This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission to help keep my blog up and running, but it won't cost you a penny more). For more information, please read my disclosure policy.
THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS
There’s no denying that I love cooking, and having my favorite kitchen tools on hand make it so much easier. Here’s what you may not know. My kitchen is badly laid out, old, doesn’t have nearly enough storage space, and would be falling apart if not for the diligent upkeep by my hubby. That means that some of my appliances and tools are in the pantry and I’m constantly rethinking my decision about what earns counter space.
Culinary school brought new and wonderful gadgets to my kitchen arsenal. Some, I’ve embraced and made a part of my daily cooking. Others sit mysteriously in a cabinet, only used once. Will they ever see the light of day again? Who knows?
That makes me particular about buying anything new because I hate wasting money. I went through weeks of noting which tools I reached for and used regularly. I also wanted to recommend only the things I use, trust, and knew were sturdy, well-made and reliable. I cook with these in my kitchen and I’m proud to recommend them to you.
So, here we go. My 20 Must Haves (in no particular order, although #20 has had the biggest impact on my cooking):
1.Vitamix High Speed Blender
This is a wonderful tool for making all those wonderful and healthy smoothies, to whip up cashew cream, salad dressings, sauces, and cream soups. It can even make ice cream in minutes and hot soup without a stove! It’s nearly indispensable in a vegan diet because it allows you to turn beans and nuts into bases for thousands of recipes. A regular blender can’t blend ingredients as smooth as a Vitamix, it just doesn’t have the power. My Vitamix is a sturdy workhorse that I use nearly every day. In an upcoming video, I will demonstrate how my Vitamix and Cuisinart food processor differ in what they can do and how to use the right tool for the right job, but I’ll tell you the key takeaway now. The blender delivers a very smooth product when liquid is present, so it’s perfect for smooth drinks, dressings, sauces, and creams; and the food processor can chop and blend more solid foods, like nuts and beans.
I’ve had a Cuisinart food processor in my kitchen tool kit for over 35 years. I remember buying the first one when my oldest son was a newborn and proudly making baby food for him in it. The design has changed over the years, but I’ve stuck with this brand because others I tried broke down in the first year or two. My current model is over 7 years old and shows no sign of trouble. This food processor is great for so many different uses. Grate or slice vegetables, make bread or cookie dough, hummus, spice mixes, baby food, homemade nut butters, pestos and hummus, chopping nuts, turning potatoes into fries, making salad dressings, and pastry and pie dough. Just about anything you can think of.
3.Kitchen Knives – The only 3 knives I use
Like most people, my drawers used to be full of mismatched knives from decades ago, leftovers from sets that dwindled to a few, then one last knife that no one uses but you can’t quite bring yourself to throw away.
I finally pared it down to just a few good ones that the other household members can use. That’s so they never touch mine! I have, and use, three knives and I don’t let anyone else touch them. In my very crowded kitchen, they live in their own drawer and I take meticulous care of them because they’re that good.
A chef’s knife
This is the single most important tool in the kitchen. It’s the difference between choosing not to cook because the recipe calls for an intimidating amount of cut up vegetables, and putting a great dinner on the table. I will tell you that a chef’s knife should be chosen carefully and in person. There is a big variation in weight and feel and, much like Harry Potter’s wand, you will know it’s the right one for you when you have it in your hands.
I went to several different stores when I was shopping for mine and I tried out a lot of knives. Never, ever buy a knife from a store that doesn’t let you try it out! I bought mine from Sur La Table and they had a bowl of carrots and a chopping block ready for people shopping for knives. I happily sliced through raw carrots like they were paper and walked out with my Miyabi 5000 MCD. It was, and is, the perfect knife for me. Isn’t she a beauty?
If you’re nowhere near a store that sells quality knives and what you’re looking for is a lightweight chef’s knife, this might be a good match for your needs. There is currently a free shipping code that can be applied at checkout: SHIPFREE
By the way, when the nice lady at Sur La Table asks you if you’d like to purchase a blade guard for your chef’s knife, take it from me, say yes. The blade on a chef’s knife is wicked sharp. Ask about how to care properly for your knife before you take it home.
A Wusthoff paring knife
I use it for everything from mincing garlic and slicing tiny shallots, to peeling fruit. It’s small, easy to use and also very, very sharp. It makes quick work of paring the skin off vegetables and fruit,
slicing smaller objects that don’t require a chef’s knife, removing the seeds from peppers, and cutting clusters from cauliflower or broccoli.
