Anyone who has been in one of my classes will have heard me tell why I’m a tough customer when it comes to gadgets. So I decided to write my ultimate list of the pieces of equipment I can’t live without. Scroll down for the shopable list or spend a few minutes reading why and how I pick and organize my kit…
How I decide if something is worth buying
Having lived in a flat in London prior to moving to America 4 years ago, my kitchen had always been pretty teeny. Or at least so it now seems to my Americanized eyes. Space was at a premium in my cupboards and I’ve inherited a reluctance to clutter my worktops (counter tops) with ‘dust catchers’. As much as I am obsessed with hunting for kitchenalia (yep that is a term – check eBay if you don’t believe me), I have always been strict with myself. Before any purchase I ask the questions
- Where will it go?
- How often will I actually use it?
- Do I already own anything/know a technique that does the same job or can be re-purposed?
- Will it be a pain to wash?
- Would I rather spend the money on something else I’d get more pleasure from? (No sniggering at the back)
These questions have, over the years, stopped me buying much of the Lakeland/ Sur La Table catalogue and many of the gadgets on sale in cooking shops. But I’ve had moments of weakness so totally get how tempting it is. I recently parted company with a frying pan in the shape of a tiny heart which I bought for my husband, then boyfriend, on our first valentines together. I held on to that pan for 8 years, grumbling every time it fell on my hand when I was reaching into my cupboard.
It’s a bit like clothes – you know all those experts who tell you to get rid of anything you’ve not worn for a year or that you don’t feel fabulous in? I feel the same about kitchen equipment. Ditch the stuff that you knock over every time you try to find a pan lid. Get rid of the set of ugly china you were given. Donate the 9 water bottles you have and the storage container lids that long ago lost their partners. Do you really need that snowman shaped cake pan?
Store it well
I echo those clothes storage experts who tell you to label your shoes in clear plastic boxes and to fold rather than hang your sweaters. Taking care of your kitchen kit and storing it so you can grab it quickly when you need it could be the thing that gets you cooking more often and enjoying the process more.
Take a look at how I set up my tools in an old champagne bucket – if Diana Vreeland cooked she would have done this. Not only does it save me storing the champagne bucket, which would take up way too much space, but it also means all my tools are in grabbing distance of my stove.
Technique not gadget
One of the things I love doing in my classes is showing people the techniques for quickly and easily accomplishing some kitchen task without resorting to a gadget. I think many of us hope that a gadget or tool will enable us to gain control over a situation where we’re lacking in confidence. Learning the old-fashioned technique is a much better investment of time and money. I’ll soon be posting videos of the most important techniques you need. That said, there are some bits of kit which I can’t cook without.
How to use this list
I’ve split the list into my absolute essentials, nice to have, baking kit and investments. In coming weeks, I’ll be posting a profile of each piece of equipment with a detailed article of how you’ll use it, and some links to recipes.
Use this as an opportunity to have a good clear out of old, useless things. Donate them to charity or sell them on eBay.
How buying from this list will help me as well as you
If you buy these bits of kit through the links below, the price you pay doesn’t change, but I get paid a small percentage from Sur La Table. You can still use any discount codes you want on their site. Add the code: SHIPFREE at checkout to get free shipping. This partnership helps me fund the time I spend blogging and recipe testing and keeps my class prices down. I will never ever recommend anything I don’t love, even if I’m offered a fortune! I love Sur La Table, their return policy and trust their products completely. Amazon and UK links will be coming soon.
The Essentials – these are the things I am tempted to put in my case when I travel. They are also the items my students find the most life-changing.
- Microplane fine For zesting citrus, mincing garlic.
- Microplane coarse For grating ginger, Parmesan, carrots and apples.
