A well-stocked kitchen is the first solution to a time-crunched dinner schedule. Not only will it help equip you to get dinner on the table (and fast), but it’ll help you feel confident in your abilities as a cook. Here are our staff’s favorite kitchen tools.
1. Sharp knives.
An informal poll around the eMeals office showed that a great set of knives is the most indispensable tool come mealtime. Great knives don’t have to break the bank though (mine are from Target!). Find knives that are comfortable for you to hold—you’re less apt to cut yourself if the knife feels natural in your hand. Also, keeping your knives sharpened will help prevent struggling while you attempt to cut through something. Think of it like a razor for your legs or face. You wouldn’t run a dull razor over your skin and expect great results. Keep your knives sharpened and you’ll slice through fruits, veggies and meat with ease.
2. The Pampered Chef cutting board.
The rubber-grip edges of The Pampered Chef’s cutting boards make eMeals Registered Dietitian Mary Creel’s desert island kitchen supply list. Gone are the days that her plastic cutting board slips and slides over the counter. Now it stays right where she wants it. As a member of the “my cutting board slides everywhere” club, I was sold on this beauty by the time Mary and I were done talking.
Tip: Keep two sets of cutting boards on hand: a wooden one for fruits and veggies and a plastic one for meats. Wash the wooden board by hand, and throw the plastic one in the dishwasher, where the high temperature can sterilize it.
3. Retractable tongs. (photo’d above)
These made both my list and Mary’s. I can’t live without my tongs. Not only do I use them to handle hot meats straight off the grill, but I toss salads and pasta with them too. I own two pairs and often find myself wishing I had two more (especially when both inevitably end up in the dishwasher, while its running, and I’m in the midst of the mad dinner dash).
4. A Microplane grater.
Hands-down the best way to zest citrus, but also handy for grating chocolate and spices.
Related article: How to Zest Citrus
5. Reversible stovetop grill pan and griddle.
A nice grill pan can be a saving grace for those without the outdoor space suitable for a grill. They’re inexpensive (you can find them at Walmart, Target and Amazon). We recommend purchasing a cast-iron version, which will give you fantastic grill marks and conduct heat evenly across the entire surface. Get a reversible one for an all-in-one griddle option too.
Gone are the day of fretting over equally sliced potatoes for that holiday gratin. A mandoline is by far the easiest way to evenly cut just about everything in a flash. Be sure to buy one with the finger guard though! We’re speaking from experience here. Skip the trip to the ER and use that finger guard.
7. Garlic press. (photo’d above)
Probably the easiest way to deal with garlic. New models even have extra attachments to help making cleaning the pesky inside of the press easier.
8. Immersion blender.
Most of the time, if I even mention an immersion blender to my friends, their responses are blank stares followed by the phrase, “But I have a regular blender. Why do I need an immersion blender?” Picture this: It’s a busy Tuesday evening, and you’ve got a vat of pasta sauce simmering on the stove. Your kids prefer their sauce smooth as it can be, so you transfer the sauce, in batches, into your blender so that you can whiz away the tomato lumps and please everybody. You pop the top onto the blender and hit the “on” switch, only to have the top fly off like a bullet and the hot pasta sauce launch itself all over your cabinets (not to mention you). This, my friends, is why you want an immersion blender. Piping hot foods have to be cooled before they can be processed in a blender or food processor without risk of the heat causing the top to fly off. But who has time for cooling a dinner they want to serve hot? Immersion blenders are hand-held blenders that you can put directly into the pot and puree away. No need to dirty other dishes or risk burning yourself. They make quick work of pureeing sauces, whipping up velvety soups, and for those of us with teeny tiny kitchens, they take up a lot less space than a countertop blender.
Bonus: Mine has an added attachment so that I can whip out homemade vinaigrettes or chop nuts in a snap.
Added bonus: eMeals co-founder Jenny Cochran uses her immersion blender to puree sautéed onions. It’s the perfect solution for kids who don’t like the crunch of onions but are okay with the flavor.
9. Oil mister.
eMeals Registered Dietitian Jessica Cox can’t live without her oil mister, a handy substitute for those looking to avoid store-bought cooking sprays (and an especially good idea for dieters and Paleo and Clean Eating followers). Fill it up with your own oil, and spray away.
10. Big oven-safe skillets.
It’s not always clear whether any old nonstick skillet can go from the stovetop into the oven. When you purchase a nonstick skillet, check the oven-safe guidelines. I have one that’s safe up to 350°F and one that goes to 450°F. It’s worth it to invest in a nice, big one that you can fit a lot of food in, like this Le Creuset cast-iron version, similar to the one in the above photo. One of my favorite recipes requires browning chicken off in a skillet and then transferring the whole thing to the oven to finish cooking. If I didn’t have the right skillet, I’d have to transfer everything to another dish before putting it in the oven, dirtying twice the dishes and spending time I would’ve otherwise saved. Save yourself time and frustration and dirty dishes by investing in a big, multipurpose skillet. We promise you won’t regret it.
Related Recipe: Kid-Friendly Macaroni-and-Veggie Bake
11. Citrus juicer.
You’ll get twice as much juice from that little lemon (not to mention lime!) using a juicer than you would if, like I used to do, you squeeze and squeeze and hope for the best.
12. Y-shaped vegetable peeler.
The first time Kate Nicholson, an eMeals Menu Editor, and I worked on butternut squash in the Test Kitchen, we used a Y-shaped vegetable peeler. My squash-cutting days will never be the same. This little tool made peeling (the first task my mom assigned to me as a child—”Peel these potatoes!”) amazingly easier. Not only was it easier for me to grasp, but the shape of the blade and the two arms holding it in place made the tool much easier to control.
13. Mini chopper.
The busy parents on staff unanimously voted for a mini chopper. You know the phrase time = money? Well, in the kitchen at dinnertime, time = sanity. A mini chopper will help bring it to you. There are few different versions out there (some press the food through a grate into a container below, while others have push-tops that chop food as you press the button again and again). Either way, they’re an affordable tool that will save you time in the kitchen.
14. Avocado pitter.
Any avocado lovers out there? These inexpensive gadgets will be your best friend. This version also has a wired end that will cut the avocado pulp into neat slices for you.
15. Wooden spoons.
Versatile, simple, and a staff favorite. Who can go wrong with wooden spoons? The bonus: You don’t have to worry about scratching your nonstick cookware when you’re in the middle of cooking and grabbing frantically for something to stir with.
AND TWO MORE, JUST FOR FUN
16. Bread knife with rounded edge.
My favorite bread knife is one I picked up at Charleston Cooks! while on vacation (anyone else a fan of that place? I love browsing there every time I’m in town). Made by Kuhn Rikon, the knife blade is serrated and stays extra-sharp despite my irregular sharpening. It also doubles as a great tomato knife.
17. Angled measuring cups.
eMeals Senior Menu Editor Julie Gunter loves her angled measuring cups by OXO. Instead of holding the cups up to eye level to read the amount, these ingenious cups have a patented angled area that allows you to read the amount while looking down into the cup. Three cheers for convenience!
What about you? Any handy kitchen tools you couldn’t live without? Let us know in the comments!