Some “must haves” for your cooking experience. Yes, you can buy complete sets of everything. Knives. Pots and pans. Utensils. Complete with a pretty spice rack. But you don’t have to. A few really good, comfortable tools is all you need to make your cooking and grilling experience awesome. Again, this is not meant to be a complete list. But these are some of my favorite tools to go to.
Apron – Any cook worth his salt needs an apron. I don’t care what you get. “Kiss the chef.” Little pretty flowers. Plain white. Doesn’t matter. You need one. A) It defines your character. B) It keeps you neat and clean for your parties.
Braising/Frying/Sautee Pan – They come in a huge variety. Just get a couple. Different sizes. That you love… Because once you start using a shallow 5 quart sauté pan, you might not want to use anything else. I prefer stainless. Copper core is fantastic if you want to spend the cash (more even cooking surface). So my favorites are the aforementioned sauté pan and a smaller 8 inch fry pan.
Church Key – Pop top, bottle opener, corkscrew. Whatever you call it. Have one handy. My apron and cooler both have ones attached to them.
Cleaver – Along with your knives, this will complete your manhood. If you have ever seen Martin Yan then you know that a cleaver can do, well, anything. I don’t claim to be able to mince garlic with it, but for boning or sectioning any giant piece of meat or poultry this tool will make you happy.
Food Processor – Get one. Doesn’t matter who makes it. How many attachments. But you need to have something to make your sauces, salsas, soups, etc. Quite an ingenious tool for your kitchen.
Juicer – You must have this if you plan on making any marinades. I’m not talking about a big electric thing to make health food. Just get a small citrus juicer like this one.
Knife – Might be the most important tool in your armamentarium… Anthony Bourdain has a chapter devoted to the knife in his Les Halles Cookbook. It’s nice to have a set of knives, but frankly you won’t use half of them. I like to have a 4 inch blade that has a belt clip and also a 6+ inch Chef or Santuko knife. Having less knives makes you more responsible for them. Keep them sharp. Very sharp. Hone them often, and have them professionally sharpened at least once a year (depending on use). Don’t bother with the fancy diamond blade sharpener. Just spend the money and have it done professionally. They’ll do it better than you.
Measuring Spoons/Cups – Get a good set. Standard. Don’t bother with the ones that come in ridiculous measures unless you’re baking. 1/4 t, 1/2 t, 1 t, 1 T. 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup. Stainless steel.
Mixing Bowls – A variety of sizes of mixing bowls comes in handy for any mis-en-place prep work that you’re doing. Stainless steel are fantastic, but you can get a good set of ten glass mixing bowls for $40.
Roasting pan / Poultry rack – Might not use these very often. However, when you are entertaining, having a holiday at your home, or just making a few 5 pound chickens, these are essential.
Silicone spoons – Very nice and necessary for your non-stick cookware.
Skewers – Any kind are fine. If you’re spendy, get the brand name stainless ones. But in my opinion, generic wooden ones work just fine. Just make sure to soak them for about 30 minutes prior to grilling to prevent burning.
Spatula – Another must-have item. I have two that I use often. Both are heavy, but the blade is thin and can lift even the thinnest fish off of the grates.
Spice Grinder – I like to make my own blends of spices. It’s much less expensive than buying jars at the store. And it’s fun. Get a small grider and you can use it for spice blends as well as grinding coffee beans.
Spoon, Cooking – Everyone should have A SPOON. A go-to spoon that you love to stir, saute, scoop, slap, and slather with. Use a stainless one if you can.
Stock pot – Preferable one with a strainer. You have to have this for making stocks, marinading, and making anything that requires you to feed the masses.
Tongs – I always try to have two pair of easy open tongs. I like having a large and a small one just for ease of turning meat or vegetables, or pulling out a hot tray from the oven. Williams-Sonoma stainless steel tongs are my favorite.
Thermometer – A must have for grilling and roasting. I love a nice little digital one. Simple. Easy to use. Fast. And accurate. You don’t necessarily need to go crazy with a remote sensor and base, but frankly these are very convenient for the holiday turkey or roast.
Wok – If it’s not stainless, just make sure you keep it seasoned with oil of some kind. Otherwise, this implement will make cooking fast and easy for you.
Wood spoons – Get a few wood spoons of varying sizes. They come in extremely handy, especially when multitask cooking.