Stocking Your Kitchen: My Top 10 Tools to Cook Simply
If there is one thing our move from Connecticut to Florida forced me to do more than anything else, it was to simplify — even more than I already thought I had. I made it my mission to purge and donate anything that wasn’t either 100% functional or (in the words of Marie Kondo) something that bought me joy.
I’d say I removed roughly 1/3 of everything we’d accumulated over the 8 years living in our 1,200 sqft. condo. And the kitchen was no exception.
It got me thinking — what do you really need to prepare healthy meals at home? What are the tools I use daily that are essential in the kitchen? And what would I need to pack with us in the car since the movers wouldn’t arrive with the rest of our stuff until a week later?
It’s a surprisingly small list!
My Top 10 Tools to Cook Simply
Good Quality KNives
My mom taught me this from an early age — investing in good quality knives is essential and the number one item every home cook should have in their kitchen. There’s no need to purchase a set. Start with an 8 or 10-inch chef’s knife, a small paring knife, and if you’d like a bread knife. That’s it. You’ll be able to tackle almost anything with these from breaking down a butternut squash, smashing garlic cloves, and finely chopping herbs.
I prefer using wooden utensils since they don’t scratch pans or conduct heat and remove plastic from the equation. My current workhorses are from Earlywood and Staub. And while not wooden, I adore this fish spatula for turning pancakes and roasted veggies. The flexible edge makes it easier to maneuver than a more traditional spatula. Lastly, a rubber scraper for baking and mixing.
An end-grain wooden cutting board is the gold standard, but for a more practical and economical option — I opt for these dark, slate wooden ones instead — in both the large and small size.. They hide stains and I love the corner grips that prevent slipping on the countertop.
Sheet Pans + Parchment Paper
I use my half sheet pans almost daily for roasting vegetables and reheating things in the oven. And I always line them with parchment paper (never foil!) for easy clean-up and to prevent my food from having direct contact with the metal pan. I suggest having two to make weekend meal prep that much more efficient.
All you really need is a large stock pot, a smaller sauce pan, and a wide, high-sided pan with lid. But full cookware sets are such a good bargain that I’m linking the updated version on my set here.
Ceramic Saute Pans
If you have non-stick teflon coated frying pans — please, please, please update them with a ceramic coated set to prevent the chemicals from leaching into your food and the air you breathe.
The kitchen tool I never thought I needed until I used it at my mom’s house. It’s a game changer — allowing you to wash and dry greens straight from the grocery store so they’re ready to go at a moments notice later in the week. I’ll wash a head of romaine + kale and store them in Tupperware or a plastic bag with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Then their there waiting for me and I have zero excuse for not having salad before dinner or adding a handful of greens to a simmering soup. Plus, you avoid all of the added chemicals that keep bagged lettuce “fresh” for weeks on end.
I’ve had this 2-cup liquid measuring cup since college — it’s the perfect size. Having an additional 1-cup measure is nice to have as well, but not a necessity. And for dry measuring cups and spoons, I prefer the oval ones because they easily fit into small mouth jars and spice bottles.
I love this multi-sized glass set for everything from prepping ingredients to tossing salads to mixing up muffins.
For me personally, I use my loaf and 8x8-inch pans the most. And if you’re a muffin lover, then a standard muffin pan is of course great to have on hand. I linked silicone versions here since the last thing you want is a stuck on baked good!
Making this list and trying to keep it at just ten, I realized there were a few other things that I don’t think you necessarily need to start out, but that I do use quite often.
For zesting citrus and grating everything from cheese to chocolate to vegetables. I have these in multiple sizes.
5.5qt. Dutch Oven
A large stock pot will serve you well just starting out, but if you are a big soup lover or want to braise in the oven, then a dutch oven is your new best friend. The heat conduction is like nothing else. Plus I find them so satisfying and beautiful to cook from.
Fine Mesh Strainers
I left a colander off this list, since technically the salad spinner insert serves the same purpose. But a set of fine mesh strainers helps with rinsing small grains like quinoa, sifting flours, and also straining nut milks. The medium one is great for transferring pasta from water to sauce pot. And I’ve used the smallest for straining loose leaf tea or decanting wine when cork got into the bottle.
It wasn’t until I moved in with my husband that I realized how amazing having a toaster oven vs. an actual toaster was — so much more functional! You can go basic or fancy with your choice. It’s a personal preference. Ours is the one linked and falls somewhere in the middle. I use it of course for making toast, but more often than not it’s my go-to for toasting nuts and reheating leftovers when I don’t want to turn on the big oven.
I use my Vitamix every day and really do consider it an essential tool in my kitchen. But given the price tag didn’t list it above. In my opinion it’s worth the investment and then some — for making my morning elixirs, smoothies, nut milks and butters, hummus, soups, sauces, and dressings.
Note: I’ve shared my favorite brands in this post, and some contain affiliate links. Know that I would never share or promote anything I didn’t love or use daily.