The right tools make all the difference in the world. They save time, energy, and frustration, and make the difference between a “so-so” dish and perfection. So today we’re talking about the must-have kitchen items that every cook or baker needs to have on-hand.
Why do I believe that good tools are so critical?? For starters, the number of times I got my finger instead of the potato with my old vegetable peeler. Or just straight-up avoided grating fresh cheese because it was the WORST with a box grater. Or made rubbery grilled chicken breasts.
BUT NO MORE! Over the years I’ve found what I think are the best kitchen gadgets (and the must-haves) that are foundational to stocking any kitchen. I’m not really getting into big appliances as much, like my stand mixer or large food processor…this is mostly small, more affordable staples.
If you have interest in grilling, I have a deeper list that speaks to the must-have grilling tools, as well as a post on the best mixology tools for at-home cocktail lovers.
Absolute must-have kitchen tools
A meat thermometer is critical to getting your meat perfectly done without overcooking it and also without cutting into it constantly (thereby drying it out). It is my forever companion when grilling in particular, and it’s how I made the most amazing grilled chicken breasts.
I use it for bread as well, to make sure the bread is done, avoid a doughy center, and know when the bread is cool enough for slicing.
It took me a long time to come around to scales, but now I totally agree that they’re a must-have kitchen item. There are so many reasons you would use a kitchen scale, but for me it’s about baking.
It really makes an insane difference in the outcome to weigh your ingredients vs. just measuring cups…particularly for bread. Plus, so many of the good recipes use weight measurements!
This multi-purpose scraper tool is something that I’ve really just started using the last few years, and now I wonder how I ever got by without it.
It does a little of everything…cleanly cutting twisted dough without mangling it, scraping dough fragments off the counter as I knead, and much more.
I know this one feels weird, but hear me out…ever since I discovered giant plastic wrap that also has a little zip-cutter rather than the stupid metal teeth, I’ve been IN LOVE.
This is the industrial size, which means it’s wide enough to cover big mixing bowls full of dough that needs to rise, larger pans, and more. It far surpasses any kind of plastic wrap or “press & seal” stuff I’ve found in grocery stores.
If you want to talk about must-have kitchen items, you have to almost start here. Good rubber scrapers make a huge difference in your ability to quickly and cleanly dip up food, scrape the sides of a bowl while baking, and so much more.
What’s important to me is that it needs to be sturdy but also flexible, and SUPER heat resistant. These ones are great, and I also love this set, which has different sizes.
Oh man, we didn’t grow up with a Y-peeler, but if we *had* I wouldn’t have hated peeling veggies for my mom nearly as much.
With normal stick peelers I always manage to catch my fingernail or finger and do some damage, but the Y-peeler is much more stable, easier to grip, and peels smoother and deeper.
I really wish I could find good traditional pastry brushes that clean easily, but I haven’t. Instead, these silicone pastry brushes are a mainstay in my kitchen, helping me do everything from putting an egg wash on dough ready to bake to glazing the final product.
They’re handy for brushing marinade or glaze on meat that’s grilling too.
While we’re on the grilling front, having a good pair or two of silicone tongs is a must. They need to be long enough that you don’t burn your hand over the flames, but still maneuverable. While tongs can come in handy for many things, I mainly use mine for all manner of grilling.
Y’all, if you don’t have one of these you just don’t know what you’re missing! A microplane zester makes zesting any citrus fruit a total breeze, and it’s so much easier than that weird side of a box grater. Plus, if you need to do some fancy grating of a little parmesan or fresh nutmeg, this tool is perfect.
I vastly prefer this zester style to a microplane grater…I think it’s way easier to use and more multipurpose.
I feel like in the last year or two, mesh strainers of various sizes have become a lifesaver in my cooking and baking. From rinsing black beans to sifting flour to draining cardamom pods out of infused milk for my lemon cardamom sticky buns, these make my life simple.
They went from a “yeah, sure, I use it every so often” gadget to a must-have kitchen tool in the span of about a year, and now I use them multiple times a week.
Y’all, this cheese mill / grater is a GAMECHANGER. Grating cheese is the worst!! And you always end up getting your fingers and your arm gets tired…I just refused to do it.
But fresh-grated cheese is so much better in cooking since it doesn’t have all the stabilizers and preservatives the pre-shredded has. Once I discovered this hand mill, my life was complete!
I have two different citrus juicers, depending on the size. Hands down my fave is the simple lemon squeezer, which I’ve had for years and is so easy to use and to clean. Whether for baking or lime juice for a refreshing gin gimlet, this only takes a second.
Then for bigger fruits like grapefruit, I have this citrus reamer/strainer that can handle more and has a nice pour spout.
Small kitchen appliances
Small food processor (a 3-cup and an 8-cup are helpful)
So I have a giant Cuisinart food processor that is AH-mazing. But it definitely isn’t for everything, and I have a few smaller sizes that are perfect for things like sauces, dressings, and more.
