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Essential Kitchen Utensils

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In this Lesson you will Learn

  1. What kitchen knives do I need?
  2. What pots and pans do I need?
  3. Are wet and dry measuring cups the same?
  4. What kitchen utensils are essential?

Not everyone agrees when it comes to making a list of must have kitchen utensils. After all, it obviously depends on what you want to be able to cook! Here is a list of basic items to get you started, as well as some fancier supplies to buy when you're ready to expand.

Essential Kitchen Utensils and Appliances

Chef's Knife

Your chef's knife is your all-purpose knife in the kitchen and an indisputable must have. You can use it for everything from chopping vegetables to slicing meat to mincing garlic. There are tons of chef's knives on the market, we would suggest starting with a stainless steel, 8-inch blade and, of course, a handle that feels comfortable and secure in your hand.1

Paring Knife

This small knife looks like a chef's knife, but paring knives are better suited for peeling vegetables, coring apples, sectioning citrus fruit, and any other tasks that require some precision. 2

Serrated Knife

Serrated knives with their jagged, saw-like edges are useful for slicing tomatoes, cutting through a crusty loaf of bread, and removing the rinds, among other things. 3

Cutting board

Every kitchen needs a cutting board (and probably more than one!) Cutting boards come in a variety of materials, sizes, and shapes. We find wood or bamboo cutting boards much more aesthetically pleasing than plastic. Moreover, some studies suggest plastic cutting boards might actually harbor more bacteria than wood.4 That said, having one large and one small cutting board should be enough if you want to stick with just the most essential kitchen utensils. Some people recommend having enough boards so that you can dedicate one board to raw meat, poultry, and seafood. However, so long as you are careful to clean your cutting boards thoroughly with very hot water, you should be fine without a separate board.

Mixing Bowls

Another kitchen staple is a good set of mixing bowls. As with cutting boards, there are numerous materials and sizes to choose from. Stainless steel is a solid, affordable option. We would recommend picking up a nesting set with at least 3 sizes to start. If you have more to spend, glass and ceramic bowls would be a nice addition. They are far less indestructible than stainless steel, but they look nicer and can therefore double as serving bowls. We would pass on all plastic bowls, since they can absorb odors and become discolored over time. We'd also skip on copper bowls. They are gorgeous, of course, but also very pricey and harder to care for.5

Measuring Cups & Spoons

American recipes often provide measurements in terms of cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons. You'll want to get one measuring cup for wet ingredients and one set of measuring cups for dry ingredients (they are not the same!). Measuring spoons, on the other hand, can be used for both liquids and dry goods. Many metric recipes can be found online as well, so it can be nice to have a food scale and measure by weight instead.6

Frying Pan/Skillet or Sauté Pan

Frying pans (also called skillets) and sauté pans are very similar. The difference is that sauté pans have straight sides, while frying pans/skillets have slanted sides. Though one type might be a bit better than the other for a specific task, they are more or less interchangeable.7 You'll be using this pan for a variety of tasks, such as searing meat, sautéing vegetables, cooking eggs, even deep frying.8 Non-stick pans are popular, but we prefer durable cast iron or stainless steel.

Sauce pan

A sauce pan can be used for—wait for it—sauces, but also for steaming vegetables and cooking oatmeal, rice, pasta, etc. Again, we're a fan of stainless steel.

Stock pot

A large stock pot will come in handy when cooking bigger portions of vegetables and grains than what you can make in your sauce pan. It is also great for making soups and stews.

Baking Sheet with a Rim

Even if you don't plan on doing any baking, a baking sheet with a rim can be used for roasting vegetables, toasting nuts, making homemade pizza, etc.

Casserole Dish

Who doesn't love a good casserole? Ceramic casserole dishes can also be used for crumbles and other desserts. A glass baking pan can also double as a casserole dish.

Pie pan/cake pan/loaf pan/etc.

These are obviously only necessary if you plan to make pies, cakes, bread, etc.


Whether you are flipping burgers or sliding under your fried eggs, a good spatula (aka turner) is absolutely a must have kitchen utensil. If you go with a slotted spatula, grease and other liquids will drain out before you transfer your food to the plate. A silicone spatula is safe for non-stick cookware, but metal spatulas can be used with stainless steel or cast iron.


Here we are talking about the kind of spatula you use for scraping the last bit of batter from the bowl or spreading icing on your cake. Silicone and rubber are common materials.

Wooden Spoons

Sure, you can go for nylon spoons if you prefer, but we think wooden or bamboo spoons are much more attractive (not to mention natural). You'll use these for stirring sauces, sauteing vegetables, mixing flour, you name it.


A whisk can be used for numerous tasks: You can use it to beat eggs, mix dry ingredients during baking, make whipped cream, emulsify oil and vinegar in a vinaigrette, smooth out a sauce, etc. Many tasks can be accomplished faster and easier with a hand mixer, but a whisk takes up less space.


Stainless steel tongs are great for turning meat. You can probably get by with a fork, but an inexpensive pair of tongs will definitely come in handy.