J.A. Henckels serrated knife
I use it for slicing bread (of course), but also delicate fruit like tomatoes and melons, cakes, and even chocolate. My J.A. Henckels is not expensive at all, but very well made and also very sharp. Do you see a theme here? Sharp knives require care in handling, but dull knives will not give you precision or nice cuts and they make it even more likely that you will cut yourself accidentally.
4. Bench Scraper
Ah, the humble little bench scraper! Such a simple tool but so many uses! I use mine to scrape dough from the counter, of course. Also to cut dough into pieces. And of course, it’s perfect for scrapping up your dough, vegetables, herbs and other ingredients and transferring them to your cooking platter or pot. My Sur La Table model has a ruler along the edges that lets me cut even pieces of pastry dough or pasta to make perfect ravioli. It can be used to cut soft vegetables like mushrooms when you don’t want to bring out your knife. You can even use it to practice your knife skills. Check out Rouxbe Online Cooking School‘s video lesson on how you can do that.
5. Cutting Boards
Another item that I have several of, and use for different reasons. For messy cutting jobs, like tomatoes, beets, de-seeding squash, or cutting marinated foods, I like to use plastic, easy to rinse and clean off, boards. This 4 piece plastic BPA free & dishwasher safe set is lightweight and can be tucked away in a small space when not needed. It even comes with a free knife!
Another favorite is this nice set of 3 bamboo board. I love these because bamboo is easy to take care of, resist water so that they won’t warp or crack as easily as other wood boards (though don’t put them in your dishwasher), bamboo is a renewable resource and because they are easier on the sharp edges of my knives. I use the bamboo boards when I’m going to be cutting, or mincing, a lot of vegetables and for slicing breads.
I LOVE my gorgeous acacia wood board. There are many kinds of solid wood cutting boards, but I like that this one is fairly inexpensive. It’s beautiful and looks great on my counter. I have mine set up my mise en place before starting to cook and I usually use it as a backdrop to my recipe steps and videos. Solid wood boards will not stay shiny smooth forever, but I don’t mind a few knife scars. It’s meant to be used and, at this price, it can be replaced when you want to.
6. Sturdy Mixing Bowls
What kitchen can function without mixing bowls? You use them for mixing dry and wet ingredients, for hand mixing cake or cookie dough, for creating and serving salads, for marinating ingredients, raising bread dough, soaking grains and nuts, mix up Sunday’s pancake batter, and storing food items. I love the Bellermain bowls and can’t say enough about them. They have a silicone coating on the bottom that keeps them steady on your counter, have measure marks on the inside, come with lids, and they go from freezer to oven! The lids have a good seal and you can store food in the refrigerator without worrying about cross-contamination.
7. KitchenAid Stand Mixer
I’ve had my Kitchen Aid longer than I can remember. I know I bought it around the time that my youngest girls were toddlers, and they’re in college now. Mine is not the pretty aqua color in the pictures (I keep promising myself that I’ll get one when my current one dies – which it won’t do), but it’s my oldest and most trustworthy appliance. Stoves, dishwashers, refrigerators, toasters-a-plenty have all gone to appliance heaven, but my Kitchen Aid mixer keeps on working as reliably as the day I got it. All of the accessories shown are equally long-lived and show no signs of age.
There are lots of stand mixers out there, and the Kitchen Aid is not the cheap choice, but like anything of great quality, it is worth the investment because you’ll be using and loving it for a very long time. Even if it’s not the pretty aqua (white, pink, yellow, green, blue, burgundy, silver … ) color.
These little magic wands used to rare in home kitchens, but now everyone I know has one. They are a little like miniature cheese graters and used to grate lemon, lime or orange zest, nutmeg, ginger and a multitude of things to enhance the flavors of a dish. You can top a hot beverage with vegan whipped cream and then finely grind chocolate flakes on top. Try using it on raw garlic to make garlic paste. Or even on hot chiles. The microplane will turn them into tiny spicy flakes to flavor your dish without overwhelming it.
9. Native Springs adjustable mandoline
I have an older version of this one, without the handle and container cover. That’s a great improvement, but mine is holding up well and I don’t need to replace it. A mandoline is great for fine slicing fruit and vegetables. This set comes with several speciality blades, making it easy to cut thin slices evenly. A little knob underneath lets you set the thickness of the cut (5mm, 3mm, or 2mm). I love to use it when I want to substitute vegetables like zucchini and eggplant for noodles and in lasagnas. It’s also great for slicing vegetables that are going to go into the dehydrator. The food guard that holds food secure and protects your hand from the blade, and the container serves to store the blades when not in use, and to catch the food being sliced. It can also be positioned directly over a bowl when slicing.
