Published May 19, 2007. Web Exclusive.
We've tested thousands of knives, pots, pans, and gadgets over the years. Here's a list of the items that we feel are essential in every kitchen.
Think you need a fancy mixer, top-of-the-line cookware, and expensive knives to cook at home? Think again. Our grandmothers did plenty of cooking in kitchens stocked with just a few essential items.
America’s Test Kitchen has put together a list of the Top Kitchen Essentials. And because we have tested thousands of knives, pots, pans, and gadgets over the years, we’ve found plenty of bargain models that offer superior performance at a reasonable price.
Here are the basic items you need in any kitchen. Best of all, you can buy all of them for less than $200. Perfect for a recent grad or new cook, or a seasoned cook looking for a fresh start.
1. CHEF’S KNIFE
Why You Need It: The most useful knife in any cook’s arsenal. A must for chopping and slicing vegetables, mincing garlic and herbs, and cutting meat.
What to Look For: A gently curved blade facilitates rocking motion necessary to mince or chop foods. Molded plastic handles are easier to keep clean and more comfortable. Avoid handles with ergonomic bumps or pebbled finishes—many of our testers found these innovations uncomfortable.
2. PARING KNIFE
Why You Need It: When you need more dexterity and precision than a chef’s knife can provide—such as when you're peeling and coring apples, coring tomatoes, deveining shrimp, or removing patches of fat from a roast.
What to Look For: The blade should be flexible enough to allow for easy maneuvering in tight spots (such as tomato cores) or for handling curves (when peeling apples).
3. CUTTING BOARD
Why You Need It: You can’t cut on your countertop!
What to Look For:We like plastic, because you can throw the dirty board in the dishwasher, which makes it easy to sanitize and remove odors, such as onion and garlic. You can pick up good boards almost anywhere; we really like the counter-gripping feet on a nonskid cutting board. Choose the largest board that will fit in your dishwasher—at least 11 by 14 inches.
4. LARGE SKILLET
Why You Need It: A must when cooking steaks, chops, and cutlets. Good for vegetables, too. The most important pan in your kitchen.
What to Look For: For maximum browning and maximum flavor, you want stainless steel with an aluminum core (known as a clad pan) or an aluminum disk—both improve heat distribution. Look for a pan with flared sides, which speed evaporation and keep food from steaming in its own juices. Should have a heavy bottom and a handle that can go under the broiler or in the oven.
5. SMALL CAST-IRON SKILLET
Why You Need It: For delicate jobs, like frying an egg or cooking fish, or small jobs, like searing a single steak.
What to Look For: You could buy a nonstick skillet and replace it every few years when the coating wears off, but a preseasoned cast-iron pan will last a lifetime. In the old days, you needed to season cast-iron pans yourself—a messy process that involves rubbing the pan with oil and heating and cooling it several times. Now many manufacturers are doing the seasoning for you.
Why You Need It: It’s for more than just sauces and gravies. Use this pot to cook rice, boil vegetables, or make a small batch of soup.
What to Look For: We like easy-to-clean, nonreactive stainless steel and find that 3 to 4 quarts is the best size. Make sure to buy a pan with an aluminum core or disk (which improve heat distribution). Look for a pan with a long handle that allows you to lift the pot—even when it’s full.
7. LARGE SOUP/PASTA POT
Why You Need It: How else are you going to boil a pound of pasta, cook corn on the cob, or make a big batch of chili?
What to Look For: Stainless steel is easy to clean, and as long as the pot comes with aluminum core, it will distribute heat evenly. Make sure the handles tilt upward, so they sit well in your hands when you pour out the contents. And buy a pot with a lid—many soup pots are sold without one.
8. SHEET PAN
Why You Need It: This one pan can be used to roast potatoes or a whole chicken or bake a batch of cookies or biscuits.