Through the course of learning to cook there have been a lot of purchases necessary. Well, maybe not necessary, but having the right tools has made everything else so much easier. There are things I don’t like (or have learned not) to skimp on: Good sauce pans and skillets, good cast iron cookware, a few awesome knives, a decent food processor, blender, and mixer. You know, the kind of things where you regret not spending enough the first time around because they only make life harder if they suck.
On the flip side, there are dozens of inexpensive tools around my kitchen that I’ve picked up either out of need or curiosity, and am repeatedly amazed at both how durable they are for the price and how much they’ve helped make my kitchen life better.
I took a look around my kitchen after cooking and noted the top things that I got for $20 or less that I use almost every time I cook. I thought it might be worth compiling a list.
- Ozeri digital scale ($12.73)
- You can spend a lot on a digital scale. Simply an accurate scale that can hold a variety of containers on it suits my needs. This little one has a digital readout and touch buttons. Like any similar implement, it tares when you turn it on, and you can choose whatever measurement units you need. Turns itself off after a timeout period, and stores easily in my rack with my cutting boards.
- Jenaluca herb scissors ($13.97)
- This is one of those things I never thought about needing and tried on a whim. It’s a 5-bladed pair of scissors (a 5-pair?) that lets you quickly chop up fresh herbs like chives, cilantro, basil, etc. without using a cutting board. There are plenty of times I’m happier wadding up a bunch of leaves and chopping with a chefs blade, but these have come in handy many times.
- The Jenaluca is the one I’ve used, but the Utopia Kitchen version is half the price on Amazon and looks to be just as good.
- Prep Solutions by Progressive medium hand grater ($10.42)
- I am not a fan of box graters. Hard to clean, annoying to use. But I also rarely need to grate entire blocks of cheese, so I’ve never invested in a big rotary grater. After falling in love with the microplane (zester), I got a medium and large hand grater. I do not regret this.
- Manual Coffee Bean Grinder By Homiry ($16.99)
- I don’t use this for coffee. It would probably be great for it, but for me it’s a great spice mill. A large-radius crank, friction based assembly (not a lot of threading to slow things down), and it helps with cleanliness for me because it’s self-contained, grinding the contents into a removable chamber at the bottom.
- Lansky QuadSharp Carbide/Ceramic Multi Angle Knife Sharpener ($13.98)
- This little knife sharpener has 4 different angles and a stone for ceramic blades. It just works. Two passes on this and my chef’s knife is razor sharp and free of nicks.
A note about OXO
I see the OXO brand all over Target. And Amazon Pantry. And everywhere. Its ubiquity was a sticking point for my snobby instincts (“a house brand at Target could never be the best you can get”). But when it comes to simple implements that are comfortable to use, you can’t beat the price. I’ve had a few items break thus far, and in some cases have gone ahead and replaced them with stainless steel versions, but a few things have held up amazingly well and saved me a lot of money versus the competitors.
- OXO Zester ($9.46)
- For ten bucks, this thing changed a surprising number of habits for me. Zest an entire lemon in under a minute, plus it works great for finely grating cheese over pasta, adding a few scrapes off of a nutmeg to a sauce, or anything that just needs a good scrape.
- OXO Handheld Mandoline Slicer ($14.99)
- I never realized how useful a mandoline slicer could be in the kitchen until I just went ahead and bought this on a whim. At its widest setting, I can slice an entire onion for caramelizing in 30 seconds, with perfectly consistent widths to the slices. Just make sure you use the guard and watch your fingers. Seriously.
- This is one of those OXO products I’m assuming will wear out. It’s not terribly well constructed, but it’s held up through many a slicing and dishwasher run. If I replace it, it’s going to be with a stainless Steel mandoline slicer for about $30.
- OXO Bench Knife ($9.99)
- If you’ve ever watched cooking videos and seen the chef use a handy little scraper thing to move chopped veggies into prep bowls but then couldn’t find the right search term to buy them, then you’re like me and the phrase you’re searching for is “bench knife.” Beyond its intended purposes, it’s an excellent transport tool and also good for getting dough off your fingers. This one has an occasionally handy ruler on it too, for when you’re instructed to dice something in unintuitive dimensions and you have to double check for sanity.
I have an array of OXO peelers, scissors, spatulas, etc. around as well. The items without moving parts (e.g. spatulas) are unquestionably durable. I’m a little more wary about anything with multiple parts, though the Y Peeler with potato eyer has been great.
- Prepworks collapsible measuring cups ($7.96)
- I’m including this because I work in a small kitchen. Space is at a premium. I have one good set of stainless steel measuring cups, but don’t have room to keep an auxiliary set around. These plastic measuring cups collapse to flat and take up very little space in a drawer.
