The Fruit and Vegetable Tools You Actually Need

Essential fruit and vegetable tools (everything you need, plus some fun extras) -

Last week, when I asked what you all are craving this summer, you blew me away with overwhelming enthusiasm for fresh summer fruits and vegetables. Peaches! Cherries! Watermelon! Blueberries! Heirloom tomatoes! You’re showing me up by growing vegetables in your backyards and buying locally grown produce on your lunch breaks. It’s no wonder we all get along so well. Peace, love and veggies forever!

You got me thinking about all the time and effort that we’re putting into these fruit and vegetables. Then I started thinking about all the tools available to help us with our kitchen endeavors. A lot of those tools are totally unnecessary. Looking at you, mango pitter.

I thought it’d be fun to open up my kitchen and talk about some tried-and-true utensils. These are the fruit and vegetable tools that have earned a permanent spot in my kitchen. Even the two that require electricity have proven themselves nearly indestructible.

Several items listed below (like the chef’s knife) are absolutely essential, and a few others are just handy/fun to have (like the julienne peeler and ice cream maker). Let’s talk about them!

Update: I now have a complete list of my kitchen equipment (small appliances, cookware and more) on a brand new page: Healthy Kitchen Essentials!

The knives you actually need -

Head’s up: These links are affiliate links, which means I’d receive a small portion of your purchase if you click through and buy something. I’d appreciate it if you do! I’ve included current prices for these items for your shopping convenience. Prices fluctuate, so please consider them approximate.

First up: The Knives You Actually Need. You don’t need a big, fancy set of kitchen knives for vegetarian cooking. You just need a few basic knives.

First and foremost, you need a sharp chef’s knife that fits comfortably in your hand. You also need to learn how to use it, which will save you an immense amount of time and keep your fingers safe. I took a basic knife skills class for the public at a community college a few years ago. It cost about $35. Learning how to properly chop onions and dice avocados? Priceless!

My chef’s knife: My knife skills class instructor used this Wüsthof 7-Inch santoku knife ($115). I liked it so much that I put it on my Christmas list. I later gifted one to my mom after watching her struggle to slice sweet potatoes with a dull, clunky knife. Santoku knives are a Japanese style of chef’s knife, so sometimes I wonder if I should be using a Japanese brand instead of a German one, but whatever. I love my Wüsthof.

I hand wash my knife (never put good knives in the dishwasher) and try to get it sharpened once a year. Sur la Table stores offered free knife sharpening last Christmas, which was awesome!

Paring knives and serrated knives: I love Kuhn Rikon 4-inch paring knives ($8 to $13.50) because I can grab one for slicing a lemon and then throw it right into the dishwasher. I bought a few when I found them on sale early this year and they’ve held up great so far. I also use this cheap Victorinox serrated knife ($9.50) for slicing tomatoes, muffins and bagels. Someday I’ll get a larger serrated knife for slicing through big loaves of bread evenly.

Also essential: Cutting boards. I like plastic boards because hand washing wooden boards is no fun. I stock up on Ikea’s Legitim chopping boards ($1.50!) when I visit the store. They’re great for small, simple tasks like slicing citrus or peeling fruit. They fit neatly into the dishwasher. I also have a couple of bigger cutting boards with recessed rims around the edges that catch the run-off from juicy fruit. Those are good to have, too. I buy those at Target.

food processor and colander

Food processor: I’m going to qualify this machine as necessary. I use my 7-cup Cuisinart food processor ($99) to make pesto and hummus, grate carrots, slice cucumbers, shred Brussels sprouts and so much more.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I briefly owned a large, fancy-pants food processor. I hated it and sent it back. I prefer my small Cuisinart because it comes with fewer accessories (less to store!) and the bowl doesn’t take up my entire top dishwasher rack. If I’m prepping lots of vegetables and fill up the bowl, I just dump the contents of the bowl into a serving bowl and carry on. If you’re feeding a large family, you might want a bigger food processor, but this one is great for my purposes.

