Over the last 20 years of cooking for myself, and then my family, my cooking has evolved and bettered. I have also gained a lot of insight into what kitchen tools are invaluable and others that are a waste of space. Additionally, when you first begin cooking and stocking your kitchen, its hard to know what products to splurge on and what to save money on. This post includes all my favorite kitchen tools and a few that I would never buy again. My key to cost is, “Worthy Splurge”: $100 plus — “Mid-range buy”: $50-$100 and “Budget Buy” under $50
Le Creuset 5.5 Quart Enameled Dutch Oven (I linked the image)
Out of all the things on my wedding registry, my Le Creuset 5.5 qt dutch oven is probably my most loved. 13 years later it still works incredibly well. Not only is it useful for everything from soups to braises to even baking bread, its also beautiful. If you take care of it, you will have it for a lifetime which is why I think its a worthy splurge. (350-380$)
Salt is essential for cooking. I absolutely love having a salt cellar next to my range. I can easily use it to scoop out measured salt for recipes, but also use it for a quick pitch as needed to sprinkle on roasted veggies, avocado toast and more. I love this acacia wood and marble cellar I found on Amazon (photo is linked) (Budget buy!)
Cast Iron skillet 12 Inch
This relatively inexpensive skillet is a game changer. I have an expensive stainless steel All Clad skillet, but I use my Lodge cast iron far more often. If you keep it seasoned (which means you don’t scrub it with soap, and rub it with a dash of oil after use) you can literally use it for everything, even egg dishes. The heavy cast iron distributes heat evenly, and is amazing for high heat cooking and searing. Also, if you don’t have a 12 inch lid, I would recommend one. I would NOT buy the heavy iron one that comes with it. Instead, buy a tempered glass top lid so you can easily see your food cooking. (Budget buy!)
Glass Lidded Stainless Steel Cookware
When I was registering for my cookware before my wedding, I received some wise advise to avoid non-stick. Not that non-stick doesn’t have its place in the kitchen, but it does wear out and scratch over time. Instead, invest in a nice set of stainless cookware. I have a Calphalon set and its still going strong. I highly recommend getting glass top lids as well. Its easier to see how things are cooking without the need to lift the lid off. (worthy splurge!)
I went YEARS without good knives and finally, for my 40th birthday, my family gifted me some Global knives and I LOVE them. The thing about knives is that you really don’t need that many. I would recommend a 10 inch chef knife, a 7 inch santoku style, a tomato knife (something with rough edges). Really, you could get away with just one good knife if you are just starting out cooking. Keep it clean, and sharpened and you can have it for life. (Mid-Range to Worthy splurge!)
If you find yourself putting a pack of LeCroix sparkling water in your basket every time you go to the store, a SodaStream might be right for you. I got one recently and I LOVE it. Its easy to use, its better for the environment, its cheaper in the long run and you have access to sparkling water anytime you want. It doesn’t even require power. You simply fill a bottle with fresh water attach it to the machine (that has a CO2 canister), press a button a few times and presto! Fresh fizzy water! There are also flavor drops that you can buy to make the water taste just like your favorite flavored waters. The new Fizzi version is pretty cheap! (mid-range buy)
I eyed these high-end blenders for a long time before purchasing. I questioned whether a Vitamix was really worth the cost. Well, in my opinion it is. The quality, power and long life of this blender makes it a worthwhile investment, especially if you make a lot of smoothies, and other blended foods. We use it nearly daily for smoothies. I use it to blend pancake mix, make salad dressings, puree soups and more. It has so many speeds and settings so you can really use it a lot like a food processor (which I have and VERY rarely use). (Worth Splurge!)
This isn’t really an item, rather its a way of organizing. One thing that drove me crazy before we redid our kitchen was that I couldn’t see my spices in the cabinet. I would frequently re-purchase spices because I could not see them. If you have any space in your kitchen drawers I highly recommend that you turn one into a spice drawer. IKEA has some racks that you can put inside the drawer that helps organize. I can’t tell you how much easier this has made cooking!
Tongs are easy to use, cheap and useful for everything. One of my friends who is an incredible cook has like eight pairs of tongs. I don’t think having that many is necessary, but I love kitchen tongs. I use them to flip meat, hold peppers over open flames to broil them. I use tongs to toss salads and more. I have a short metal pair that I bought for like two bucks at Walmart and two pairs of plastic topped tongs and that seems to be a good number to have on hand. I husband uses them for grilling. (Budget buy!)
Wood and Silicone Spoons
Wood spoons are another great thing to have on hand. I use them for nearly everything I cook – they are gentler on non-stick and enamel cookware. They last a long time and they look good! There are some really great ones on the site “Brandless” for $4 (budget buy!)
Stackable Measuring Containers (1 cup, 2 cup, 4 cup)
I use these plastic nested measuring containers almost every day. Since they have a spout, they are easy to pour. I use them to measure things like liquids, rice, flour and even use them as mini-mixing bowls for eggs and other things.
These are some of my favorite kitchen tools, I use them for straining boxed mac n cheese, rinsing rice, pouring soups through to strain, and more. Because they are handheld and lightweight, I prefer them to the large bowl strainers. They also can be popped in the dishwasher for easy cleanup. (Budget buy!)
Is this a necessity? No, its not. However, its a really nice thing to have to help keep your kitchen a little cleaner. The screen has a long handle, its flat and can be used on pretty much any size pot or skillet. Steam can escape through it. If you have ever had a pasta sauce on the stove that sprays, or are searing meat over high heat and have seen oil splatters everywhere, this splatter screen is so nice for containing the mess. Plus its cheap and flat so its easy to store. (Budget buy!)
Jelly Roll Sheet Pans
Truly the workhorses of my kitchen. I have three and use them daily. If you buy quality pans, they should last many years. I have had mine for 13 years and though they are browned and stained (they are also seasoned and non-stick!) they work so well. I use them for roasting veggies, breads and baking, fish, and pretty much anything else that goes in the oven! (mid-range buy)
I have a DEEP love for parchment paper. I buy my parchment at Costco and go through about two rolls a year. I use it on my sheet pans for easy clean up and a non-stick surface. Parchment paper doesn’t impart any flavor and makes it so easy to clean. Lay down a layer before putting veggies to roast, or a side of salmon, cookies or anything!
Three Things I would NEVER Buy Again. Now for some of my least favorite, items I’ve bought.
This might go down as the biggest waste of money and counter space. We received a Panini Press machine for our wedding. We had fun using it a few times until the novelty wore off and it gathered dust in a cabinet. Unless you own a sandwich shop, a panini press is a serious waste of money. If you love pressed sandwiches, instead, just get this Lodge grill press, its small and does essentially the same thing! Plus its only $14!
This is more a personal preference. I know people love their juicers and use them all the time. I just find them really messy, expensive (as in how much fruit/veggies are used) and horrible to clean. I would rather spend the five dollars at Trader Joes to get some cold pressed juice and save the time, effort and counter space!
Cheap….knives, ceramic plates
Sometimes you definitely get what you pay for. Cheap knives, cheap ceramic plates, mugs etc. will break down, chip and wear out much faster than quality goods. I wish I would have invested in some good knives years ago and skipped the ceramic plates. Instead, I would spend the money on Bone China which seems to hold up really well.
Well, I hope this post helped and inspired some of you. I love to cook and share my favorite things.