Building a simpler and greener life

The Only Kitchen Tools You Really Need

The Only Kitchen Tools You Really Need

When I finished culinary school at 19 years old, I landed an entry-level job with a large catering company in my area.

I was thrown head-first into the crazy world of outlandish weddings, July 4th barbeques, and corporate Christmas parties. We even feed a breakfast crowd of over 700 people every year!

Before long, I found myself moving up the chain of command, eventually gaining the role of sous chef, or assistant chef. I was in charge of my own parties and leading a team of cooks who were all twice my age!

What in the world?!?!

After a few years, I left the catering industry to go back to art school. But all that training taught me what supplies were helpful in a kitchen, and which gadgets you could do without. Our home has a fairly small kitchen with little storage, and I only have room for the essentials.  Today I’m sharing my list of the kitchen tools you really need for a simpler, more streamlined space.

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The only kitchen tools you really need - Save space and money by paring down your kitchen tools to the basics |

Good quality knives

They say the knives make the cook. That may have some truth to it. Granted you won’t become a master chef overnight if you buy really expensive knives, but when you use the right tools, you will be a more efficient cook, with more precise cuts. And if you do nick yourself accidentally with a sharp knife, it will be a cleaner cut that will heal more quickly.

There are quite a few types of knives out there, but you may only really need a few different ones.

Chef’s knife

This is the knife most people think of when they envision high-quality tools. I’m sure you’ve seen your favorite celebrity chef on TV, cutting through an onion with lightning speed, using what might look like an enormous knife. What they’re using is a chef’s knife.

Commonly sold in an 8” or 10” length, a chef’s knife may seem really large, but it’s that size and shape for a reason.  The heavy end can hack through joints, while the middle and tip are perfect for more delicate chopping and mincing jobs.

When shopping for a chef’s knife, it’s a good idea to try to hold a few before you buy. Some may feel heavier than others or have a different balance. You want to make sure you like the feel of the knife in your hand. This knife is meant to be put to work and you’ll be using it for a long time.

If you’re still feeling a bit nervous about chopping with a chef’s knife, check out this easy to follow video with the how-to’s.

Paring knife

There may be times when a big chef’s knife is overkill.  That’s where you need a paring knife. It’s a much smaller tool and what you need for peeling an apple or deveining shrimp. With two littles in my house, I use my paring knife for cutting grapes in half almost daily.

Serrated knife

The row of teeth on the bottom of a serrated knife make it a must-have when cutting a loaf of bread.  It works like a saw; meant to cut in a back and forth motion instead of straight down. It’s also great for slicing tomatoes!

Carving knife

A carving knife is similar in shape to a chef’s knife, but thinner and maybe a bit longer. You would use this knife to slice roasts or fillets of fish. A chef’s knife would do for these jobs too, but the carving knife is a little more light and flexible.

Knife sharpener

Those new knives aren’t going to stay sharp forever. There are professional knife sharpeners that could handle this for you, but I like to have a small electric sharpener to keep my tools in shape. We have this model from Presto and it works quickly and keeps my knives super-sharp!

The only kitchen tools you really need - Save space and money by paring down your kitchen tools to the basics |


You’ll need a whisk for mixing the perfect pancake batter, smoothing sauces, or making your own whipped cream. My main role at Thanksgiving every year is to make the gravy, and I couldn’t do it without my trusty whisk!

Mixing spoons

Even though you’ll mostly find stainless steel spoons in a professional kitchen, wooden spoons will do just fine at home. I have a couple of no-frills spoons that I use daily. But if you’re ever looking for a good gift idea for the home chef, there are some really beautiful hand-carved spoons being made.


You know how hard it is to scoop soup into bowls with just a spoon. It’s enough to make you crazy. Grab a ladle and save yourself tons of time and frustration.  


With the amount of pasta my children eat on a weekly basis, my colander gets to do its job pretty often. No frills on this one. They can take up a bit of storage space though. If that’s an issue, check out a collapsible colander.


