Kitchen Basics for Busy Weeknights

As we gear up for fall, it’s nice to know that cooking dinner can be simple and satisfying.

No matter what school will look like in each of our houses this fall, getting dinner on the table after a long weekday can be a challenge. When I’m feeling crunched for time, I cook simple, one-pan meals. So this week we’ve gathered essential pieces of equipment for fuss-free cooking, starting with our favorite broiler-safe baking dish. It has sturdy handles, so you can easily take your meal from oven to table. Our winning Dutch oven is perfect for making large batches of soups, stews, and chilis, with plenty of leftovers to freeze. And our cookbook One-Pan Wonders contains 130 meticulously tested recipes—including family-friendly dishes and streamlined dinners. —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

This perfect, pricey pot bested the competition again. It was substantial enough to hold and distribute heat evenly without being unbearably heavy. The light-colored interior combined with low, straight sides gave us good visibility and made it easy to monitor browning and thermometer position. The broad cooking surface saved us time since we could cook more food at once. The lid was smooth and easy to clean. This pot is expensive, but it was exceptionally resistant to damage.

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Our longtime winner excelled, with uniform, steady heating and good visibility inside the saucepan to monitor browning. Its cup-shaped stay-cool handle was easy to grip, and a helper handle provided another grabbing point when the pan was full. Even after brutal whacking on concrete, this model emerged with only tiny dents inside and one slight dent on the bottom, and it still sat flat on the counter.

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Our previous favorite still excelled with power; precision; and a compact, streamlined design that takes up less space than most food processors, despite having one of the largest capacities, all at a moderate price. Its smooth, simple bowl and blade design are easy to handle, monitor during use, and clean. Its unusual feed tube placement allows for increased bowl visibility. It comes with just three blades for chopping, shredding, and slicing that can all be stored inside the bowl, with no accessories box to deal with. However, since we last tested it, the chopping blade was redesigned and leaves slightly bigger gaps between it and the bottom and side of the bowl, so it couldn’t effectively incorporate egg yolks into single-batch mayonnaise. We didn’t discover any other adverse effects from these slightly bigger gaps, which were still narrower than those of lower-ranked models. It did chop mirepoix uniformly and was one of only two models to give us perfectly green-colored yogurt in our dye test. Although it lacks a mini bowl for very small jobs, a double batch of mayonnaise worked well.

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This pot was lauded for being "nice and heavy," with "easy-to-grip" handles that "didn't get too hot" (although we still needed potholders). The aluminum core runs up the side of the pot—other pots have aluminum cores only in the bottom, if anywhere—which ensures more even heating than most of us will ever need.

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This classic model was accurate and had bold, easy-to-read measurement lines that clearly corresponded to specific numbers. The handle, though small, was smooth and wide enough to be comfortable. We also liked that the glass resisted staining and was durable. Our one criticism: Using the cup properly requires crouching down and looking at the lines at eye level, which was uncomfortable for some. 

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With all-over tiny perforations that don’t allow small foods to escape, our longtime favorite colander has a draining performance that remains unmatched. Its 1 1/8 inches of ground clearance was enough to keep nearly all the drained pasta from getting hit with backwash. The model cleans up nicely in the dishwasher, and its handles are slim but still substantial enough to grip easily.

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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.

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This light, smooth bamboo spoon was broad enough to churn bulky stews, yet small enough to rotate a single chunk of beef without disturbing surrounding pieces. Its rectangular handle was comfortable to grip; its head had the most surface area in contact with the pan, so it excelled at scraping fond. Stain-resistant, it emerged after testing looking closest to new.

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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.”

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This knife was “superadept”; its sharp, flexible blade nimbly hugged curves, so we could surgically remove peels or cores without plunging too deeply. It was the lightest knife we tested, with a slim handle that a few testers found insubstantial but most praised for its ability to disappear in your palm and become an extension of your hand: “There’s no disconnect between my brain and the blade.”

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Testers loved this machine, which had a slimmer, compact footprint and shorter stature and thus took up less room on our counters. Its cooking basket was roomy enough for 1 pound of food and had a completely nonstick coating. We also liked that the bottom of the basket could be removed for even deeper cleaning, if needed. Its digital controls and dial-operated menu made setting the time and temperature easy and intuitive. It stopped cooking as soon as the set time was up, and its drawer-like design allowed us to remove food without exposing our hands to the heating element.