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5 Items Every Home Cook Needs in Their Kitchen

Stock up and get cooking.
By Published Jan. 6, 2020

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Here in the test kitchen we have an arsenal of highly-rated kitchen equipment to work with each day. But ask any test cook in the kitchen and they’ll tell you that their cooking experience at home is quite different. Pared down to the bare essentials (Boston living often means small kitchens), there’s not much room for superfluous tools in the gadget drawer. Here is a list of the five things we reach for first when preparing a meal at home.

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A Sharp Chef's Knife

We use a chef's knife for just about everything, from breaking down tough squash to butterflying a roast. A sharp, comfortable chef's knife is the most important tool in your kitchen, and an 8-inch chef’s knife is almost universally the right tool for the job. We have tested lots of knives on the market, and many of them we like, but our longtime favorite is the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8" Chef's Knife. If your hands are very small, we’ve tested and also recommend the 6-inch version of the Victorinox.

Keeping your knife sharp is also very important, as most kitchen accidents involving a knife are because the knife is dull. Watch the video on sharpening knives in our Basic Knife Skills online cooking class, and then learn more advanced sharpening techniques, such as how to use a whetstone, in our Advanced Knife Skills course.

2. A Half Sheet Pan or Baking Sheet with Wire Rack

Rimmed baking sheets, also called half-sheet pans, are true workhorses in the test kitchen. We have stacks of them that we use every day for obvious tasks like baking cookies or roasting oven fries or root vegetables. But we also use them for baking chicken or fish, toasting nuts and seeds, roasting vegetables such as green beans and asparagus, and baking jelly roll cakes. More unusually, we use baking sheets for sorting dried beans or spreading out cooked rice or pasta to cool before making salads. In a pinch, an inverted baking sheet can even stand in for a pizza peel or baking stone. 

And that’s just the start. Slipping a wire cooling rack inside (to elevate food for increased air circulation and also to contain mess) makes these pans even more versatile—it’s our go-to setup for roasting and broiling meats, holding breaded foods before and after frying, and drizzling chocolate over desserts. When choosing a baking sheet, be sure to include a rack in your order and make sure it will fit inside. Our favorite baking sheet—the Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet—fits perfectly with our winning wire rack from Checkered Chef.

3. Instant-Read Thermometer

If you cook or bake regularly, you should have a food thermometer. A good thermometer takes the guesswork out of cooking, telling you exactly what's going on inside your food. The old dial-faced ones are slow and imprecise; digital is the only way to go. We tested digital instant-read thermometers for speed, accuracy, ease of use, and durability, and found a great option for every budget.

4. Kitchen Timer

Many of our test cooks are working on more than one recipe at a time and as we know, timing is everything with recipes. Most every smartphone, tablet, oven, or microwave has a timer these days, so why use a dedicated kitchen timer? Kitchen timers are more durable and moisture-resistant than other electronics, and they’re more versatile than appliance timers, with extra features like the ability to track multiple things at once, longer ranges, or the capacity to count up once the timer has sounded to track elapsed time. That’s why we rely on our trusty kitchen timer in the test kitchen. Our favorite is the OXO Good Grips Triple Timer, which is sturdy, simple, and intuitive.

5. A Good 12-inch Skillet

We love stainless-steel skillets in the test kitchen. While cast iron, carbon steel, and even nonstick have been elbowing them out of the limelight, they’re still our top choice for achieving golden, uniform browning and developing fond, the secret weapon in a delicious sauce. Our longtime favorite is the All-Clad d3 Stainless 12″ Fry Pan with Lid, with its wide cooking surface and low, flaring sides that encourage excellent browning and evaporation.

Want to learn more about our favorite equipment—and how to use it? Start your free trial to the America’s Test Kitchen Online Cooking School today.

What is the most used piece of equipment in your kitchen? Let us know in the comments!