There’s nothing quite as gratifying as laughing, creating memories, and partaking in an (often overlooked) activity that transcends cultural and language barriers: sharing a meal.
Here’s why I feel this way. During my quick stint as a sous chef at a pop-up restaurant in Los Angeles, California, I was lucky enough to host guests in different intimate spaces. The locations of our dinner parties ranged from lofts to art galleries to shipping containers. (People in LA will serve you food anywhere.)
That was the best part of the gig to me: being able to show off my cooking skills and engage in deep conversations with new and old friends in interactive and cozy spaces. But let’s get something straight. The location of these dinner parties changed constantly—which was fun—but the cooking tools we used to make these memorable dishes always remained the same. Take a look at the five kitchen tools I recommend all home cooks have on hand to ensure that the next dinner party they throw is remarkable.
1. Sous Vide Machine (Immersion Circulator)
The immersion circulator is ubiquitous in the restaurant industry. This tool has the ability to cook your food at a precise temperature for a number of hours, turning tougher cuts—such as chuck—into a tender roast. When I worked at the pop-up restaurant in LA, an immersion circulator always guaranteed us a great meal. The best part about using this tool is that you get extra time to spend hanging out with your friends.
The concept of an immersion circulator is essentially low-and-slow cooking, but unlike a Crock-Pot, the flavors aren’t muddied or dull; they stay concentrated in a sealed bag. I am a personal fan of the Joule. It’s slim and can be stored easily, and its smartphone app is user-friendly.
TIP: Grab a copy of our Sous Vide for Everybody Cookbook and make the Butter-Basted Rib-Eye Steaks and Better-Than-Braised Beets. They’re my two favorite dinner party recipes. Also, if you are uncertain about having to use a smartphone for sous vide cooking, you can purchase the Anova Precision Cooker WI-FI, which has a manual option.
TAKEAWAY: A user-friendly circulator such as Joule has changed the game in cooking. If you’re looking for accuracy without a lot of hands-on work, this tool is ideal for you.
JouleForgot an ingredient at the store? No worries. Now you can cook from anywhere with Wi-Fi.
2. Cast-Iron Skillet
Truth be told, people love a show. When I host dinner parties, I want them to be interactive. I normally had an open-space kitchen at the pop-ups where I'd sear the meat, which was cooked with an immersion circulator, in a hot cast-iron pan. Doing this adds a nice crust to the meat, and it gets a good reaction from guests. When they hear loud sizzling and smell the savory aroma that fills up the room, their eyes light up with anticipation and excitement.
The Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12'' is my go-to when it comes to searing steaks. As I mentioned before, this pan creates a superior crust on meat. It has even heat retention and, best of all, it's economical. Although it is heavy, this pan will last you a lifetime as long as you maintain it by seasoning it with oil after every use. At 30 bucks, it's a great multipurpose tool for making everything from roast chicken and steaks to pies and cookies, and it can be used for both cooking and serving.
TIP: Preheat your cast iron in a 500-degree oven to ensure thorough, even heating.
TAKEAWAY: If you want to put on a great final cooking act for your guests, use a cast iron to fill the room with pleasant aromas. Plus, you can use it as a serving piece in the center of your dining table.
Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.
3. Slicing/Carving Knife
After you've spent a good amount of time cooking, the presentation of your food should match its taste. Coming from a fine-dining background, I can tell you that presentation is truly key. Not many people want to eat something that looks unappetizing, so I encourage you to pay attention to the presentation of your dishes.
To make sure that my dishes always look as good as they taste, I use my personal (and the test kitchen's) favorite carving knife to slice large cuts of meat: the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 12'' Granton Slicing/Carving Knife. This knife is light, has comfortable handles, and makes carving a breeze.
TIP: If you're looking for creative plating ideas, check out "How to Make Your Food Look Awesome" from our younger-sibling site, America's Test Kitchen Kids. They show you how to make delicious works of art with just three things: sauce, space, and garnish.
TAKEAWAY: Cooking is an art form, so if you are willing to invest the time and money into making a special meal that involves meat, it pays to invest in the correct tool for serving it.
Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 12” Granton Slicing/Carving Knife“Every slice is perfect,” said one tester.
4. Rasp-Style Grater
Have you heard of François Boullier before? If not, you can take this time now to thank him for inventing the first grater in the 1540s. This tool has evolved so much over time to make life easier for chefs and home cooks. I've grated everything from cheese, garlic, and ginger to nutmeg, lemon zest, and chocolate with our winning rasp-style grater.
I love to finish off a dish with a grated ingredient. I like to think that this extra touch makes my guests feel like their meal is worth a million bucks. And a grater is a very easy tool to use. Our winning grater comes sharp and stays sharp, which makes it one of the best options out there.
Microplane Premium Classic Zester/GraterWe use rasp-style graters to zest citrus fruits and grate hard cheeses, ginger, shallots, garlic, nutmeg, and more.
5. Wine Opener (Waiter's Corkscrews)
For the pop-up restaurant, we normally served our dishes with a glass of wine. Uncorking and pouring the wine was a crucial part of the experience. If you plan on serving wine at your dinner party, it’s worth it to invest in a nice wine opener. I prefer a waiter’s corkscrew to a twist corkscrew. I’ve found that it’s easier to carry around, which is important when you’re the host.
Regardless of what type of wine opener you decide to use, the size of the worm (the metal spiral) should be at least 1.75 inches long to prevent your cork from breaking. With that said, I recommend our winning model, Pulltap’s Classic Evolution Corkscrew by Pulltex, because of the size of its worm.
TIP: Look for a corkscrew that has a smooth, spiral-shaped worm with a nonstick coating and that’s at least 1.75 inches long.
TAKEAWAY: When it comes to throwing a dinner party, all details matter, even the drink-related ones. Make sure that you have a good wine opener on hand so that your guests can get a true dining experience.