ve tried out a LOT of stuff. I have strong opinions. This post series is about things I use in the kitchen plus a few things I don’t and why, and I hope it’s informative and fun for you. Unless otherwise specified, everything listed here is something I’ve used myself. If you buy something from one of the links, I probably get a small commission which won’t even come close to defraying the amount of money I’ve spent on these things over the years but which will make me happy anyway.
This is part of a series, if you’re looking for a specific chapter:
- My Cooking Kit, Part 1 — Cookware & Bakeware
- My Cooking Kit, Part 2 — Knives
- My Cooking Kit, Part 3 — Basic General Tools
- My Cooking Kit, Part 4 — More Specialized and Obscure Tools
- My Cooking Kit, Part 5 — Devices & Electrics
or see my other food writings at https://counter.kitchen.
Tools, tools, tools
There are so many tools. This isn’t so much an exhaustive catalog as it is a tour around what I use, with some notes about my preferences. This took months of work to even figure out how to organize, let alone compile all of this stuff, and I’m considering it a work in progress — I’ll definitely keep updating it for a while as I identify the inevitable things I’ve missed.
There are some basic essential tools — those that have no good substitute. Most tools don’t fit into that category, and you have to ask yourself: “do I really need this?”. As a general rule, I prefer tools that do an excellent job at one thing to multitasker that does a mediocre job at many things. I believe that joy in cooking is of paramount importance, and enjoying what you’re doing is nearly as critical as doing it. Many tools will work better with some skill. A good tool is not a substitute for a good skill, but some tools may enable some things to be possible or easy that weren’t without that tool. If a tool makes you happy, use it.
A note about brands. There is a LOT of crap out there, and I’m generally not fond of buying things from the gibberish brands that will be gone in 3 months and have no product support. I usually much prefer to buy from companies that will stand behind their products and still make the things I like in 5–10 years when I decide I need another one, or when I recommend one to someone, even if it’s comparatively more expensive. Most of the brands I’ve mentioned here have excellent support if something goes wrong, but an extra special callout is deserving for OXO, which has hands down the absolute best customer service of any company I have ever dealt with. That said, I will sometimes buy from the throwaway brands if it’s something unlikely to need service. In some of these cases I’m resigned to just throwing it away if it breaks, but I also don’t like the waste that generates and I try to avoid it.
Most of the items I use on a regular basis are still made, but some of them don’t exist anymore. Where that is the case, I’ve tried to find what looks like a reasonable alternative, but in those cases it may not be something that I’ve personally used, and I’ll note that.
Anything listed with a * is my best guess at a decent option, not necessarily something I’ve specifically used.
I love to hear from people if you try things I recommend, whether your experience was good or bad, but I especially want to know if something I suggested didn’t work out for you for some reason.
Tongs!!! If I had to choose just one kitchen utensil, it would be tongs, in a heartbeat. I love my spatulas, spoons, stirrers, forks, and all the rest, but tongs are what I reach for most often, for moving and flipping food in the pan, for rearranging hot pans and trays in the oven, and for serving. There are a lot of cheap tongs out there, but my pick is 100% the OXO line. They come in stainless, nylon, and silicone, and they all have their uses. I suggest getting a bunch of stainless ones in different sizes, one nylon 12”, and one silicone 12”, but you may have other preferences. The nylon and silicone ones are both good for non-stick pans, but the silicone ones are a little grippier and the shapes are slightly different.
I don’t use long cooking tweezers as much as I do tongs, but they can be very helpful when nothing else will do. If you do a lot of plating or arranging, this will be helpful for you.
Ok, it’s a bit debatable whether
Wooden spoons, spatulas, scrapers, spurtles, and the like. I have a lot of these. I don’t have too strong a preference for type of wood, but if you want something fancier than “wood” (which is usually beechwood), acacia* and walnut* are very nice. Periodically I take them all out and oil them with cheap food grade mineral oil, which keeps them from drying out and cracking (mostly). Pick the shapes that make you happy. Most of the ones I use for general stirring and mixing have fairly shallow bowls, but I have a few deeper ones and a few flatter ones. I’ll call out some specific shapes I like below.
