25 of Our Favorite Tools When Cooking for One

This week’s buying guide has all the equipment you need for solo dining.

I usually cook for two people, but if my wife is studying at the library or spending time with friends, I cook for just myself. Preparing a meal for myself is different from cooking for others. It’s fun, but it can be frustrating to waste money on half-used ingredients. And while I love leftovers, the large yields of most recipes often make me wonder, This again? Our newest cookbook, Cooking for One, addresses these concerns and more with smart shopping strategies, guidelines for ingredients, and tips for repurposing leftovers. This week’s buying guide has all the equipment you need for solo dining, whether it’s a small food processor to chop vegetables, an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet to sauté a full meal, or a small rimmed baking sheet to bake just two cookies. —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

This extremely sturdy, warp-resistant baking sheet turned out evenly cooked and browned chicken, cauliflower, and focaccia. Its lightweight, compact size made it easy to maneuver into and out of the oven. Its size is ideal for preparing recipes that serve two and for kitchen tasks that require only a small amount of space, such as toasting a handful of nuts or a few tablespoons of sesame seeds.  More on this test

Like its larger counterpart which fits our favorite rimmed baking sheet, this small rimmed baking sheet lid snapped on and off quickly and was easier to use than plastic wrap or aluminum foil. The lid kept sliced eggplant looking fresh in the refrigerator and sliced strawberries and bananas free of freezer damage. However, we wished the lid latched onto the baking sheet on all four sides, instead of two, as this felt less secure. The lid was also fairly durable. It bowed a bit when we stacked 10 pounds of food items on top of it, but not nearly enough to damage the lid. It snapped back into shape a couple hours later.   More on this test

This pan has an excellent, durable nonstick surface that released everything we cooked in it with ease. The shape is ideal, with a broad cooking surface and gently flared sides that allowed us to move food around without spilling and easily flip eggs, steaks, and fish fillets. The simple brushed-metal handle stayed cool and was comfortable to hold, whether we were tossing cauliflower florets or tilting the pan to turn out a frittata. The pan scratched and dented lightly in our abuse tests, but we deemed it acceptable.  More on this test

We loved this pan’s solid construction and slick nonstick surface. Scrambled eggs slid out of the pan without hesitation, steaks flipped easily, and the pan performed effortlessly as we moved it from the stovetop to the oven when making shepherd's pie. The actual cooking surface is only about 7 inches wide, so we had to be extra-careful when sautéing a skillet full of vegetables for shepherd’s pie; some pieces flew over the sides as we stirred. However, our scaled-down recipes for two people fit well in this pan, and we loved its long, sturdy handle.  More on this test

We loved how deeply this pan browned foods: The steak had a dark crust and the fond made a flavorful pan sauce. It came preseasoned, but some scrambled eggs stuck to the surface, and we saw traces of black cast-iron seasoning on the crust of apple pie. (It’s worth noting that this pan will become more nonstick with use over time.) Plus, it requires seasoning after every use. However, these are minor quibbles. It’s a great pan at an excellent price, and it will last a lifetime.  More on this test

This small saucepan performed very well, earning a place in our kitchen. It cooked evenly and steadily and survived our durability tests virtually unscathed. Its handle felt secure and comfortable in our hands and stayed cool throughout testing. It also cleaned up easily. We think it’d make a great addition to any cookware collection.   More on this test

The heaviest, thickest ramekins in our lineup, these sturdy ceramic dishes didn’t slide around in a slippery baking dish and stayed perfectly still while we layered delicate berry pudding. Straight sides meant soufflés and puddings emerged picture-perfect, and thick walls provided gentle insulation, producing baked eggs with creamy whites and runny yolks. A bonus: They stack securely for easy storage.  More on this test

This compact version of our top-rated salad spinner is a great choice for smaller households or for when you don’t want to use the full-size version for smaller quantities of greens or herbs. Its basket holds about 2.4 quarts compared to nearly 5 quarts in the larger model, but it performed on par with the full-size version, effectively and easily cleaning produce and spinning it dry, removing nearly all the water from salad greens. Because the basket is positioned on a small spike, holding it well above the bottom of the bowl, we were able to pour a full cup of water into the bowl before any reached the basket of greens, keeping runoff from rewetting food once the basket stopped spinning—unlike other spinners we’ve tested. We also found it easy to clean and dry this spinner, but a few small pieces of the lid broke and cracked after we deliberately dropped it from the kitchen counter to the floor as an abuse test. The damage was cosmetic, however, and it still operated as new.   More on this test

