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 have provided links below to relevant America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) reviews and places to buy the tools that are my favs. Fair warning: In the case of ATK, the link may lead to content only available to subscribers.
These tools are my must-haves. I was going to stop with my “top ten,” but I just had to add more. There’s a story behind each choice—usually involving research at ATK, experiments, and price-checking at Amazon and elsewhere.
|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. Amazon|
|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. Amazon|
|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, or of course, you can get it on Amazon.|
|Chef’s knife—Find an 8 or 9 incher that feels great in your hand. Re-sharpen often. I’m still using a knife we got as a wedding present even though it never makes the “cut” on ATK. Get their choice here.|
|Paring knife—I splurged on a top-end German model and haven’t regretted it one Euro. But get ATK’s best buy here: Amazon|
|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. Thanks ATK! Amazon|
|Silicone mat—These make any pan non-stick…really worth it when you bake or oven-roast. Get two for cheap at Amazon.|
|Digital thermometer—A game changer. Together with the digital scale, they take the guessing out of guesswork. Buy from the maker. ATK|
|Digital scale—When I started baking bread and cakes, I was told you have to weigh your flour precisely. Now, I use my scale all the time for new recipes especially. ATK Amazon|
|Microplane grater—So perfect for citrus zest and grated Parmesan. Watch those knuckles. Amazon|
|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. ATK Amazon|
|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. Amazon|
|Baking and sheet pans—After going through pans over the years making my quick breads and sheet pan entrees, I happily recommend USA Pans, the non-stickiest! Amazon|
|Metal spatula—the 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. Amazon|
|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 produce. Amazon|
|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.|
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 shop.
- Restaurant supply outfits: Wanted something heavier than the thin-skinned, small aluminum sauce pan from the 70s that we had since it was new. For about $15, 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 will probably be cheaper than anywhere else.
- Deals at your favorite discount warehouse: A few years back, 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.
- The Pampered Chef®: You or your wife or your mother probably know a local Pampered Chef consultant. Some of their products fall into the one-use tool category, and we prefer tools that can do multiple tasks. But there are a lot of high-quality gems in their product line that are reasonably priced and last forever. And, you’ll be helping support an independent business person. Our favorites include their rubber scrapers, stoneware, and salad spinners.