Being a great cook doesn’t require all of the fanciest and most expensive gadgets (MC: but it certainly helps!). In fact, some of our favorite meals we’ve cooked have been prepared in the outdoors with just a few necessary items and iffy weather conditions (shoutout to our outdoor cooking inspo, Ben Quinn of Woodfired Kitchen). But while we do love cooking in the dirt over a fire, we also love preparing meals in the warmth of our kitchen at home. And we understand that’s probably more applicable to our general audience here, too! So what kitchen tools do we use every day that we would recommend as a gift for someone who loves to cook? (or better yet, yourself!)
When we moved to London three years ago, Mike’s job offer didn’t include household relocation costs. So in lieu of pouring thousands of dollars into hiring movers and getting a shipping container, we decided to pare down our belongings to two duffle bags each. Let me tell you, it’s pretty liberating to ‘Marie Kondo’ your stuff and whittle your worldly possessions down to two bags (MC: not sure if liberating is the word that comes to mind when I look back at that stressful experience but maybe I’m misremembering). But while we didn’t have so much trouble picking through which clothes to take (MC: speak for yourself), we did struggle to decide what kitchen tools to bring (MC: yes, this true).
Our kitchen is now filled with the few items we did manage to carry with us on that initial trip, further items we’ve asked (demanded) friends and family courier across when coming to visit, and tools we’ve picked up here in London as we’ve needed them. That means that the tools in our kitchen each serve a purpose; nothing goes unused and in fact, there are quite a few we use almost every day.
Of course, there are some splurge items that we’d love to get down the road (deep fryer to make more of those donuts – be warned!). But in the meantime, if you or someone you know is looking to beef up their kitchen tools, especially as a gift around the holidays, we think this is a pretty good place to start!
Let’s start with the most expensive, but arguably the most useful. I used to think that the Dutch oven was just another big pot. Boy, was I wrong. This baby is your Do Everything Pot. We use ours to literally Do Everything – from slow cooking hearty stews, to boiling pasta water, to baking bread (MC: sadly it doesn’t do the dishes so I dunno if ‘Do Everything’ is appropriate). Unsurprisingly, Mike’s favorite way to put the Dutch oven to work is by frying things in it (MC: YES!).
The thick cast iron bottom conducts heat in a way that a traditional slow cooker doesn’t; I find that soups and stews in particular cook more evenly in it. We have the 2.75 quart Le Creuset version which is great, but I’ve also read dazzling reviews of the cheaper version made by Lodge.
Cast Iron Skillet(s)
Wrote a blog post about this baby earlier this week, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. But the cast iron skillet is definitely Mike’s favorite kitchen item, and for good reason. You can use the classic 10-inch skillet for any weekday meal you’d ever need to cook – sear a steak (my favorite use for it), sauté vegetables, bake an egg frittata (MC: or cook bacon, sausage, english muffins, burgers, ahhhh…).
If you become a fanatic like us, you can up your skillet game and build a collection. I’d move on next to the mini cookie skillets which would make for a great stocking stuffer. (A word of caution – these things are not light. It took forearm strengthening for me to be able to easily maneuver our large one on the stovetop. But now that I’m used to it’s weight, it’s always my first choice of pan to use.)
My mom’s been raving about this tool for ages, and if she got an invite to your wedding, she probably gifted one to you along with some of her famous soup recipes. I used to roll my eyes when she’d launch into her spiel about how useful the immersion blender is, but I have to admit, she’s converted me now. I probably use ours at least once per week, if not more.
It opens you up to a whole new world of recipes; gone are the days of pouring your soup in messy batches into your blender. You just stick it right into a pot on the stove full of chunky vegetables, and you’re left with a creamy soup in under 60 seconds. We bought this one that came with extra attachments – a mini food processor and a whisk, in addition to the soup blender – which works particularly well given that our flat is way too small to host a full sized food processor or Kitchen Aid.
Since our last name is Cutting, we have a reputation to uphold with our growing knife collection (MC: when your last name is Cutting, your knives only get sharper #dadjokes #thanksdad #likefatherlikeson #Caseyeyeroll); so knives are the one thing we are accumulating in lieu of sticking to minimalism. (And even though my maiden name is McNamara, I still have a reputation to uphold – my dad literally has a wall of knives in his kitchen.) But if Mike and I each had to pick a knife to recommend, we’d both tell you to get a Shun knife in the size that’s best for you.
When we were making our wedding registry, both of our dads suggested that we pick one or two knives for each of us, instead of registering for a set. Different brands make particular knives best, so building our own collection with individual knives would be more prudent than purchasing a whole set that would likely come with knives we would rarely use. We went to Williams Sonoma to test out different sizes and brands (MC: I’m pretty good with romantic date ideas). They let us practice chopping vegetables with their whole range to investigate which ones we found most comfortable.
We both settled on the Shun chef’s knife in our size. I have the Classic Santoku 5.5-inch, and Mike has the Classic 8-inch. These are perfect for every day use – chopping vegetables, dicing meat – and I only use the other knives we’ve collected for particular tasks.
Who knew something so basic could be so life changing. Mike’s dad has a couple of these Chef’n spatulas, and Mike received one for Christmas one year during college (MC: along with my first non-stick skillet – my hungover scrambled egg game was, and remains, unmatched). Our other spatulas have now gone to live in the very bottom of our kitchen drawer (good reminder to myself to donate them). I’m sure I sound dramatic, but this one feels so comfortable in your hand when you’re cooking that you won’t believe you ever settled for a wooden handled spatula before. Mike makes particularly good scrambled eggs with it (MC: “particularly good”, puh-leeez), but it’s useful for everything else too. And bonus – it’s super easy to clean.
There’s baking before you have a scale, and then there’s baking after you have a scale. Apparently, using a simple measuring cup when baking can result in up to 25% variance in quantity. When I started using a scale to measure my flour and sugar, my baked goods did in fact come out better; their quality is more consistent. We got this OXO one that was recommended by Tim Ferris in the The Four Hour Chef. We’re clearly attached to it – it’s one of those aforementioned items that made it over here into our original two duffel bags. It also gets a tremendous amount of use for our V60 pourover coffees!
If you want to start churning out high-end restaurant quality meat, the Super-fast Thermapen is here to help. Mike’s dad was raving about this particular kitchen tool to us for awhile, and gifted us one last summer. We’re no longer gambling whether a chicken breast is fully cooked (for fear of over cooking it and eating a dry, stringy piece of chicken, or under cooking it and eating unpleasant pink chicken). We’ve also been cooking steaks to a perfect medium-rare. And this tool is partially responsible for my perfectly done first turkey roast (if I do say so myself) at Thanksgiving. It doesn’t come cheap, but that’s for good reason. It instantly, and I mean instantly, reads internal temperatures to perfect accuracy.
Happy gift buying, and let us know if you have any questions!