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Holiday Essentials I Use All Year Round

These key pieces will help with your holiday meals—and you'll love them for quick weeknight dinners, too.

Published Nov. 11, 2020.

When I was in my mid-20s, I worked a string of jobs in the service industry—cheesemonger, supermarket cashier, line cook—that made it hard for me to travel at the holidays. Instead of flying home to my family, my mom and stepdad started coming to me. We probably should have had a ceremonial passing of the torch. That’s how seriously the women in my family take hosting at the holidays. 

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Boston apartments are notorious for having limited storage, and twentysomethings have tight budgets. I didn’t rush out and buy a big roasting pan or invest in an electric carving knife that I knew would spend 11 months of the year packed up in a storage bin. Those items serve a purpose in some households, but they just weren’t right for me.

Instead, I figured out how to use my existing gear to pull together a big, festive meal. Over time, I also invested in a few key pieces of equipment that I knew would be useful all year long. 

Here’s the equipment that I reach for during the holidays—and on many other days throughout the year.

Thermoworks Thermapen ONE

Digital Instant-Read Thermometer

Our favorite: Thermoworks Thermapen ONE

This accurate, fast, responsive thermometer is a game changer every day of the year. With it by your side, you’ll never overcook your Thanksgiving bird—whether it’s a massive turkey that serves 20 or a small roast chicken for a few people. And it’s not just meat that ought to be cooked to a precise temperature. I use mine at least once a week: every time I bake bread, heat oil for frying, and make ice cream. It’s also handy for checking whether butter or water are at the right temperature for baking.

Rimmed baking sheet

Rimmed Baking Sheet 

Our favorite: Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet

A sturdy sheet pan (or two) is essential at the holidays. It’s what I use to roast root vegetables, dry out bread for stuffing, and bake holiday cookies. And if you don’t have a roasting pan for a whole turkey, you can use it to roast turkey or chicken parts. At Hanukkah, I set my oven to low and keep latkes warm on this baking sheet after I fry them up. Truth be told, I use it for all of those things the rest of the year—even the sugar cookies and latkes! Aside from my chef’s knife and cutting board, these baking sheets are probably my most-used pieces of kitchen gear. When the weather’s nice and I’m grilling more, it’s what I use to ferry food out to my grill and back.

Potato masher

Potato Masher 

Our favorite: Zyliss Stainless Steel Potato Masher 

No, a potato masher is not essential. But yes, you really will be glad you have one. In addition to producing delightfully smooth mashed potatoes—a food I encourage everyone to eat more frequently—it’s useful for all sorts of other foods. We use one to coarsely crush strawberries for jam, mash chickpeas to thicken chickpea-zucchini pasta sauce, break apart sausage in  meat ragu, and to mash bananas for banana bread.

Carving board

Carving Board

Our favorite: J.K. Adams Maple Reversible Carving Board

This double-sided carving board is surprisingly versatile. The indent on one side is perfect for holding roast turkey or chicken, and the wide trough is spacious enough to catch any juices. Flip it over to the flat side and use it as a cutting board. When you host dinners, I suggest leaving it on the counter with an extra knife or vegetable peeler and taking up your guests on their offer to help you prep. Because the wood has such pretty natural striations, it can also double as a serving platter. For parties that don’t require a carving board, I like to use it as a charcuterie or cheese board.



Our favorite: Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 3.5-Quart Round Braiser

I can’t say enough good things about this pan. Like all of Le Creueset’s cookware, it’s pretty enough to prominently display on your holiday table. The enameled cast-iron steel stays hot for ages, ensuring that whatever you’re serving will still be toasty warm when people go back for second helpings. And braisers are not just for braising. As my coworker Riddley discovered, there are at least 14 other uses for them. I recently used mine to bake a riff on our apple crumble

Kitchen timer

Kitchen Timer

Our favorite: OXO Good Grips Triple Timer

When you’ve got a roast in the oven, brussels sprouts cooking on the stovetop, and green bean casserole in the toaster oven, you can’t rely on the timers on your microwave and stovetop. You need a dedicated timer. This one has a big screen that’s easy to read and monitors three separate times at once. I’m a fan of timers when there’s less going on, too. I’d forget to check on vegetables as they cook or to rotate bread halfway through cooking without a persistent beep reminding me.

Stainless steel fry pan

Stainless-Steel Skillet

Our favorite: All-Clad D3 Stainless 12″ Fry Pan with Lid

If you’re only hosting a handful of people at the holidays, you can use this skillet to make roast chicken with vegetables or a roast turkey breast. If you’re preparing a roast (or another entree) elsewhere, this skillet is perfect for vegetable sides like buttered carrots or braised mushrooms. The rest of the year, it’s perfect for all sorts of one-pan meals. And because it has no nonstick coatings or silicone grips, it’s safe to use in superhot ovens and it can go under the broiler. It’s a really versatile pan that can last a lifetime.

Baking dish

13 by 9-Inch Broiler-Safe Baking Dish

Our favorite: Mrs. Anderson's Baking Lasagna Pan with Handle (Rose)

If money were no object and storage weren’t an issue, I’d recommend that everyone get a 13 by 9-inch baking dish in three materials: glass, metal, and ceramic. But if you’re going to choose just one, I’d pick ceramic. Our favorite is broiler-safe—so you can get a crispy topping on all of your gratins or baked macaroni and cheese—and has wide, looped handles that make it easy to carry. It’s the perfect cookware for lasagna. You can also use it for cakes and other baked goods, too. Just know that the corner pieces will be slightly rounded and it will be harder to remove from the baking dish.

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