- Silicone spatula spoons – this or this I have 8 of these as I use them for everything – don’t just keep them for baking as I know many people do. Throw away your wooden spoons and use these instead. They can go in the dishwasher and can be used at super-high temperatures so they are great for stirring food in a pan. They get every last bit out of your pans and bowls so you don’t waste a spot of food, making clean-up easier. I have a mixture of the spoonulas (slight spoon shape) and these more traditional spatulas.
- Flipper aka fish slice (not the Dolphin). I love the flexibility and ease of cleaning of this one. It is just firm enough to flip pancakes or to lift veggies, meat or fish out of a pan.
- Pepper grinder This is probably the thing most of my students rush to buy after class. I love how easy it is to refill – just pour your peppercorns through the wide chute, instead of scattering them all over your counter, like what happens with most fiddly pepper grinders. It grinds a ton of pepper in one go, making you quicker in the kitchen.
- Citrus squeezer A hit of lemon or lime at the end of a recipe is essential for brightening flavours. This gets the most juice out of your citrus with the least mess.
- Maldon salt – Another one of my obsessions, and one that my students love and quickly adopt. Ditch the rock salt and start using this to finish your meals. The texture of flavour is amazing. Start your addiction with this size. Once you’re committed get this size. And if you’re a real addict and can’t bear to have a meal without this wonderful salt, you’ll need this too.
- Olive oil for dressings This is what I use in my pestos and salad dressings. It is great value for an oil with such great flavour. Be sure to keep it (and any other oils) in a dark cupboard, away from heat to stop them going rancid.
- Scanpan frying pan set These pans are fabulous. They are non stick without being coated in scary Teflon. Health benefits of avoiding Teflon aside, these pans are great to cook with. You can use metal in them without the non stick surface being affected. I use mine every day. I use the bigger one for meals for our family of four – stir fries, meat and fish with pan sauces, eggs, pancakes etc. I use the smaller one for cooking smaller amounts, or when I need two pans on the go. Be sure to buy the ones with metal handles so that you can brown something in the pan and then put it in the oven or under the broiler [grill] to finish off cooking.
- Measuring jugs I love the way these jugs have the measurements on the side but can also be viewed from above, meaning you’re not always bending down to see how much something measures. I have them in the 2 cup, 4 cup, 1 cup sizes as I cook a lot. If you’re just buying one, get the 4 cup size.
- Cookie sheet/swiss roll tin quarter sheet size. I use this really sturdy cookie sheet [swiss roll tin for English friends] for much more than baking. I use it to roast vegetables or other one pan meals mostly as it copes well with high temperatures and doesn’t buckle like cheaper ones can. But it is also great for all kinds of baking. I often use mine to transport food around instead of a tray too. Just be sure to check that this size will fit in your oven! I usually line mine with parchment or a Silpat reusable silicone liner to make clean up easier and to avoid things sticking.
- Digital Scales I’m trying to convert you lovely Americans to the merits of weighing rather than using volume when cooking. And if some of you decide to start using grams instead of ounces too I’ll be over the moon! Weighing is more accurate and less messy than using volume cup measurements; meaning you’ll get much more consistent results when you bake. They are also a brilliant way to get children to practice their numbers. Just put any bowl on these scales. Press the re-set button to cancel out the weight of the bowl then add your ingredients. Zero out (or re-set) after each ingredient and add the next. Simple.
- Measuring cups and measuring spoons. Because so many US recipes are in cups, I do keep a set of these on hand, even though I much prefer my scales. They work best when recipes are less precise or less fine-tuned. Think rough and ready cookies rather than recipes that require more precision.
- Metal tongs should feel like an extension of your hand and essential for lifting and flipping things in pans or on trays. I have 4 pairs because I like to use one pair when I’m handling raw meat or fish and then switch to a clean pair when I’m handling the finished, cooked item.
- Slotted spoon I use this to pull things out of pans when you want any cooking liquid or fat to be left behind.
- Ladle for serving soups and stews easily. I also use mine for making pancakes.
