Tool Box

Once upon a time, I was on a work crew building a new house. Our resident master carpenter told me, “good tools and knowing the tricks of the trade are what separates you and me.” He was so right. As I got into cooking, I knew I was on to a good thing because there was a whole new set of tools to learn about, buy, and use. I almost always consult relevant America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) reviews when thinking about getting a new tool.

Dad’s Favorite Basics

These tools are my must-haves and used regularly in my kitchen. There’s a story behind each choice—usually involving research, experiments, and price-checking. Note that the photos here may not be of the item I’m recommending.

Silicon spatula—My old rubber spatulas are still going strong, but this Di Oro model is super: indestructible, nice stiff handle, perfect shape to get the last bit of batter out of a bowl.
Whisks—Once deemed too fancy for the likes of me, whisks are a better way of mixing. Great for all but the goopiest chores. Oxo’s 9-incher is a great choice.
Cast iron skillet—You just can’t go wrong with an everyday tool that lasts a lifetime and may cost as little as $19.99 at your local hardware store.
Chef’s knife—Find an 8 or 9-incher that feels great in your hand. I’m still using a knife we got as a wedding present even though it never makes the “cut” in TV tests. The one I’m choosing to recommend is inexpensive and a great choice.
Paring knife—I splurged on a top-end German model and haven’t regretted it one Euro. But get a “best buy” here.
Bread slicer—I put up with a lousy serrated bread slicer for years until I actually did my First Loaf of yeasty bread. Now, I couldn’t be happier with my new slicer.
Silicone matThese make any pan non-stick and are really worth it when you bake or oven-roast.
Digital thermometerA game changer. Together with the digital scale, they take the guessing out of guesswork.
Digital scale—When I started baking bread and cakes, they said you must weigh your ingredients precisely for best results. Now, I use my scale all the time for all types of new recipes especially.
GratersSo perfect for citrus zest and Parmesan. Watch those knuckles. Also, a box grater is a must-have.
Dutch oven—Everything they said is true about my big orange pot. Great value after you get over the sticker shock. No regrets about Le Creuset.
Citrus juicer—All the rage a few years ago when they came out, mine is still squeezing away at lemons, limes, or oranges. I use the middle-sized lemon juicer for everything.
Baking and sheet pans—After going through pans over the years making my quick breads and meat loaves as well as sheet pan entrees and roasted vegetables, I happily recommend USA Pans, the non-stickiest!
Metal spatulathe Pioneer Women put me on to this beauty. It’s totally versatile—don’t be fooled by “fish” in the name. Much more effective than the plastic types I already had.
Chaffle Maker—We have come to love these little guys. We already loved waffles, and are always looking for tasty Keto dishes, so along comes chaffles. Check out the recipe for the rest of the story. These makers don’t cost much; they’re convenient, and give you great waffles, Keto or not.
Egg separator—Here’s a bonus to make a point. I appreciate versatility and agree with Alton Brown about avoiding one-purpose gadgets. So, here’s a tool you have with you all the time, does lots of tasks, and costs nothing. Carefully use your fingers to separate the white from the yolk into a bowl.

Dad’s Favorite Sources

We like great tools, but we like a great deal, too. You don’t need to spend a lot to get a few tools that will make a huge difference and last a lifetime. You may be able to get anything at Amazon, but when I can, I like shopping the old way. Here are some places we like to visit.

  • Restaurant supply stores: Wanted something heavier than the thin-skinned, small aluminum sauce pan from the 70s. For about $15, I got a heavy-duty, two quart model used in restaurants. It won’t win a beauty contest, but come on, we’re talking about a pot!
  • Your local hardware store: Everyone ought have at least one cast iron skillet – for cornbread, or for a great ribeye steak recipe I found. The best place to get one (Lodge seems to be the most commonly found brand) is in your hardware store. It may be cheaper than anywhere else and you’ll help a local business.
  • Deals at your favorite discount warehouse: I bought one of those heavy-gauge, cast aluminum, non-stick roasting pans, with handles and a V-shaped rack. Big enough for a 20-pound turkey. When I saw the ad, I couldn’t believe it was only $20! But it was. It was a factory-reject with some small nicks, but they’re barely noticeable. And, as you probably know, these pans can be more than $100.
  • Thrift stores: You just never know what you’ll find. Could be a diamond in the rough!

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