When to splurge – and when to save – on these essential cooking tools.
I love shopping for kitchen supplies. Gleaming new pots and pans of all shapes and sizes, brightly colored mixing bowls, creativity-sparking baking pans... It's as much fun as shoe shopping, and (arguably) way more practical! If you're moving, just married, or setting up a kid in their first apartment, you've got a world of kitchen decisions to make. (And I'm jealous!) But as with most things in life, it pays to be a savvy shopper. Not all tools are created equal, and the most expensive options aren't always the most well-made.
Even if you're not starting from scratch, I like to use the long winter months to re-examine my daily routine. At home, that means taking a good hard look at the things I use and seeing what needs cleaning or replacing - especially in the kitchen, where wear and tear can take a gradual toll that can be easy to ignore until it's too late. Tip: If you're having trouble slicing through a tomato, it's time to replace or sharpen your knives!
There are thousands of kitchen gadgets out there, but only a handful that are truly essential. So before you fill a drawer with avocado slicers and banana protectors, make sure you've got these basics in the bag. Here's what I believe is worth the splurge, and where you can save your hard-earned dollars:
Here's What I Splurge On...
8 Inch Chef's Knife
If you only buy one good knife, this workhorse is the perfect size to do everything you need in the kitchen, from slicing vegetables to carving chickens. Take good care of yours (get it sharpened professionally and never put it in the dishwasher!) and it'll last you for life. I love Berti knives, which are handmade in Tuscany and are as gorgeous to look at as they are to hold.
Le Creuset Dutch Oven
Cast iron is an incredible heat conductor, meaning it can easily go from the barest simmer to super-high heat without breaking a sweat. The Dutch oven shape is perfect for long, slow braises, and can go from stovetop to oven to seamlessly crisp the top of baked pastas and more. Le Creuset's cheerful range of colors will brighten up any kitchen.
All-Clad Stainless Steel Saute Pans
Saute pans are the backbone of any kitchen. Because they get so much use, a sturdy, well-made pan is an essential - and I like to have them in several sizes, to cover all my bases. Don't bother with nonstick; the coating wears down over time and can't brown meats and vegetables. If you're really worried about sticking, just use a little extra olive oil! It'll be tastier, too.
Motorized appliances are especially prone to wear and tear, and a cheap food processor will quickly let you down, either by wearing out quickly or lacking the oomph to make it through a tough job. Cuisinart and Breville both make sturdy choppers that will last for decades - I know families who've handed theirs down over generations.
Here's What I Save On...
Victorinox Serrated Utility Knife
This little paring knife is a tireless partner in the kitchen. It's got an extra-sharp carbon steel blade, and the serrated edge is great for everything from slicing fruit and vegetables to chopping chocolate for baking. They're so cheap, I like to keep two or three around so there's always one available for people to lend a hand with dinner!
Restaurant kitchens are stocked with dozens of sheet pans, and they're used for everything from roasting meat to drying delicate herbs to baking bread. A half-size sheet pan from a restaurant supply store will fit in any home oven and, since it's designed to take heavy-duty abuse, will be cheaper and sturdier than anything you'll find at a gourmet shop.
Kuhn Rikon Vegetable Peeler
Ask any chef or bartender and they'll tell you the Y shape of this peeler is a life saver. It distributes pressure more evenly than a straight peeler, so you don't tire out your hand. And my left-handed friends love the universal handle! It makes peeling potatoes for gnocchi much less of a chore.
Every kitchen should have a mandoline - they make monotonous chopping chores a breeze and can slice vegetables much more thinly than a regular knife. The French variety can look intimidating, but these Japanese slicers are smaller, less complicated, and easier on the wallet, too.