Now before we get into cooking the really impressive stuff, we need to make sure you’re properly equipped. I love browsing kitchen stores and looking at all the cool gadgets, but honestly, most of the cool new kitchen things are completely unnecessary. In my opinion, things like burger presses, egg slicers, and pans with nonstick pockets made specifically for pancakes don’t provide enough value to justify their purchase, as well as the space they would take up in your cupboards. Observe this graph.
I think this is a good way to evaluate the use of a kitchen tool before buying it (also factor in cost, space it will take up, etc). For items that have one use, and that use is something easy like slicing an egg or forming a burger patty, just skip it. For things in the blue boxes, where they have one use that saves you a lot of hassle, or a lot of uses that save you a little hassle each, you’re the one who has to determine their usefulness. Things in green are necessities that everyone should have (imo). I’m going to share a few things that fall into the green box, but also some blue items as well that I, personally, would not want to live without. Check it:
1. A Good Knife. Every cook needs at least 1 good knife. Spend a decent amount of money, and TAKE CARE OF IT. This means no washing in the dishwasher, no cutting on stone surfaces, no storing in cluttered drawers, and no using it to open bottles or other jobs that might chip the blade. The knife is used only for cutting food, then it’s washed by hand and stored safely. The knife pictured is the Wusthof Classic 7-Inch Santoku Knife, which I own. Wusthof is my favorite brand and I can’t say enough how much I love this knife. You can also go for the Wusthof Classic 8-Inch Cook’s Knife, which I plan on adding to my collection soon. Either one would serve you well. A good knife is a necessity.
2. Locking Metal Tongs. I don’t know how I’d cook without them. It’s important to make sure the handles are long enough that you can keep your hands out of heat, but short enough that they’re easy to control. I find that 16 inches is a good length, and perhaps 18-20 inches for grilling. They’re fairly inexpensive so don’t feel like you need to save up for these. I’ve had a pair of the Progressive International 16 Inch Stainless Steel Locking Tongs for about 7 years now and they have held up wonderfully. I have a couple other pairs of tongs that have not held up as well, and I’ll probably replace them with these once they break. I would put this in the green box, as a necessity.
3. Pizza Stone. I’d put this in the top left blue box, but I’ll never be without a pizza stone again. We have two and we use them to bake lots of stuff. The key to baking with a pizza stone is to preheat the stone for a long time. I mean, a LONG time–like an hour. When you cook with a stone, be sure to remove your food items as soon as they’re done cooking, otherwise the stone will continue to cook them and they’ll burn. But the crust you’ll get from a pizza stone is far superior to a metal sheet pan. Next time you make homemade pizza, try heating your stone at 450 degrees for an hour before putting your pizza on it. You’ll love how it turns out. We have the Old Stone 16-Inch Round Pizza Stone and love it.
4. Garlic Press. With garlic, the smaller you chop it, the more flavor you’ll get out of it. Well, I hate chopping garlic because it makes my hands smell. A garlic press simultaneously peels and mashes the garlic, saving me a lot of trouble while pulling as much flavor as possible out of each garlic clove. I’ve owned several garlic presses, but none work as well as the The Pampered Chef Garlic Press. Most others get clogged and all the garlic explodes out the sides. My parents gave me the Pampered Chef press for Christmas maybe 8 years ago and I’ve never looked back. It’s held up amazingly well and works like it did the first time I used it. One job, but saves me lots of hassle. Bottom right blue box.
5. Meat Thermometer. The key to juicy meat is knowing at what temperatures it’s safe to eat. A lot of people freak out about all meats and just cook them to 185. That’s totally unnecessary. And I’ve seen a lot of people who are WAY off when it comes to proper temperatures that meat needs to be cooked to, so here are the facts according to the Principles of Meat Cookery section of the Fourth Edition of On Cooking, which was the main text for my culinary training:
(all temperatures are Fahrenheit)
• Bleu: 115-120 Degrees
• Rare: 125-130 Degrees
• Medium Rare: 130-140 Degrees
• Medium: 140-150 Degrees
• Medium Well: 155-165 Degrees
• Well Done: 165-170 Degrees (not recommended for beef)
Fresh cuts of beef can be cooked and eaten at any of these temperatures, based on preference. It is recommended that ground beef always be cooked to well done (165). The reason for this is when you have a steak, the bacteria is on the outside. The outside is seared and the bacteria killed. When the beef is ground up, the bacteria is pushed inside, so the inside needs to be cooked through. Chicken and poultry should always be cooked to 165 (any higher than that and it will start to get dry). Pork is a bit different. There can be parasites in pork, but these parasites die around 145 degrees. So pork chops and pork tenderloin are safe to consume when cooked to medium. Ground pork, like beef, needs to be cooked to 165.
