Lifestyle

Kitchen Stuff I Don’t Want to Be Without

June 17, 2013  —  Written by Chris 

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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.

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What do you think?

  1. Alison G says:

    Chris,
    I wish you would talk more about the book. I just ordered it on your advise. You say if you love to cook order it. I don’t love to cook, but I love to eat good food. Could you give some examples of the flavor pairings you’ve come up with and liked? I am on a never ending watch what you eat carb cycling lifestyle and the more varied and flavorful I can make food the better. I have no knack with pairing flavors. Thanks..

  2. Rachel says:

    I too thought that the egg slicer was a one time functional item but have recently discovered that it’s a helpful tool when you need to cut Buffulo Mozzerella or strawberries even. It’s cut the time down for making homemade pizzas for us and for when I want to use strawberries as a garnish on cakes etc. Just a suggestion..

  3. Anonymous says:

    Here’s my question: How do you transfer your pizza on to the pizza stone?

  4. Neyir says:

    Absolutely loving these posts Chris! I directed my husband to this post yesterday (he is the very proud owner of a new one side pancake griddle/one side grill cast iron pan). Also we jointly made your cornish hens and grilled Caesar salad last night. Had to make a leave a few things out as there were one or two things we didn’t have and it was delicious!!! My 5 yo and 1 yo finished up a 1/2 hen with kale chips for lunch today. Keep these great post coming please :-).

    • I’m so glad you liked it! And I’m glad you didn’t say, “well, I guess we can’t make it because we don’t have all the ingredients.” Make it your own based on what you have, I say, and you did just that. Kudos. :)

  5. Carrie says:

    This is a great round-up. I’d add a fourth way of storing your knives, tho. I keep only one great chef’s knife (the Forschner Victornox the CI recommeded a million years ago), and I use a plastic sheath (the kind that has a hinge and tabs to keep it closed) to protect it in my drawer. Works fabulously, and no loss of counter space or worrying that I’m going to accidentally knock it off the magnetic strip. $5 well spent.

  6. It’s the ‘heat the pizza stone for an hour’ and the ‘heat the roasting pan for an hour’ tips that will change lives forever!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Me says:

    I’ve got Zwilling Henckles knives and I love them (Four star series). But if I’m totally honest a cheap knife that is SHARP would work just as well (ala Anthony Bourdain). I have the cheap restaurant supply tongs and I haven’t had any problems with them. At 3 bucks a piece they are a bargain and a half. I’ve got everything but the book and the garlic press. I just go with the traditional Alton Brown smash til pulverized technique. More often then not though, I (gasp) just use the pre-minced stuff you can buy at the store. I know I can’t quite get the same depth of flavor, but it is SO convenient. I go through that big jar pretty fast. I LOVE garlic.

    I’ll have to buy the book. I love books about technique and flavor pairing. I could care less for recipe books. All in all though I’d trade the garlic press for a silicon spatula.

  8. Are the wusthof knives still made in Germany? I am on a mission o replace all china made products in my kitchen with usa, Germany, Italy…and it’s no easy task. I know Cutco is usa, but a girls gotta have options, ya know?!

    • Yes! All Wusthof knives are made in Germany! :)
      (Sorry for butting in Chris but thought I’d take a quick answer off your hands! ;) )

    • Great! Thanks Staci! :) Clearly I need to brush up on my google skillz cause I couldn’t find definite answer anywhere on the web. :)

    • Thanks Staci. :)

      I actually prefer Wusthof to Cutco because of the balance, weight and handle design, but Cutco makes a sharp knife, and it’s good material.

    • Awesome! I was leaning towards wusthof and you just tipped the scale :) One more question, which types of knives do you find to be most useful/ versatile in the kitchen?

    • The knives I use the most are my Santoku knife and my Chef’s (cook’s) knife. They cut differently, so it depends on how you use a knife. For example, the Santoku is designed for up and down chopping, where the entire blade goes straight up and comes straight down. The blade of a Chef’s knife is curved, which is designed for rocking the blade back and forth/up and down, where the nose of the blade doesn’t leave the cutting surface but the handle side moves up and down. I wouldn’t want to be without my Santoku knife again, but if I had to choose one, I’d go with the Chef’s knife. They’re generally more comfortable to cut with and easier to control.

