These are the cooking tools that I can’t cook without. They are the tools that I miss when I cook in other kitchens, and the items that I reach for most often in my own kitchen. In fact, I pulled most of these tools straight out of my dishwasher for this photo shoot. That’s how often I use them!
I believe in buying quality kitchen tools that will last forever. The good news is that they don’t have to cost a fortune—most of the items on my list are in the ten to twenty dollar range. While a quality blender, food processor or chef’s knife will set you back more, they can truly be an investment in your time and health.
The right tools will make cooking quicker, easier, safer, and more fun. For your reference, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 cooking tools. I hope you’ll find them so useful that you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them! You’ll also find care and safety tips sprinkled throughout.
I’ve also created a brand new “shop” page, where you can shop my full kitchen. If you ever find yourself wondering, “I wonder which food processor Kate recommends?” you’ll find the answer there! Plus, you’ll find my favorite non-toxic cleaning products, natural beauty products and more.
You can always find my shop at the top of cookieandkate.com—just click on the “shop” link. I hope it’s a great resource if you’re trying to cook more at home. It would also be a helpful starting point for anyone who’s building a kitchen from scratch—perfect for recent college grads, those building out their wedding registry, and so on.
The products below and on my shop page are “affiliate” links. That means that I’ll receive a small commission if you place an order through them (at no cost to you). Thank you for helping to support our efforts at Cookie and Kate!
1) Large, rimmed baking sheets
Half-sheet pans are wonderful for roasting vegetables and baking cookies. All of my recipes are designed for these pans. In fact, these are the pans that all professional cooks and recipe developers use. Half-sheet pans are bigger than your average baking sheet, which gives roasted vegetables extra room to breathe—if they’re too cramped, they’ll turn into soggy steamed vegetables rather than caramelized roasted vegetables.
Also good to have: You’ll also need unbleached parchment paper or a silicone baking mat sheet to prevent foods from sticking to the pan, and to ease clean-up. I generally bake with a liner in place to prevent my food from coming into contact with the aluminum surface.
2) Good chef’s knife
A good chef’s knife is an absolute must. If you know how to use it, you’ll significantly cut down your prep time and keep your fingers safe. Consider taking a knife skills class at your local cooking school or community college (bring a friend or a date!). I took a class years ago, and it was a total game changer.
I have several steel chef’s knives in my kitchen and generally grab whichever’s closest. To find a chef knife that works for you, you might want to visit a nearby shop to find one that fits comfortably in your hand. This knife is affordable (about $55) and has great reviews. If you know you’ll take good care of your knife, you might want to invest in one that could last for over 25 years—this one is my absolute favorite.
Care tips: Always wash your good knives by hand in soapy water. Never put them in the dishwasher, or you’ll end up with very dull knives. Don’t shoot the messenger—I would never tell you to hand wash something if it weren’t truly necessary! I also get my steel knives professionally sharpened once per year at the local knife shop or at Sur la Table. Professional sharpening costs just a few dollars per knife.
You’ll also need a good cutting board that absorbs the impact of the blade. Wood or thick plastic are the best options. I prefer plastic cutting boards because they are so easy to wash in the dishwasher, and I buy the largest size that will fit in the lower rack. OXO makes my favorite cutting board, because it has non-slip sides and grooved edges to catch excess liquid. Most plastic cutting boards are recyclable when they reach the end of their life spans.
Safety tip: To keep your cutting board from slipping around, which is dangerous, dampen a tea towel and wring out the excess water. Place it underneath the cutting board, and the towel should keep it in place.
Also good to have: While you don’t need a full block of knives for cooking, you’ll appreciate having a few more handy. I recommend a longer serrated knife for cutting bread, a shorter serrated knife for cutting tomatoes, and a couple of paring knives for small tasks, like slicing lemons. I actually prefer ceramic knives here—they won’t last as long as quality stainless steel, but they’re sharp enough for such tasks and they’re dishwasher safe.
3) Measuring spoons that can reach into your spice jars
My favorite measuring spoons are long and skinny. That means that they can slide right into my spice jars. You might not appreciate how great this feature is until you’ve tried it. It is glorious.
4) Food processor
My 11-cup Cuisinart food processor is in constant use. It’s perfect for making pesto, salad dressings, almond butter, and even my favorite pizza dough. The grating and slicing attachments come in handy for grating carrots, slicing vegetables for slaw, and more.
