If you've been cooking for a few years, you've probably already stocked your kitchen with basic tools and equipment, and mastered a few key recipes and grown-up kitchen habits. Adulthood, BOOM — you've got it covered. Now what?
We like to think of this list as a "next-level" guide to making your kitchen feel grown-up. Most of the items below don't show up on standard starter kitchen lists; they're not really essential for the most beginner cook, but they're fantastic items for the lifelong cook. From upgraded basics to more specialized, nuanced tools, here are seven things that'll make your kitchen — and cooking — a full-on grown-up experience.
1. Beautiful oven-to-table baking dishes
While there will always be a place in our kitchen for a classic, basic aluminum baking pan, there is definitely reason to upgrade to a few beautiful stoneware or porcelain baking pans. It makes for such a nicer presentation at the table, which is something to appreciate when you're hosting a dinner party.
Another option for beautiful baking pans is enameled steel. There's a reason we love Dansk Kobenstyle cookware, and it's not just because of the super-cute vintage styling. Enameled steel has a lot of advantages over traditional clad steel or cast iron. It's considerably lighter, for one, which can be a welcome relief from all the other heavy pans you own. It's easy to clean, too.
2. Carbon steel wok
There are so many uses for a wok besides just stir-frying! The quick heating and high sides mean you can also pan-fry, deep-fry, steam, smoke, or braise with it and, like cast iron, it becomes more nonstick the longer you use it. It's a truly versatile (and very inexpensive!) tool that deserves to be in the kitchen.
3. Mortar and pestle (or spice grinder)
Cooking reaches deeper flavor levels when you start using whole spices, and to do that you need a mortar and pestle or an electric spice grinder. As Faith wrote here, a mortar and pestle is "perhaps the kitchen tool that blends utility and beauty better than anything else." It's just right for crushing herbs or cracking spices, particularly when you're working with tiny amounts, but it sits pretty on a shelf when you don't need it.
Planning more heavy-duty or large-batch spice grinding? Get an electric spice grinder. This one from Krups is cheap and effective. (Both Faith and I have it.)
4. Citrus zester
We were so impressed by KitchenIQ's (formerly known as Edgeware) citrus-zesting powers that we deemed it worthy of purchasing in addition to the Microplane. (Read all about it here.) We still stand by that claim, considering how much we rely on lemon zest in our cooking!
5. Salt cellar
Considering that salt is one of the five things you should always keep within arm's reach of the stove, it pays to upgrade that cardboard salt box with something more appealing. (Or humorous, aka the Monster Salt Cellar, which may be the best thing ever.)
6. Baking stone or steel
Ready to take your baking — pizza and otherwise — to the next level? A baking stone or baking steel is essential. Baking stones absorb heat from the oven and help food cook evenly. You can also use one for more than just making pizza.
7. A tiny saucepan with spout
Otherwise known as a butter warmer or milk pot, you will be surprised at how often you'll turn to this tiny little pot. They usually hold anywhere from two to four cups of liquid, which is just right for warming up single-servings of hot chocolate or soup, melting butter, or making a roux. And the pouring spout is so handy! You can find these pots all over now, from the likes of Dansk, Riess, Brook Farm General Store, and even IKEA.
What "next-level" kitchen items do you think are called for when you've mastered (and acquired) the basics?
(Image credits: Claire Bock; Faith Durand; ethanollie; Dar1930/Shutterstock; Spartan Shop; KitchenIQ; Leela Cyd; Kelli Foster)