Colander: This stainless steel colander ($20) is very nice to have. I can set it in the sink to rinse fruit or vegetables and drain pasta. I bought this model because it’s recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. Two years later, it looks as good as new. (Note: The holes are a little too large for rinsing uncooked rice or quinoa, so I use Sur la Table’s 7-inch, handheld fine mesh sieve ($23) for that.)

salad spinner and mixing bowls

Salad spinner: If you want to make great salads, you need a salad spinner. Why? If you toss damp greens in salad dressing, the dressing won’t stick. Water and oil don’t mix! I like my OXO salad spinner ($25). I have the small size, which is easy to store and dries enough greens for one large individual-sized salad or a couple of side salads. If you’re feeding a family, you’ll probably want the larger size.

Mixing bowls: Crate and Barrel’s glass nesting bowls ($30) are awesome and I use them daily. They’re great for prepping fruit and vegetables prior to cooking, for baking, for serving, for everything. The nice thing about nesting bowls is that they only take up as much space as the largest bowl.

vegetable peelers and other fruit and vegetable tools

Vegetable peeler (necessary!): I generally prefer Y-shaped peelers because I can hold the peeler at an angle and get the blade closer to the cutting board. I love Kuhn Rikon’s cheap peelers but got tired of replacing them every six months or so (they rust). I recently purchased Williams-Sonoma’s stainless steel peeler ($10) and it’s been working great.

Julienne peeler (unnecessary, but so fun!): These peelers have serrated blades that slice vegetables into skinny noodles instead of wide strips. I use my stainless steel Kuhn Rikon julienne peeler ($20) to make carrot, zucchini and cucumber noodles.

Citrus juicer: I juice a lot of limes and lemons so this guy ($22) is super handy. Unlike my previous metal juicer, there is no paint to chip off into my food (gross!). The sturdy plastic design magically squeezes out every last drop of lemon and lime juice.

Garlic press: A necessity in my book. I love garlic, but I hate mincing garlic by hand, so garlic presses make my life easier. I own three of them, which is absurd. My favorite (my newest, which is not shown) is the Propresser Garlic Press ($18). It’s sturdy, reasonably priced and you don’t even have to peel the garlic beforehand.

Cherry pitter: Unnecessary, but super handy if you buy cherries every summer. Pitting cherries without a pitter is a messy, time consuming process. Oxo’s cherry pitter ($13) makes it easy. I bought it based on all of the great reviews and I can’t imagine that any other cherry pitter would work better than this one.

ice cream maker, mandolin, muddler and microplane

Microplane grater: A lot of recipes call for a Microplane grater ($15). I use it to zest citrus and grate Parmesan and chocolate very finely. Just be careful because it’s easy to scratch your knuckles or lose a fingernail on the blade.

Muddler: I use my muddler to mash up summer fruit and herbs in my cocktail shaker. I just used it to make my cucumber gimlet. Update! I bought OXO’s muddler ($14) and prefer it to the one pictured here. It’s easier to grip.

Mandoline: I recommend this mandoline ($23) with caution. I use it to make super thin slices of radish, onion, cabbage, etc. Beware that the sharp blade shreds and slices anything it comes into contact with, whether that’s an onion or your fingers. It comes with a finger guard that is a nuisance to use. I’ve bought protective kitchen gloves to protect my gingers but they tore when they brushed up against the blade, so I can’t recommend them. The nice thing about mandolines is that they fold up flat and allow you to quickly slice produce thinner than you ever could with a knife or food processor. Just be careful, please!

Ice cream maker: Unnecessary, but awesome. I love my 2-quart Cuisinart ice cream maker ($88). I use it to make ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet. The machine works as well today as it did when I bought it three years ago. The only downside is that the bowl must be frozen at least 24 hours in advance. I keep my bowl in the freezer all the time, but I couldn’t always do that when I had a smaller refrigerator. On the other hand, I also have a large, heavy and outrageously expensive Breville ice cream maker that I got for free last year. It has its own compressor, so you can flip on the machine and make ice cream any time, but the Cuisinart makes better ice cream.

Ok, that about sums it up! What am I missing? Which tools are indispensable in your kitchen?