- Kettle I was amazed how many people here in the US don’t have this. In Britain, a kettle is usually the first thing anyone buys when they leave home. Even if you don’t drink tea, use this to quickly boil water for boiling pasta, rice or vegetables and you’ll save at least 10 minutes of waiting time.
- Box grater Most people only use these to grate cheese. I use it mainly to get my raw veggies into chewable sized prices. The more work the grater does, the less work my jaw has to do! Use the slicing side (two, horizontal blades) to shred fennel and cabbage for slaw. When my boys were younger, I used it to grate raw apple into their oats in the morning too, easier than using apple sauce.
- Colander To drain pasta, boiled vegetables and potatoes. Also to wash lettuce, berries and other fruits and vegetables. I like to have a bigger one but also these little ones for washing berries and draining canned beans.
- Immersion blender I use this so much. It is the easiest way to blend soups in the pan you cooked them in. It is so easy to wash. I also use mine to make speedy homemade mayonnaise and smoothies. You don’t need to buy one with lots of add ons, this one is perfect.
- Food processors My advice to buy the one with the biggest capacity you can afford. I’ve gone through all the ones out there to give you my recommendation for a good inexpensive one, a good mini one and two of the best investment ones – this one and this one. I tend to only use a couple of the blades my processor came with – the grater and the standard chopper. Don’t be swayed by food processors with multiple blades as you won’t really need them for most recipes. I use my processor at least five times a week so I keep it out on the counter.
- Mini food processor I only bought one of these recently. I’d never thought I needed one as I use my big food processor so much. But, this little one is so useful for making quick pestos and for grinding breadcrumbs and nuts. Because it is so small, it is easy to grab out of the cupboard and can be washed very easily. If I had to only have one food processor I’d still go with a bigger one. But if you can, this is a great buy too.
- Knives – You only really need three knives; a chefs knife, a paring knife and a serrated bread knife. This is a good set of all three from my favorite knife manufacturer, Global. Those blocks with loads of knives in only really serve to make the knife companies lots of money rather than to help you. I’d much rather you use a good chefs knife for most jobs and really get used to using it confidently. To gain confidence, come along to one of my knife skills classes. Technique aside, the biggest impact you can have on your knife is to get it sharpened regularly at a professional sharpeners. Ask the chef at your local restaurant where they get theirs done.
- This is the knife set my children use. The round ended knife in particular is great for little hands and gets them used to using knives safely.
- Scissors I use these to chop herbs, chicken, bacon, sausages. Everything!
- Potato masher I use this for potatoes but also for mashing other veggies and beans and for mashing soup when I want a chunkier texture than my what my immersion blender gives me.
- Scissors I use these to snip bacon, sausages and chicken into a pan rather than a knife and board. I also use them to snip herbs or salad greens.
- Cutting boards I don’t like to use wooden boards as I find them hard to clean. I also don’t like glass boards as they blunt knives. I buy these inexpensive plastic boards and change them every 6-12 months when they start to stain or scratch. They can go in the dishwasher which is the best way to get them clean.
- Peeler I use this to peel vegetables but also to create long ribbons of carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables to add a nice texture to salads.
- Steamer. I tried bamboo and metal steamers in the past but never got along well with them. Then I found this brilliant silicone one. The feet sit on the bottom of any pan and the flexible shape bends to fit inside any size pan. And it goes in the dishwasher and doesn’t absorb smells making it wonderful for spicy foods and fish. I have both the large and small but if you’re just getting one I’d get the large.
- Saucepans I like stainless steel pans with a nice heavy bottom, metal handles and lids so I can put them in the oven. This is a great set of the three most useful sizes; 1.5, 2 and 3.5 quart.
- Whisk I use this to mix sauces to get rid of lumps. I also use it to whisk dry ingredients together when I’m baking instead of sieving them.
- Mixing bowls This is a great set of stacking bowls to use when microwaving, prepping or baking. You can also use them to serve salads or other sides or to store things in the fridge.
