If you want to get serious about cooking, a necessary first step is to examine the state of your current kitchen equipment. You may want to head to culinary school to become a chef, or are just interested in prepping, cooking, and plating perfect dishes. Either way, take a page from the professionals and buy gear they trust to help you meet your goals. There is a big difference between bargain cookware, and the tools used by the pros. The right equipment makes a world of difference in even a home kitchen, and we’ve collected 10 of the things you’ll need to start mastering the craft.
1. A really good chef’s knife
A quality set of knives is a worthwhile investment for any master chef, and a prerequisite purchase for culinary students, or those working in a professional kitchen. When you’re just starting out, the first knife you’ll want to cross off your to-buy list is also the most versatile and important one: the chef’s knife. You’ll want to get used to using an 8- or 10-inch knife, which is bigger than most home cooks are used to. The advantage of using a bigger, heavier chef’s knife is that you’ll learn how to let the knife do the work, which is an important lesson for an aspiring chef.
Of all the knives you’ll own, invest the most into your chef’s knife. You can get away with $30 paring and boning knives, but you should really be in the $100 range for a good chef’s knife. It’s going to get the most use, so it’s important to get one with a full tang (the metal of the knife runs the length of the handle) and good balance in your hand. There are dozens of options, but when it comes to fine knives, we love Wüsthof’s Classic Chef’s Knife. It’s 8 inches and very durable.
2. Knife honer
Now that you have a great, expensive chef’s knife, it’s important to make it last. First, don’t cut on glass, porcelain, metal, anything frozen solid (you get the idea), because it damages and chips the edge of the blade. Second, you need to get a honer and you need to learn how to use it. A honer is there to realign the edge of your knife, and if you’re serious about cooking and precision and control in the kitchen, you should hone your knives every time they’re used. Though many are made from steel, a fine-grit ceramic honer can be better if you’ve never used one before, as it will do less damage to the knife if you get it really wrong. We suggest a honer like this DMT CS2 12-Inch Ceramic Steel. Then, watch these videos from The Kitchen Knife Guru to learn how to use it.
3. The OCD Chef Cutting Board
Now that you have a sharp and straight chef’s knife, it’s time to practice your cuts and knife skills. Whether you’re making a mirepoix for a head chef or to impress your best friend, you better believe that fine dice of carrots, onion, and celery needs to be uniform, and this cutting board with etched-in measurements is a great way to start internalizing that precision. The OCD Chef Cutting Board is made from bamboo, which is strong, environmentally friendly, and even purported to be naturally antibacterial. It’s available from Gadgets and Gear for $21.99.
4. Kitchen scale
Speaking of measurements, professional chefs and bakers know that in order to get the same results every time, which is the ultimate goal in the restaurant industry, things must be weighed and not measured by volume. Take flour, for instance. Depending on the humidity, the age of the flour, the pressure with which you scoop, and other variables, a cup of flour can vary wildly in how much flour you’re actually getting. When you measure by weight, you always know exactly how much you’re putting in the recipe — and when baking, that’s crucial. The Jennings CJ4000 scale has an accuracy down to ½ a gram, making it incredibly useful in weighing even the tiniest amounts, but it can measure up to 4000 grams (8.8 pounds). It is also sleek with a small profile, so it’s easy to store, and you can disable the auto-off button, which is very helpful for brewing pour-over coffee with precision. Another fantastic option is the My Weigh KD-8000. Scale Magazine praises it for the Baker’s Math/Percentage Weighing feature, which lets bakers measure all ingredients in proportion to the main ingredient.
5. Instant read thermometer
Not only is knowing the internal temperature of your food important for food safety, it’s also critical in learning when something is done. Steak reaches rare at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, medium-rare at 145, medium at 160, and we don’t talk about anything over that degree of doneness. Chefs know the doneness of something like a steak by feel, but that takes a lot of practice. If you aren’t quite at that stage yet, rely on a thermometer. The Javelin, formerly the Thermowand, is a high performance, instant-read thermometer with a thin, tapered probe to minimize the “footprint” on your food. The shell is antimicrobial and splash resistant, and it has a lifetime warranty against technical and firmware defects. The ThermoWorks ThermoPop will give you a temperature in 5 to 6 seconds, is in the same price range as the Thermowand, and is available in nine colors.
6. Prep bowls
If you haven’t internalized the concept of mise-en-place yet, that’s your homework. Mise-en-place means “everything in its place,” which is so important in a busy kitchen. Even when “busy kitchen” means kids running around and dogs barking, you should have everything you need at your fingertips. This way, you’re not running around chopping things or gathering spices while everything else is overcooking. This 12 Piece Duralex Chef’s Glass Condiment and Prep Bowl Set is a great way at a good price to get in the habit of always having mise-en-place and will keep at least your culinary life organized.
7. All-Clad fry pan
All-Clad pans are a staple in every great kitchen. They’re pricey, but they’re built to last. The bonded steel is a wonderful material to cook with, offering even heat distribution and real durability. If you aren’t ready for an entire set of All-Clad Cookware, we suggest the All-Clad 8-Inch Stainless Steel Fry Pan. It’s really wonderful for everything from cooking meat to pan-frying vegetables to making omelets. The gently sloping sides give you an easier time turning and removing food than straight sided pans, and plenty of opportunity to practice flipping food like a pro. There is a non-stick version of the pan as well.
8. A wooden spoon
One of the two favored utensils in the kitchen is a really good wooden spoon. It’s obviously great for stirring and scooping, and it doesn’t melt at high heat like plastic does. When it comes to dishes like risotto, a wooden spoon’s texture is customary for roughing up the grains of rice and creating that creamy sauce, and it really can’t be beat. This Calphalon Medium Wooden Spoon is made of solid beechwood with a natural oil finish. To keep it top quality, oil regularly and hand wash.
9. Locking tongs
The other favored utensil is a pair of tongs. Though they’re underutilized in most home kitchens, they’re used almost exclusively in professional kitchens for stirring and flipping and turning and tossing, even for plating and placing. A good pair of tongs becomes something like an extension of your own hand, and this Rösle Stainless Steel pair is a great one. It even has a patented mechanism that lets you open and lock with just one hand, making it a seamless tool to use in the kitchen. Or you could opt for OXO’s version, which have non-slip handles.
10. Squeeze bottles
Finally, learn good plating. The way food is presented makes a world of difference in how it’s perceived by the diner, and garnishing can turn any dinner into a masterpiece. One of the most valuable tools in professional plating is the plastic squeeze bottle. Use this simple tool to experiment with colors, textures, dishes, and foods until you find the right balance. Sauces and condiments take on an evolved look when swirled and dotted and streaked from a squeeze bottle, taking the plate or bowl or dish from food to art.