If you walk into any of those “fancy cooking stores,” you will probably find more kitchen tools – in more variety – than you know what to do with. It’s become cliche to say “There’s an app for that,” but in the cooking world, no matter what you’re trying to do, there’s a tool for that. I often go into Williams-Sonoma just to ogle the new gadgets. When I worked there one Christmas, it took every ounce of sanity I had to not spend my entire paycheck there. Daily. But unless you have Matha Stewart’s kitchen, you probably don’t have room for all of those goodies. And unless you’re cooking like Martha on a daily basis, you probably don’t need them all either.
Even if Grandma made do with only a single bowl and wooden spoon, you don’t have to go to that extreme either. There are some things that are just darn convenient. The trick is to find tools that fit your cooking style. Here are my rules, although I don’t stick to them exclusively.
- Must be used more than once per year.
- Can be used for more than one specific task.
- Has to be stored in my small kitchen.
- Makes cooking easier, not harder.
You’ll notice that price isn’t on my rule list. Although I have a budget that I stick to for household spending, I also appreciate the value of investing. We purchased a set of All-Clad stainless steel pots and pans (the year Hubby worked at Williams-Sonoma, cause we’re quirky like that). It was expensive, even with a generous employee discount, but it is the only set I will ever need to buy. Few other things last 50+ years.
Here are five of my favorite small kitchen tools:
This is a genius tool. I don’t know how I cooked before I bought it about five years ago. Basically, it is a tiny, tiny grater. Sometimes I see it called a zester. I mostly use it to grate parmesan cheese or fresh ginger. I also use it to get the zest from citrus fruit like lemons and oranges. Its most important use is grating garlic. If you’ve ever been eating something and chomped down on a small piece of garlic, you know where I’m going. You need less grated garlic to get its full flavor, but the flavor is also spread evenly throughout the dish.
Look for one with a good handle that you can grip.
Price range: $10 to $20
2. Angled measuring cups
Just about anyone who cooks uses measuring cups. I have a few different styles, but these are by far the best. What makes them unique is that the show the measurements not only from the side, but also the top. I hate squatting down and squinting at the side of a measuring cup while I’m filling it. It’s hard to be precise. These are by Oxo, which is a brand I appreciate for being budget-friendly and also durable.
This particular set is found in a pack of three – one, two and four cups.
Price range: $7 to $10 each, or set of 3 for $20
3. Glass prep bowls
This is another tool that everyone sort of has. Your kitchen is probably stocked with bowls of all sizes, but let me tell you why these are good. First, they’re glass, so they can go in the microwave or dishwasher (unlike plastic or melamine). Second, at only three-inches across, they’re surprisingly useful. Sometimes cooking requires several tiny mixtures to be combined in stages. There’s no point in getting a bigger bowl dirty for something small. I use mine to measure spices before adding them all to something. I crack a single egg into one before scrambling or stir-frying. I also use them to separate egg yolks and white.
Only buy glass. Clear is helpful, but not essential. Mine are Pyrex.
Price range: $6 to $25, in sets of three to eight pieces
4. Stainless steel trainer
Strainers come in lots of sizes, but mine is only about four inches across the bowl. Basically, it is used to separate things. It is handy for a small batch of homemade jam, homemade vanilla ice cream, or soups and sauces. I’ve used it for all of those things, but its biggest use is recycling cooking oil. After pan frying or deep frying something, I strain the cooled oil to get out the tiny food bits left behind. The oil can then be stored in the refrigerator and reused later. Most oil can be used two or three times before it breaks down and has to be thrown out. Just store used oil in the refrigerator to keep it from going rancid and reuse it within a few weeks. This saves on cost and reduces the amount of oil you’re throwing away.
When choosing a strainer, keep storage space in mind.
Price: $7 to $25, depending on size
5. Tortilla press
This tool has limited uses, but I still consider it a multitasker. The press works using a lever to squash whatever is between the plates. I use mine for homemade tortillas, but I also use it for pita bread, pizza dough, and anything else I need to flatten. It doesn’t take up much space, but since I use it mostly for baking, it isn’t essential if you bake rarely. However, if you are trying to bake more things at home, this will save you a lot of rolling pin time. Once you’ve made your own tortillas or pita bread a few times, it will be hard to go back to store-bought.
Mine is pressed aluminum, but since I bought it, I’ve seen pretty cast-iron too.
Price: $12 to $25
These are mostly available wherever you buy kitchen tools: Williams-Sonoma, Target, or Bed Bath & Beyond. Do you use all of these? What must-have kitchen tools would you add to this list?