Think you need fancy expensive tools to cook a great dinner? Nope! Here are 17 essential kitchen tools that won’t break your budget!
It’s no secret that I love to cook. I think the reason that some people shy away from it is that they don’t have the proper tools which make the job hard and the outcome uncertain.
But let’s say that you decide to give it a go. If you watch cooking shows or hit up a kitchen supply store, it’s likely that you’ll be presented with a plethora of great gadgets for every purpose under the sun. They’re all sleek, clever and cute items that insist you NEED them in your kitchen.
Does anybody want to shell out $20 (each) for a butter warming knife, cheese gun or garlic roaster? $30 for a breakfast sandwich maker? How about $15 for some finger tongs so you don’t have to actually touch the food you’re eating? (No, I’m not kidding. I even posted some of the crazier ones I came across!)
This just makes me chuckle. I have a kitchen full of very basic and inexpensive tools that I use all the time. Stash your credit card for just a sec while I show how economical it can be to outfit your kitchen with my list of 17 essential kitchen tools that won’t break your budget.
Take Time To Appreciate The Little Things
These are the true unsung heroes of the kitchen! Every single one is under $30 (most are under $15) and they make everything run more smoothly.
Call me crazy but this is my favorite vegetable peeler. It’s simple and basic but has many uses. Peeling fruits and vegetables, of course, but also use it to shave chocolate, Parmesan or soap, peel the zest off citrus fruits and de-string celery.
Any peeler can do all that but the reason I stick with this particular style is because of the pointy end. Use it to dig out potato eyes and bruised spots or hull strawberries. After cutting the top off a pepper, you can easily slide the end of this peeler inside to remove the seeds and pith while leaving the pepper intact, which is especially useful for smaller peppers such as jalapeño.
I know a lot of you will disagree with me about this one. I’ve even seen plenty of articles that mock this item as a waste of money and space but I do not care. Trying to hang onto that slippery egg to cut it into any sort of uniform shape adds unnecessary stress to my life.
With this handy-dandy egg cutter, you just pop it on and lower the lid, using the stainless steel wires to cut through the hard-boiled egg. A quick 90° rotation and one more snap of the cover will give you perfect, tiny, egg squares that you can simply dump into the bowl straight from the cutter. And it just rinses clean.
Despite the name, I don’t ever use these to make cakes or pastries (although you certainly could!) I use them for making sandwich rolls from homemade bread dough.
I originally got them to make brioche rolls (which has thinner dough and actually does need a mold) but now I use them for shaping whatever breads I make. The rolls come out perfectly shaped and in matching portions, which is something I’m never able to achieve when shaping rolls by hand.
I did learn that the rings should be greased well before each use (I use cooking spray) to avoid sticking. I portion my dough out into 8 rings per loaf-sized dough ball on the final rise but you could make more or fewer rolls as you see fit. When they’re done baking, I simply use kitchen tongs to lift the rings off the (perfectly shaped and totally even) rolls.
These rings are also a perfect size for cutting dough to line a standard muffin tin. This comes in handy when making recipes like Mini Pork Pies or Chicken Pot Pie.
These are far superior to quilted oven mitts or potholders. They can withstand much higher heat without it penetrating through to your hands and they don’t wear thin as the quilted ones do. You can use either the mitt or potholder to protect countertops when setting down hot items.
I do have one caveat, however. There’s definitely a learning curve as these do not flex or mold to surfaces as well as cloth. I recommend a practice run before attempting to pull a hot pan out of the oven!
I have this exact set and I love them! These tongs are made from 1mm stainless steel which makes them sturdy without being too cumbersome. They have a unique pull ring on the top to ensure that your tongs will never be locked closed when you want them opened and vice versa. The best part is the silicone tips and grips which provide a non-slip surface for your fingers and the item you’re picking up. whether it be a delicate wonton or one of the heavy gauge steel molds I mentioned above.
This colorful grater set makes short work of anything you have to grate. I find that the 13” length makes it easy to use when grating or zesting. It comes with 3 separate graters (held together with a silicone band) which will ensure you have the right size for any job!
This just makes my life easier. I like the fact that it contains the mess when I’m working with dough (just pick it up and dump the “remains” in the trash!).
It’s easy to peel your pastry off, takes the guesswork out of measuring it to fit in a pan and cleans up easily.
Because it’s silicone, it also doubles as a baking sheet and oven liner which is a great way to reduce one-use items such as parchment paper and aluminum foil. It won’t be long before you recoup your cost by reducing your purchase of throw-away kitchen lining products!
