my favorite things: kitchen basics

A few weeks ago, I walked you through my favorite things to travel with, for work and pleasure. Today, I’m going to tour you around my kitchen, highlighting my must-have basics and most-used gadgets. This is not an extensive list of everything I use regularly at home, like wooden spoons and measuring cups, as the average home cook is already using things of that nature. Instead, I try to highlight less common items you might not have or need a trustworthy recommendation regarding type or brand. As before, this blog is still purely a passion project and I’m not receiving any endorsements for the products listed here.

Bird's eye view of a stove with biscuits and bacon on it
A bunch of favorites all together – a gooseneck kettle, a spoon rest, a half sheet pan, and a cast iron skillet.
  • anti-fatigue kitchen mats
    • Standing for hours at a time on a hard surface is uncomfortable and bad for your body over time. Though you can spend a lot on custom mats for your kitchen if you’re into that, I love these from Gorilla Grip for $40 apiece. I keep one in front of the oven/stove and one in front of the sink, that I’ll move over to the middle of the counter when I have a lot of prep to do. I recommend at least one, which you can move around the kitchen as you need. Your feet and back will thank you.
  • butter dish
    • No one likes trying to spread cold butter over a piece of toast and room-temperature butter is crucial for a lot of baking. But you want to protect it from inevitable messes and spills on the counter, so a simple butter dish will lift it off the counter and cover it, keeping it out of the line of fire of splattering oil from the stove. More importantly, a dish keeps light and air away from the butter, keeping it from spoiling. Mine is a few years old from Anthropologie, my favorite shop for beautiful kitchenware. My dish isn’t in stock anymore, but their current options are linked here. If the idea of keeping butter on the counter instead of the fridge freaks you out: relax! Because the water content in butter is so much lower than that of other dairy products, it’s far less susceptible to bacterial growth. Here’s a great article from The Kitchn on best practices for counter-kept butter.
  • cast iron pans
    • I love cast iron because it does so well on both the stove and in the oven, conducting heat evenly to allow you to perfectly braise and sear meats.I have both a 12” cast-iron skillet ($32) and a 3.2qt. cast-iron combo cooker in my cabinet, both of which I use regularly. Truthfully, the 3.2qt size is honestly too small for most dutch oven recipes, so I would recommend getting a 5-6qt true dutch oven ($50). 5-6 quarts means it’s big enough to comfortably cook a whole chicken, while not being so massive you can’t find a place to keep it or are discouraged from using it. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually need to shell out hundreds of dollars for expensive (albeit, beautiful) enameled cast-iron pans from Le Creuset. Lodge makes excellent, affordable products that you can buy directly from their website, or from Target, Amazon or often Costco. I used the less-expensive, seasoned kind in my kitchen. The only drawback to it over an enameled option is maintenance. First, you need to make sure your pan is well seasoned to keep it relatively non-stick. This just means a layer of oil should be baked into the surface, but it will create a surface that keeps food from sticking and rusting, as well as extending the longevity of your pan. Lodge pans come seasoned when you buy them; however, over time the seasoning can diminish over time. You can find a guide to reseasoning your pans here. Second, cast iron is extremely porous, so you will need to take extra care when cleaning. None to minimal soap is best, as soap will absorb into the surface of the pan. I almost only use extremely hot water, epsom salt and this gentle Japanese scrubber called tawashi, as it is gentle enough to preserve the pan’s seasoning. If you just read all that laughing to yourself, knowing you just can’t commit to that kind of upkeep, that’s okay! Although a bit more expensive, there are less demanding enameled options from a wide range of prices. My favorites, from least expensive to most, are from Lodge ($92), Staub ($260), & Le Creuset ($360). 
Cooking rockfish and corn on a campsite grill
Amazing for car camping too!
  • dish gloves
    • We don’t have a dishwasher at our house, so these have become even more important this year. Using them gives me a higher threshold for how hot of water I can use (read: kill more bacteria!) while keeping my skin from drying out. I recently discovered this pair from Home Depot and am in love. The material is thick, they’re a comfortable, snug fit (I wear a medium) and they go all the way up to my elbow, protecting me from inevitable water splashes.
  • dish towels
    • Last year, I got more serious about reducing the amount of waste I create in the kitchen, and a great set of utility dish towels really helped me cut back on our paper towel usage. I use these for any and everything in the kitchen that isn’t raw meat, then just throw them in the wash with the occasional bleach. The simple blue stripe gives them a country french feel, and their affordable price ($20 for 12) encourages me to use them with abandon.
  • fine mesh sieve
    • It does everything your colander does and more. Perfect for rinsing rice before cooking, washing fruits, straining eggs, sifting flour & powdered sugar… really the uses are endless. If you don’t have one already, seriously what are you doing? Get one on Amazon or any store that sells kitchen gear.
