Cook a little or cook a lot, everyone needs a basic stable of kitchen tools. Having the right equipment makes food prep not only easier, but exponentially more pleasant, too. However, unlike your collection of vintage glassware, more is not better when it comes to cookware.
There’s a case to be made for sticking with the basics: A smartly curated collection means the right pot or utensil is always within reach—and won’t get lost in the back of a cabinet. After years of cooking professionally, developing recipes, and writing about food at The Spruce Eats, I've identified 16 must-have tools for whatever you’ve got on the stove (or grill). The style and design is up to you, but if you cook, you need these basic kitchen tools.
Cook with any regularity and you’ll find yourself reaching for a saucepan almost daily. These pans are great for boiling eggs, warming dairy, cooking grains, and reheating leftovers. For most cooks, a smaller pan fits the bill. If you’re in the market for a saucepan, you may have encountered its cousin, the saucier. Similar in shape, sauciers have gently sloped sides—this makes them better options if you plan on cooking a lot of sauce. But really, they’re interchangeable for most cooking tasks.
2. Chef’s Knife
A high quality chef’s knife has good weight balance, a blade that keeps its edge, and of course, feels good in your hand. The most common size and shape for home cooks is 8 inches with a blade that gently slopes upwards at the tip (this “Western” style is ideal for creating a rocking motion with the knife—great for chopping veggies). Because this tool is so crucial, we regularly test knives in our food lab: Here are the ones we loved in 2022.
A.k.a “frying pan,” the humble skillet is a mainstay in our kitchens for searing meat, frying eggs, and, uh, baking giant cookies. Skillets come in a variety of materials (ceramic, cast iron, and stainless steel, for example), but the most useful ones can go from stovetop to oven, and are efficient heat conductors. We’ve chosen 8 particularly helpful skillets for every type of cook; here’s that list.
4. Nonstick Skillet
You won’t use a nonstick skillet for every cooking task, but when you need it, you really need it. They don’t impart as hard a sear as other skillets, but are immensely useful for delicate foods like scrambled eggs and pancakes. When using your nonstick skillet, you can flip with ease and stir without sticking. They also require less oil or butter than regular pans.
5. Sheet Pan
A rimmed sheet pan is great for roasting vegetables, making one-pan dinners, and (of course!) baking cookies. The most common size of sheet pan is actually known as a half sheet—full sheet pans are more common in professional kitchens. Construction matters: Cheap or thin pans will warp at high heat. Here are 8 pans we love.
6. Mixing Bowls
There’s a whole world of mixing bowl options out there, but the crucial thing when choosing a set is picking one that contains multiple sizes. Material matters, so you’ll want to determine how you plan on using them. Want to serve dinner from your bowls? Consider a set with a pretty aesthetic. Plan on using hand mixers? Go for a set with a non-slip bottom. We’ve rounded up 9 unbeatable bowls in every category, including lidded bowls for no-fuss leftover storage.
7. Measuring Cups and Spoons
Baking is as much science as it is art. In other words: Nope, you can’t just eyeball the measurements. A quality set of measuring cups and spoons is key for precision measurements. It helps to have both dry and wet measuring cups for accuracy. (If storage space is an issue, go for collapsible cups.) A good set of measuring spoons should be easy to store and clean, and not cost much more than $15. If you’ve ever accidentally mixed up the teaspoon and tablespoon measures when adding salt to a recipe, you know how crucial these tools are!
8. High-Heat Spatula
A flexible spatula is your BFF when it comes to sautéing, stir-frying, and baking. A silicone spatula, frequently known as a high-heat spatula, is your best bet for all-purpose cooking. It won’t melt when it gets close to the heat, and unlike metal tools, it won’t scratch your cookware. Our favorite high-heat spatulas are stain resistant and can handle temperatures of up to 500 F.
Use ‘em to turn meat, hold a roast steady as you slice it, sauce a pot of spaghetti, or serve a salad: There’s no question tongs are a must-have kitchen tool. It helps to be clear about how you’ll use them before buying. For example, long-handled tongs are great for grilling because they keep your hands away from the heat. If you regularly use them with nonstick or ceramic cookware, you’ll want to invest in silicone-tipped tongs. These 9 tongs earned top marks with our testers.
There’s no substitute when it comes to a thermometer for nailing the perfect internal temperature of meat. Instant read thermometers are virtually fool-proof, and can make you a more confident cook. And although there are plenty of bells and whistles available with today’s selection (Bluetooth enabled, for example), you don’t need to break the bank for an accurate temperature read.
Another type of thermometer that’s far less common in home cooks’ kitchens is an oven thermometer. That’s a shame, because most home ovens aren’t properly calibrated. (Some can be off by 50 degrees or more.) Knowing the real temperature of your oven will allow you to plan accordingly when baking and cooking. And even the highest quality ones don’t cost much more than $10.
11. Cutting Board
The right cutting board can make food prep so much better. Skip materials that are tough on knives (talking to you, glass), and go for durable plastic or wood boards. If you have the storage space, it’s helpful to invest in at least two boards: A plastic one can be sanitized, and is good for meat prep—but a large wooden board can create an efficient workspace for chopping veggies and can add visual appeal to your kitchen, too. Not sure which cutting board to buy? Here are 9 boards we love for every type of cook.
12. Stock Pot
You don’t have to cook homemade stock on the regular to appreciate a big stockpot. Use a stockpot to make a large pot of sauce, simmer a chicken, or cook soup for a crowd. Typically made from stainless steel or aluminum, these are good conductors of heat and affordable. They come in all sizes, but we find the 12-quart ones to be the most useful for most home cooks. Here’s a hint: Tall, narrow stockpots allow for slower evaporation (helpful for stock), whereas wide, shallow ones are better suited to sauces, like bolognese.
13. Dutch Oven
A Dutch oven seems like a splurge, but we prefer to think of it as an investment. This deep, lidded pot is what differentiates it from a stockpot, thanks to its materials. Most Dutch ovens are made from enameled cast iron, which means two things: excellent heat retention (ideal for searing and simmering) and easy cleanup and maintenance. We recently rounded up our favorite Dutch ovens in all price categories—you can check out that list here.
14. Wooden or Silicone Spoon
A sturdy wooden spoon is included in most “kitchen starter packs” for good reason: It can do everything from mix dough to stir a stovetop stew. We like wooden spoons for their naturally nonstick qualities and versatility. (These 10 winners include qualities like XL handles and slots.) If you’re the type to toss everything in the dishwasher when it’s time to clean up, consider a silicone spoon or spatula instead.
If you don't think you need a kitchen rasp, try cooking with one for a month, then give it up. Rasp-style graters (frequently known by their most common brand name, Microplane) are hand-held versions of the smallest side of a box grater. And no, you can’t “just” use the box grater. The streamlined design allows you to grate with precision—right over a pot of noodles or into a sauce, for example. Although they’re most commonly used for citrus, they’re infinitely useful. Grab a Microplane the next time you need to grate Parmesan cheese, and you’ll appreciate the tender, almost fluffy quality that melts into pasta. It’s also excellent at grating fresh spices, like nutmeg. And because Microplanes are so slim, you can store it in your utensil drawer or crock without a fuss.
16. Bread Knife
We’d make the case for a good bread knife even if you only ever use it for slicing baguettes. But this knife is more than a one-trick pony. The serrated blade is surprisingly efficient at cutting delicate, juicy produce like tomatoes and ripe stone fruit. Most knife sets include a bread knife, but you can shop smarter when buying one a la carte. Look for a blade that has sharp edges on the serrations: It’ll start the cut without squishing the crust on your bakery boule.