This gem is great for chopping just about anything. I’ve had mine for well over 20 years (yes, this exact brand) and I use it all the time.
It’s especially handy chopping onions into little tiny pieces to hide in food, (don’t tell my kids ;-)) but it can also be used for any vegetable, nuts, salsa, salad dressing, herbs, bread or cracker crumbs.
The pulsing action gives you plenty of control while the bi-level stainless steel blades stay sharp, providing long-lasting performance.
I know there are fancier models out there but I have this basic blender in my kitchen.
There’s a very real possibility that I just don’t know what I’m missing but this baby has always done everything I’ve asked of it. Smoothies, salad dressings, sauces, shredding cooked meat, ricing cauliflower and broccoli.
I like the glass jar because it won’t get scratched or hold flavors.
I finally got a KitchenAid Mixer when a total stranger gave it to me at his company Christmas party. (He had won it) While I’d love to give this a rom-com ending and say we lived happily ever after, it ain’t true. I never saw him again. I’m happy to report, however, that my KitchenAid and I have never had a cross word between us!
I love this thing so much I could write a whole article about it. Oh, wait…I did!! Take a gander at this to find out why I would never use another mixer.
Yes, it cooks rice. But if you mix some cubed meat and chopped-up veggies in with the rice and water, you have a delicious one-pot meal in less than 30 minutes!
Suspend food in the steamer rack to cook separately (with or without rice on the bottom). It will even keep your meal warm until you’re ready to eat.
It makes oatmeal, mac and cheese, soups, chili and stewed fruit. You can even use it to bake bread and cakes. An important feature to me is that it’s compact, easy to use and easy to clean.
I’ve saved the most important for last. What good is having all the above-mentioned tools if your food is not cooked to perfection? If you want to know when something is done, a thermometer will never do you wrong.
I think we all know that meat and poultry should be cooked to a certain temperature but when was the last time you took that leftover lasagna out of the microwave and sat down to have a good nosh only to find out it was still cold in the middle? A perfectly heated (or reheated) food should read 160℉ so next time stick a thermometer in it!
What about baked goods? Sure you can jiggle your puddings and poke your cake but did you know that you can have a better gauge by using a thermometer? Bread comes out of the oven at 190℉, while cake prefers to be around 205℉.
Bonus? Every single one of these thermometers is $10 or less.
I like this one for larger items as well as meat and poultry.
I like that the recommended temperatures are right on the face and a moveable target temperature indicator can be placed at the desired temperature so I can easily know when the item is ready to be removed from the oven.
I will caution you to hand wash this particular thermometer. I have not had good luck with putting these in the dishwasher as the steam penetrates the housing and the resulting condensation makes the face hard to read.
I hate it when the bottoms of my biscuits burn before the tops brown! Since I’ve placed one of these in my oven to make sure the temp is accurate, it’s never happened again.
Let The Adventure Begin!
While I know you’re going to want to get busy outfitting your kitchen, I just wanted to take a minute to let you know that I use every single one of these items on a daily basis so I can vouch for how valuable they are.
What’s your favorite unsung kitchen hero? Let me know in the comments below!
“I can’t cook” means different things to different people. Whatever that might mean to you…help is on the way! Here are just a few ways to get your cook on!
It’s a fact. Some people can’t cook. Of course, “I can’t cook” means different things to different people.
Some people can’t cook because they don’t have the means to cook. Maybe they rent a room that doesn’t have kitchen privileges. Maybe they live out of hotel rooms because they travel a lot. Maybe their stove is on the fritz. Or maybe their house did, in fact, come without a kitchen.
Some people can’t cook because, well, they just can’t cook. Maybe they just don’t have the patience, the time or the confidence.
Then there are the people who simply don’t cook. Nope. Not doin’ it.
What shall we do with all these non-cookers who still want to eat a healthy diet? As it turns out, I have a few ideas.
Easy No-Cook Meals And Snacks
Chicken salad — grab some pre-cooked organic chicken and mix with mayonnaise. Jazz things up a bit by adding your favorite mustard, some grapes, walnuts or whatever tickles your fancy!
Peanut butter and strawberry sandwich — pick up a fresh-baked loaf of bread from your local bakery. Slather on some chunky peanut butter and sliced strawberries. Or smooth peanut butter and apple slices. How about cashew butter and fresh raspberries? There are no rules.
Overnight oats — There are only about a million flavor combinations and it keeps for up to 5 days in your fridge. Win-win!
