20 essential items you must have in your kitchen
What's your most essential kitchen item? A bread maker, juicer, or even a trusty wooden spoon? Some kitchens are high tech, others low tech, and neither is right or wrong. Every kitchen is as unique as its chef. Today we’re going to take a look at my top ten kitchen items - and you might be surprised.
If you’re starting out in your cooking adventure, or perhaps downsizing a cluttered space, you might be asking what you really need to have in the kitchen. Supermarkets, cookery shops and of course the internet are full of every single cooking and baking gadget you can think of. Some carry enormous costs, some come in every shape and size imaginable, and that’s even before you start thinking about whether one brand is better than another.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll wander through cookery aisles in shops with sticky fingers - wanting to buy everything. Cooking and baking equipment is now more beautiful than ever, coming in delicious colours and eye-catching shapes. Kitchen design is now more about pleasure than pure functionality. But a well stocked and perfectly functional kitchen simply doesn’t need every gadget under the sun. If that’s your thing then great! We’d love to hear about your fanciest gadget down in the comments and why you love it. But this list will help you narrow down on everything you need to cook like a pro.
To start, my top four kitchen items. They’re humble and absolutely indispensable!
1. Chefs Knife
If you read our I.O. Shen blog post you’ll know that my chef’s knife is my favourite kitchen item. Knives are so important to a chef, we will often carry our own set from kitchen to kitchen throughout our career. Until you cook with a proper chef’s knife, you might not appreciate the difference from a regular supermarket cooking knife. A proper chef’s knife makes cutting easier, safer and quicker - because with a sharp, reliable blade there are fewer slips.
2. Meat Probe
It’s not fancy, but it’s a definite necessity that many people go without. Apart from helping to avoid sickness from undercooked meat, a meat thermometer also helps achieve the perfect meat every time. From medium rare steaks to a properly cooked and still moist chicken, a meat thermometer is your friend.
3. Pestle and Mortar
You might think pestle and mortars are a luxury in the kitchen, or perhaps more popular a few hundred years ago! In fact they have multiple surprising uses on top of spice grinding, which is what people often assume is their sole use. I use my pestle and mortar to make herbal tea - for example bruising mint leaves to release the essential oils for a soothing cup of tea. I also make pesto in a pestle and mortar because it can easily grind pine nuts, basil and garlic into a smooth paste alongside lemon juice, oil and nutritional yeast. You can even buy different pestle and mortars for different purposes. Some rough stone versions are great for grinding larger pulses and dried corn. Tiny little versions may be reserved specifically for expensive spices like saffron. There’s also something holistic and meditative about reaching for a manual labour pestle and mortar over an electric grinder.
The undersold star of the show! Is there anything a teaspoon isn’t useful for? From ad hoc measurements of small ingredients, to taste testing, serving sauces and dips, eating puddings, stirring… they’re even ideal for peeling ginger. A teaspoon will leave you with as much ginger as you started with, and the nutrients that lie just under the skin. I love a teaspoon so much I often find several tucked into my apron pocket at the end of the day because I’m always putting one there for later… on top of the two already in there! One word of advice, it’s good to have several teaspoons of the same size especially if you’re newer to cooking. Standardising your measurements, even the ad hoc ones, is extremely useful.
5. Spatula - metal, silicone
Two for one here because metal and silicone can have slightly different uses in the kitchen. Metal is great for your stainless steel or iron pans, but have to be used with care in non-stick pans so as to avoid scratching the surface. Metal spatulas can also be made a lot thinner than silicone, meaning they’re easier to slide under fish, meat or pancakes. And if you do have something stubborn in your pan, a metal spatula could be the one to get it un-stuck again. Silicone, on the other hand, is a gentle material. It’s great for non-stick pans because it won’t scratch them. Silicone spatulas are often used to make custards and sauces, folding thick liquids together, and useful for scraping down the sides of bowls.
6. Hand whisk
You want perfect eggs? A hand whisk is the way to do it. Pancakes? Hand whisk. I always whip cream with a hand whisk as it gives me more control and I won’t overwhip and curdle the cream. It should be smooth and not like canned whipped cream! There are so many uses for the hand whisk where elbow grease works better than electricity. A hand whisk is far more sensitive to power, and excellent to whip out for a quick job and wash quickly. I have even made several batches of cupcakes with a hand whisk because there wasn’t an electric whisk to hand. If you’re tight on budget or space, a hand whisk is a priority.
7. Non-stick pots pans
Non-stick pans can be a bit of a controversy. Some chefs swear by their stainless steel - which will definitely last longer, take more of a beating, and, honestly, are probably better for the environment. It’s true that the chemicals used in non-stick pans are quite aggressive, so if you want to keep things eco-friendly, this is one area to do your research. They are, however, a game changer. To speed up cooking, ensure even cooking, reduce mess and waste, and generally make your life easier, non-stick is the way forward. A selection of three pot sizes - small, medium and large, and at least two frying pan sizes, are a great starting point for any cook. And definitely get lids.