- I only learned about collapsible measuring cups because this set ($23.19) was already around in the kitchen. I haven’t used the Prepworks ones, but I listed them because that’s what I would buy if I didn’t already have the Food Network set.
- 2LB Depot Premium 18/8 (Narrow) Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons - Set of 6 ($13.95)
- I’ve been through enough measuring spoon sets to know where my primary frustrations lie. First, I want to be able to stick it into narrow cap spice jars. Second, I want it to be stainless steel because they can be dried faster when switching from liquid to dry measure. These fit the bill perfectly, and I love them. One of those things that I can smile and take pleasure in every time I use them.
- The set even comes with a level that hangs with them on the ring, so you can stick the measure into a spice jar, place the level across the opening, and have it level the scoop as you pull it out of the jar.
- Totally Bamboo 3-piece cutting board set ($12.99)
- For $13 you have a set of lightweight yet durable cutting boards in three sizes. They don’t gouge or scratch easily, so you’re not risking bacterial growth as you would in most wooden cutting boards, but they’re not so hard that they’ll dull your blades. They don’t stain easily, and they dry quickly. A quick wipe with soap and water, swipe with a hand towel, and they’re ready to store. Plus sustainability of resources…
- Pyrex 6-Piece Glass Food Storage Set with Lids (Glass, 12-Piece) ($19.00)
- I love glass prep bowls. Almost too much. I have a variety of sizes available, but I’ve come to love these 2-cup Pyrex bowls because they’re big enough to hold a chopped onion but not big enough to take up my whole counter. They have lids, so sticking prepped food (or leftovers) in the fridge is a one-step process. And they’re Pyrex glass, so they don’t retain odor, they’re dishwasher safe, and you can heat them in the microwave or oven, should that be a necessity.
- I also purchased the Pyrex 18 Piece Simply Store Food Storage Set ($29.25), so I’m really never short on glass storage containers.
- Kitchen pantry organizer ($16.99)
- In case I haven’t mentioned it, I have limited space. A vertical rack makes good use of counter space and frees up significant drawer space. I use this rack for the cutting boards, the digital scale, and my rocker blade pizza cutter.
- Abundant Chef In-Drawer Bamboo Kitchen Knife Storage Block, Organizer and Holder ($9.76)
- My knife set is not a set. It’s a motley collection of individually purchased blades with no knife block (and one set of 3 ceramic knives that defeat the purpose of a magnetic strip). So I found this flexible solution, which will hold between 10 and 16 knives depending the combination of lengths and how you configure them. It’s designed to fit in a drawer (17” x 5.25”), but I’ve been using it on the counter top where my knives are always within reach.
- SpiceStor Organizer Spice Rack ($12.07)
- I bought this because it looked like a really good idea, like a filing cabinet for spices. I didn’t like the execution in the end, for reasons I don’t remember now, but I took the strips of jar clips and put them on the inside of the spice cupboard door. I had to space them so that they wouldn’t collide with shelves or rows of taller spices, so it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, but it became the perfect spot for an array of paprikas and things like whole cumin, hazelnuts, and coriander seed (because I organize thematically, in ways that probably only make sense to me).
- Rubbermaid FG8020RDWHT Pull Down Spice Rack, White ($22.45)
- This is possibly my favorite spice cabinet improvement I’ve ever made. The 3-tier rack pulls forward and down to eye level. The front row of it can even be top-labelled jars, then, which is great for the stubby little containers that fit better packed together and you can read the fronts anyway. The shape of it leaves space behind it when it’s collapsed up into the cabinet for a row of less frequently-used spices. Like some kind of secret stash, shrouded in mystery.
- Self adhesive Spice Jars Labels, 80 pcs ($17.00)
- I buy spices in the bulk section, and I try to reuse containers. This gets ugly fast. I’m working toward a unified set of spice jars, and unified labelling to make it easier to scan. This set of stickers, while pricier than I think stickers are actually worth, has covered every need I’ve had. I think there was one spice that it didn’t have a sticker for, but I’ve forgotten which.
- Clean/dirty dishwasher magnet ($9.99)
- You already knew this, and my mom always tried to teach it, but keeping the kitchen from becoming an overwhelming mess means cleaning as you go. Washing (or at least soaking) bowls and boards and knives and measuring spoons as you use them. And unloading the dishwasher before you cook so you can load it as you finish with items. If you share a kitchen, knowing the simple state of the dishwasher (clean or dirty) can be a hassle easily solved by the tried and true Clean/Dirty magnet. This is the one we have. It’s not fancy, and there are probably cheaper versions and it’s likely there are more expensive options. I like this one. It’s funny.
So, what else should I get?