  1. Alyssa says

    The Magic Bullet is indispensable in my kitchen. I use it to make smoothies, dressings, dips, and even whipped cream. It’s so handy, super quick to wash, and is small enough to store just about anywhere.

    • lisa says

      we love our bullet too!
      i make guacamole in ours and my husband uses it to grind spices like cumin into powder or to combine a bunch of spices into a meat rub.
      it’s terrific!

  2. says

    I had the same thing happen to my protective gloves. I wish mandolines were easier to use. I’ve been using the slicing disk on my food processor for radishes this summer…not quite as thin but almost as good as using a mandoline.

    • says

      Good call, Karis. I’m accident prone so I basically think of my mandoline as a disaster just waiting to happen. I like my fingertips!

  3. says

    absolutely love the list – so many of them are on my bucket list. I have been really wanting a julienne peeler, i will definitely get the one you recommended. I use my knife and immersion blender very frequently. About the mandolin, I purchased one but hardly use it, i dont like its blades or something.

  4. says

    This is a very handy post, I think the julienne tool and the microplane are things I really need but have been putting off buying. As for an ice cream maker just got one for my birthday from my sister and cannot wait to start using it! I will be ordering arrowroot starch as per your suggestions on making coconut based ice cream :)

  5. Rachael says

    If you slice your garlic clove, with skin, in half before pressing, and toss into the press cut side down, you will find that more of the garlic goes though the holes! (I’m a skinning hater: though the rubbery tube made for desk inning works pretty well.) So does crushing the clove with the side of your knife, but that only makes a juicy mess to touch, and really really garlic fingers!

  6. says

    Yay, tools! Having the right tools really does make everything so much easier & better. I just got my first julienne peeler the other day! So fun! Of the above tools, I have no food processor, garlic press, mandoline, cherry pitter, or muddler. The muddler is definitely on the list of things to get, though! Good cocktails are important. :)

    I will cast another vote for the necessity of an immersion blender — although I don’t generally use mine on summer fruit. But for soups & sauces? Yes, all the time.

    • says

      Of all of those, I don’t know how you get by without the garlic peeler! I have an immersion blender but my fancy Blendtec blends so much better that I don’t reach for it very often.

  7. Anne says

    Thanks for the julienne peeler link–you’ll be getting a few cents from amazon and I’ll be getting a new toy!

    My kitchen must-haves are the same as yours but I would add piles of wooden spoons, tongs (great for mixing salads), and a hand-held manual potato masher. Though the masher has limited applications, I love that I can make mashies without firing up an appliance. It’s also great for making guacamole. And it’s cheap and small so easy to justify!

    • says

      Thanks, Anne! I appreciate it. The julienne peeler is so fun to have. My tongs and potato masher don’t get enough use! I guess I forget about them. Someday, I’ll have a kitchen with nice, big, organized drawers. :)

  8. Julie says

    My essentials that you did not list:
    * Mini Food Processor along w/ my 9 cup that get very regular use
    * My Garlic Peeler. Best invention ever if you use a lot of garlic.
    * I have yet to find plastic cutting boards that are BPA free so I use & love my Epicurious Cutting boards

    Never considered a muddler…things that make you go mmmm. I’m on it!

    • says

      Thanks, Julie! I’m definitely going to look for that garlic peeler next time I’m at Williams-Sonoma. Who knew?! I’d probably get a mini food processor if my processor was any bigger, but it’s a good in-between size for now. I’ve never even thought about BPA in cutting boards. I would suspect that many are BPA-free but not labeled so. BPA is more common in clear plastic than opaque plastic… Actually, I just did some internet research. Polypropylene (#5) and polyethylene (#1) plastics don’t contain BPA. Looks like most of the plastic cutting boards on Amazon are made of those materials, so I think they’d be safe to use.

  9. Meredith says

    I was patting myself on the back for having all of these as I read them. The only one I’m missing is the food processor. I have a vitamix and thought it could do everything until I attempted a pie crust last week… I also recommend cuisinart, my mom has had hers since she got married in 1977!

