As with anything in life, having the right tools for the job makes cooking at home a whole lot easier—and less of a chore. Beyond the basic equipment—good knives, a sturdy cutting board, mixing bowls, utensils, an assortment of well-made pots and saucepans—there are small tools that are incredibly useful. We're not talking about one-use gadgets like avocado slicers and cherry pitters, which aren't particularly helpful and take up space in your kitchen drawers. No, the 10 items listed here perform a lot of tasks really well. Once you add them to your toolbox, you'll wonder how you managed without them.
This sharp-toothed wonder shreds Parmesan, zests a lemon and grates nutmeg with ease. You'll find them with different sized blades, but the most useful is the micro version. Pick up a larger one as well; it shreds soft cheese for pizza and quesadillas and is easier to store than a clunky box grater. Look for the Microplane brand.
From transferring sticky bread dough to a bowl to scooping chopped vegetables off your cutting board to cutting brownies, this truly is a multipurpose tool. I like the comfortable handle and the nifty measuring guide on the OXO version.
First, making your own salad dressing is, in my mind, a must (it's so much better for you than the store-bought kind). Second, yes, you could just use a lidded glass jar. But this purpose-built shaker has a leak-proof seal that withstands vigorous shaking and a pour spout that's flat-out well-designed.
Bonus points if you have one handed down from your grandmother. Cast iron, a very old-fashioned material, is in style again, and artisan manufacturers are producing expensive, heirloom-quality pans. Lodge, a heritage brand, makes reasonably priced ones. Get a pre-seasoned skillet with straight sides, in either 10- or 12-inch diameter. A 6-inch cast-iron skillet makes the perfect single fried egg. Treat it with care: Never put it in the dishwasher. A well-seasoned pan just needs a rinse under warm water, a thorough drying and a rub with a bit of olive oil. It'll last forever.
Lemon is a go-to seasoning in my kitchen: It makes food's natural flavors pop, and it adds zing without calories or sodium. This handy squeezer extracts every bit of juice and keeps seeds from finding their way into your dish.
Why haul the food processor or blender out of the very back corner of your cupboard, when you can have this little gadget more easily at hand? Also called a "stick blender," this powerful tool purées soups and sauces, makes quick pesto and emulsifies homemade mayonnaise. Super easy to clean, too.
Home bakers have long embraced the kitchen scale, as weighing dry ingredients (instead of measuring by volume) ensures success. But it's useful for all kinds of other tasks, too: portioning out dry pasta, dividing large packages (of ground beef, for example) into single servings, and so on. If you're watching what you eat, a scale is essential for portion control. Get a flat model; it stores easily. I like the Salter brand.
I realized how much I rely on a digital thermometer for cooking when my old one finally bit the dust and I didn't replace it right away. This is essential for making jam or yogurt or ricotta cheese. It lets you know when that roast chicken or grilled steak is cooked through. It tells you if your water is warm enough to proof yeast. Get an instant-read model, not the kind that sticks into a roast in the oven.
Chef's Deli Containers
I can't tell you how many brands and types of storage containers, both plastic and glass, I went through before a cooking class colleague turned me on to these. They're everywhere in professional kitchens, and for good reason. They're clear, so you can see what's inside. They stack for efficient storage. They go from freezer to fridge to microwave. They're reusable. That massive pile of mismatched plastic storage containers in your pantry? You don't need them anymore. Oh, and these are really cheap. Find them online or at Gordon Food Service.