My kitchen is where I spend my time. I’m not quite sure how I became so obsessed with cooking but I’ve spent countless hours over the stove, pouring over cookbooks, exploring farmer’s markets and figuring out how I like to cook and what I need to do it. I’ve also cooked in a ton of Airbnbs around the world that are often sparse in the kitchen tool department (can I tell you how many fully stocked Airbnb kitchens don’t have a cutting board?) and that’s taught me what I deem to be truly useful tools, so much so that I have sometimes on long road trips brought a microplane with me in case my final destination doesn’t have one. While there are affiliate links, this list is comprised only of the tools I call to time and again and are found in my own kitchen.
Everyday Kitchen Essentials
Microplane – I literally pack this in my car to take car camping or to friend’s homes that live far away in case they don’t have one. It is just hands down the best tool for zesting and grating hard cheese around, two things which I do often and rely on heavily for simple flavor boosts in my cooking. If you’re not zesting a few times a week, this alone can up your cooking game. It’s also great for grating chocolate for decoration on baked goods as well.
Y-shaped Peeler – There are a lot of fancy peelers out there that don’t do well the very thing they’re designed to do, peel. This is not that peeler. This one works. It’s cheap though but I’m not tough on mine and I’ve had it for years. It’s great for peeling veg and for making parmesan or chocolate curls.
Lemon Juicer – One of the simplest ways to improve most dishes is the addition of some acid. It adds brightness and balance. I use fresh lemon in probably 80% of my cooking, probably more. While I am very capable of squeezing by hand, I often drop the seeds or juice so many lemons that I sometimes bring this juicer in my car too. I’ve actually bought this three times on Amazon to give to those who’s kitchen lacks one, so I believe in it. Bonus, I don’t own a lime juicer. I use this for both!
Cast Iron Skillets – I cook almost everything in cast iron. Cast iron retains heat really well (but it doesn’t actually cook very evenly) which is really important to me. There is probably a bit of a learning curve to cooking well with cast iron, and there is a lot of debate and concern about the seasoning of cast iron (I rarely re-season mine and I do wash it with soap and water rather frequently), but once you’ve got it down you won’t go back. Strong hot heat is essential to my cooking, I think a lot of reason we as home cooks might struggle is we’re afraid of too much. Too much heat, too much seasoning, too much salt. I own and use both of these sizes weekly. Also, these will last forever! Forever!
Le Creuset or Staub Dutch Oven – This is expensive and maybe you’ve been dreaming of one of these and when you finally buy one you’ll feel you’re officially an adult or maybe you’re not sure it’s worth the hype. I am of the opinion it is. My Dutch oven is one of the most important items in my kitchen arsenal. There are cheaper dutch ovens but I’m of the mindset of buying high quality items once or twice as opposed to cheaper versions that might need to be replaced multiple times. I don’t know how long this will last but I know we’re still using my grandmother’s from the 60s if that gives you an idea. These are cast iron like Lodge but they are coated in enamel which means they retain heat well, cook more evenly, and have more nonstick properties to them. I love my Dutch oven and buying one definitely made me feel like a real adult.
I’ve linked to the 7.25 quart option here because it is great for the size sourdough I bake but also it’s a great size for general use. When you go smaller then you run the risk of needing a second Dutch Oven in the future to feed larger groups or make a big pot of beans for freezing. If you don’t see yourself batch cooking or really ever cooking for more than 2, you might get a smaller one, but this is the smallest that works for me. Definitely consider your own needs and storage before choosing a size.
Kitchen Scale – I’m a kitchen minimalist in many ways, I own just one knife (plus a serrated one for bread), but I believe that if you are going to bake sourdough you need a scale. Once you start baking with a scale, it’s likely you start doing all your baking this way and wish more US recipes just worked off weight. This is the scale I have it and it works reliably well, there are fancier ones out there but I’ve been using this for three years and baking lots of delicious things.
Thermometer – Used largely to get an accurate temperature of the water added to your dough and to take the final dough temperature.
Bench Scraper – If you are just making your first loaves, I wouldn’t rush out to buy this. But if you keep baking and start getting into other projects like enriched doughs or pasta making, this is a really useful tool. In sourdough, I use this to divide up my dough into individual loaves, in the shaping process at times and as a tool to transfer shaped dough to proofing baskets.
Proofing Baskets (Also called brotform or banneton) – I bake both batard (the oval shape) and boule (round) shaped loaves. My loaves are almost always 500g of flour each in weight, so I use 8 to 9″ boules and 10″ batard proofing baskets that are cloth lined and floured. If you are just starting, you can use a floured cloth lined mixing bowl. I did it for two years and made beautiful delicious bread BUT the right sized proofing basket really does help the final shape and structure of your bread when you really get into baking. They also might make you feel like a real fancy baker from the French countryside.
Wire Monkey UFO Lame – This is another item you don’t need to invest in right away, I waited over two years to buy a lame and started out just using a cheap knife and then a razor blade (I recommend a razor blade over knife as they are much sharper when new and will work so much better on your dough). But, when you’re ready to up your scoring game, this is a wonderful tool and small business. The UFO lame is pretty famous in the sourdough world and I just feel happy using this knowing it’s supports another small business out there.
Dutch Oven – Also listed above, but this is what I bake bread in to create steam in the first half of the bake. Again, because cast iron retains heat so well this is an incredible tool for getting crust at home like you’d get in a bakery.
You can also try the Lodge Combo Cooker. It’s what many home bakers swear by and it is a very very affordable option.