Everyone needs to have the basics on hand—we'll help you figure out which kitchen tools you'll actually need, and which ones you're likely to reach for the most often. If you like getting creative with your cooking, we've also included a few non-essentials that you won't use as often but that could come in handy every now and then.

June 09, 2015

There's nothing worse than getting started on a recipe then realizing halfway through that you don't have all the kitchen tools to make it. With this guide to basic kitchen gadgets and tools, we'll help you get your cupboards in order so you can make just about any recipe out there. There are a few kitchen tools on this list that you can get by without, but having them on hand will make most recipes much easier.

Helpful Kitchen Gadgets to Have on Hand

Blender: If you're a big smoothie drinker, you'll definitely need a blender in one of your cupboards. It can also be helpful to blend soups and sauces to make them smooth.

Bottle/can opener: You'll need a can opener to open most canned foods, so make sure you keep this tool in a handy spot.

Colander: Use this perforated bowl-shape utensil to rinse food or to drain liquids from solid food. When solids are very fine, use a sieve.

Corkscrew: Many models are available, so choose the type you're comfortable using.

Cutting boards: Stock up on two that are easy to tell apart, and reserve one solely for raw meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish, and the other for ready-to-eat foods.

Egg separator: Use to separate egg yolks from whites. It is not safe to separate eggs by passing the yolk from shell to shell (bacteria from the shell can easily be transferred to the eggs if you use this method).

Electric mixer: Use for mixing wet and dry ingredients together, especially in baking. You can use a handheld electric mixer, or buy a standalone countertop mixer if you consider yourself more of a baker than a chef. 

Food processor: You can get by without having this gadget in your kitchen, but it can make a lot of tasks much easier. Use it to crush cookies or crackers into crumbs, make sauces like pesto, grind nuts, chop veggies, and more.

Fork, long-handled: Use when carving or moving large pieces of food, such as roasts.

Funnel: Helps avoid spills when pouring ingredients from one container to another.

Grater: This tool generally has a metal surface punched with sharp-edged holes or slits that are used to break foods into smaller pieces. Graters come in many shapes and sizes. Tools with larger holes are sometimes called shredders, while those with the largest holes are sometimes called slicers. The size of the holes or slits determines what task the grater is best suited for. Smaller holes or slits will break food into finer pieces. Box graters have different-size holes or slits on each side.

Kitchen shears: Use for snipping everything from fresh herbs to kitchen string.

Knives: A good set of knives is crucial for any kitchen, because you'll use them for just about everything. To learn more about the different types of kitchen knives and which ones you can't live without, check out our guide to knife basics.

Ladle: In a pinch, substitute a heatproof cup.

Measuring cups and measuring spoons: You'll need these for most recipes (make sure you have both wet and dry measuring cups in your drawers). For more information, check out our guide to measuring ingredients (yes, there's a right way).

Meat mallet: No one likes cutting into a tough cut of meat, and there's no tool out there that'll tenderize your steaks and chicken breasts better than a meat mallet.

Meat thermometer: When you're cooking meat, having a food thermometer on hand is a must to make sure your meat is cooked to a safe temperature. For more info, check out our guide to using kitchen thermometers.

Mixing bowls: For most cooks, a set of four mixing bowls in the following sizes will suffice: small (1 quart), medium (1-1/2 quarts), large (2-1/2 quarts), and very large (4 quarts).

Pastry blender: For cutting fat (such as shortening) into flour to make pastries, biscuits, etc. If you don't have one, cut in the fat using two knives in a crisscross motion.

Pastry brush: Often used for brushing glazes over baked goods; also useful for greasing pans.

Rolling pin: If you don't have one, try using a clean, heavy bottle with smooth sides.

Rubber scrapers: Also known as rubber spatulas, these utensils are used for scraping batter from a bowl and for folding ingredients together.

Sieves: Stock up on one large and one small, and use these circular wire-mesh utensils to separate small particles from large ones. Also called strainers.

Sifter: If you don't have one, pour flour or powdered sugar into a sieve set over a bowl, then stir it to force the grains through the holes.

Skewers: These thin, pointed sticks are made of metal or wood and are used to hold pieces of meat, fruit, and vegetables in place. To use wooden skewers for grilling or broiling, be sure to first soak them in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning.

Slotted spoon, long-handled: Useful for removing solids from liquid mixtures.

Spatulas: These flat utensils can be made of metal, rubber, plastic, and wood. A turner-type spatula is used for flipping foods; a narrow, flexible, metal spatula works well for spreading. For rubber or plastic spatulas, see Rubber scrapers, above. When using a spatula for cooking on the range top, make sure the one you use is heatproof.

Spoon, long-handled: Handy to stir large volumes, especially when you're making soup in a large pot.

Tongs (metal): Great for lifting and turning foods, especially on the grill or in a skillet. You can also use tongs to avoid touching raw meat with your hands, to turn some foods while they're cooking, to serve salads, and more.

Vegetable brush: Useful for scrubbing fruits and vegetables when skins will not be removed.

Credit: Karla Conrad

Vegetable peeler: Essential for peeling vegetables; in a pinch, peel skins with a paring knife.

Wire cooling rack: Allows air to circulate around baked goods to cool them quickly and keep them from getting soggy.

Wire whisks: These come in handy for beating ingredients such as eggs. They can also help you smooth out lumpy sauces. In a pinch, substitute a rotary beater.

Wooden spoons (assorted sizes): Sturdy tools for stirring thick dough and batter. Also useful for stirring mixtures while they heat, as wooden handles stay cool longer than metal handles.

Other Handy Kitchen Tools

You might not pull out these tools every day, but they can also be handy to have around in your kitchen:

  • Cheese slicer
  • Citrus juicer/reamer
  • Citrus zester
  • Mandoline
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Parchment paper
  • Pastry bag with tips
  • Pizza cutter
  • Pizza stone
  • Potato masher
  • Salad spinner


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