Essential Tools for Great Food—On Your Schedule

Around this time each year, reality hits: Summer is over, school and work are in full swing, and somehow you have to get dinner on the table every night.

One option is to load up on fast-cooking meals. Another is to embrace recipes that can be made ahead of time. In Best-Ever Make-Ahead Recipes, we’ve gathered 125 versatile recipes that were specifically engineered to be prepped, frozen, or refrigerated well before dinnertime. We’ve also collected all the tools you need to get the most of your time in the kitchen. With our recipes, tips, and equipment recommendations, you’re sure to become a more organized, efficient make-ahead cook.

This bag protected food from freezer burn and ice crystals for more than two months, and it stayed intact when filled with tomato sauce and dropped. But the band of thicker plastic under the double zipper was on the short side, making the bag a bit difficult to prop open and fill. And the side seams on the zipper enclosure itself were less sturdy than those of the product’s older version, tearing more easily and allowing some water to leak into and out of the bag.  More on this test

Although the grid pattern on this rack is slightly larger than on the other two models, it’s reinforced with an extra support bar that runs perpendicular to the three main bars. It had a touch more wiggle room in the baking sheets, but it kept pace with the other racks during recipe and durability testing.   More on this test

Like our favorite highly recommended full-size Dutch oven, this smaller pot’s light-colored interior and low, straight sides allowed us to easily monitor browning, and its large looped handles made it easy to move, even when filled with 4 pounds of short ribs. It had excellent heat retention, and French fries emerged golden brown and crispy. The one drawback? Its shorter stature meant that a pile of short ribs were slightly cramped; however, the end result was still excellent.  More on this test

These precut parchment sheets, which come in a large plastic zipper-lock bag, are the only ones in our lineup that are stored completely flat. They're also sized just right to slide easily into a standard rimmed baking sheet, although we did have to use two overlapping sheets when rolling jelly roll cakes into coils. Their superior convenience made them the runaway favorite. Don't let the purchase price distract you: The per-sheet cost falls squarely in the middle of our lineup.  More on this test

This ultraclingy wrap was the thickest in the lineup, making it strong, resilient, and nearly impossible to rip or puncture. At an unusual 15 inches wide, it was the only consumer-grade product that could cover our large cutting board with a single sheet, though it was great for smaller jobs as well. And we liked its durable dispenser, which came with both a serrated blade and a slide cutter. While the blade worked just fine, the slide cutter was a revelation: It takes just a second to attach and makes it a breeze to produce smooth, perfectly sized sheets.  More on this test

Our winning herb keeper, slim and rectangular, made it easy to add and remove herbs, thanks in large part to its adjustable height—we could lower the top half for easy access and raise it to accommodate tall cilantro stems without any cramming or bending. We also liked this herb keeper's vented lid, which prevented condensation from building up, and its dividers, which helped it stay tidy. Besides being easy to use, this model kept cilantro and thyme fresh the longest.  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

Our old favorite wins again: Its smooth, medium-hard, reversible teak surface provided plenty of room to work, was a pleasure to cut on, and required the least maintenance. It was light enough to lift comfortably (especially since it had finger grips on the sides) but heavy enough to be stable for most tasks, though a few users noted that it wobbled occasionally. It picked up some knife scars but was otherwise highly durable, resisting cracking, warping, and staining, thanks to naturally oily resins that helped condition the board. And it's a stunner: Sleek, elegant, and richly colored, it was, as one tester noted, “less like a Toyota and more like a Corvette.”  More on this test

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.  More on this test

Every tester who tried these paper towels came back with a rave review. The sheets were thick, soft, and sturdy, and a single full-size sheet could hold nearly 1/4 cup of water—about twice as much as lower-ranked products. Thanks to their double-ply construction, these sheets looked unscathed after scrubbing—even after 300 passes across a plastic cutting board—and we detected nary a hair of lint, even on glass.   More on this test

This squat, sturdy triple timer was simple and intuitive, with a dedicated “clear” button and a full 0-to-9 keypad, so testers entered times by typing instead of scrolling. It displayed all of its timers at once, so we could check everything at a glance, and its stainless face repelled messes. Two quibbles: The buttons for toggling between timers were a bit squished together, and the digits on the display could be more visible.  More on this test