The 11-cup size is a medium size with a relatively small footprint. Don’t go too big, or you will be limited to using your food processor for only the largest tasks.
In a perfect world, we would need either a food processor or a blender, but they’ve both earned a permanent spot on my countertop. Vitamix makes the best blenders, in my experience, and I can personally vouch for either of the following:
The Vitamix 5200 blender is a classic, and it’s less expensive than the newer models. The 5200 can do everything I need it to do. I’m a big fan of the taller, thinner blending container, which allows for blending of smaller volumes than their newer models—with the same maximum capacity. For a while, I was afraid that Vitamix would phase out this model, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
The Vitamix A3500 blender is the top-of-the-line new model. It has built-in buttons for smoothies, soups, and more, so you can hit “go” and walk away. The blending container is wider and shorter, so it will fit underneath your cabinet—but as you read above, it requires more liquid to blend. Sometimes I have to double small-volume recipes to make them work.
6) Liquid measuring cups (including a 2-ouncer)
Liquid measuring cups are for measuring liquids accurately. Buy a set of nesting Pyrex measuring cups, and they’ll last forever. You can also use them as mixing vessels for salad dressings, pancake batter, or any other cold or hot mixtures (Pyrex glass is oven, microwave, fridge, freezer and dishwasher safe).
OXO’s 2-ounce jigger is very nice to have for measuring small quantities of liquid. It is easier and less messy to measure a tablespoon (up to 4, or 1/4 cup) in this tool than it is to use measuring spoons.
7) Handheld citrus juicer
The Chef’n Citrus Juicer is so handy. I reach for it every time I need to squeeze a lemon or lime, which is often! It’s made of plastic, but it’s sturdier than any metal juicer I’ve used. In fact, the plastic purposefully has a slight give to it, which provides a little more leverage for squeezing out every last drop.
Tip: Squeeze your lemon or lime juice directly into OXO’s 2-ounce jigger (shown above) for easy measuring. For larger quantities, squeeze your juice into a liquid measuring cup.
8) Garlic press
A good garlic press is indispensable, in my opinion. I hate chopping garlic by hand, and I’m not afraid to say it. I own several garlic presses and they all work well, but each has its own quirk or cleaning difficulty. If you don’t hate chopping garlic, carry on to number nine!
Tip: Please don’t resort to store-bought minced garlic. It’s never good, and in fact has the potential to ruin the flavor of your meal. A garlic press is a legitimate time saver, but store-bought minced garlic is a liability.
9) Good balsamic vinegar
Napa Valley Naturals Grand Reserve Balsamic Vinegar is an affordable balsamic vinegar with amazing flavor. It’s about $8 to $10 at Whole Foods and similar stores. Make sure you get the bottle with “25 stars” on the label.
I used to think that all balsamic vinegars were the same, but this one has been such a game changer! It’s thick, rich and drizzles beautifully. You can use it in any recipe that calls for balsamic reduction, or serve it as a dip for bread with olive oil.
Tip: My favorite super-quick salad dressing is simply a drizzle of olive oil, followed by a lighter drizzle of Napa Valley balsamic, followed by a sprinkle of flaky salt and black pepper.
10) Flaky sea salt
Maldon sea salt is a “finishing” salt. You can use it to add extra seasoning to savory foods (or sweets, like cookies or caramels) before serving. Crush the flakes lightly between your fingers as you sprinkle to break them up a bit.
I love the irresistible crispy-crackly saltiness that Maldon provides. It’s an easy way to add another layer of flavor to your home-cooked foods!
Bonus: The Love Real Food Cookbook
Can I sneak in a shameless plug for my cookbook, Love Real Food? When I drafted the introduction, I wrote, “I hope this cookbook offers a collection of new favorite recipes that you can dog-ear on the couch and splatter with tomato sauce in the kitchen.” I’m constantly flipping the book open for reference, and it makes me tremendously happy to hear you’re doing the same. Thank you for supporting my book!
Love Real Food is divided into seven chapters: Good Morning (everyday breakfasts and fun brunch options), Salads (side salads to dinner portions), Soups (perfect for cold days), Happy Hour (fun appetizers, snacks, and cocktails), Let’s Feast (hearty, hot main dishes), Sweet Treats (all pretty healthy, as far as desserts go), and Extras (sauces to help you improvise, and more).
There you have it! My favorite cooking tools. Don’t forget that you can shop my kitchen anytime—just click on the “shop” link at the top of the page. To keep up with my latest recipes, be sure to subscribe by email and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.