10. Pots and Pans
Pots and pans are a lot like knives. I have a few I discourage family members from using (teenaged boys cut grilled cheese sandwiches right into a pan, people!) and then I have my beloved few that I care for properly and that are giving me great service. Avoid aluminum (cheap construction and can impart an “off” taste to your food) and copper (While copper is a good heat conductor, copper pans can be notoriously finicky and hard to keep clean).
You really only need a few:
Nonstick Skillets, 8″, 10″ and 12″
Coated with a tough lining (Teflon is the most common), these pans are convenient to have on hand for sticky, wet foods, or anything that has tends to stick to the surface of pans. Does not go in a hot oven.
Use them for: making caramel sauces, pan browning tofu and other delicate foods, making quesadillas and reducing sauces.
A 12″ Stainless Steel Skillet
The most versatile for a family, these heavy-duty pans can go from the stovetop to the oven (make sure the handle is heat-proof before purchasing), and can cook just about anything.
Use them for: risottos, scrambles, sweating onions, finishing seitan dishes, making a fried rice, and more.
12-18 quart Large Stainless Steel Stockpot
DIY stock isn’t hard to make if you’ve got the time and the right equipment. Thankfully, investing in a quality stock pot means you can do everything from simmering bones to making big batches of soup, and even canning sauces and pickles, if you are into preserving produce.
Use it for: Boiling pasta (the noodles need plenty of room to swim around), simmering beans, making stock, canning.
Stainless Steel Sauce Pot
This pot can do so much more than simmer together a silky sauce—it’s convenient for smaller batches of dried beans and grains. Seek out pans that are sturdy and heavy (no aluminum). The better-made and heavier the pan, the better and more evenly it will conduct heat (meaning your food will cook quicker!).
Use it for: reheating dishes, simmering sauces, making small and medium-sized batches of rice, and hacking a double-boiler (place a heat-safe bowl over simmering water in the pot).
An Enameled Dutch Oven
These heavy-bottommed, sturdy pots are amazing. They conduct heat well, meaning food gets an evenly golden-brown crust (no gray hue or burnt edges). They transition seamlessly from stovetop to hot oven. Plus, they last forever, and the enamel coating means, unlike traditional cast-iron, you can wash them with soap and water to no ill-effect. Mine has become weathered over time, developing character and age markings that have nothing to do with their steady and reliable function. I love how mine looks after all these years. Dutch ovens have become so popular that there are now many brands with the same quality as the expensive Creuset versions at a much better price. Check out this one.
Use it for: Slowly baking beans or soup in a low oven all day, cooking stews and other dishes that benefit from a nice long cooking time, and making the best crusty bread on the planet!
11. Maxam 17-Piece Tool Set
I just bought this set for one of my daughters to take to her new college apartment. It has literally every small kitchen tool you need, PLUS a handy basket to keep them in. The basket holds a solid and slotted spoon, a solid and slotted spatula, grater, cheese slicer, whisk, pizza cutter, bottle/can opener, pie server, vegetable peeler, strainer, ice cream scoop, paring knife, spaghetti fork, and ladle.
Why buy these tools individually when you can get them all for a fraction of the price? Great for small kitchens (like mine) where you can’t spare an extra drawer for tools.
12. Baking Pans
I used to buy the cheapest sheet pans I could find, usually from the grocery store, only to find them warping and becoming useless after only a few uses. I’ve had these pans for a couple of years now and they are in great shape.
You can find these on the cheap, but paying a little extra means they’ll last longer and make better cookies and roasted veggies (inexpensive pans are flimsy, and often result in burnt bottoms.) These Nordic ware pans are sturdy and will last you a long time. Use it for: Cookies, roasted vegetables, jellyroll, and sponge cakes. Buy two or three half-sized sheets, so you can cook in batches without having to swap them out. (Full-sized sheets are enormous, and are typically only found in commercial kitchens. Half-sized sheets are the most commonly available sizes; the measurements you want are 18x13x1″.) It’s worthwhile also buying one or two quarter-sized sheets for toasting nuts, and other small batches of baked goods and roasted veg.
These are the best invention ever! No need for parchment paper when you bake cookies with these around. Or aluminum foil under roasting vegetables. They’re perfect for Perfect for baking, kneading, rolling, candy/macaron/pastry/cookie/bun/bread making as well as for freezing dumplings, fruits and vegetables. Nothing sticks to the silicone surface, so you can use little or no oil. Don’t cut into your food while it’s still on the mat (because you’ll cut right through the silicone) and you’ll have these for YEARS! They wash up easily in the sink or dishwasher, are non-toxic, and distribute heat evenly, making for consistent baking results.