    • says

      Uh oh! Sorry about your pie crust. I have a Blendtec and will admit that there’s a lot of crossover capabilities between the food processor and fancy blender. I wish there was some sort of hybrid machine that could do it all!

  10. says

    Thank you for sharing this. Now I don’t feel so cheap when I survey the small number of kitchen tools I own.

    I use my big cook’s knife for everything. It cost me $1.80 on a sale in a supermarket in Australia, has a sharp strong blade and is perfectly balanced.

    My next best friend is the super-sharp vegetable peeler I bought from a door-to-door salesman.

    My hand blender is used nearly every day in winter when I make yummy soups, and I use my food processor to make nut butter – not much else….

    • says

      Wow, your chef’s knife sounds like a great find! I have a hand blender but my fancy-pants Blendtec blends so much better that I always opt for the Blendtec… even though it’s more work to clean.

  11. Carolyn says

    I bought myself a vitamix 2 years ago, and now I can’t imagine life without it! I use it at least once a day, but usually more like 2 or 3. Smoothies, sauces, soups, and banana soft serve!

    • says

      Awesome! Glad you’re getting lots of good use out of it! I love my Blendtec. Lately I’ve been using it to make sauces and chickpea flour.

  12. says

    I totally want a food processor!!! I do have a julienne peeler though. Not used it yet however (had it less than a week). I’m also with an immersion blender. You can blend stuff in the pan!!!! Less washing up.

  13. says

    I use my blender almost every day (I have an omniblend)! Otherwise I think you have captured most of the essentials. I also have a whole drawer full of weird and wonderful gadgets that I almost never use, like egg slicers, olive pitters etc…

  14. Sandy says

    You somehow read my mind. I was looking for information like this and planned to ask for recommendations, especially for the Julienne peeler and the food processor you use. I’m so tired of grating carrots by hand! I’ll use your links to buy, too.

  15. Donna says

    A Chantry knife sharpener. I’ve had one for 9 years, haven’t yet needed to replace the rods (though that day is coming), and can keep my knives sharp all the time. At $60 it’s not the cheapest tool, but for me, it’s worth it.
    Love your blog!

  16. says

    I love my ice cream maker. Often we don’t have space in our tiny freezer for the bowl, but we decided to buy a second fridge. It sounds like a luxury, but we eat so much fruit and vegetables and struggle with our small fridge. We’ve been talking about everything we’re going to do “when we have the new fridge” for over a year and finally ordered it this morning.

  17. kelli says

    wooden cutting boards are easy to clean in warm soapy water with a sponge in the sink or with a spray bottle of diluted bleach and water.
    wooden cutting boards do not tend to scratch, while plastic ones do. then food gets suck and bacteria grows and cannot be cleaned away.
    wooden may be a bit more work for some people because they cannot be put in the dishwasher
    plastic harbors bacteria and are made from petrochemicals
    you choose

  18. Tabea says

    I love this list and I’m definitely gonna invest in some more kitchen tools – thank you!

    (I’m from Germany though, otherwise I would of course buy exactely the things you listed from the links you listed, sorry I can’t!).

    You didn’t list my most beloved (and most expensive) kitchen tool, namely the KitchenAid Artisan. I bake a lot (I mean, A LOT) and in my opinion the KitchenAid is the BEST!
    My most used kitchen tool would be a blender to make smoothies. VERY important.

    Now I think I really need to get a food processor, as well. My bf won’t be impressed though – our kitchen is sooo small… :/

    Lots of love from Germany!

    • says

      Thanks, Tabea! Confession: I got a KitchenAid mixer months ago and I’ve only used it, like, once. I don’t want to leave it out on the counter all the time and I don’t want to pull it out of the closet, either! I do pretty simple baking stuff, though. I do love my blender!

  19. Emily L says

    This is a such great post! I will be moving to NY soon…so I’m really trying to get rid of cheaper things I bought during my college years and slowly transitioning to tools and appliances that will (hopefully) last forever! I’m totally eyeing the food processor and it’s already on my Amazon “NY Wish List!” Also…thinking of a coffee grinder :)

    In my kitchen…I love my staub cast iron pot, rice cooker and immersion blender. Wish I could love my french press more but I think I need more practice fiddling with the coffee/water ratios.

