Food 101: Cooking Utensil Essentials
Following up on our last post about pantry staples we’ve decided to do another spotlight-style feature on more kitchen essentials, this one with 50% more rhyming! This time, we’re covering essential cooking utensils. Afterall, it’s great and all that you have your ingredients, but what are they all worth if you don’t have the correct tools to get the job done? If you’re a fellow poor couple or just moving out to a new life, you’ll probably wonder what utensils and tools you’ll need at your new living quarters. Follow our handy guide, and you’ll have everything you’ll need.
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of people out there who forgo actual forks and knives for plastic ones, thinking it’s cheaper and easier to simply throw everything away at the end of a meal. Not only is this preeetty trashy and embarrassing but there’s also potential chemicals lurking in disposable utensils like melamine and formaldehyde. Actual silverware really isn’t that expensive and it’s something you will always need everyday for the rest of your cooking lives. If you’re concerned about cost, pick up a cheap set on Amazon or at Target, or even at local good-will stores if you’re feeling thrifty. Never underestimate the need for silverware.
Knives / Cutlery
Knives are required for anything that involves cutting. Meat, vegetables, pastries, etc all need to be cut at some point or another. You can usually buy fancy knives in sets to cover all your bases, or buy them separately as you need them. There’s different types meant for different occasions, but if for some reason you can only have just one knife to have on hand, make it a santoku.
No, it’s not a number puzzle, san-toku is Japanese for “three virtues”, namely due to its all purpose nature. It has a few different variations, such as with ridges or different lengths, however all are incredibly useful. It’s a sharp, medium-sized knife with the ability to slice thin slices of meat, chop vegetables into tiny pieces, and even sawing through larger foods like cakes or meat roasts. Plain and simple, get a santoku. If you avoid big companies/famous brands, they’re very affordable as well.
Kitchen shears are my absolute FAVORITE utensil and without a doubt the most underrated tool in the kitchen. Yes, they’re just glorified scissors, but believe me, you can’t imagine how useful they are for cutting random foods apart. Herbs, vegetables, meat trimmings, meat flesh, fruit and non-edibles like packaging, bags, and tie-strings are all things you find in the kitchen that can be easily cut apart with your shears. While they really are just scissors, you should make sure to get ones specifically marketed for food-use or in the kitchen just to be safe, since regular ones may be made of materials that can get into your food, or ones that can easily tarnish or get destroyed in the dishwasher. I recommend the hell out of these things.
Related to silverware are vegetable peelers. These handy little guys make removing the skins of fruits and vegetables much easier than using a knife. Not only is it easier, but also safer. They’re often included in silverware sets but you can buy them on their own. You’re better off getting one than risking slicing your fingers off next time you want to make some carrots.
Often overlooked since it’s basically just a giant spoon, ladles are actually incredibly useful when the situation calls for them. Soups, stews, punches, and other drinks all need a ladle to be served. I can’t think of any ways of getting them out of their containers without an ensuing mess. They’re inexpensive and easy to find, so make sure to have one.
Electric mixers once were a luxury item, but as time goes on, their prices go down. At the very least you should own an electric beater/hand mixer (pictured on the left) since whipping and beating by hand just plain sucks. Trying to mix cookie dough by hand goes from a quick 2 minute process to 10 minutes of laborious pain. Large, electrical mixing bowls, like the one on the right, are the best you can buy and will allow you to fly through your baking in record time, however they’re also on the expensive side. If you’re pinching pennies, opt for just a plain old handheld mixer since they’re often a fraction of the price and do almost as good of a job.
A whisk is used for, well, whisking. In other words, mixing up substances to both blend them and make them lighter. The thin metal prongs catch the mixture and introduce air into whatever it is you’re mixing, be it pancake batter or a marinade, making it combine evenly and smoothly. It’s possible to use large spoons for mixing certain things, but some recipes require a whisk, like beating eggs for example. Spoons just don’t get the job done when you need something to be super-smooth. There’s different types of whisks you can get, but this standard beater-whisk is all you really need.
Everyone knows I almost never use recipes, and instead opt for eyeballing most of my cooking. Despite that, even I admit that when it comes to new recipes, as well as any type of baking, measuring your ingredients is vital. You can get away with combining ingredients while making sauces, but anything that’s getting placed in the oven like cakes or cookies is based on a chemical formula of sorts. We know those formulas as recipes. Slight alterations can change everything for the worse, so there’s no way around it; you absolutely need measuring cups (and also know how to use them correctly, but that’s for another time).
