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There are those in this world who cook because they have to, then there are those who cook because they LOVE to. I am the later. Actually, my husband and I both are avid cooks and we have been in the restaurant business for, well…a very long time. My husband and I both started in the biz in the mid-90s and we can’t seem to tear ourselves away from it.
We constantly have some kind of project going, we are always on the lookout for the next great kitchen gadget, and we never leave home without the bare minimum of kitchen necessities (because those vacation kitchens are never pretty y’all). We grow our own food, raise our own chickens and we have even made our own cheese, bread, and bacon. We are nuts about cooking and food and I am willing to bet that we aren’t the only ones.
So I have put together this list of essentials for the kitchen guru, the wannabe chef, the cook du jour. Maybe that’s you or maybe that is someone you love (and you need an awesome gift for them). So pin this, share this, or print it off and save it for later – this is the ultimate list of must-haves.
I’m starting with the Thermopen because it is hands down my most used gadget in our kitchen. I temp everything from meat to bread to candy with this sucker and I could not live without it. How is it different than all those other digital thermometers out there? It is super accurate and lightening fast. If your looking you ain’t cooking and I hate standing in front of an open oven waiting for my thermometer to decide what temperature my chicken is at.
Everyone in my family has one of these. My brother uses his for his competition BBQ, my dad uses one not only at home but has one for the winery as well to take the temperature of very important chemistry used to make wine. This thing is a workhorse and you won’t regret the $100 you spend on it.
No serious cook (or even not-so-serious) should be without a really good chef’s knife. A whole set of really good knives is even better, but if you can’t swing that, one serious quality knife is essential. I recommend that one knife be a chef’s knife and I even further recommend the Wusthof brand. Wusthof has been around for a very long time and has been making professional grade knives that whole time. Their knives are perfectly balanced, razor sharp and long-lasting. Each knife comes with a lifetime warranty and you can send them off to Wusthof at anytime to be resharpened. Anytime. It could be 20 years after you bought them. Wusthof does it for free. I have a whole set of these knives that my husband bought me 10 year’s ago. We have added their Santoku knife and their steak knives to the collection and I could not be happier. Cheap knives are frustrating and dangerous, so invest in a professional knife as soon as you can.
Sheet Pans. There are two kinds. The kind that restaurants use and crappy ones. There is no in-between. These are heavy duty aluminum. They can take the abuse and wear and tear of any kitchen. They can go under the broiler or in the freezer without losing shape. And they last forever. I have about half a dozen. You probably only need two.
This one is a no-brainer, I think. I currently have the Ninja foor processor, but I don’t really recommend it. The one pictured here is a Hamilton Beach, which is probably much more functional. If you can afford a Cuisinart or a Kitchenaid, then go for that. I do lots of stuff with my food processor; chopping pureeing, dressings, dough and it comes in really handy when canning season rolls around.
Serious grill-gurus will tell you that charcoal is the way to go. You could spend a fortune on a Big Green Egg, or chince out on a gas grill, charcoal is THE way to grill and Weber has been making the best charcoal grills out there for a very long time. Get the 22-inch if you can, but if you live in a small place, their Smokey Joe is just as good but much smaller.
I cannot stress enough how important this is. DO NOT, under any circumstances, use a glass cutting board. Those things are awful. They will dull your knife, make you skin crawl when you scrape against them, and make wet food dangerous to cut. Pleas get a big, wooden cutting board. We have one that was the cutout for a sink in a butcher block counter top. It lives on our counter. It is used daily and cleaned daily. They take a little care. I periodically rub mine down with mineral oil to keep it from cracking and to keep a good seal on it. I also don’t cut raw meat on our board. We have a couple of plastic cutting boards for that.
An immersion blender is one of those tools that you never knew you needed until you have one. I find myself using mine a lot. It’s perfect for pureeing soups and sauces and making quick work of vinaigrettes and mayonnaise. I like one with 2 speeds and all metal parts for the actual blending part.
As a good Southerner, I swear by cast iron. You just won’t get a better cooking vessel. If cared for correctly, cast iron will last forever. Literally. A well-seasoned pan is non-stick and will give your meals that perfectly browned crust or evenly cooked cornbread. I love the Lodge brand. I own several of their skillets and a griddle and I am very impressed with their enamel cookware. I recommend a 10-inch skillet, good for cornbread, and 12-inch deep skillet for everything from frying chicken to making a cobbler, and a good enameled pot for soups, stews, braises and stocks. If you ever get a chance to stop in South Pittsburg, TN at the Lodge factory store their, check out the “seconds” in the back. You can get some really good deals back there.
I know I just told you that cast iron is the end-all, be-all, but everyone needs one good non-stick skillet. Why? Because eggs happen. Probably the one thing I won’t cook in cast-iron is eggs. It’s also nice to have a pan that is quick and easy and doesn’t weigh a ton when you are just trying to whip up a little something. I like T-fal’s 12-inch skillet. It’s durable and affordable.
If you do any baking at all, get a pizza stone. It can live in the bottom of your oven. Mine does. It’s all patina-ed with black stains and is ever at the ready for a loaf of yeast bread or a homemade pizza. Don’t spend a lot of money on these things. No matter how fancy they are they can crack. I bought mine at Big Lots for $10, but this one at Amazon is about $16. I recommend getting a pizza peel too. It makes you look professional and is handy getting that pizza out of the oven.
You can probably live without a stand mixer in the kitchen, at least until the holidays roll around. As soon as any baking starts to happen go ahead and invest in a stand mixer. I have had two Kitchenaid stand mixers, but there are certainly less-expensive ones out there that I am sure would do a fantastic job. You are going to want one with a beefy motor and a big bowl. Paddles, dough hooks and whisks are also essential. The great thing about the Kitchenaid is that it has all kinds of attachments so you can jump into ice cream making, pasta making or sausage making pretty easily.
There are other things that every cook needs; some good bamboo utensils, storage containers, a good set of Pyrex, but this list covers the most useful tools for the kitchen. Do you have an favorites? What is a must have for your inner-chef?