Kitchen Tools from Basic to Bucket List

This week’s buying guide contains equipment I love, from the ones I continue to reach for to the ones I daydream about.

Are there tools in your kitchen that you reach for over and over again? Not the superfancy ones but the ones that are simple, reliable, and useful. I think every cook has their favorites, and mine are an 8-inch nonstick skillet, a silicone spatula, a chef’s knife, and a paring knife. I use those first two to make scrambled eggs every morning. And it would be challenging to get dinner on the table without my two go-to knives. Although I have everything I need, I have a long list of tools I’d love to own—that’s what happens when you review kitchen equipment for a living! At the top of that list is our winning automatic espresso machine and the very smart June Oven, two of the coolest and sleekest products we’ve tested in the past few years. —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, Tastings & Testings

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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.”  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 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.  More on this test

Our longtime favorite skillet still beats all newcomers, with a clean design that includes no unnecessary frills. We appreciate the wide cooking surface and low, flaring sides that encourage excellent browning and evaporation; a steel handle that stays cool on the stovetop and won't rotate in your hand; and an overall weight and balance that hit the sweet spot between sturdiness and maneuverable lightness. It resisted warping and withstood thermal shock and outright abuse with nary a scratch or dent. Its three layers of cladding, with aluminum sandwiched by steel, make for deep, uniform browning.  More on this test

This little OXO skillet bested the rest for three simple reasons: superior nonstick ability, a comfortable handle, and a nicely shaped body. It cruised through 50 eggs at the beginning and end of testing, indicating a slick, durable nonstick coating. Testers found its rounded, brushed-steel handle “grippy” and liked that it gave “options for where to hold.” Construction-wise, it was “lightweight but sturdy” and perfectly balanced, making it especially pleasing to cook with.  More on this test

The scalloped, uncoated pincers on our longtime favorite tongs felt very precise. This model was also comfortable to use, not only because of the silicone-padded handle but also because the tension didn’t strain our hands or wrists. These tongs struggled a bit when transferring ramekins, as the uncoated pincers didn’t securely grip the ceramic, but this is a less common use, and the tongs excelled at every other task. This pair felt like a natural extension of our hands.  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.” One caveat: Because teak contains microscopic bits of silica, it can wear down blades faster than other types of wood. But in our opinion, this fact doesn't detract from this board's stellar performance.  More on this test

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.  More on this test

This compact, well-made machine consistently produced excellent espresso at the push of a button and readily let us adjust the flavor, temperature, and strength of a shot. The thoughtfully designed controls and a clear display that showed what was happening made it simple to brew espresso or froth milk without consulting the manual. A simple attached steam wand with a silicone grip was comfortable to use and popped off for cleaning.  More on this test

Easy to use, with a satisfyingly responsive control panel and app, this “smart” countertop oven cooked a wide variety of foods with very good results, whether we were making toast; roasting potatoes, bacon, or a whole chicken with vegetables; or baking cookies or cake. Its “Food ID” function recognized most foods we tried. The interior of the oven cleaned up with a wipe of a wet towel, and its sturdy nonstick baking sheet with rack could be hand-washed in seconds (they are not dishwasher-safe). The app and its recipes were well designed, and the subscription offered a good range of recipes. The oven is also compatible with Amazon Alexa, which can operate the oven by voice command. While it’s a bit expensive, the June Intelligent Oven works as promised.  More on this test