As we wrap up our discussion of Kitchen Basics, there are just a handful of tools that are absolutely must-haves. Now some people might find this list of kitchen tools less than essential. Others might say there are other tools they simply cannot live without. But these are the ones I think are the most necessary for making a wide variety of dishes.
I had talked before about the need to have a food thermometer. This is important for food safety. There are many types of devices on the market. An instant read with a digital readout is best, but you can get a simple stick-type meat thermometer for only a few dollars and it will work just fine. In cooking, reaching an exact temperature is less critical than reaching a range — high enough to kill any possible disease-inducing bugs but not so high that the food becomes tasteless or burned. If you use the stick style thermometer, allow it to remain in the food for 2 to 2-1/2 minutes to fully register. Instant read thermometers usually work in just 10 seconds. Some cooks prefer the faster reading device because most temperature checking is done with the oven door open, letting all the heat out. For myself, I remove the pan to take the temperature, so the slower one works for me. Costs range from $8 to $120.
There aren’t any good substitutes for a slotted spoon. You can put a spoon on the side of the pot and tilt it slightly to let the liquid run off, but it doesn’t work very well and takes a lot of extra time. Slotted spoons only cost a few dollars and are made of several kinds of materials. I prefer, and recommend, plastic or acrylic because it’s safe to use with non-stick cookware, just don’t leave them in boiling liquid for long.
You wouldn’t think what are basically scissors would have so many configurations, but there are hundreds of models of kitchen shears. These are useful for opening containers, but where they really shine is when you’re taking apart a chicken or other food item that would be hard to cut with a knife. What you’re looking for is something sturdy with stainless steel blades. Some shears have additional tools for things like opening bottles and jars, but quite frankly they don’t do those things very well. This is another kitchen tool where you can get a pair really cheap or spend lots, from $8 to $60. In these cases, I usually think going middle-of-the-road is best. Cheap ones might not be sturdy enough for much use.
If you watch cooking shows on TV, you’ve probably seen chefs using tongs a lot. These are pretty useful tools. They become extensions of your hands, enabling you to handle hot food without burning yourself. I’m not talking about salad, ice or barbecue tongs here, but chef’s tongs. These are pretty inexpensive. There’s a set of bamboo tongs for around $4. You can go up to nearly $50 for name brand, color coordinated versions. They should have steel arms and clamshell-shaped grips at the end. These do a better job of holding on to slippery foods. They also work well for tossing pasta, just use a light touch. Also recommended are grips covered in nylon. This keeps the tongs from scratching non-stick cookware. Some models are able to be locked into position. I don’t know how useful that is, I’ve never used it except to keep them closed in the drawer. But you might like that feature.
I almost forgot this last item, and I think a lot of people do forget it, and then regret it greatly. It’s a can opener. You can buy an electric can opener, but why? Opening a can isn’t that hard. Also, the appliance models take up valuable counter space and often don’t have enough power to do a good job. And they’re noisy. A manual, hand-operated can opener [link: ] gets the job done, is compact, easily stored, is inexpensive and usually doesn’t require a lot of muscle. In recent years, a new type of hand can opener has come on the market that cuts along the top seal of the can instead of just inside the lip of the lid as most can openers do. I don’t have much experience with this style of can opener, but some people like the fact that is leaves no sharp edges and allows the lid to be used as a cap. There have been many innovations with this common household tool, so you wouldn’t go wrong doing a little research before making your selection. Some of them work, some… not so much.
With these tools and the rest of the Kitchen Basics we’ve discussed, you should now have all the things you need to cook a meal for yourself. Next, we begin looking at the basics for eating that meal.