A can of cannelinni beans in a sieve
Using a fine mesh sieve here to rinse a can of beans
  • ice tray & box
    • Okay, admittedly, this is only a new “must-have” item for us, as our new apartment in Seattle doesn’t have an ice maker built into the fridge. Though pretty standard in Atlanta, I know there are many places where it isn’t. While we don’t use a ton of ice regularly, this icebox from Lekue ($30) takes the ice tray to the next level. Once you fill a tray of ice, you break it all into the box it sits on, up to 3 or 4 times. This makes sure we always have ice on hand without living ice-tray-to-ice-tray. The tray is silicone, meaning it won’t break as the water expands, and it doubles as a lid. Best of all? The ice molds are fun geometric shapes! Okay, maybe that’s not the best, but it will make you look super sophisticated the next time you serve an iced coffee or cocktail to a friend. Sadly, they’re sold out at the time of writing, but keep an eye on their website for when they restock. A great item for those without an ice maker who don’t have the extra counter space or spending money for a machine.
  • instant-read thermometer
    • I cannot stress the need for this enough! Especially, if you cook meat, you absolutely need one. Taking the guesswork out means you can say goodbye to rubbery, overcooked chicken breasts once and for all. ThermoWorks makes my favorite, the ThermoPop ($34). As aptly named, it instantly gives you the internal temperature of your food, meaning it’s not getting cooler as you’re waiting for the thermometer to settle on a number. You can rotate the display around depending on what’s most convenient for whatever you’re currently cooking, and they come in 9 fun colors.
  • kettle 
    • I’m an avid coffee and tea drinker, so one of the two we own gets used daily. I have this adorable demi kettle from Le Creuset ($70) that Matt gave me one year for my birthday. It’s the perfect size for a couple cups of tea and I love how it looks sitting on the stove, where I keep it whether it’s in use or not. As our passion for coffee has grown over the last couple years, we also bought a gooseneck kettle with a built-in thermometer. Both features give us the precision we need for perfect pour-overs. We have a cheap one from Amazon that I just can’t recommend because it’s started leaking so badly recently, but one day I’d love to invest in the Fellow Stagg kettle ($149). This one from Coffee Gator is much more affordable and has rave reviews ($40).
  • kitchen scale
    • Almost as important as an instant-read thermometer, I use a kitchen scale on a daily basis. Most-known as essential for precise baking, it’s also invaluable for scaling recipes up or down, making a perfect cup of coffee, and, my personal favorite, creating less dirty dishes (no need for tablespoon or cup measurers!). My favorite is a digital scale from Escali ($25) that gives measurements in grams, ounces and pounds.
A Chemex sitting on a digital Escali kitchen scale
A kitchen scale takes the guesswork out of the perfect pour-over
  • kitchen shears
    • Equally great for cutting food containers and breaking down a whole chicken, I love these kitchen shears from Henckels ($15). The two blades come completely apart for easy cleaning, they stay sharp and they don’t rust.
  • microplane
    • Ah, the microplane. An invaluable tool that still manages to frustrate me. It’s a rasp-style, super fine grater that actually started as a woodworking tool until it was reborn in the 90s. It’s perfect for grating parmesan finely enough for creamy pasta sauces, and is immediately what I reach for anytime a recipe tells me to mince garlic (huge time & effort saver!). However, the design is both the best and worst part of the product. It works because it’s a long, thin sheet of metal with a bunch of tiny teeth poking out the top, providing the perfect surface to zest citrus. Over time though, those same teeth get depressed flat into the metal sheet from upward pressure of whatever you’re grating. You could go through and individually poke each tooth back out, but who has time for that? For $15, I’d rather just replace it. Get one here.
  • non-stick skillet
    • My 10” non-stick skillet is what I reach for the most, along with my cast-iron skillet. Its non stick surface makes it perfect for eggs and pancakes, and if you get one with a metal handle, it will be oven-safe too. Though it isn’t perfect for everything – it will never give you the brown sear you’re after on meat – between it and stainless steel, non-stick probably the better jumping off point for the beginning cook. I bought mine from REM Atlanta, a wholesale restaurant supply store off I-85. Their retail space is far larger than their online selection and warrants an in-person visit if you’re in the area. Restaurant supply stores are a great way to affordably stock your kitchen and are found in most major cities, but if you can’t find one close to you, here’s a good one from OXO.