- Roasting pans I like to have a sturdy metal deep sided roasting pan like this for roasting turkey, chicken or other meats. I like metal because I can use it on top of the stove too, usually to make a pan sauce after the meat has finished roasting. You can also use it to bake a lasagna. I do also have these ceramic roasting pans which are great for any foods you want to make and freeze, or to bake in the oven and then serve straight to the table in the same pan.
- Serving platters are the modern way to go to make the food you’ve worked hard to make look pretty. They also mean no delicious ingredients get buried as they can in a bowl. I like to use plain white plates and platters so that food stands out.
- Salad servers I love these ‘hands’ for tossing and serving salads and other dishes where large quantities need mixing well such as granola.
- Can opener It is amazing how complicated and tough to use these can be. This one isn’t.
- Dutch oven Be sure to get a Dutch Oven that is heavy and made of cast iron with enamel coating. I love my French Le Creuset brand Dutch Ovens. They are one of the most expensive items in my kitchen but the quality is unbeatable and I will have them forever. I don’t have a crockpot [slow cooker]. Instead, I use my Le Creuset pans to cook stews and soups low and slow in the oven while I go off and do what I need to do. My most-used sizes are these 5.5 quart size and the round 7.25 quart or oval 6.75 quart sizes. Buy the biggest you can afford – round or oval doesn’t make any difference.
- Parchment paper I use this ready-cut parchment paper to stop things sticking when I roast or bake and to cut down on scrubbing my pots and pans.
- Onion goggles because I bawl when I chop onions. These are the only things that have ever worked and I have tried EVERYTHING!
Nice to have – you won’t use these as often as the items above, but these are the best versions of each
- mortar and pestle for grinding small amounts of spices or making pesto the old school way (use the mini food processor for the new school way)
- griddle pan When I moved to California, this was one of the first things I bought. I thought it would make me feel like a real American to cook my pancakes on one of these. I soon realized that this big pan is not just for pancakes; it is a great way to make stir fries or any food that is too much to fit into a regular frying pan.
- Spiralizer This is a recent addition to my kitchen. I love it for making zucchini noodles (zoodles) which I use in salads or in place of spaghetti or noodles when I’m eating clean. My kids can’t tell the difference between pasta and these zucchini noodles so I mix half and half with pasta and sauce and they get extra veggies without knowing.
- Ice cream maker I know many people buy these and leave them in the cupboard never to be used. I do use mine and love the resulting ice cream that has minimal ingredients.
- Ice cream scoop The nifty thing with this one is that it has a special liquid in the handle that warms the scoop when your hand wraps round it. Making easy work of even the hardest ice cream. Therefore cutting crucial seconds from the carton to mouth time frame. You’re welcome.
Investments – these are all wonderfully useful items but are most likely the things to save up for, or ask for on a birthday
- Scanpan big, lidded pan I love my Scanpan frying pans but this is a great addition if you have a big family or need to cook in bigger quantities sometimes. It also has a lid making it great for braised dishes. And it goes into the oven.
- Toaster oven I took a while to convince myself to buy this as we don’t have them in England so I didn’t really ‘get’ why I needed one. I hate clutter on my counter tops but this is brill. On hot days it doesn’t heat up my kitchen like my regular oven does. It allows me to make small dinners for my boys quickly and easily without resorting to the microwave. It saves energy too. We use it to toast our bread and bagels and I use it to bake cakes, cookies and roast meat and vegetables or bake pasta just like I do in a regular oven. I regularly make dinner for all four of us in this with no difficulty.
- Vitamix the cult of this is well documented. I don’t yet have one but I love using them at my student’s houses. I have an old blender that I can’t justify replacing, but when I do I’ll buy a Vitamix. Not only for the strong motor but for my favorite feature – the fact you can push things down as you blend rather than stopping and starting the blender. Choose either this one or this one depending on your budget. You’ll be delighted with either.
Get my baking essentials here.