    • Your rad! Thank you so much for the cutlery crash course. Admittedly, I have never put much thought into knives …just grabbed whatever knife that was clean and hoped it would do the job. (Picture someone cutting a melon with a butter knife, seriously…that’s me.) Heading over to amazon now, thanks again!

  9. Hey, I’m better than I thought,we just bought a set of CUTCO knives (which I never put in the dishwasher) and we have a good cutting board. so I’m 4 for 9.

  10. We have the pizza stone…thank you and the meat thermometer thank you again, Chris! I have eaten over cooked meat for years and I just set the temp and beeps when ready and the meat is just perfect, done and juicy.

  11. Steph~ says:

    I can’t imagine heating a pizza stone for hour here in hot, humid Florida either. Maybe throwing it in there while the preheating is going on would be OK. I’ll have to try it out!

    I love the mix of posts too!

    :)

  12. Love your list! We have the pizza stone and the garlic press from Pampered Chef, life savers! I love them!

    I also got my husband a meat thermometer for Christmas and he loves it. :)

  13. cd says:

    Wash your hands with a stainless steel spoon (pretend like your just giving the spoon a good hand-washing) and the garlic (or onion) smell goes right away.

    You’re welcome.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that but I haven’t really noticed a difference when I do it. Either my hands just really absorb the smell or I’m super sensitive to it. Either way, the garlic press is definitely my preference. :)

  14. Anonymous says:

    What…… is this blog? It seemed to be a DIY “fix it up” blog with art mixed in… Now we see barely any of that and tons of cooking. Very bizarre hybrid going on.

    • Haha, sorry if it’s not what you’re looking for. Jules still posts more than I do – 4 times a week, and it’s all DIY and fix it up stuff. I post food stuff 3 times a week. Though our schedule has been a little different the past month because Jules has been out of town several times. But don’t worry, we have lots of DIY stuff we’re working on right now and we’ll be sharing all of it. :)

    • Keep doing what you’re doing! People love a variety in blog post themes! I get bored with toooo many DIYs in a row and love how your subjects change day to day.

    • I love how this blog has evolved :) You both are extremely talented and this is seriously the only blog that I check on the daily. Getting my home and foodie fix all one one blog….love it.

  15. Hanna says:

    The flavor bible looks amazing! Just added it to my wish list.

  16. Kathy says:

    We have a metal pizza pan and it’s wonderful. I couldn’t imagine turning on the oven for an hour in the humid Jersey summers to heat a pizza stone!

    I’m definitely putting better knives on our must-get list this year. The ones we bought after our wedding two years ago are already dulling and no one really does sharpening around here.

    The other product I recently bought and could not live without is my Vitamix. Not only does it whip up fabulous green smoothies, but I can make soup, salsa, dessert, and dips. It completely eliminates my need for a food processor, juicer, and handheld chopper. It’s expensive, but worth it!

    • I couldn’t agree more on the blender, Kathy. We have a Blendtec (which Jules blogged about recently). Basically one step down from the Vitamix, but whether I’m paying $300 or $400 for a blender, I feel like it should blend anything I stick in it. We use it daily and it was totally worth the cost.

  17. Ashley says:

    The whole idea that bacteria gets mixed in when beef is ground is totally new to me, but makes PERFECT sense. (Seriously, life changing info here, Chris.) Here’s my curveball though — what about hamburgers? If you’re always supposed to cook ground beef well done, why is okay to serve burgers medium or even rare (yuck)?

    • Well, that’s the thing. It’s not really ok to serve burgers medium, and definitely not rare. It’s recommended that ground beef you buy from the store be cooked completely through.

      That said, steak tartare is essentially fresh beef, cut up, dressed with a little acid and served raw. It’s safe to eat tartare because the beef is fresh and bacteria levels are low enough that you don’t have to worry. This same thing applies to burgers. You could serve a burger medium or even rare if the meat is freshly ground. Most legit burger joints fresh-grind their beef, but if there’s any doubt I would ask them. If you’re making burgers yourself at home from store-bought ground beef, I would definitely cook it through.

      Hope that helps!

  18. LOVE your graph, but I have to disagree with the burger presses. I love mine and I wouldn’t give it up! I find that it doesn’t take much space, either.
    And I’ve been lusting over a LeCreuset grill pan for ages now. Maybe this year for my birthday…

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