The Kitchn’s Guide to Essential Prep Tools & Utensils

updated May 2, 2019
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What are the essential tools every cook needs in the kitchen? Both new and experienced cooks can benefit from going back to the basics. First up: essential prep tools and utensils.

Note: We’ve offered a few product recommendations in each category based on personal preferences, experience, and editor and reader reviews. In general, we favor stainless steel and glass over plastic because it’s higher quality and infinitely more durable (and we think that balances out the higher cost). Most of these tools can be bought on Amazon, but a terrific and cost-effective resource for basic kitchen tools is a restaurant supply store. Just buy the best quality you can afford! (According to Mark Bittman you can outfit a kitchen well for $200 or really well for $300.)

1. Measuring Spoons: For measuring spices and small quantities. Make sure the spoons are clearly marked so you don’t confuse a teaspoon with a tablespoon!

• Cuisipro Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons ($11.95)
RSVP Spice Measuring Spoons ($10.95)

2. Dry Ingredients Measuring Cups: Standard cup sizes for dry measurements include 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 and 1 cup sizes. Look for measuring cups with long handles and wide, shallow bodies. We prefer stainless steel for its sturdiness and durability.

• Lifetime Measuring Cups ($19.50 for 6)
MIU France 7-piece Measuring Cup Set ($30.79)

3. Liquid Ingredients Measuring Cups: Specially calibrated for measuring liquids, which differs from dry ingredients. Make sure there’s a spout for pouring, clear measurement markings, and a sturdy handle. We prefer glass since it doesn’t scratch.

Pyrex Prepware 1-Quart Measuring Cup ($10.49)
Pyrex Prepware 1-Cup Measuring Cup ($9.55)

4. Three Mixing Bowls: Small, medium, and large. A very large one is great for general mixing and baking, while a small-medium size is needed for mixing dry ingredients or beating eggs. We prefer stainless steel, preferably with lids so the bowls can double as food storage.

Cuisinart CTG-00-SMB Mixing Bowls with Lids, Set of 3 ($40)
OXO Good Grips 3-Piece Stainless-Steel Mixing Bowl Set ($59.99)

5. Cutting Boards: Wood is our preferred type, as it’s kind to knives and won’t dull them as quickly as plastic. Care for it by oiling it regularly with a food-safe oil to protect it from staining and warping, and it’ll last you for years.

TruBamboo Bermuda Bamboo Cutting Board ($29.99)
IKEA LÄMPLIG Beech Chopping Board ($9.99)

6. A Chef’s Knife and a Paring Knife: a basic Chef’s knife is your go-to knife in the kitchen for almost anything, including chopping meat and vegetables. But a paring knife is also essential for smaller, more precise tasks like mincing herbs or garlic.

• Chef’s Knife – See our guide to 5 Terrific Chef’s Knives
Wusthof Classic 3-1/2-Inch Paring Knife (39.95)

7. Wooden Spoons: Endlessly useful, long-lasting if you take care of them properly, and versatile. A few sturdy wooden spoons are essential in any kitchen.

Barbier Olive Wood Spoons, Set of 2 ($13.99)
Olive Wood Pointed Spoon ($11.95)

8. Vegetable Peeler: this tool will be in heavy rotation if you cook a lot from scratch.

Model 1501 CUTCO Vegetable Peeler ($33) –

see our review here

Kuhn Rikon Piranha Swivel Peeler ($7.99)

9. Colander or Fine-Mesh Strainer: For rinsing fruits and vegetables, dumping out pasta, and, well, straining things!

HIC Brands that Cook Essentials Stainless Steel Mesh Strainer ($8.00)
ExcelSteel Stainless Steel Colander ($9.99)

10. Ramekins and Small bowls for Mise en Place: when you have everything “set in place” you’ll be a better and more efficient cook!

Norpro 6 Piece Porcelain Ramekin Set ($9.81)
Pyrex Bakeware 10-Ounce Custard Cups, Set of 4 ($11.60)

11. Microplane grater: The smaller Microplane graters are so much easier to use than bulky box graters. We recommend them.

Microplane Classic Series Premium Spice Grater ($9.95)
Microplane Classic Series Zester/Grater ($8.95 to $12.95)

12. Can Opener: This is pretty self-explanatory, unless you prefer hacking into your cans with a knife… which we don’t recommend.

Amco Swing-A-Way 407RD Portable Can Opener ($8.57)
OXO Steel Can Opener ($18.99)
• See Kitchn readers’ can opener recommendations.

Readers, do you have anything to add?

* And look for our guides to essential cooking tools, bakeware, and small electrics coming soon!

Related: Why January Is the Time to Purge Your Kitchen of Unused Tools & Gadgets

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