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Must-Have Kitchen Essentials for Making Meals in No Time

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Cooking meals at home is a “switch” that many of us are trying to make. With the right ingredients, home cooked meals are healthier and they can cost a lot less than supermarket shortcuts. You can make a darned good soup with just a pot, a knife, and a cutting board, but having access to some essential kitchen tools can mean less time preparing meals.

Because as much as you want to cook good food, we’re all busy.

My own kitchen is fairly small and I don’t have a ton of gadgets. I just don’t have room to store a bunch of different fiddly little items. In fact, I keep clearing out my drawers to pare down even more. If it’s not used regularly, it needs to find a new home.

The kitchen gear that I do have are items that I use regularly in cooking for my family. Could I do without them? Absolutely. But these kitchen essentials make for a nice shortcut when it comes to cooking at home.

wooden spoons and other kitchen essentials on a wooden background

Essential Kitchen Tools

What qualifies for your list of kitchen essentials might vary a bit from my list of essential kitchen tools based on what you like to eat. We have a wok — that we use outside on a propane burner — but it’s only in use occasionally. I don’t consider it one of my essential kitchen tools. If you eat of stir fried food, a wok might be at the top of your list.

Kitchen essentials: Sturdy wooden spoon

Wooden spoons are cheap. You can find them at the grocery store, and they do a fine job of stirring soups and such. But stirring thick stews and chili, or working with dough, is so much easier with a good, substantial wooden spoon.

The one you see here is probably 25 years old or so. In that time, I’ve broken (and replaced) numerous cheap version, but this one just keeps on going.

Heavy duty wooden spoon on a red background. One of my essential kitchen tools

Kitchen essentials: Pampered Chef garlic press

I’m pretty unimpressed by name brands, especially in small kitchen gadgets. But hello. My husband is Italian. We use a lot of garlic. Early in our marriage, we were going through at least one garlic press a year. We tried so many!

When I was invited to a Pampered Chef party hosted by a friend, I wanted to support her but my budget said “no” to the expensive gear.

The garlic press was one of the most affordable things there, so I got one. Twenty years later, it’s still here, I still use it, and I’ve given a number of them as gifts. It’s a workhorse; you can even run unpeeled garlic cloves through it.

garlic press on a red background

Kitchen essentials: Hand-held citrus juicer

This is a new one for me, and perhaps I love it because we have so much citrus at hand. I first used one several years ago when I was housesitting for a friend. I was wowed. Easy to use, easy to clean. And it’s easy to have a fresh glass of OJ or tangerine juice when the fruit is ripe with this citrus juicer.

orange citrus juicer on a cutting board

Kitchen essentials: Immersion blender

I love, love, love my immersion blender. I use it for making mayonnaise and salad dressings, and I use it for blending chunky soups into thick, creamy ones. It works in hot and cold liquids, so it’s a snap to blend up soups without interrupting the cooking flow.

The model I have now is a KitchenAid that came as part of a large set that I won online five or so years ago. It replaced a cheaper model that was still functioning fine. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have access to an immersion blender.

immersion blender, silver

Kitchen essentials: Slow cooker

There is nothing better than walking into the kitchen after a long day to discover that dinner is ready. With a little planning, that’s what a slow cooker can do for you. Toss ingredients in first thing in the morning and by dinnertime it’s ready to eat. You can even start with frozen ingredients.

The model I have has been with us for years. It has a lock-on lid that makes it easy to take meals to potlucks. The years are starting to show on the poor thing, though, and our humid climate is finally showing up as a bit of rust. This one will need to be replaced at some point because it is absolutely one of my most essential kitchen tools.

hamilton beach slow cooker, grey

Kitchen essentials: KitchenAid mixer

If you don’t do a lot of baking, you can get by without this one. But for making bread and pizza dough? This is one of the kitchen appliances that I use regularly. The dough hook takes over the job of kneading, substantially cutting down on the time it takes to make these staples.

It’s been about ten years ago since I first invested in a classic KitchenAid mixer. I got it on sale for $99 – it was a steal. Then several years ago, my boys found this brand new, still in the box heavy duty model at a garage sale and they picked it up for me as a gift.

Personally, I didn’t notice much difference in stepping up to the heavy duty model – the basic one always served me well. But you gotta love boys who know their mom so well.

kitchen aid stand mixer: kitchen essentials!

Kitchen essentials: VitaMix

This was a huge splurge for us when we first relocated to Hawai‘i a dozen years ago. All this fresh fruit! We wanted to be able to make smoothies to utilize the papaya, pineapple, bananas, and other tropical fruits that were so readily available. We hemmed and hawed for a long time before we decided to spend that kind of money on a blender. And that was back then — yikes, they’re way more expensive now!

But, I’ll tell you. It’s a beast.

As you can see, my Vitamix has been burned and stained but it sits out on the counter we use it so much. (And I don’t have a lot of counter space!) We use it for smoothies as anticipated, but it stands in as a coffee grinder, it makes milkshakes, and I use it to grind oats into oat flour.

vita mix control panel

Kitchen essentials: Instant Pot

This is the new kid on the block. The kitchen gear we have has been with us for years for the most part. But when people started telling me just how much they loved their Instant Pot — and I’m talking people who don’t like to cook, here — I decided to get one last year when it was on deep discount.

We use it all. the. time. Surprisingly, it has become one of my essential kitchen tools.

It makes quick work of dried beans. My son uses it to steam fresh kalo (taro) and breadfruit. I make Spanish rice and refried beans. And the fact that food cooks under pressure means I can transform a cheap cut of meat (or a tough rooster) into a melt-in-your-mouth meal, which saves money on groceries.

The Instant Pot does have a slow cooker function, but the capacity is a bit small when cooking for a large group.

Instant Pot with red LED light ON

So tell me. What essential kitchen tools make your top ten list??

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

2 comments… add one
  • Edna Jul 18, 2017, 7:11 pm

    I have all the tools you mentioned. I want to add one of my favorites thats my rice cooker. It is wonderful, cooks both white and brown rice. You can also steam veggies.

  • Kathryn Grace Oct 5, 2018, 4:56 am

    I agree with you on most of these—absolutely essential—although I never learned to use that juicer efficiently. Mine went in the giveaway box. My single most useful tool, that is in my hand for nearly every job I do in the kitchen is a wide, flat blade with a handle going across the wide end. I’ve seen it called a dough scraper, a bench knife (though I believe most cutlery experts would say otherwise), and a chef’s blade. And boy, do I use it for scraping, lifting and certain kinds of cutting (cubing butter for example, or cutting scone dough into triangles).

    Another essential for me, the spoon-shaped silicone spatula. I have two, and I reuse them both several times a day.

    Where would I be without Fido and LeParfait jars? They’re those old-fashioned glass jars with the red rubber lids (white in the case of Fido). Fido jars have a shoulder that makes them difficult to clean liquids, so I use them for dried beans, seeds, flours, all the dry goods I buy in bulk and store. LeParfait jars have straight sides, so perfect for homemade yogurt, soups, stews, puréed squash and tomatoes. I even store my washed and drained lettuces, carrots and such in them for easy, quick salads during the week. The seal keeps purées and soups same-day fresh for several days. I leave it off when storing produce so air can circulate.

    Goodness. I could go on and on, but those are the essentials, in addition to several you mentioned, that I would hate to have to do without.

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