A few years ago, I was all about Food Network. I watched every single show they made. People like Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray taught me to take boring food to the next level and how certain ingredients went together. I paid close attention to the terminology they used, the ingredients they combined, and the kitchen tools they used.
Those kitchen tools? Yeah, I wanted them all. The juicers, the meat slicers, the panini press… I just had to have them!
Then I paid closer attention. I looked at the basic tools they all used. These are the tools that really matter in the kitchen. Not everyone needs a shark skin grater or a donabe hot pot, but everyone needs the ones I’m going to talk about in this article… so read on!
Colanders and Sieves
Colanders typically have larger holes than sieves. In essence, colanders are just metal bowls with holes in them like this one. They strain the liquid off of food, whether water or grease. Even if all you ever make is boxed macaroni and cheese — and I sincerely hope you learn to make more than just that — you will still need a good strainer. Use colanders to rinse fresh fruits and veggies and to drain water from pasta. Another cool thing you can do with a colander is put fresh veggies into it, put that into a pot with a little boiling water — just so the water isn’t touching the veggies. Put the lid on top, and the steam from the boiling water will steam cook the veggies. I love fresh steamed broccoli!
Sieves are a little bit of a different animal. They are basically tightly woven wire mesh. If you have a mesh strainer, you can drain water from pasta, grease from ground beef, and even strain sauces and gravies to get the large clumps out. I use one very similar to this one to strain most stuff. I also have some smaller ones like these that I use. I line one of the smaller ones with a paper towel and put it into my Pyrex measuring cup to strain bacon grease through before pouring it into my bacon grease jar I keep in the fridge.
You can get a spoon made of just about any type of material, but the old standby is the wooden spoon. Most chefs today use them, and so do most grandmas. They are easy on non-stick coatings, they don’t react with acidic foods (and therefore will not leave a metallic taste in your food), and thankfully, they do not conduct heat. Most really good sets like this one is made from bamboo and will last a long time.
After you have used your wooden spoons a while, and they start to wear down, replace them before they start cracking into your food. You do not want to inadvertently swallow a splinter. Give the old ones to the kids to bang on old pots with. Better yet, cut them up into kindling — less headaches that way.
During the holiday season, everyone is busy cooking ham, chicken, goose and turkey amongst other meat dishes. The table is set and beautiful and your family is all gathered. The last thing you want to do is give them all food poisoning by serving them raw turkey.
When cooking meat, there is a recommended internal temperature the food is supposed to reach before it is considered done and safe to eat. You can’t guess on these things, so you need a good thermometer. Check the USDA’s recommended safe internal temp chart if you have any doubts.
You can get a basic thermometer that has a dial on it, or a programmable digital thermometer with a wire from the probe to the readout that allows you to set it for certain meats and desired temperatures. The probe goes into the meat, and the base sits outside the oven. When the temp is reached, the base alerts you with a beeping sound that the food is ready. You don’t even have to set a timer! In fact, if you’re the kind of cook that likes to grill or smoke meats (especially in the winter), you can even get a thermometer with a wireless pager. You can set it at the source (the grill, smoker, or whatever), and carry the pager part with you — it will alert you when the desired temperature has been reached, so you can relax while you cook.
Some folks peel fruits and veggies with a paring knife. My parents used to peel stuff like that. But when it comes to peeling mass quantities of potatoes or carrots, that can get old quick! Also, unless you are very adept with a knife, you could end up cutting more than just the peeling — like too much of the food, or worse — your finger!
With a peeler, it is much quicker, easier, and safer to peel just about anything. Most peelers are ergonomically designed to fit your hand better, too, so you won’t walk away with cramped hands, either. This has got to be one of the most convenient kitchen tools ever invented.
Before I owned a whisk, I never truly understood what the big deal was. The things looked like light bulbs made out of wire, and that kind of confused me. My dad always used a fork to “whisk” things like scrambled eggs, which seemed to work just fine for him, but I decided to break down and get a wire whisk.