    • says

      Thanks, Emily! I went a little crazy buying gadgets once I started cooking after my broke college days. I got a coffee grinder around Christmas time. It’s the conical burr grinder from Bodum (in white). It looks cooler than most of the others and it seems to work well, though I can’t compare it to any others!

  20. says

    Good review on the cherry pitter. A friend of mine just made cherry preserves and did all the pits by hand. I thought she was insane! I’m getting her this!

  21. says

    Hands down, best knife ever! That’s the same one I’ve been using for years. Can’t live without it. This is a fantastic roundup because I love my gadgets & tools! I think my next purchase will be a cherry pitter. I’m curious to see if it works for olives, too. :)

  22. says

    Dangerous, absolutely, but I could not live without my mandoline! This is such a great list, Kate. The garlic press we got as a wedding gift broke on us a while back — I really need a new one! Mostly what I loved about this post, though were the photos :) So bright, colorful and artistic! Bravo!

  23. Stephanie says

    I don’t know if someone has already mentioned this, but the garlic press from Pampered Chef is bomb. I never peel the garlic before pressing, and it has always worked well for me. Just thought I’d throw that out there :)

    • says

      Sounds like you need a cherry pitter, for sure! Maybe when your daughter is older, she can help you pit those cherries with your cherry pitter. Other commenters have reported that cherry pitters make fun summertime toys!

  24. Madeline says

    After spending half of this summer washing lettuces by hand (and grumbling the whole way) you have affirmed that I need to get a salad spinner! I kept debating on whether or not this was a silly purchase, but I don’t think I can face one more head of dirty (albeit very organic!) lettuce.

    I would also add a coffee grinder to the list of must haves. I use it a lot to grind up spices in a flash. I just throw a piece of old bread in it when I am done and it cleans right up–ready for fresh coffee, or spices, again.

    • says

      Man, hand washing greens sounds like a lot of work! I think you’ll wonder how you ever got by without your salad spinner! Great suggestion on the coffee grinder. I don’t have one of those (yet?).

  25. radha says

    Interesting article- thanks for sharing the information.
    The Joie strawberry huller- the one with the serrated scoop and the Chef n’ plunger model- both- are great buys. I personally swear by the serrated scoop, while my sister in law a gifted cook swears by the plunger model.The Joie strawberry slicer too is delightful and gives very delicate slices – looks great in garnishes and even in strawberries and cream!
    Similarly Joie has useful citrus peeler discs- they are useful on citrus and pomegranate peel.
    I also like the Joie lemon juicer- a good buy, especially as you can store the juice directly as it is squeezed in the unit below the reamer.
    I love ceramic ginger graters- there are various models- I have picked up some delightful owl and fish shaped ones from The Wok Shop, in Chinatown in San Francisco- the little old lady who runs the shop also introduced me to a julienne peeler(with alight blue handle which I love using as it juliennes carrots and cucumbers very well and does not nick the fingers- very safe.She has delightful kitchen stuff- well worth a visit!
    There’s also a nice chef n’ bean stripper and slicer- it takes a few minutes to get the hang of it, but is delightful for getting thin strips of beans for stir fry cooking, pilafs etc.It works with fresh beans only- old hard beans don’t get sliced well.
    I also use a melon slicer i picked up at Walmart and it cuts watermelon into dream wedges! As also a banana slicer- while slicing a banana is not a problem, this helps slice it very fast.
    For information- I don’t get any payment/ commisssion/ consideration for mentioning the above products- just that I’ve personally tried these and find them fun and useful and wanted to share the information.

  26. Emily says

    These lists helped me immensely when I was trying to come up with registry items we would actually use! Thanks!!

  27. says

    This is a terrific post for folks just setting up a kitchen, like my daughter who is soon to be married. I’ll be sure to pass this along to her, and I definitely need to pick up a cherry pitter!

    • says

      Thanks, Kristi! I’m really particular about my kitchen tools, so it’s fun to share my favorites! Congrats to your daughter!

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