Serving Spoon

A large spoon for doling out everything from steamed veggies to mashed potatoes to pudding.


If you plan on making a lot of soups, a ladle should go on your list.

Steamer Basket

For steaming foods on the stove top, all you need is this handy gadget. Put it in the bottom of a pot along with some boiling water, toss in the food you're steaming, and put the lid on top. Done.


You can drain pasta without a colander, but it sure makes life easier. A colander is essentially a bowl with a base and holes that can be used to catch solid ingredients while pouring out the liquid they are in. Colanders are also useful for washing fruits and vegetables. 9

Rolling pin

A rolling pin is a must-have for anyone planning to bake homemade pies, sugar cookies, or biscuits. It can also be useful for breaking up cookies for baking purposes or crackers/pretzels for coating meat. We use ours most frequently as an impromptu meat mallet!

Can Opener

For opening cans (duh!). If you don't use any canned goods (impressive!), you can skip it.


A 4-sided box grater can be useful for since you can, for example, shred Parmesan cheese very finely, shred zucchini into bigger shreds for zucchini bread, and even slice potatoes into thin rings to make potato chips or a gratin—all with one tool. If it's too bulky or you don't expect to use all the different functions, a microplane grater will be plenty.

Nice to Have Kitchen Utensils/Appliances

You can definitely get by without the equipment below, but if you have a birthday coming up, you might add some of these to your wish list!

Pepper mill/pepper grinder

This one almost belongs on the must-have list, freshly ground black pepper tastes SO much better than pre-ground!

Garlic press

If you're lazy like we are, mincing garlic feels like too much work. We love our garlic press.

Vegetable Peeler

You can peel anything with a paring knife, but a vegetable peeler might be faster.

Potato Masher

Of course you can mash potatoes perfectly well with a fork. A potato masher, though, can help you get much smoother potatoes with much less effort.


It can be difficult to know when meat is done, especially for beginners. An instant-read thermometer takes out the guess work. All you have to do is poke the thermometer into the meat and make sure you have reached the minimum temperature for whatever you're cooking (this temperature varies from poultry to pork to beef, by the way). If you want to be able to leave the thermometer in the meat while it cooks, make sure you get an ovenproof model.

Salad spinner

Salad spinners are bulky, but if you're washing a lot of greens for salads, it'll be worth it.


If your oven or microwave has a timer built in, you probably don't need a separate kitchen timer. If not, we'd get one since it is much more practical than using your cellphone or watching the clock.


You already know you can use a blender to make smoothies and soups. The right model, however, can double as a food processor, making quick work of chopping onions and making flour by grinding almonds or oats.

Handheld mixer

As we mentioned above, handheld mixers can save you from a lot of whisking and seriously tired arms.

Mesh strainer

A mesh strainer serves the same purpose as a colander, but its holes are much, much smaller. A fine mesh strainer can come in handy for rinsing quinoa and rice, catching the lemon seeds when squeezing lemon juice, getting clumps out of powdered sugar, etc.

Very Nice to Have Kitchen Utensils/Appliances

If you have the space and funds, these appliances are very useful, but far from being essential kitchen utensils.


I had a microwave growing up, but when I moved into my own place I didn't bother to get one. It's going on 3 years now - you can really do without! Still, if you forget to thaw your meat overnight or don't start baking your sweet potatoes soon enough, you'll be glad it's there.

Food processor

Again, a powerful blender can handle a lot of the same tasks, but boy, a food processor can really do a lot. Chop nuts, make your own breadcrumbs, blend sauces and pesto, turn chickpeas into smooth hummus, grate or slice potatoes and sweet potatoes (safer than a mandoline!), whip up pastry and pizza dough, etc. The downside: they take up a lot of space and some models can be difficult to clean.

With the kitchen utensils and appliances above you will have plenty to work with, but of course there are countless kitchen gadgets out there. Choose wisely and look for the best deals!


  1. Fine Cooking - How to Choose a Chef's Knife
  2. Cooking Light - The Paring Knife
  3. Best Chef Kitchen Knives - Other Ways to Use Your Serrated Knife
  4. The Kitchn - What's the Best Kind of Cutting Board? Plastic, Wood, or Bamboo
  5. Food52 - Choosing the Right Mixing Bowls
  6. epicurious - Your First Kitchen
  7. The Kitchn - What's the Difference? Sauté Pan vs. Skillet
  8. The Kitchn - The Only Pots and Pans You’ll Need
  9. The Kitchn - Strainer, Colander, Chinois: What's the Difference?


  1. Essential kitchen knives: a chef's knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.
  2. Pots and pans you need to get started: a frying pan or skillet, a sauce pan, and a stock pot.
  3. Wet and dry measuring cups are not the same - you need one wet measuring cup and one set of dry measuring cups.
  4. Other must have kitchen utensils: a cutting board, a set of bowls, a baking sheet, a casserole dish, wooden spoons, a spatula for turning and for scraping, a serving spoon, a whisk, a steamer basket, a colander, a rolling pin, a can opener, and a grater.
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