1. A large whisk for batters and a baby whisk for salad dressings.
Why: You might ask, "Why do I need a whisk when I can just use a fork?" Good question. A fork just doesn't work as well as a whisk when you're making a smooth batter, or whipping cream, or basically getting anything ~smooth.~
What it's for: Use a small whisk for things like salad dressings, beating eggs for an omelet, or making a cheese sauce for mac 'n' cheese. Basically any task where you need to break up and integrate lots of little bits. A big whisk (also called a balloon whisk) is great for bigger jobs, like stirring together fudgy brownies, whipping cream, or anything you're trying to get a lot of air into.
Buying info: Norpro 3 Piece Stainless Steel Balloon Whisk Set, $12.43, at amazon.com.
2. A fine microplane grater to shower everything with Parmesan.
Why: The main purpose of a fine grater is to turn delicious things into ~tiny little flakes of joy~. A block of Parmesan becomes a feather dusting of cheese that melts immediately. Lemon or lime zest leaves the taste and color, but not a bitter bite. You can even shave fresh ginger and chocolate with it, too.
When to use it: Use it to garnish pastas, salads, or pretty much anything. Get the recipe for these easy garlic parmesan knots here and then just let loose with grated Parm.
Buying info: Microplane Premium Black Zester/Grater, $14.22, at amazon.com.
3. A citrus juicer that actually gets ALL the juice out of your lemons.
Why: When you use a crappy lemon squeezer, you are ~literally~ throwing away money. I can personally attest to the glory of this specific juicer, which gets 25% more juice out of every lemon. So what I'm saying is, the thing basically pays for itself.
When to use it: Anytime you need fresh lemon juice. But to really see it shine, make a lemon drop martini.
Buying info: Chef'n FreshForce Citrus Juicer (Lemon), $21.95, at amazon.com.
4. A large and a small offset spatula for flawless frosted cakes.
Why: An offset spatula gives you ultimate control when you are frosting a cake or just making a PB&J. Plus, the slight difference in height between the handle and the blade means you aren't smashing your fingers into whatever you're making.
What it's for: Icing cakes, smoothing batters, spreading mashed avocado! Really anything you want to spread and, particularly, to get those crazy swirls of frosting. The small spatula is good for small jobs like toast, and the bigger one is great for covering a large cake. Practice your swoops with this One Bowl Fudgy Whiskey Chocolate Cake.
Buying info: Ateco Natural Wood Sized Spatulas, $4.75 for a 4.5-inch spatula, $7.53 for a 9.75-inch spatula, at amazon.com.
5. A Y-shaped peeler that makes veggie prep a cinch.
Why: If you're obsessed with a traditional swivel peeler, you keep doing you. But, if you're like me and always found peeling vegetables annoying, may I suggest the Y-peeler. It's easier to handle, it's more ergonomic in your hand, and it gives you better leverage when you're working with veggies. Also, I have never cut myself using this peeler, so that's something.
What to use it for: I find that this dude makes peeling literally anything easier, not to mention it makes those trendy ribbon salads a cinch. Get the recipe for a shaved zucchini salad here.
Buying info: OXO Good Grips Pro Y-Peeler, $12.95, at amazon.com.
6. Solid silicone spatulas for scraping up every last bit of cookie dough.
Why: The reason for a solid silicone spatula is really for hygiene. When you have two separate pieces or a detachable head, grime and water can get in there causing bacteria and god forbid, mildew.
What it's for: After your chef's knife and maybe a cutting board, a spatula is probably your most useful kitchen tool. I use mine for literally every task — sautéing vegetables, making soup, scraping basically anything out of a bowl or dish, and THE LIST GOES ON. So, like I said, you can use them for anything, but here's a recipe for chocolate chip cookies because DUH.
Buying info: StarPack Premium Silicone Spatula Set of 4, $14.95, at amazon.com.
7. A legit pepper grinder to add spicy flavor to all the foods.
Why: Freshly ground pepper is an entirely different thing than what you can buy in a pre-ground tin. This grinder turns plain peppercorns into an earthy, sharp, flowery, and spicy seasoning that takes any food to the next level.
When to use it: I guarantee that you'll use it constantly and it'll last for years. But to really taste the glory of freshly ground pepper, make cacio e pepe, (which literally means cheese and pepper, so decent flavor is crucial).
Buying info: Peugeot Paris U'Select 7-Inch Pepper Mill in Natural, $39.95 from amazon.com.
8. A digital scale to make baking so much easier. (Trust me!)
Why: Hear me out. I know a digital scale seems difficult and fussy to use, but a digital scale actually makes baking EASIER. And not to mention, *precise*, since using a measuring cup for flour can add extra flour, which changes the texture of your cookies or cake. Instead of pulling out so many measuring spoons and cups, you just pour an ingredient into a bowl, tare (aka bring the scale back to zero), and then pour the next ingredient. Trust me, once you get used to it, you'll be hooked.
What to use it for: Any baking recipe that has measurements in grams or ounces. These Cheddar Potato Rolls have both cups and ounces, so you can get used to weighing as you bake.
Buying info: Taylor Precision Products Biggest Loser 6.6-Pound Kitchen Scale, $18, at amazon.com.
P.S. I have had this scale for six years and it has never failed me. Pretty good deal!
9. A fish spatula for crispy fish AND transferring warm cookies without casualties.
Why: It's called a fish spatula because it's great for flipping fillets of fish without them flaking apart, but the slightly flexible blade makes it useful for so much more, like taking fried eggs out of a pan, transferring warm cookies from baking sheet to cooling rack, and basically anything you need to flip in a skillet (steaks, veggies, and pancakes). Plus, the thin metal blade makes it great for scraping those yummy bits off the bottom of a pan.