Usually, mesh and with smaller holes than a colander, a kitchen strainer is the tool for getting clear chicken stock or catching the seeds after squeezing lemons.  For some reason, I tried to make do with a teeny, tiny strainer for too long. Or I had my pasta colander do double-duty. I don’t use my strainer for a ton of things, but when I need it, I’m glad it’s there.

Vegetable peeler

I’m sure this seems pretty basic. Everyone had peeled a carrot or potato at some point. But having had to toss a peeler or two because they gouged into my veggies or they just didn’t do their job. And then you have the horizontal peeler versus the vertical peeler. You’ll have your preference. I’m a vertical girl. It just works better for me.

Box grater

Shred carrots, onions, zucchini; it even zests citrus in a pinch. Forget to soften butter for your baked goods? Grate it and it will be soft in minutes! Plus, with a box grater handy, you’ll never have to buy pre-shredded cheese again. The DIY method makes cheese that melts better and isn’t covered with anti-clumping cellulose.

Measuring cups and spoons

You’ll definitely need some measuring tools if you’re following precise recipes. Bear in mind there are different cups needed for wet and dry ingredients. I would recommend not buying wide and shallow measuring spoons. That’s what I have now and I’m looking to replace them. They’re just too hard to fill properly.

The only kitchen tools you really need - Save space and money by paring down your kitchen tools to the basics |


Tongs are an extra pair of hands. You’ll want them when you’re flipping meat or trying to pick up something hot. I’m still using the same set of tongs that I had in culinary school over 20 years ago.


You’ll have to flip burgers and pancakes somehow! I would also grab a couple of rubber scrapers, while you’re at it.

Can opener

There are loads of helpful foods in cans and you’ll need to get into them somehow. Again, this is a personal preference type of thing, but I use a manual can opener. In almost 40 years on this earth, I haven’t figured out how to use an electric one. Oh well!

Sheet trays

Also called cookie sheets, you’ll need sheet trays for… any guesses? Of course, cookies! They’re also used for roasting meats and vegetables. Make your life a little easier by picking up a roll of parchment paper to use on your trays. You’ll still get crispy cookies, but with faster clean-up. (I buy my parchment at the Dollar Tree!)

Baking dishes

With taller sides, baking dishes are used for casseroles or baking foods that are a bit too juicy for a sheet tray. They can be glass, ceramic, or metal. I recommend at least having a square one and also a 9” x 13” rectangle.

Mixing bowls

You’ll reach for these simple bowls pretty much every day.  As the name implies, you’ll need these for mixing, but also marinating, holding ingredients while you’re prepping food, you name it! I like to use stainless steel bowls, but I have a set of stackable glass mixing bowls as well.

Pots and pans

This will probably be the most expensive part of stocking your kitchen. However, if you purchase wisely, a good quality pan will last you a lifetime. Stainless steel is my go-to. They are pricey and a bit heavy, but really easy to maintain and they conduct heat very easily. There are also copper and ceramic-coated pots. These act like non-stick, which are useful as well.

I would stay clear of aluminum pots though. Aluminum is a soft metal and will scratch and ding very easily.  Tomato sauce will ruin an aluminum pan quickly because of its acidity.

At home, I have 6 pots and pans that I use for everything – 2 large saute pans, a stockpot for soups, a smaller 2-quart pot, a little saucepot, and one non-stick pan. Some have matching lids, some don’t. But they are all stackable and fit nicely under my oven or in my cabinets.

Now, this is just the minimum list.

Of course, there will always be other fun tools and gadgets that you might want to have in your kitchen. Maybe you need a zester or an immersion blender. Maybe it’s a tradition to make pizzelle cookies every Christmas and you have to have your cookie press for those.  I was lucky enough to have been gifted a stand mixer years ago and I don’t know what I would do without it!

What kitchen tools are a must-have in your house?

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