My tiny Cuisinart I’ve had forever is my go-to for dressings, and then my 8-cup is great for a big batch of pesto or ricing cauliflower for GF pizza crust. Yes, you could get the Ninja set of different sizes, but honestly I’ve had them for years and don’t think they do a great job.
I’ve bought like…three of these Kitchenaid immersion blenders for various friends and family members. And it truly is so versatile, one of the best kitchen gadgets.
My own has been my constant companion for probably 15 years, and I use it for everything from blending soups (vs. having to transfer batches to a blender), to eggs for a breakfast casserole, to blending my bulletproof coffee, to lightly blending my guacamole (so you get SOME creamy and some chunky).
So, this one is controversial. I KNOW. And some people might not need this, but for me it’s just practical. Because I hate making rice on the stove and I’m just too lazy.
For me, a rice cooker means I can take 10 seconds getting the rice going, flip a switch, and fully focus my attention on the curry or whatever I’m making to go on top. Yes, you give up a little in perfect texture, but it is SO easy!
Baking tools I’ve found helpful
I grew up with a traditional rolling pin with the loose handles, but have finally come around to the perfect simplicity of French-style rolling pins. Maybe it’s all the hours of Great British Bake-Off that I’ve watched, but they truly are easiest to handle and give me a lot more control.
You absolutely can just use toothpick after toothpick. I still do sometimes. But having a reusable, washable skewers for testing baked goods for testing your baked goods is SO handy.
I actually bought these skewers to make kebabs on the grill (still haven’t tried it…) but have loved them as a way to check for gooey batter.
This is another thing I didn’t grow up using, but have realized how useful it is in the last couple years (let’s face it, also because of GBBO…). I have bigger sizes too, but this small offset spatula is super multipurpose and I use it constantly…for frosting cakes, spreading filling on soon-to-be twisty filled breads, and much more.
You can’t talk must-have kitchen items without getting into different cake and tart pans…so it’s hard to know what will be most valuable for every person, but you definitely need some basics.
Here are some that I think are critical: a good Pyrex 9×13 pan, simple 9″ cake tins (for layer cakes), a few good rimmed baking sheets, a loose-bottom deep cake tin (or springform if you prefer), and a good pie pan or two.
As a starting place… 🙂
I’ll sneak this one in even though it isn’t *essential*…but this Nordic magnolia bundt pan is so pretty! I have a few different decorative bundt pans, but this is hands-down my fave. It is so elegant that any cake only needs a sprinkling of powdered sugar or a thin glaze to look beautiful.
A couple of cooling racks are lifesavers, because you can’t always put hot cookies onto the counter, and for letting cake layers cool, bread loaves, etc…getting things to the temp necessary to frost or cut.
It’s important to have a number of different mixing bowls in varying sizes. I’m partial to glass or Pyrex myself, but thick plastic is pretty popular.
I’m also in love with this beautiful giant ceramic Mason Cash mixing bowl that they use on GBBO…it’s especially great for rising dough or tossing together a giant salad.
Other must-have kitchen items (more specialized)
Lastly, a couple of things that are—in my opinion—the best kitchen gadgets ever, but may not be critical to everyone. For me, I couldn’t live without them.
This cherry pitter is my everything!! Granted, I only get to really use it a couple months a year during cherry season, but it means I can easily and quickly pit pounds and pounds of cherries.
And mostly I just EAT them. But when I have more than I can handle, this little $10 tool makes it easy to throw together a cherry crisp with brown butter streusel, cherry almond scones, or bourbon cherry jam.
For some people this isn’t the highest priority, but a coffee/spice grinder is one of the most-used appliances in my kitchen. Scratch that, it is the MOST used. I am a big believer in fresh-ground coffee beans, as they have much more flavor and scent vs. pre-ground.
And the same is true of grinding whole spices!
Speaking of coffee gadgets, my milk frother is another daily staple.
A good waffle iron is a thing of beauty, and this one has become my new obsession. For 15 years I’ve used three different old waffle irons from garage sales, and thought they were good. Then I got this one and realized what I’d been missing out on!
So there’s a starting place on my must-have kitchen items, born from years of trial and error. Hopefully this gives some helpful ideas, and if you have a personal favorite, hit me up in the comments!
Other deep-dives into kitchen gadgets:
- Best Milk Frothers For At-Home Lattes
- Best Cocktail Gifts: For the At-Home Bartender or Mixologist
- The Best $30 Gadget for the Best Iced Coffee
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Adam Rich says
Very nice, love the article.
I am super impressed with your article because I feel that I could have written it with many of the same recommendations. Now I am off to find the few things that I DON’T HAVE YET.
Haha that’s great! Great minds 🙂 What were you missing??