Smart and simple cooking requires the right tools for the job. Rather than buying everything on day one, you can slowly build up a stock of essentials that will make your life a lot easier.
Having the most essential cooking tools in your cupboard will make your life so much easier. Although the kitchen world comes out with sleek, trendy, and exciting kitchen gadgets all the time, that doesn’t mean you need to buy every single one to be able to cook well. In fact, the most basic tools are all you need to start cooking delicious meals. And after you’ve saved all that money on home-cooked meals, you can check out our advanced tier of kitchen tools here.
To help you know exactly what tools to start out with, we created a Kitchen Essentials Checklist for you. This list describes the uses of 20 basic cooking utensils and is perfect for novice cooks or chefs on a budget.
With these items, you’ll be able to cook just about anything and start kicking butt in the kitchen!
1. NON-STICK FRYING PAN
Every household needs a non-stick pan for breakfast duty since eggs and pancakes are best made on a non-stick surface. It’s also a super versatile pan that can be used for searing meats, sauteing vegetables, and making sauces. Just be careful to use non-abrasive tools on the surface! We like this stainless steel frying pan and this aluminum one. Buying a two-piece set lets you have two sizes around and makes it possible to cook two things at the same time.
A saucepan is perfect for when you need to cook something with liquids, such as boiling pasta and vegetables or simmering sauces and beans. A 4-quart saucepan is easy to maneuver and handle, and is great whether you’re cooking for 1 or 4. Try this 3.5-quart non-stick one or this 4-quart stainless steel sauce pan.
3. STOCK POT
For bigger batches of soups, stews, and pasta, you’ll want to have a 12-quart stock pot around. Its base allows for even heating, so your soups cook evenly.
4. SHEET PANS
These pans can get a lot of action, including roasting vegetables, baking meats, toasting nuts, and of course, baking cookies. They also make for an easy clean-up with sheet pan dinners.
5. GLASS BAKING DISH
Glass baking dishes are perfect for baking things like casseroles and enchiladas in the oven. Because it’s microwave-safe, an 8-inch size can fit into a microwave for the times you need to pre-cook vegetables for the quick Microwave & Saute Cooking Method or even to fully cook veggies when your oven and stove are all occupied.
If you’re cooking, you’re going to be using a knife. If you only have money and space for one knife, get a chef’s knife. You will use this knife for 90% of your food prep, so buy a nice one and take care of it. However, we highly recommend getting a serrated knife and a paring knife as well since they serve different purposes – serrated knives let you slice through tomatoes and bread with ease, and paring knives are great for smaller, more delicate jobs, when a big knife just doesn’t cut it. (We like to use the Global grand, but buy whatever feels right in your hand!)
7. MEASURING SPOONS
Even if you like to “eyeball” ingredients, it’s handy to have a set of measuring spoons around for the times you need precise measurements. But also, they double as mini spoons for scooping spices and dried herbs! This magnetic set here is narrow enough to fit into spice jars, and they stick together so you don’t ever have to worry about losing the teaspoon or misplacing the tablespoon!
8. MEASURING CUPS
Measuring cups are absolutely crucial If you’re a baker, but it’s also great for everyday cooking. We like to keep a 4-piece set for measuring dried ingredients and small amounts of liquid. A 1-quart glass measuring cup makes measuring liquids a lot more convenient and efficient, and you can also make sauces and vinaigrettes right inside and then simply pour it into whatever you’re cooking up.
9. WOODEN SPOONS
Wooden spoons are not abrasive on your cooking surfaces and they’ll last forever. Just don’t put them in the dishwasher! Choose a set that has a variety of wooden spoons, like this 6-piece set, so that you can use it for different kinds of cooking.
10. FISH TURNER
While this handy tool is advertised as a fish turner, it can be used for anything. The wider base of this tool makes it easy to flip burgers, fish, over-easy eggs, and even pancakes. The thin, beveled edge makes it easy to slide beneath the foods you are flipping, and the slots allow any grease to drain.
When you’re setting up your kitchen with the basics, you want to make sure you have a good, sharp peeler to remove the peels of vegetables, shave off cheese, or make veggie ribbons.
While forks and chopsticks can be handy, a whisk is quicker and more efficient for emulsifying ingredients like vinegars and oils. We make vinaigrettes and marinades to season up salads and everything else almost nightly, so a whisk comes in very handy!
Tongs are like your extended hands and are super useful in the kitchen! Not only are they used to flip big pieces of food, but they also help move ingredients around in a frying pan or on a sheet pan without the risk of burns.
Dishes, Tools, and Gadgets
14. CUTTING BOARD
A good, grippy cutting board will protect your fingers during all your prep work, which is why we like this one. We recommend having a few cutting boards, like this set of plastic cutting boards, to prep various ingredients and prevent cross-contamination. Plastic boards can be placed in the dishwasher for full disinfecting.
Every kitchen needs a heavy-duty colander for draining out boiled pasta and vegetables. It is also used for draining canned beans and freshly washed veggies.
16. PREP BOWLS IN EVERY SIZE
Every kitchen needs a set of prep bowls to help you organize all your ingredients. If you get collapsible prep bowls, you’ll save a lot of space and have the convenience of covers that can seal off ingredients that are not quite ready for cooking yet. But glass prep bowls can also double as serving dishes!
17. CAN OPENER
A can opener is something you don’t want to forget! Canned beans and vegetables make for quick-cooking and are great pantry staples, but a bunch of things also come in cans that require a can opener – coconut milk, curry paste, fruits, crushed tomatoes, etc.
18. MICROPLANE ZESTER
This may not seem like a very necessary tool to have in a basic kitchen, but it makes a huge difference when you’re looking to up the flavor in your meals. A zester is used for zesting lemons and limes, and grating ginger and cheese.
19. IMMERSION / STICK BLENDER
Forget the bulk of a blender! You can now make pureed soups right in their pot, blend single-serving smoothies, and get extra creamy and smooth vinaigrettes / dressings. It’s so convenient, even its clean up is easy – simply pop off the blade for super quick cleaning.
20. SALAD SPINNER
A colander may be sufficient enough for drying lettuce, but a salad spinner is a whole lot more efficient. Salad dressings have a difficult time adhering to lettuce that is still wet and people have a difficult time with soggy tacos and sandwiches. A salad spinner is the answer to your problems because it will help you get rid of water in a matter of seconds and save on paper towels. You can also use this tool to dry fresh herbs. And you’ll have another colander if your primary colander is in use!
20 Basic Essential Cooking Tools
With these basic kitchen tools, you can cook just about anything without spending a fortune to fill your cupboards with appliances you rarely use.
A little note:
Some of the above links are Amazon affiliate links, which means we earn a small percentage from those sales. We use this affiliate revenue to support the continued growth of Cook Smarts. Thank you!