Now that I own one, I use a whisk every day. I stir grits, sauces, and gravies with it and never have lumps. I also scramble eggs with my whisk which always leaves them smooth for omelettes! Anytime we have salads, the whisk is used to combine the oil and vinegar to make our salad dressings.
We actually own two different whisks – a plain metal one, and a silicone-coated one. The one with the silicone coating is for those pans that have non-stick coating. A regular metal one would scratch the finish right off! Other kinds include a flat whisk, a ball whisk and a spring whisk.
Kitchen shears are the type of kitchen tool that are so versatile, you’ll find yourself using them for everything. Whether to open a bag of frozen veggies, snip the bones in a chicken, or trim some fresh herbs, they’re a handy device for any kitchen.
You can get kitchen shears in all shapes and sizes, and they are able to be sharpened, so make sure you get a good quality pair that you can have around for years to come. We have had a set similar to this for years now. They also have a bottle opener and nutcracker on the handle.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Every cook starts off slow — by measuring everything strictly according to the recipe. You will need measuring cups and spoons for this task. After a while, you may not need them as much for every day cooking…
…baking, however, is a different story. While adding ingredients to main dishes and casseroles can be eyeballed, baking is more of an exact science. you’ll need to measure everything precisely to ensure your baked goods turn out the way they’re supposed to.
There are actually a couple of different types of measuring cups — those for liquids, and those for dry ingredients. Most of your dry ingredient measuring cups are able to be nested one inside the other for easy storage, and usually include 5-6 different sizes ranging from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. Usually made of metal or plastic, they are designed to be easy to level off the dry ingredient at the top of the cup to ensure the precise amount of what you’re measuring (like flour or sugar). Liquid measuring cups are typically plastic or glass, and are larger, coming in 1-2 cup sizes. The cup has markings on the side (or inside) so you know how much you’re measuring, and are usually larger than their “max capacity” to allow you to measure enough liquid without spilling.
Measuring spoons usually dole out measurements of 1/4 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, and are made of metal or plastic.
Naturally, you are going to need some mixing bowls to mix up all of the yummy goodness you will be making in the kitchen! Mixing bowls come in varying sizes and materials. You will most likely need multiple bowls in differing sizes to help you mix up an entire dinner without making a super huge mess — or without having to wash the same bowl over and over and over again!
Metal, plastic, ceramic, glass — just like most of the other kitchen tools we have discussed so far, there are different types of materials for mixing bowls. Some old school cooks might even have a wooden bowl or two just for the rusticness of it! (“Rusticness”? Is that a word? It is now. Go ahead, take it and use it.)
We have a set of glass bowls that we use to mix things like breads and cakes. Then we have a set of metal mixing bowls that we use for anything we need the hand mixer for so we don’t risk chipping the bowl. We also have a set of plastic bowls for pretty much everything else.
Cast Iron Skillets
Any good homesteader has at least one cast iron skillet. They make the best cornbread, fry the most delicious chicken, and give your kitchen that old-world feel when you see them in use.
Cast iron cookware does not have any chemical coatings, and if properly taken care of, they will last for decades longer than today’s non-stick pans. Because of it’s heavy-duty construction, a cast iron skillet takes on and maintains heat much better than most other skillets. Once you season a cast iron skillet with oil or fat, they eventually take on qualities similar to non-stick without the harmful coating.
If you do a lot of campfire cooking, you should definitely invest in a good cast iron Dutch oven. You can do anything in them from fry bacon and eggs to making “cowboy stew“. You can even bake biscuits and other breads in a Dutch oven.
If you’re at all serious about cooking, you are going to need a good set of kitchen knives. How else do you plan to cut up all the meats and veggies to make the awesome dinners you’ll be making for your family? You will be doing more than one thing with your knives, so you’ll need more than one style of knife. Just understand that a good set of kitchen knives will not be cheap.
If you had to pick just one, the chef’s knife would most likely be the singular most important knife in the kitchen. Though used mainly for chopping, it is very versatile and can handle many other tasks. Other good knives to keep on hand are a paring knife for deveining chicken breasts and paring the skin off fruits, and a serrated knife for slicing breads without squishing them flat.