Back to Basics: Kitchen Essentials We Can't Live Without

When it comes to buying high-tech or expensive kitchen gadgets, most of us do research before taking the leap. But in the test kitchen, we believe that basic tools deserve this kind of consideration, too. After all, when you’re putting a piece of equipment to work day after day, it should be made to do the job well and for a long time. Whether you need to restock your own basics or are shopping for someone who’s setting up their very first kitchen, let this week’s product collection be your guide. We’ve included tried and tested winners that we can’t live without, including the best nonstick skillet on the market, our long-time favorite chef’s knife, and a high-quality Dutch oven with a not-so-high price.

Going back to basics shouldn’t end with your equipment; you can also brush up on fundamental cooking skills with a membership to the America's Test Kitchen Online Cooking School. Offering more than 250 courses on everything from basic knife skills to advanced bread baking as well as access to expert instructors, the Online Cooking School can help anyone become a more proficient, more confident cook—including all those soon-to-be college grads who’ve spent years relying on the dining hall.

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.

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This model costs a third of what our favorite Le Creuset Dutch oven does and performed almost as well. With a very similar design—low, straight sides and a broad, off-white cooking surface—it allowed us to easily move food, sear in fewer batches, and monitor browning. The trade-offs: The Cuisinart pot is 3 pounds heavier and has slightly smaller handles than the Le Creuset pot, and its rim chipped during abuse testing.

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This pan came slick and stayed that way—we stopped both fried egg tests after 50 eggs. It cooked and released food perfectly, thanks to its darker finish and excellent nonstick coating. Its gently flared sides and lightweight design made it easy to load, unload, and move. Its grippy stay-cool handle was flawless and its cooking surface vast. It showed some light knife marks but otherwise emerged from testing unscathed.

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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.

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