Our kid testers liked our longtime favorite peeler for all the same reasons we love it. The sharp blade peeled each type of produce with ease; a kid tester described it as “a miracle.” The handle is flat and wide with rounded edges, and children found it easy and comfortable to hold. Due to the sharpness of the blade and how quickly it moves around food, we think this model is best for older kids who have prior cooking experience. As one 11-year-old tester said, “I am totally comfortable using it, but I have a lot of knife experience.”  More on this test

This thin, lightweight plastic model was easy to hold and lift but was also stable on the counter thanks to its grippy rubber sides. It’s dishwasher-safe, and while it got a bit scratched by the end of testing, it was otherwise intact, resisting warping, cracking, or staining and retaining no odors. Testers liked cutting on its textured plastic surface and appreciated that one of its sides had a small trench for collecting juices from roasts or wet foods.   More on this test

Our favorite potholders are fashioned as pockets with a sheet of silicone on one side, a panel of cotton fabric on the back, and soft cotton lining in between. The silicone layer offered excellent protection from the heat. Our hands never became too hot during kitchen tests and we were able to hold a 350-degree cast-iron skillet comfortably for 23 seconds. They were also flexible, which allowed testers to feel like they had control when maneuvering hot pans. Although both the silicone and cotton fabric remained stained after our durability tests, it didn't shrink or warp. We liked that it is machine-washable.  More on this test

Our winning spoons had a simple design that allowed for a continuous, bump-free sweep, with a ball-chain connector (similar to what military dog tags hang on) that was easy to open and close. This set's metal construction felt remarkably sturdy, and ingredients didn't cling to the stainless steel. And while the 1-tablespoon measure did not fit into all spice jars, it was a minor inconvenience for an otherwise easy-to-use set.  More on this test

Still the best—and a bargain—after 20 years, this knife’s “super-sharp” blade was “silent” and “smooth,” even as it cut through tough squash, and it retained its edge after weeks of testing. Its textured grip felt secure for a wide range of hand sizes, and thanks to its gently rounded edges and the soft, hand-polished top spine, we could comfortably choke up on the knife for “precise,” “effortless” cuts. Update: November 2013 Since our story appeared, the price of our winning Victorinox Swiss Army 8" Chef's Knife with Fibrox Handle has risen from $27.21 to about $39.95. We always report the price we paid for products when we bought them for testing; however, product prices are subject to change.  More on this test

Superior blades gave our former favorite the edge yet again. With a razor-sharp 25-degree angle, the shears’ cutter blade sliced through every kind of food with equal ease. Deep, angular serrations on the anvil blade helped secure slippery foods. The blades’ length (the longest in the lineup) ensured smooth, continuous cutting; their overall narrowness made them easy to maneuver; and a medium level of tension between them provided just enough shearing force without taxing our hands. They’re ambidextrous, comfortable to hold, and can be taken apart for cleaning. Note: The Kershaw Taskmaster Shears and Shun Multi-Purpose Shears are produced at the same factory and are identical products with different branding; prices vary.  More on this test

Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean. They can be used in the microwave and the oven. While the bowls in this set were the only ones to break when dropped, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.  More on this test

Testers raved about this classic wooden spoon. Light, long, and maneuverable, it kept our hands far from the heat, and its rounded, tapered handle was comfortable and easy to grip in a variety of ways as we worked. It also suited both right- and left-handed testers. The slim tip of its nicely scooped-out oval bowl was easy to maneuver under food for turning and scooping, and when angled slightly, the head provided sufficient area for scraping fond. Made of teak, the wood resisted staining or drying out, retained its color, and never became rough to touch, even after 10 cycles through the dishwasher.   More on this test

Our former favorite triumphed again. Made from a resin/fiberglass composite, this fish spatula had a relatively thin, smooth head that was long, narrow, and provided ample room for picking up food. Its straight, moderate-length handle brought our hands close to the action and was fairly comfortable to grip, if a little slicker than we preferred. Just don’t leave it on a hot pan—it melted at 450 degrees.  More on this test

The shorter version of our favorite 12-inch tongs, this model easily picked up foods of all shapes and sizes—from dainty blueberries to a hefty jar of salsa—and was extremely comfortable to operate. The uncoated, scalloped stainless-steel tips allowed us a precise grip, making it especially easy to lift and arrange thinly sliced fruit, and the tongs' locking mechanism was smooth and intuitive.  More on this test

This tall tool has a sturdy metal mashing plate supported by a long, curved handle made of slip-free plastic. The plethora of small holes on its mashing plate made an ultracreamy, smooth mash, and its handle felt comfortable in hands of all sizes. Its round mashing plate eased effortlessly along the edges of every pan and made quick work of mashing all types of potatoes.  More on this test