Three Keys to Kitchen Tools

A simple guide to a simple kitchen.

Kitchen Tools
Photo by Annie Spratt

Kitchen implements are the tools of the cook’s trade, and there are a dizzying array to choose from. Here are some tips for choosing the right tools for you, and how to keep them organized so you control them and they don’t control you.

1. Less is more.

It’s tempting to collect all the new, shiny kitchen gadgets that seem to promise faster, better meal preparation. But if you ask a professional chef, you’ll probably find that they prefer tools that do more than one task, and they keep the items found in their kitchens to a minimum. Most commercial kitchens will have:

  • Sauté pans
  • Stock/soup pots
  • Saucepans
  • Baking sheets
  • Baking pans
  • Tongs
  • Spatulas
  • Ladles
  • Stirring spoons
  • Knives
  • Whisks
  • Stand mixer
  • Mixing bowls
  • Peeler
  • Blender
  • Knife sharpener/honing steel
Photo by Louis Hansel

There are many other useful items you might want to have in addition to these, but you can see that the pros keep it simple. There’s a kernel of truth there—less is often more.

A huge advantage in limiting your kitchen tools is that it’s easy to find exactly what you need, instead of fighting through a tangle in an overstuffed drawer. It’s frustrating and time-consuming to have to search through multiple places for a certain tool, and who wants to pull a tool out of a crowded countertop container, only to have all the tools spill out, the tongs trapped in the potato masher?

2. Prioritize the Space

So what if you love your avocado slicer and your herb grinder? Great!—you can keep them. Just look carefully at your tool stash and think about how often you use each item. Create places for the things you use the most, front and center. Things you use rarely can be put on a high shelf or tucked in the back corner of a cupboard, leaving your high-priority space clear and uncluttered. Have a designated spot for each item and always put it back in the same space, so that you can quickly find your tool. Imagine being in the middle of a hectic cooking project, and you need a certain tool  You should be able to open just one drawer and see the item sitting exactly in its own particular place, just waiting for you to pick it up and put it straight to work.

Professional organizers like Marie Kondo (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, 2014) often say the best way to organize a drawer is to take every single thing out of it, instead of trying to sort it in place. This gives you a great opportunity to wipe it down and get a fresh start. Then thoughtfully consider each item before putting it back. Is this a high-use item? Is it in great shape? Where do I use this tool most commonly? The answers to these questions will guide you in whether it goes in that handiest, hip-level drawer, over by the sink, or on a high shelf—or even out of the kitchen altogether.

Organized Kitchen
Photo by Jason Briscoe

3. Better is better? It better be!

As with so many things, buying good quality kitchen tools will benefit you in the long run. Here are some ideas on what types of tools are worth spending more on—and which perhaps matter less.

Stand mixers: Most professional chefs would agree that a powerful stand mixer is an investment that will serve you well. Look for one with plenty of horsepower and with stellar reviews on reliability.

Blenders: There are a huge range of blenders on the market, from under $50 to several hundred dollars in price. Let your use be your guide. Do you use a blender often? Do you just make simple milkshakes, or do you grind ice, frozen fruit and vegetables, or other big blending tasks on a regular basis? Read customer reviews online, both pro and con, before making your purchase.

Kitchen knives: Good quality kitchen knives aren’t cheap, but they will last a lifetime if taken care of. A good, sharp knife is one of the most useful tools in your kitchen. Many chefs agree that you can get by with just three: a paring knife, a serrated knife for cutting bread and food such as tomatoes, and a chef knife. You can take care of nearly every cutting and chopping task with these three. Depending on how often you use them, sharpen them every week or so, and give them a quick swipe on a honing steel before each use. The theory and application of knife sharpening is a huge topic, but some basic information can be found at this link on the Wusthof website. (A well-respected knife manufacturer.)

Sometimes the best knife is not the most expensive. America’s Test Kitchen ranked serrated knives for cutting bread, and the highest rated knife was the Mercer Culinary Millenia Chef’s Knife, which at $17 was one of the lowest priced knives in the sample.

Spatulas: A few years ago, spatulas came in a range of quality and price, but since silicone has become a common material for them, it’s hard to go wrong. Spatulas made from older plastics or rubber often got melted, cracked, or brittle, but silicone withstands high temperatures when cooking and can be put in the dishwasher with no problems. You can feel comfortable buying nearly any well-constructed silicone spatula—just look for one whose head won’t come apart from its handle over time.

Wooden spoons: It’s okay to go cheaper on these, as long as they are sturdy. Wooden spoons will acquire a patina with use, and may become stained with certain foods, but that will not impact their usefulness. Since they are cheap, you can choose to replace them when they become stained if you wish. Just don’t fall into the trap of too many! One or two is all you need.

You’ve mastered your kitchen tools– now go and master some food!