I generally prefer wood to nylon or silicone for cooking with and use them as the default most of the time. I’ve melted nylon utensils by accidentally leaving them in a hot pan, so I tend to use them more infrequently (but sometimes I do still use them). They have more rigidity than silicone or most nylon implements, and I like the leverage for scraping and stirring. They also won’t scratch non-stick pans.
The Bambu Spoontula is great for general mixing and it has a little lip for getting into corners. They used to have a set of 3 different sizes which has been discontinued, but only the middle size is still available. If I had to pick just one wooden spoon, it would be this one.
For stir fries and some kinds of deep mixing, I’ve been preferring a spurtle (traditionally a rod shape for stirring a deep pot of oats, it has evolved into something more like a flat cricket bat). I don’t know that this is any better or worse than a regular wooden spoon, but it is still extremely pleasing to use.
There are thousands of other wooden spoon varieties. Find the shapes you love.
I use metal spoons mostly for serving, and not for cooking very much. But if you like them, there are many good choices. Broadly speaking, they will be either solid, perforated, or slotted.
Plastic (mostly nylon)
Similarly to steel, I mostly use nylon spoons for serving and not for cooking, but they’ll do fine if you like them. My favorite serving utensil for lasagne is this Kuhn Rikon nonstick ladle (they call it a ladle, but it’s really more of a scoop/spoon).
Recently I picked up a few of these Sur La Table silicone covered spoons, and I love them. They are better than silicone spatulas for scraping bowls, and they also hold a decent amount for serving and transferring (not as much as a ladle though).
I use a variety of ladles for serving, transferring food, and filling jars for canning. Mostly these are stainless for easy cleanup, in a range of sizes from half a cup to two cups. I really like this Staub combo wood/silicone soup ladle, I find it’s the perfect size for both transferring food and serving and has nice angles for pouring.
Spatulas come in two main kinds — turners/flippers, and scrapers.
For general use, a slotted or solid stainless turner is good. For delicate foods, you want a slotted fish spatula. All of these come in nylon or silicone variations if you have nonstick pans.
For scraping spatulas, I usually prefer silicone. If you’re using it in a pan, make sure it’s rated for high temperatures. This Kitchenaid silicone bowl scraper set is also handy.
I like this OXO Brownie spatula for getting into tight corners.
If you’re doing any kind of cake decorating, you might want a small set of icing spatulas.
Whisks come in a few major shapes — flat for sauces, long for general stirring, and balloon for greater aerating. Most of them are just wires. Some have little balls at the end, and those seem to mix a bit more efficiently, but I don’t know if they’re necessary. The only design I’ve found that massively increases efficiency is this Kuhn Rikon Double Whisk. I generally like OXO, but this is mostly a preference about what you feel is comfortable.
A dough whisk* is a special case. It’s really only good for mixing stiff doughs, but it’s very good at that. If you mix bread or cookie dough by hand, you might want one.
Measuring Cups / Spoons
I really like this Norpro measuring scoop set. I have a few of these, and use them for pretty much all of my dry measuring.
I have a few sets of these RSVP International metal measuring spoons, which are slim and fit into jars.
For liquid measurements, I most often use this silicone iSi measuring set. They stand on their own, are flexible for easy pouring, and are heat resistant to 490F, so they’re also great for things like reconstituting stocks. They are also a great shape for mixing directly with a stick blender.
For small amounts of liquid, nothing beats this OXO steel 1/4 cup jigger. They also come in plastic if you prefer.
For sticky fluids like honey, corn syrup, and peanut butter, this OXO adjustable 2 cup measuring cup is great. It twists to scrape out everything stuck to the sides and can be easily swiped with the back of a knife to get the rest.
For amounts with different measurements (for example, to make soured milk, it’s 1 tbsp of lemon juice with milk topped off to 1 cup), I like the Perfect Beaker, which is graduated in a bunch of different scales. This doesn’t seem to be available anymore, this Measure Mug* looks similar.
For larger measuring needs, I like this Norpro Krona 8 cup stainless measuring pot. It is easy to pour from, and is also safe for the stovetop, though the handles can get very hot unless you have a small burner.
You can never have too many mixing bowls. I have a huge variety of them — some glass, some metal, some silicone.
Metal bowls are light and durable, but they leak heat pretty fast.