Can it be considered a tool since it only brews coffee? Heck, yes! It’s the first appliance I use in the morning and I go back to the source throughout the day. If you run on caffeine like me, this gorgeous thing will be a welcome sight when you stumble, all sleepy-eyed, in the kitchen! I struggled with the idea of disposable pods before we switched to this type of coffeemaker, but then I compared prices. When we were using typical make-a-pot coffeemaker, we went through coffee like crazy and threw out pot after pot of burned coffee that was left to sit too long. With the Keurig, my costs have actually gone down. Plus, I get to have my beloved Hawaiian coffee every day! You can also get a refillable pod that you can fill from your favorite coffee and save even more!
I went through about 4 toasters one year. All just stopped working at some point or started to toast things very strangely with one side almost burnt and the other lightly golden. With 2 teenaged boys in the house, a reliable toaster was a must for all their bagels, toaster strudels and other midnight snacks. I bought this toaster as a replacement for the last dud and it’s served us very well for the past 2+ years. It’s quiet, does its job and looks gorgeous on my counter. I’d never heard of Breville before that, but this Australian company makes sturdy, reliable and attractive kitchen appliances. When my beloved Breville eventually gives up the ghost, I’ll replace it with another one.
16. Bamboo Steamer Baskets
When it comes to steaming vegetables, I don’t see the point of spending a lot of money when inexpensive bamboo stackable baskets work better than metal ones. No oil is needed, keeping your calories down as well. And bamboo baskets can be stacked, so you can cook several things at once.
When you get home from work, take a couple of minutes to get a large pot of water boiling while you chop up your vegetables, put them in the basket, cover, go get changed and voila! Dinner’s ready.
17. Kitchen Scale
A kitchen scale is useful for so many things, especially when you are monitoring what you eat. By using a scale, you’re not approximating amounts of a food, you know exactly how much you are consuming. If you want to see the difference, try weighing a cup of flour that is loosely packed and one that is packed tightly into the same 1 cup measure. You will find up to a 25% difference. Not every recipe will give you a weight, but when they do – and this is very common in baking – using a scale will give you far more reliable results than just using measuring cups.
I am currently taking a vegan dessert program and the scale is coming in very handy. Baking is one area of cooking that depends on precision in measurements. A scale is an easy and inexpensive way to use exactly the amount of ingredients needed to get the result you are looking for.
18. Cuisinart Immersion Blender
Have you ever turned on a blender full of chunky soup, forgetting to put the top on tightly? No one likes to get hit by hot splatters of food. Immersion blenders are perfect for so many things and are compact, and easy to wash and put away. Throw some vegan ice cream and milk, or fruit, in a glass and whip up an instant milkshake or smoothie. Making pancake or waffles for one? No need to bring out the mixer when you can use the immersion blender. Pestos, salsas, and pureed tomatoes can quickly be accomplished with an immersion blender.
But my favorite use of an immersion blender is quickly turning a chunky stew into a creamy smooth soup. Yum!
19. Storage Containers
I use two different types. For dry good, like cereal and beans, I love the OXO Good Grips 10-piece POP Containers.
They come in a set of 10 and the see-through clear plastic and white crisp air-tight locking lids add a little cheer to my dark pantry. They’re equally useful for things like breakfast cereal, sugar, granola, and any other items you might like to keep out in the open for frequent use. The set includes: one 4.0-qt Container, one 2.5-qt Container, one 2.4-qt Container, one 2.1-qt Container, two 0.9-qt Containers, two 0.5-qt Containers, and two 0.3-qt Containers. I recommend you wash these by hand to keep the seals from wearing out prematurely.
For fridge or freezer storage, I prefer the Glasslock containers with an airtight seal. This set of 18 pieces (9 containers of different sizes with matching lids) is a great start to a new collection.
Rouxbe, in many ways, is the most important tool of my kitchen. It might more accurately be described as what has made me a real cook, especially as it relates to vegan cooking. I can’t say enough about Rouxbe’s courses. I’ve learned knife skills, moist and dry cooking methods, layering of base dishes, nutritional requirements, cooking for specific nutritional requirements, raw gastronomy, including dehydrating, fermenting, and sprouting, world ingredients, and recipe creation. I still refer to my class materials nearly every week, to inspire, refresh or give me direction in my own recipe development. I completed the plant-based certification course early in 2016 and I’m about to begin the first ever online Plant-Based Dessert course. Classes open nearly every month and it this could very well be the best investment in yourself, and your kitchen, that you will ever make.