Liquid Measuring Cup
There’s two varieties of measuring cups, as well. The aforementioned normal cups are for measuring anything fine, dry ingredients like flour or sugar. This one meanwhile is meant for liquid measurements, such as if a recipe uses milk in it. The reason for the difference comes down to two things: convenience and versatility. First off, catching liquid into a finite measuring cup like the ones listed above is surprisingly difficult since you need the liquid to be level at the top, which makes it hilariously difficult to move without spilling anything. Liquid measuring cups like this have a sort of buffer zone at the top, which prevents liquids from spilling out. Secondly, liquids aren’t as cut-and-dry (no pun intended) in that they can be measured many different ways. Cups, fluid ounces, regular ounces, milliliters, it’s frigging confusing. Fortunately liquid measuring glasses tend to have all these different measurements marked on them, meaning that you don’t need to perform complex mathematical conversions off the top of your head while cooking.
Last off in the measurement department are measuring spoons. Like measuring cups, these are essential for the 95% of the time when you’re using a recipe. The only difference being that they are meant for smaller measurements. Disclaimer: NO you cannot use your silverware teaspoons and tablespoons for measuring. It doesn’t work.
Ever since the 1930s, canned goods have been viewed as the future of food. Because why wouldn’t months-old food crammed into tiny aluminum cans with tons of preservatives be ideal? Joking aside, canned food is a very common item you’ll be using, and you need something to use in order to open said cans. There are fancy electric versions that automatically do so for you, but they’re overpriced considering their main function is do do something you can do by hand in 10 seconds yourself. Not to mention, handheld ones last forever, as you can see by the poor condition ours is in.
Spatulas serve one purpose, but it’s an important one: transferring cooked foods off of their trays. Even though it’s only one thing, there’s no other way to really get that job done without use of a spatula. Forks tend to gnash and break the food apart since they’re not flat enough, and trying to do so by hand will net you some nice second-degree burns. You can get different types of spatulas; some come in metal, some in silicone, and other materials, but they all do the same job.
Rubber scrapers are a fairly recent invention, but they’ve quickly earned their place in the kitchen. Usually made of silicone, they’re flat and flexible tools which you use for scraping out batters, doughs, and other mixtures out of bowls and into other containers or baking pans. While this doesn’t seem that impressive in words, seeing them in action compared to a regular spatula or spoon will make you realize how awesome they are. Additionally, they can be used for stirring different mixtures together, frosting cakes, and even for smoothing soft foods’ surfaces.
This is a potato masher, which I’ve brought up before when discussing making mashed potatoes. There’s a few different shapes they come in, but they all work the same. You mush stuff up with them, usually vegetables. Its uses may seem isolated, but based purely on the fact there’s no other effective/realistic way of mashing foods up, you’re better off having one than not having one.
In addition to being the most badass-looking cooking utensil, mallets are pure fun to use. Basically when any of your foods need to be smashed, you grab one of these. They’re also the best way to tenderize meat. Chicken sautés and other foods need to be pounded flat before being cooked, since it breaks apart the meat, making it tender, but also it makes it cook thoroughly more quickly. Also, you can use mallets for breaking up harder foods like nuts or cookies, if they need to be made into crumbs.
The following are all items which we’d still recommend you get, but aren’t necessarily REQUIRED tools. They simply get a lot of use and make your cooking go a lot smoother and easier to do.
You didn’t really think we’d go this entire article without mentioning one of these, did you? You can cut pizzas apart using knives or kitchen shears, but this is the standard. They’re inexpensive, so if you make a lot pizzas at home like we do, you should get one.
This handy tool is almost exclusively used for crushing fresh garlic into your foods. You can achieve the same effect by mincing your garlic up or smashing it apart with a knife, but this thing will be way quicker and easier. Additionally, if you’re a lightweight who doesn’t want their hands to smell like garlic, this prevents that as well.
These awkward-looking utensils are the best way to marinade and baste your roast meats in its juices while they’re cooking in the oven. You can do that by simply spooning the gravy over the roast, however using a baster is much safer since its length and design keeps your hands away from hot surfaces and hot liquids.
Mechanical Ice Cream Scoops
While they were originally invented for ice cream, these guys are actually even better suited for scooping cookie dough onto trays. For those unfamiliar, you scoop something (i.e. dough) up with it, then squeeze the handle which moves a small piece of metal slide across the inside of the head, pushing the food out. While not an essential to cooking, it speeds up cookie-making sooo much, and makes serving ice cream easier than ever.
Wooden Cooking Kit
At first glance these seem like novelty items since they’re just wooden, oversized versions of silverware. However, these things really shine when cooking food on the stovetop. A common hazard in the kitchen is heat. When you’re making a dinner, the entire stove and everything on and close to it tends to, surprise, get hot. Wooden utensils like these come in great handy since you can leave them resting in hot pans or pots or even on the stove itself and they won’t burn you, due to wood’s low heat conductivity. Just be careful, being wooden, they also can burn if left on heat for too long, as you can see some of ours have their own battle scars. When it comes to actively cooking your meals with your hands, these are invaluable for stirring, prodding, and transferring your food. They’re also good to use when cooking in non-stick pans, since they won’t scrape up the bottom like a metal utensil could.