What it's for: Try it out on a piece of fish so you can get perfectly seared skin. Sea bass with cannellini bean stew is a great place to start.
Buying info: Winco 6.5-Inch Fish Spatula, $4.99, at amazon.com.
10. A cast iron skillet for all your sautéing needs.
Why: A cast iron skillet really does it all. Since it's heavy-bottomed, it has even heat conduction so you don't get hot spots in the pan. And you can start things on the stovetop and then transfer them to the oven. WAIT, did I mention how cheap they are? Because this is the *ultimate* bang for your buck.
What it's for: The nonstick coating that builds up in cast iron pans make them great for fried eggs, fish, or breaded foods. And yet it still gets a mean sear on a steak and makes the ~crispiest~ chicken thighs. I also love to start veggies in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop for a frittata and then pour in the eggs to finish cooking in the oven. Not to mention, it looks pretty on the table. OK enough, I'm making the skillet blush.
Buying info: $15.92, at amazon.com.
11. A colander to get your veggies ~actually~ clean.
Why: It may seem like this is just another thing that will take up space, but a colander is essential for washing fruits and veg, draining and rinsing canned beans, and for straining pasta. A small colander isn't absolutely necessary, but is great for small tasks, like just a few cherry tomatoes or a can of chickpeas.
What it's for: The times I'm most grateful for a colander are when I have to wash a million little items, like for potato salad.
Buying info: ExcelSteel Stainless Steel Colanders, Set of 3, $17.99, at amazon.com.
12. An instant-read digital thermometer for perfectly juicy steak.
Why: There's nothing worse than slicing into what you hoped was a juicy steak and and finding out it's completely gray from overcooking. Same goes for plonking a roast chicken down on the table only to see that it's still raw inside. All this can be avoided with one simple tool (!!!) — an instant-read digital thermometer.
What it's for: Use it on any and all meat, like a juicy filet mignon.
Buying info: Taylor Precision Products Compact Waterproof Digital Thermometer, $9.99, at amazon.com.
13. A good chef's knife for literally everything.
Why: If you're going to only own one knife, a chef's knife is your guy. It's big enough to cut a hunk of meat into small cubes, and the tip is small enough for more delicate work. Since this is your kitchen workhorse, it needs some good sharpening love on a regular basis. A dull knife will slip more easily, which means potentially cutting yourself. It's actually pretty easy to find a local place to sharpen your knives for around $10. Bring them in every six months or so to make sure they're tip-top.
What it's for: Literally ALL the things you need to slice, dice, and chop. Just look at those sexy AF hasselback potatoes and tell me that you don't want to get slicing.
Buying info: Wusthof Classic Ikon 8-Inch Cook's Knife, $154.99 at amazon.com. WOAH I know! That's a lot of dough for a simple knife. But this guy's going to be with you from now until potentially the rest of your life, as long as you take care of it by sharpening (see above). I've used this one for six years and counting and it's never done me wrong. The ergonomic handle is super comfortable, especially when you're cutting up a roast chicken or turkey and really need some elbow grease.
Here are some options for different price ranges, including one under $50. The best advice, courtesy of Alison Roman, is to go to a cooking store (if you can) and try the knife out. You want one that doesn't feel too heavy or too bulky and that you'll be happy hanging with in the kitchen.
14. A paring knife to slice small things like cherry tomatoes.
Why: TBH, this isn't totally essential as long as you have a chef's knife, but it does come in handy to have a smaller knife for smaller jobs.
What it's for: A sharp paring knife will make quick work of halving cherry tomatoes, quartering limes, and even just slicing one hard-boiled egg. Yes, you can DEFINITELY use a chef's knife for all of these, but a paring knife gives you better control so that you're not using an eight-inch blade to slice a one-inch tomato. Try it out with this caprese chicken recipe.
Buying info: Wusthof Gourmet 3-Inch Paring Knife, $16.95**, at amazon.com.
**BTW, if $16.95 seems pricy to you, there are definitely other options out there for under 10 bucks, but Wusthof has a good track record of, well, not breaking. Just keep it sharp (see the note in the chef's knife description above) and it'll last you for decades.
15. A heavy-bottomed pot that can fit a week's worth of soup.
Why: Let's agree that in 2016, we will not mess around with trying to make soup in a tiny pot. Three things are important: Surface area to get caramelization, volume to make a big enough batch of whatever it is you're cooking, and a heavy bottom for even browning.
What it's for: This pot does it all. You could make a mean vat of lasagna soup, braise a pork shoulder until it's meltingly tender, or caramelize a huge pile of onions until they're deliciously jammy.
16. A large slotted spoon for nabbing wily green peas in boiling water.
Why: This is one of the tools that seem redundant, but will quickly become a well-used favorite. A slotted spoon makes it easy to fish things out of boiling water (like peas or hard-boiled eggs), or taking things (like sautéed onions or mushrooms) out of a pan without bringing the oil with it.
What it's for: When you've got a big pot of water boiling on the stove, say to blanch a bunch of different vegetables for a niçoise salad, a slotted spoon makes it easy to get the potatoes, peas, green beans, and hard-boiled eggs out of the water without having to pour the entire pot out between batches.
Buying info: Chef Craft 13-Inch Stainless Steel Slotted Spoon, $5, at amazon.com.