Spoiler alert: You don’t need a kitchen that’s as fully stocked as the one on Chopped if you want (read: need) to start cooking. Because what’s really required of you just a bit of patience, a great meal plan and these essential kitchen tools. But with dozens of gadgets, tons of trinkets and other buys that claim to change your cooking skills, it can be difficult to resist purchasing Every. Single. One. Instead, we asked a few experts to spill the secrets on what we should stock in our kitchen cabinets.
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“My go-to gadgets are things that make dinnertime as easy as possible,” says Molly Siegler, the Culinary Content Coordinator for WholeFoodsMarket.com. After a day at the office, the cooking process should be as fuss-free as possible — otherwise it’s admittedly difficult to resist takeout. And she’s on to something: Recent research from shows that people who spend more time preparing and cooking meals are more likely to have healthy diets than those who don’t.
Plus, there are tools that can help keep your waistline in check — if you use them well (and with healthy foods, of course). Miranda Hammer, R.D. and founder of The Crunchy Radish, swears by kitchen tools that help boost the flavor and texture of healthy meals like soups, salad dressings or roasted vegetables. These light yet high-flavor options can be saviors in the kitchen, especially for weeknight dinners.
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9 Kitchen Tools to Make You a Home Cook Hero
1. Food Processor
Why You Need It: A mini- or regular-sized food processor will make quick work of any herbs or vegetables that need you chopped in no time flat. Plus, most models come with attachments that vary the preparation, says Siegler. This can help keep you inspired to switch up your menu so you’re never bored — even yes, when everything is healthy.
The Steal: Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Food Processor ($35; cuisinart.com)
The Splurge: Breville BFP800XL Sous Chef Food Processor ($400; breville.com)
2. Sheet Pan
Why You Need It: While these are usually associated with whipping up a batch of cookies, they’re also indispensable for roasting vegetables. It’s an essential to have on hand when you’re planning a week’s worth of meals in advance, not to mention a great way to use up any given CSA haul. (Think of all the omelets, salads and chicken breasts that now have new BFFs.) Hammer’s pro tip: Line your pan with unbleached parchment paper for quick and easy clean up next time you prep produce like this.
The Steal: Farberware Nonstick Bakeware 3-Piece ($10; farberware.com)
The Splurge: Vollrath Wear-Ever Standard Duty Half Size Sheet Pan ($16; vollrath.com)
3. Rubber Spatula
Why You Need It: When you’ve got something blended in your processor, a spatula works far better than a spoon to scrape healthy brownie batter or black bean hummus. It’s also great for flipping flapjacks or meat, but make sure you replace yours as it as soon as you see signs of breaks in the rubber, Siegler says. Usually after a few years of use, you could risk small pieces of the tool breaking off into your food.
The Steal: Good Cook Set of 4 Silicone Spatulas with Bamboo Handles ($8; goodcook.com)
The Splurge: Bekith Sillicone Spatulas, Set of 4 ($10; bekith.com)
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Why You Need It: Grating ginger, hard cheeses and citrus is child’s play when you’ve got a microplane on hand. Hammer likes using hers to add citrus zest to dressings, sauces and dishes and add a world of flavor. Forget the heavy, sugar- and fat-laden sauces of yesterday — using a microplane proves there are plenty of ways to please your taste buds without doubling down on calories. And with great flavor comes great, healthy meals, right?
The Steal: Microplane 40020 Classic Zester ($6; microplane.com)
The Splurge: Sur La Table Microplane Soft-Handle Zester Grater ($15; surlatable.com)
5. Wooden Spoon
Why You Need It: A savvy steal by nature, this carefully chosen basic is great for whipping up sides, soups, stews and stir-frys. Especially when it comes to garlicky soups or fragrant curries, since wooden spoons won’t absorb food odors. You can also use these babies to stir rice without scraping or damaging your pot. Siegler recommends rubbing your wooden spoons with beeswax once or twice a year, which will help seal them and prevent cracks.
The Steal: Chef Craft Maple Wooden Spoon Set in Brown ($5; chefcraft.com)
The Splurge: OXO Good Grips Wooden Spoon Set, 3-Piece ($12; oxo.com)
6. Salad Spinner
Why You Need It: A thorough cleaning of produce can help reduce your risk of contamination, whether you choose organic or not. And when it comes to actual clean eating, a spinner is a must for giving your greens (or other produce) a rinse. You’ll be able to dry leaves quickly without wasting loads of paper towels, says Hammer. And anything that helps the environment gets a check plus in our book.
The Steal: Ikea Tokig Salad Spinner ($11; ikea.com)
The Splurge: Rosle Salad Spinner ($99; rosleusa.com)
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7. Enamel Cast Iron Skillet
Why You Need It: While this item tends to fall in the expensive range of kitchenware, Siegler notes that they last forever and won’t require as much upkeep as traditional cast irons, which need to be meticulously seasoned and cleaned after every use. From searing tuna steaks to whipping up a quick weeknight stir-fry, an enamel cast iron skillet functions as a stovetop must-have for any (and maybe every) meal.
The Steal: Le Chef Enamel Cast Iron Blue Deep Skillet 10” ($33; lechefcookware.com)
The Splurge: Le Creuset Signature Cast Iron Deep Skillet 12” ($200; lecreuset.com)
8. Slow Cooker
Why You Need It: During pretty much any season, a slow cooker can lend a helping hand for novice chefs: it’s low on effort (think: mix, set the temp and go) and high on the taste returns. All you need to do is pop ingredients into the gadget in the a.m., head out the office, and come home to some Thai spaghetti squash. Or, prep breakfast like this honey-vanilla multigrain hot cereal the night before, and you’ll be able to jumpstart your day without lifting a finger.
The Steal: Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 6-Quart Slow Cooker ($24; hamiltonbeach.com)
The Splurge: KitchenAid Stainless Steel Slow Cooker ($89; kitchenaid.com)
9. High-Speed Blender
Why You Need It: Today’s high-speed blenders are nothing like the 1950s models you saw in your grandmother’s kitchen. In fact, not only are they advanced technologically, but Siegler loves high-speed blenders for their versatility, too. “Not only are [blenders] awesome for smoothies, but they [can also] make super fast sauces and soups,” she says. “Depending on the speed of the blend, you can make things feel creamier,” she notes, which means you can leave out extra oil or cream and still enjoy comfort-esque treats, like this dairy-free but totally delicious Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup.
The Steal: Ninja Professional Blender ($106; ninjakitchen.com)
The Splurge: The Vitamix 5300 Series ($492; vitamix.com)
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