Most of the time, your first kitchen as an adult is stocked with the bare minimum in tools and gadgets. At first, you’ll buy the cheapest versions of those things, and all but a few of them will wear out and break. That’s when you’ll start to figure out what you need to spend a little more money on.
Knives are at the top of the list—get yourself a good-quality chef’s knife, and you can pretty much cheap out on the rest of the set. You also want to splurge a bit on pots and pans. Go cast iron and stainless steel if you can.
Other things you want to make sure you have in your kitchen include:
- Dishes, glasses, and silverware
- Mixing and slotted spoons, preferably wooden
- A turner
- A rubber spatula
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Baking sheets of varying sizes, including at least one roasting sheet
- A colander
- Fine mesh sieve
- Mixing bowls of various sizes
- Cutting boards
The following is a list of the top five tools you should add to your kitchen, apart from these basics. They’ll enhance your cooking in ways you can’t even imagine. These items will also help you work faster, leaving more time for the real joy of cooking: eating!
5. Spice Grinder (or Mortar and Pestle)
Once you start branching out in the kitchen, dried herbs and pre-ground spices should be the first things to go. If you buy a spice grinder, you can buy them whole and in bulk. Freshly ground spices are far more flavorful than those that have been vacuum-sealed in a jar for months. You also have a variety of options.
A mortar and pestle is a little outdated, but it doubles as a decorative accent. You can use a coffee grinder as your spice grinder, also. You won’t want to use the same one for spice as you do for coffee, though. If you can’t afford two, you can grind some rice in between batches to keep the cumin out of your French Roast.
4. Gram Scale
Using a scale in the kitchen may seem a tad fussy. However, if you bake often, accuracy is key. Make sure you buy a gram scale that goes up in single increments.
You may also want a baking textbook, or a commercial baker’s handbook, that lists recipes by weight. Learn the metric system (it’s easy!) and the world of recipes will open up tremendously. In fact, if you learn the metric weight equivalents of more common baking measurements, you may never need to use cup measures again! And you’ll be surprised by how much your cookies, muffins, and pie crusts gain in quality.
You absolutely need a meat thermometer if protein is often your main course. Any cook will tell you to cook meat to temperature, not time. It’s baffling how many recipes ignore this basic fact. There are a variety of infographics available with temperatures for any imaginable type of meat.
The USDA does tend to err on the side of caution, so your meat is likely safe if it’s slightly under these temperatures:
- Chicken- 165 degrees Fahrenheit
- Beef or pork steaks or chops- 145 degrees Fahrenheit
- Ground beef or pork- 160 degrees Fahrenheit
- Fish and shellfish- 145 degrees Fahrenheit
When cooking beef to order, these are the guidelines:
- Rare (cold red center)- 125 degrees Fahrenheit
- Medium rare (warm red center)- 130 degrees Fahrenheit
- Medium (pink center)- 140 degrees Fahrenheit
- Medium well (slightly pink center)- 150 degrees Fahrenheit
- Well done (brown throughout)- 155-210 degrees Fahrenheit
In addition to a meat thermometer, you should also get an oven thermometer. Many ovens do not heat evenly. You can use the oven thermometer to find “hot spots”, ensuring you neither over- nor undercook anything accidentally.
2. Microplane Graters
Box graters are great for their stability; plus, they have multiple surfaces on one tool. However, if you only get one type of grater/shredder, make it a Microplane. These graters are renowned for their incredibly long-lasting sharpness, so watch your knuckles!
In fact, their original use was for filing wood, until one woodworker’s wife started using one in the kitchen. Now, they’re widely lauded for their shredding, zesting, and grating capabilities. They come in a variety of sizes. Get one for citrus zesting, one for fine grating, and a coarse one for shredding cheese. Bonus: you can use the latter for mincing garlic! This will save you a ton of time.
1. Immersion Blender
You may want to save up for a blender, but a top-of-the-line Vitamix can run as high as $600. Food processors are great for blending creamy soups, making purees, chopping pesto, making pie crust, and more. But again, they’re expensive. You need an immersion blender. That’s right: need. It is the most wonderful, indispensible tool you can have at your disposal.
Immersion blenders aren’t all that expensive—top-of-the-line is still only about $150. The best ones come with a variety of attachments. The stick blender plugs into the motor. You simply take your soup or pasta sauce off the burner, stick it in, and blend it to the desired consistency. Choose one with a large variety of settings, so you can choose easily between a chunky soup and a smooth bisque.
The best immersion blenders come with a food processor attachment. You plug the motor into the top of the plastic bowl, in which there is a rotary blade. You can also find ones with a whisk attachment, which eliminates the need for a hand mixer. Basically, this one relatively inexpensive tool does the work of at least three pricey ones.
Eventually, of course, you’ll want all the fancy gadgets money can buy. A stand mixer is great for baking, a mandoline will help you slice veggies thinly and quickly, and a slow cooker works great for stew. But for now, these five will change the way you cook without breaking the bank.