Cooking a cromelet in a small non-stick skillet
This cromelet was a breeze to flip with my non-stick pan
  • olive oil dispenser
    • We fly through olive oil at home, so we buy the organic extra virgin kind in bulk from Costco. (Sidebar: this is a great product that scores consistently well in the annual blind olive oil tastings out of California – yes, apparently that’s a thing. Food queen Samin Nosrat even vouches for it!) That said, the bulk liter container is not ideal for precise pourings, so a good container and spout is necessary. I love my clear glass one because it looks pretty, but a dark glass or opaque container keeps the oil better for longer. Whichever kind you buy, just make sure it’s an adequate size for your household’s oil consumption (ours is 16 ounces) and that the spout pours in a steady stream without leaks. Here’s a good one at Bed Bath & Beyond ($5).
  • reusable jars
    • Whether they’re mason jars or washed out jam jars doesn’t really matter. I constantly use them for storing any sort of liquids in the fridge, and I love them for homemade salad dressings (read about my technique in my last post here). Clear glass is best so you can see what’s in them; painter’s tape & a sharpie is great for recording the date.
  • salt pinch bowl
    • A pinch bowl is crucial for ease of seasoning. It gives you a lot more control than a shaker and only requires one hand, encouraging me to reach for it liberally. My fiance’s aunt gave me an adorable wooden one with an S on it for Christmas one year that I love, but I’m also a fan of this one from World Market. It has a swivel lid to keep your salt covered and protected while still being easy to open, and there are two side-by-side compartments, which would be great for storing kosher salt & finishing salt. Just please, please, please don’t use it for pre-ground pepper! Fresh ground is easy and always best!
A small lazy Susan with a bottle of Balsamic vinegar, a bottle of olive oil, a pepper grinder and a salt pinch bowl
I keep favorites an arm’s length away on a lazy Susan by the stove
  • sharp (!) knives
    • It doesn’t matter how nice or expensive your chef’s knife is if it isn’t sharp! It’s recommended that you sharpen every one to three months if you’re cooking regularly, but anytime is better than never. Though the idea of a super sharp knife might scare you as being unsafe, a dull knife is more unsafe, as the additional force and pressure needed to cut through food can lead to painful accidents. I use a simple sharpening steel rod from Wüsthof, but if your knives are particularly dull, you’ll need something more heavy duty. You can get them professionally sharpened somewhere, or do it yourself at home. This manual sharpener by Chef’s Choice is a great choice.
  • sheet pans
    • Most home cooks are already familiar with and using half sheet pans for roasting & baking. These mid-size pans measure 18×13 inches. But it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I discovered quarter sheet pans! These bad boys are, as the name suggests, half the size of the half sheets, measuring 9×13 inches. The quarter sheets are almost always what I reach for since I’m mostly cooking for two. The smaller size makes portion control & clean up easier, and if you have a toaster oven, they should fit perfectly, saving you preheating and cooking time compared to a traditional oven. Like my non-stick skillet, I also bought these from REM Atlanta; otherwise, here are some from Amazon that are highly rated.
  • spoon rests
    • I have three around and on my stove, which may sound like overkill, but I seriously use all of them. There are lots of cute ceramic ones you can buy from pretty much anywhere. Just make sure you have somewhere to put a utensil between stirs and flips so you’re not constantly reaching piling up dirty dishes. Anthropologie, Target, and Sur La Table all have appealing options.
Three spoon rests reading: 'I knead you', 'cucina italiana', & 'no bitchin' in my kitchen'
My spoon rest collection. All 3 were gifts from friends & family that always bring a smile to my face
  • wire rack insert
    • This humble hard-worker turns any basic sheet pan into a roasting pan, lifting your food out of direct pan heat and its own juices, allowing hot air to evenly circulate on all sides. This will give you more evenly cooked meat and crispier veggies. They’re also great as a cooling rack on the counter for baked goods. They’re not the most fun to clean, but the Japanese tawashi scrubber I talked about for cleaning cast-iron works wonders. They’re pretty much all the same and easy to find anywhere that sells kitchenware, but here’s one from Sur La Table if you need a recommendation ($12).
  • vacuum wine stoppers & pump
    • These make only a glass of wine with dinner possible, helping to preserve the rest of the bottle with as little oxygen interference as possible. They make it possible to use just a splash of wine to deglaze a pan, then seal the rest up and save it for later. A few stoppers will let you have a few open bottles in the fridge at once. This set from Vacu Vin comes with four stoppers and a pump ($20).
  • vegetable oil
    • Finally, vegetable oil: a kitchen workhorse with many uses. Obviously, you can cook with it, but it’s also great to rehydrate wooden cutting boards, seal and season cast-iron pans, and to help ease sticky ingredients out of measuring cups (just rub a little around the inside of the cup first with a paper towel!).

And that’s it! 😉 Many thanks to anyone who took the time to read this entire, long-winded article. What are your favorite tools in the kitchen? Comment below!

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