Tomato, mozzarella and basil — This is exactly what it sounds like it is. Slice up a fresh tomato and top it with slices of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Pair this up with the cooked shrimp you picked up in the frozen food aisle and you’ve got a meal!
Garden salad — It all starts with some bagged lettuce and fresh veggies (get the pre-cut ones to save time!). Toss it up with some mushrooms, nuts, seeds, avocados and/or hard-boiled eggs then top it off with homemade ranch, thousand island or Caesar dressing. Because there’s no such thing as “just a salad”.
Corn Salad — Saw fresh corn off the cob, put it in a bowl with some thinly sliced red onion and radishes then toss it with lemon poppy dressing.
Coleslaw — Simply mix shredded cabbage, green and/or red, and grated carrots. Make the dressing with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2-3 tsp sugar and ¼ tsp salt. Ask the produce clerk to cut a head of cabbage so you can buy just a half or a quarter of it.
Fruit salad — A pile of your favorite fruits and berries topped with plain yogurt (mix in a bit of honey and a drop of vanilla, if desired). Use what’s left of the yogurt to make dill dip, which is great for dipping fresh veggies!
Let’s talk for a minute about how handy these are. Not only can this multi-function puppy pressure-cook food in no time flat, but it can also slow cook, steam, sterilize, make yogurt, saute, cook rice, cook eggs and even air fry. It even comes in a mini (3-quart) size so you don’t have to cook for an army.
You can cook just about anything in an Instant Pot. Throw it in there, turn it on and walk away. In case you’re feeling insecure, Instant Pot comes with access to an app that has cooking tips and recipes.
A more cost-effective option in this category is a slow cooker. It doesn’t have as many uses but it will still cook dinner for you. No, it doesn’t come with an app but I can recommend this cookbook!
This magical device was invented in the 1940s and we’ve never looked back. The first home models, introduced in the 1960s, carried a price tag of around $4,000 when adjusted for inflation. Luckily for us, things have changed and we can pick up a decent model these days for right around $100.
Microwaves are not just for reheating last nights’ dinner. You can toast nuts or roast garlic. You can bake a potato or cook it cubed up for potato salad. Pasta, steamed vegetables, winter squash, sweet treats. Yes, you can even cook meat, although you’ll want to do a little research on cooking methods before you attempt that big, beautiful steak.
There are plenty of gadgets available (if you’re a gadget kind of person) but most of the time, you can use whatever microwave-safe dishes you have on hand to achieve the desired effect. Sometimes, all you need is a mug.
You can also find microwaves in many places when you’re on the road. Convenience stores, supermarkets, truck stops and travel centers usually have them for public use. (Remember to be polite and buy a bottle of water or cup of coffee while you’re cooking your lunch!) Microwaves are a standard issue in hotel and motel rooms. There’s also one in the break room at work, although its cleanliness is always in question.
I received a rice cooker as an (unsolicited) gift from a family member. I had never wanted one and I wasn’t sure I would ever even use it. Once again, I’m not a gadget person. I still use the cooking pans I got second-hand from my parents after I got married, which they had received as a present when they got married, over 60 years ago. I just didn’t see the need to cook rice in a rice cooker when my elderly but reliable saucepan works just fine.
…that it’s awesome. And it’s not just for rice. That’s right. I said it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were all sorts of one-pot meals I could make in this thing. It times itself, I didn’t have to remember to stir it AND it keeps it warm until I’m ready to eat.
Now, I am a fan of rice so I usually mix in some raw protein and veggies right in with the uncooked rice and water and let it do its thing. Easy-peasy. Here’s the thing, though. It also has a steaming tray that suspends above the rice so I can just as easily cook the meat and veggies separately.
It makes oatmeal, mac and cheese, soups, chili and stewed fruit. You can even use it to bake bread and cakes.
It’s compact, easy to use and easy to clean. It’s versatile like the Instant Pot and slow cooker but with a few differences. It has fewer options than the Instant Pot and cooks faster than the slow cooker. The price range is broad but a basic rice cooker is usually less than $40, similar to that of a basic slow cooker.
That About Sums It Up
OK, so that doesn’t really sum it up. There are a lot of different options out there for the cooking challenged and, if you search hard enough, you can learn how to use a curling iron to cook bacon or a clothing iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches. While it seems like either of these options could (technically) work, I’d like to think I’ve put forth the most reasonable choices for people who can’t (or don’t) cook.
What about you? What cooking hacks have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!