8. Dutch oven
Primary school jokes aside, a Dutch oven is another kitchen tool with surprisingly varied uses. Looking very similar to a casserole pot, a Dutch oven is a heavy walled cast iron pot with a tight fitting lid. Historically made of seasoned cast iron, you can now find modern Dutch ovens made of cast aluminium or ceramic. Some are cast iron coated in ceramic. And in case you’re wondering, seasoning is a layer of carbonized oil. There are specific and restrictive washing instructions for a seasoned pan to avoid damaging the seasoning, which builds up to form a natural cooking surface that helps to prevent rust. Dutch ovens have almost endless uses. From browning meat and veg to cooking curries, chillies, stews, soups and more, you can pop a Dutch oven in the oven, or on the stove. Many home bakers even cook sourdough in a Dutch oven because it is the closest environment a home baker could get to a professional bakers oven. The Dutch oven helps create a humid environment that keeps the outside crust of the sourdough soft as the dough expands. The only downside is that a quality Dutch oven can run into hundreds of pounds. Cheaper alternatives are available, but still reach around £50 and may not have the same cooking potential.
9. Sheet pan
What can I say? From cookies to chips, sheet pans are your best friend. In our house they are used almost every day, and should form a staple item in any kitchen.
10. Baking dish
Baking dishes can be made from stoneware, cast iron, ceramic, or enamel coated carbon steel. Although the different materials promote different cooking properties - for example cast iron retains heat a lot longer, but ceramic dishes are cheaper and easier to maintain - they are all useful for cooking a variety of foods. From crumbles to pies, a baking dish will see you through sweet and savoury recipes and come out of your cupboard several times a week.
11. Hand blender
Although you can whisk up a storm no problem with good old elbow grease, blending is another thing entirely. A hand blender is a great, cheap, and versatile way to make up soups, sauces and more, and because most of them disassemble, they don’t take up too much space in the cupboard either.
Arguably, perhaps you don’t need both, which is why I have put them under one entry. Personally, I have one each because while sieves are great for small grains, colanders are perfect for pasta and leaves. If you can only get one, a sieve is more versatile because things like rice and quinoa just fall out of larger colander holes.
13. Cheese grater
I especially appreciate the four sided pyramid graters which allow you to grate different foods into different textures. One of these will suit most of your grating needs, and are very reasonably priced in all supermarkets.
14. Mixing bowls
You absolutely need around three mixing bowls - either all large, or one small, medium and large. From mixing to tossing, or even just measuring, before you know it your countertop will be covered in mixing bowls. One is never enough, and at least three just makes life easier especially for complex recipes. In our house they also get put to good use as popcorn and nacho bowls.
15. Chopping board
This might come as a given - you really don’t want to be chopping or slicing directly onto your countertop! But which material is better - glass, plastic or wood? I’d advocate for a bamboo chopping board above all others. Although they may end up scored with knife lines, bamboo boards are resilient and naturally antibacterial. Avoid submerging wooden boards in water, or allowing oils, fats or blood to pool on them for long. This can penetrate the wood and cause hygiene and integrity problems. Be sure to wash them regularly under hot soapy water from a running tap, and make sure they dry out thoroughly before use. That’s why you’ll see many kitchens have chopping boards propped up against the side, to allow air flow on all sides. If your wooden chopping board splits, warps, is very stained, or has a lot of deep knife scores, replace it. While glass and plastic may seem like more hygienic choices, this isn’t necessarily the case. Some studies suggest plastic chopping boards harbour more bacteria, although kitchen hygiene ultimately comes down to good hygiene practices. Glass and ceramic boards may dent knives faster.
For a low cost, this luxury item speeds up many a dull kitchen task. While you can perform most peeling actions with a paring knife, the time, concentration and toll on your wrist is enough to put most chefs off. Skin your potatoes and carrots alike with a peeler instead.
17. Measuring cups and spoons
The internet has been around for a while - but I feel like I have to say that with the invention of the internet, a lot more American recipes reached us, and Americans often measure with cups instead of scales. Whilst cup measurements are not as precise as scales, they will still make fine cakes and cookies and come in extremely handy for a lot of curries and other recipes. Arguably they’re a little less effort than using the scales too. In the same entry, because they are essential for similar reasons, measuring spoons are a must. For tiny measurements, measuring spoons are quick and easy to scoop up spices and herbs, and are used across the pond in both American and UK recipes.
18. A reliable kitchen scale
No, your bathroom scales will not do! Pop to Argos and nab a digital kitchen scale for around a tenner. Scales are always the most reliable way to gain accurate measurements, which can be critical especially for a lot of baking recipes. Some recipes just won't work with cup and spoon measurements. Digital scales allow for the most precision, although make sure the battery isn’t dying and the scales have been calibrated.
19. Pyrex jug
Similar to the cups and spoons, a pyrex jug is essential both for your liquid measurements and for microwaving. If you have space, get a couple, because there are too many times I’ve been searching around for my jug and found it’s already in use.
20. Hand mixer
Finally, a cheeky entry because you can certainly do without one. If you have a whisk, you’re well on your way to being sorted for most recipes. However, a hand mixer definitely makes light work of cakes and dough. Even very cheap hand mixers come with dough hooks - and I can almost guarantee that at some point in your cooking adventure you will want to bake bread.
So there we have it! My top 20 kitchen essentials that will see you through most recipes. But do you think I’ve missed something? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments or over on our Instagram.