On the surface, cooking novices and experienced chefs don't appear to have a whole lot in common. But there is a basic set of essential cooking tools that everyone—no matter your skill level in the kitchen—needs. Consider these gadgets the building blocks for your kitchen and all the other tools part of the "great if you have them" genre.
If you don't own one of the items on this list (admittedly, I'm missing one, but I blame it on the semi-annual changing of the roommates), order it now. The next time you make a new dish, you'll be happy you did.
Updgrade your go-to gear. | Photos: Courtesy of Le Creuset, KitchenAid, Williams-Sonoma
A zester (also called a rasp) will come in handy for everything from grating citrus peel to whole nutmeg to adding finely grated Parmesan to a pan of risotto. You can't go wrong with the Microplane version—it's the gold standard in the kitchen.
Our pick: Microplane Classic Zester, $13
② Vegetable Peeler
The vegetable peeler is one of the kitchen's true workhorses. Not only can you use it to peel root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and turnips, it can also be used to make veggie "noodles" if you don't have a special gadget that spiral cuts your produce.
Our pick: OXO Swivel Peeler, $9
③ Citrus Reamer
Once you've zested all those citrus fruits, what are you supposed to do with the fruit itself? That's where a citrus reamer comes in handy. We like it better than a small citrus juicer because you can get more out of the flesh of the fruit. Add a fine mesh strainer to this list if you don't already have one.
Our pick: Wood Citrus Reamer, $5
④ Chef's Knife and Paring Knife
You'll be able to accomplish almost all of your cooking needs with these two knives. The chef's knife will enable you to cut greens and proteins quickly, while a paring knife lets you be more precise. Make sure that you handle your knives before buying them—they should be comfortable in your hand.
⑤ Measuring Cups and Spoons
You won't get very far without these essential tools. Start with the measuring spoons and the dry cup measures (which can also be used for liquids), then add in the two-cup liquid measure. Why two-cup? It's still easy to store, and you won't need to rinse it as frequently as you will with the one-cup measure when cooking.
A colander is good for more than draining pasta. You can use a metal one to steam veggies, or keep one in place of a salad spinner. You'll be surprised just how often you reach for it in your kitchen.
Our pick: Stainless-Steel Colander, from $20
⑦ Silicone spatula
When buying a rubber spatula make sure you buy a heatproof version that will safely stand up to your stove. A good silicone spatula is perfect for scraping batter bowls, caramelizing onions, cooking scrambled eggs and more. Plus, it won't scratch up your pots and pans like other utensils can.
Our pick: Chef'n Switchit All Purpose Spatula $10
A good whisk is crucial, even if you don't bake often. Not only will it turn lumpy cake batter smooth, but it can also pinch hit in lieu of a hand or stand mixer in most situations, whether you're scrambling eggs or mixing a well-emulsified vinaigrette. Yes, it will take a bit more elbow grease than an electric appliance, but it also takes up a lot less storage space.
Our pick: KitchenAid Utility Whisk, $10
⑨ Wooden spoon
What could be more basic than a wooden spoon? You may not think you need one, but they come in handy when other materials will react with your metal cookware. Plus, how else can you make desserts like crème brûlée or homemade ice cream without testing whether or not the custard coats the back of a spoon?
Our pick: Le Creuset Revolution Wood Spoon, $25
⑩ Can opener
It might be a unitasker, but there's nothing else that can do the job of a can opener. If you cook with canned beans or eat tuna, you're going to need one.
Our pick: OXO Soft-Handled Can Opener, $14
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