I have a set of iSi flexible silicone bowls for ingredients that need to be poured and I like those a great deal, but they seem to be unavailable. This Norpro flexible silicone bowl set is close, though these are slightly more rectangular than the ones I have.
Silicone mixing bags
Technically these silicone mixing bags are intended for mixing dough, and they’re useful for that, but I use them most often for holding meat (ground beef, whole frozen chickens) while it’s defrosting in the fridge. They are very flexible and clean up easily. They’re also useful for sous vide for things that don’t need to hold their shape.
Ramekins / Serving Bowls
A 4oz ramekin* is a standard size, useful for custards, pudding cakes, for small portions of french onion soup, and as small pinch bowls. The ones I have came from Pier 1, but they seem to no longer be available. 6 oz and 8 oz ones are also common, and handy.
I used to use a straight peeler all the time, but I’ve been converted to these small Kuhn Rikon Swiss Y peelers. They are cheap, comfortable to use, stay sharp a long time, and clean easily with just running water and a swipe of a sponge (though they’re dishwasher safe). For peeling delicate fruits and vegetables, a serrated peeler will help bite into the skin and remove it without crushing the body underneath.
Drainers / Strainers
Mesh Wire Strainers
Wire strainers are very useful for separating liquids from solids. I don’t like to use them for pasta because the fine mesh can get gummed up with the starch from the pasta (use a colander for that).
I like this set of 3 laser cut perforated Tramontina colanders. I will also sometimes use a big steamer insert as a strainer if I need more capacity.
These are useful for fishing dumplings, fried things, or small amounts of pasta out of a pan. They come in a huge range of sizes, but this 7-inch skimmer* is a good size for general use.
Food mills are critical for making smooth purees where you need to separate out the solids. I use them often for cranberry sauce and tomato sauce. I like the All Clad professional food mill, I’m on my second since I found one on the All Clad seconds sale and they’ve improved the design since I bought the first one. I have also heard good things about the OXO food mill*.
This gets a special mention — I often use this Progressive silicone in-bowl strainer for putting under steamed vegetables, and it keeps them from sitting in a pool of water at the bottom of the bowl. It has sadly been discontinued and I haven’t found anything else like it. If you see anything similar, get in touch!
Common materials for cutting boards are plastic (poly), wood, and compressed rubber. I tend to favor plastic for most uses because I can just throw them in the dishwasher, but wood is nice too. Cheaper wood boards will warp and split, but the quality ones will last a long time. I’ve never tried the compressed rubber boards, though I intend to at some point. Like with spoons, there are hundreds of good choices and personal preferences. They are available flat, with bumpers, or with grooves, and they all have different uses.
I frequently use these Dexas flexible cutting mats directly on the counter or on top of a butcher block. I have a whole bunch of them and they’re easy to use, move around, transfer food from one place to another, and rinse off or wash in the dishwasher.
Other Kinds of Boards
For carving roasts and chickens, you’ll want something with deep grooves to catch the juices. I’ve never found a plastic board that has grooves deep enough for my liking, though the composite board below is pretty close (sadly discontinued though). Wood boards often have deeper grooves* but can be more difficult to clean, especially if they’re large enough that they don’t fit in your sink well. This Joseph & Joseph plastic carving board has a deep angled ledge you might like.
It’s nice to have a dedicated bread board for catching crumbs. This Calphalon two-part model is my favorite one I’ve found, but it’s sadly no longer sold. This ironwood board is probably what I’d replace it with if I needed to.
Silicone Roasting Rack / Trivet
This is advertised as a Norpro roasting rack, but I usually use it as a trivet at the table for resting hot pans on.
You want two things out of kitchen shears — they should be heavy duty, and they should come apart for cleaning. These Fiskars 7" Take-apart shears are great for general use. They come apart easily but not accidentally, and can go in the dishwasher.
You’ll want a set of these three racks that stack, for cooling cookies, various kinds of drying wet things, and curing. Standalone racks are also good and can be used as drip racks inside half or quarter sheet pans depending on the size.
That’s it for Part 3! Continue to Part 4— More Specialized and Obscure Tools
I love to geek out about this stuff, and feedback is welcomed! Leave a comment here, or find me @fields on twitter or @unsellingconvenience on instagram.