Now more than ever, advertisements bombard our everyday lives with proclaimed "kitchen necessities." But what do you really need to make a restaurant-quality dinner at home? Turns out, it's probably not as many items as you'd expect... but the ones that make the cut might be a bit of an investment. Read on for a full list of the five kitchen utensils every home chef should have in her kitchen, as well as five gadgets that can go directly into the donate pile.
Keep It: Wüsthof Chef's KnifeWusthof
The sharper your knife, the less you'll cry while cutting onions. This German knife-maker has been in business since 1814, and for good reason: their knives last. Their chef's knife comes in several sizes, starting in the $60 range and heading upwards of $500. So while they may be a little on the pricey side, any professional chef will tell you that it's a worthwhile expense. Plus, this one product can do it all -- cut, smash, slice and chop. Forget the block, one good knife is all you need.
Toss It: Any Kind of SlicerAmazon.com
From avocado to banana slicers, these items seem like a great idea at the time of purchase. But chances are they rarely get used and just end up occupying coveted kitchen drawer space. So, if you need help slicing fruits and veggies -- avoid the late-night Amazon.com shopping binge and refer to the chef's knife above. By freeing up valuable kitchen real estate, you are able to focus more fully on the task at hand: cooking for the people you love!
Keep It: Large Cutting BoardWinco
You really only need one cutting board for every chopping need that will arise. But be warned: this is not your mother's butcher block! Find a cutting board that's large enough to work on several tasks at once -- you should be able to chop onions in one corner and peel potatoes in the other. Most professional chefs use a classic half-inch white plastic version. It's an affordable option and will show any leftover food residue for easy cleaning. Make sure to find one with a "juice groove" to minimize messes, like this one from Winco.
Toss It: Electric Knife
The electric knife is one invention the world can do without. Aside from a chainsaw, it seems like the quickest way to end up in the hospital or like Edward Scissorhands. All jokes aside, the most important thing to note about this device is how often you use it. It's only once, or if it's lucky, maybe twice a year, that the electric knife gets a chance to grace the cutting board. Instead of plugging something in, practice with your chef's knife (see item number one above!) and show off your knife skills during the holidays.
Keep It: Wine OpenerMax Pixel
To quote the late, great Julia Child: "I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food!" And if anyone had authority over these matters, it was everyone's favorite home chef and the woman who brought French cooking into the homes of millions of Americans. These days, you can spend an unlimited amount of funds on a fancy wine opener. But what really matters is if it gets the job done. Keep it simple -- no need to break the bank on this one.
Toss It: Toaster
Before you balk at the prospect of ditching your favorite go-to breakfast appliance, hear me out. This bulky piece of equipment only does one thing and takes up precious counter space. Instead of making your breakfast using multiple utensils, try cooking your morning meal with just one pan. Toast never tasted so good until you flavored it with all the goodness from the same pan you used to fry up your bacon and eggs.
Keep It: Cast Iron Skillet
Speaking of one-pan meals, the cast iron skillet is one of the most sacred items in any chef's kitchen, and totally worth the investment. You never wash it, only rinse and wipe out -- and the heavy-duty cookware can be passed down from generation to generation, standing the test of time. The more you cook in these pans, the more "seasoned" they are, meaning more flavor for your food. And there's no other item in the kitchen that can do that!
Toss It: Fondue Set
Don't pretend like you don't have one of these bad boys tucked away in a corner of your kitchen. Whether you purchased this cumbersome set yourself or it was a well-intentioned gift from 30 years ago, it's collecting dust and it needs to go. If you're craving a hot batch of cheese sauce for the big game or a group of guests, you can make the same dish in a slow cooker and save yourself the shelf space.
Keep It: Pasta Machine
If you want to really impress someone with your culinary skills, make them pasta from scratch. Homemade pasta gets a bad rap as something time-consuming and complicated to make. But truthfully, most pasta recipes call for only three to four ingredients. The finished product has a more authentic texture than a boxed pasta and it cooks faster than dry pasta. The whole purpose of the kitchen is that it should be a place to have fun, to experiment, and to learn. Challenge yourself or give this a shot with the kids: It's a little messy, a lot of fun, and the kind of meal you won't forget. You can spend up to $300 on one of these, but the classic hand-crank models get the job done for a fraction of the price.
Toss It: Melon Baller
In this scenario, the melon baller represents everything in the drawer of random hand-held utensils that gets little to no use. Remember that grapefruit knife? Not essential. Egg slicer? Use a knife. And don't even get me started on the apple corer. For previous generations, these items were useful in desserts and salads that depended on presentation only. But now more than ever, the focus of good food is on quality and fresh ingredients, not the convenience of the utensil. Don't purchase things you won't use. Instead, spend your kitchen budget on the things you need -- and in the process, you'll help bring the attention back to the dish at hand.