You can probably see how having a good meat thermometer would be helpful in making sure your meat is juicy. Some meat thermometers have temperatures listed, but many manufacturers only care about watching their own backs, so they bump the temperatures up, which results in dryer meat. Just use the chart listed above and you’ll be fine. Each time you poke a meat thermometer into your meat, it lets juices out. That’s why I like a meat thermometer with a lead wire, so you can put the thermometer in, let the meat cook, and an alarm goes off once it reaches the desired temperature. The juices stay in and you don’t have to keep opening your oven or grill or whatever to check the temp. The Polder Digital In-Oven Thermometer and Timer is a great one. I would put a meat thermometer in the green, as a necessity.
6. A Large Plastic Cutting Board. I can’t stand when I’m cutting stuff and it rolls off my cutting board. I also don’t like running out of space on my cutting board. Jules bought me the one pictured the first Christmas we were married and I’ve loved it ever since. It has rubber grips that keep it from moving, lots of cutting space, and the material won’t dull my knives. NEVER buy a stone cutting board. Sure, they look cool, but they’ll destroy your knives. Wood or plastic materials are best for knives. The one pictured above is the OXO Good Grips 15-Inch-by-21-Inch Cutting Board, Black Edge and even though it isn’t as pretty as a wooden cutting board, it’s versatile and holds up really well. Plus you don’t have to keep it oiled. I would say that a LARGE cutting board is a necessity. But since you could limp along with smaller ones, we’ll put it in the bottom right blue.
7. Magnetic Knife Bar. As mentioned above in the knife section, it’s important that knives be stored properly, out of cluttered drawers. There are 3 ways you can do this. The first is in a bag, designed to keep knives from banging against each other. This is great if you’re a chef or you travel a lot, but for home use it can be inconvenient to find counter space for rolling out your knives when you’re making dinner. The second is a knife block. This is the most popular way to store knives and is really convenient. The knives are always within reach on the counters. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always keep them out of reach of any children that may be in the house, and it also takes up counter space. By far, my favorite way to store knives is a magnet strip. Jules bought me the MIU France 20-in Stainless Steel Magnetic Knife Bar and it’s been a game changer. My knives are always within my reach, always out of Greta’s, and I still have my counter space.
8. Grill pan. For anyone who can’t have a grill due to housing ordinances or something; doesn’t own a grill for whatever reason; or just doesn’t feel comfortable cooking on an outdoor grill; a grill pan will be the best purchase you ever make. It should be cast iron, which will hold heat well, with a narrow grate and deep grooves. The Universal Housewares Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Square Grill is the exact one we own and it’s been worth its weight in gold (which is good, because cast iron is super heavy). This pan is not expensive, and will be almost as good as grilling outdoors. Important note with cast iron – NEVER put it in the dishwasher, and NEVER wash it with soap. Cast iron is porous, which means it takes on flavor. This is great for cooking. Not great when it comes to soap. Your food will forever taste soapy and the pan will rust. Clean it with water, oil and salt. Here’s a good tutorial.
9. The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs. This book has changed my cooking life, and that’s not a lie. For a long time, I felt stuck with my cooking. I knew proper techniques, but I was just cooking the same things over and over. This book is basically an encyclopedia of ingredients and what pairs well with them. So, if you have salmon and you want to do something new with it, you pull out the Flavor Bible and look up “salmon.” Read the list of ingredients that play nicely with salmon, cross reference those with other ingredients, and build your very own salmon dish. I could spend (and have spent) hours at a time building flavor combinations with this book. If you enjoy cooking but feel stuck, you need to buy it.
As I was putting together this list, I realized that I have a lot of kitchen stuff I wouldn’t want to live without. I decided to stop at 9 for today, but I’ll share some more down the road. Hopefully you have some of these things, and if not I encourage you to expand your toolset (even if it means throwing out that burger press to make room). I know these tools have definitely helped me, and I’m sure they can do the same for you. Peace out, internet friends.