The 10 Utensils You Shouldn't Live Without

April 21, 2014

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Alice tells us the 10 most important items in her kitchen, and why they matter.

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I like to think I am flexible and easygoing about most things. And I try not to be dogmatic... But honestly, I think there absolutely are things that belong in a well-equipped baker’s kitchen. Here’s my list. How about you?

1. Stainless steel bowls: I love bowls and keep several sizes ranging from 3 to 4 cups to much bigger -- about 14 inches in diameter. I use them for everything and anything (except in the microwave), including melting chocolate in a water bath. The biggest are great for folding large quantities of meringue into a batter or tossing a huge salad without bruising the lettuce. No need to get spendy; inexpensive, lightweight bowls from hardware and kitchen supply stores are perfectly fine.

2. Strainers: I have a drawer full of inexpensive strainers in several sizes, but the most important are those made with a fine mesh (to strain custards and ice cream bases, etc.), and those with a medium-fine mesh (for lots of other things, and to use instead of a sifter!).

3. Microplane zester: I use this for grating citrus, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, hard cheeses, and the like. I prefer the original classic rasp type, which doesn't have a handle.

4. Silicon spatulas: I have both regular and large sizes for stovetop cooking, stirring, and folding. It can also be useful to keep a tiny one around, for things like scraping out the mayo jar.

5. Rimmed aluminum half-sheet pans: These are medium-weight, light-colored metal, without any nonstick coating. Mine are 12- by 16- by 1-inch. I use them for everything -- as cookie sheets and jelly roll pans, and any time a baking sheet is called for.

6. Wire whisks: I keep a 10-inch whisk and a 15-inch whisk (measures include the handles) for whipping cream and mixing all kinds of batters, but also for mixing, fluffing, and aerating dry ingredients like flour before incorporating it into batters.

7. Digital instant-read probe thermometer: Mine has a range from about 50° F to over 450° F, and it comes in handy for making chocolate, all kinds of candies, custards and ice cream bases, and bread, as well as for frying and testing the doneness of meat and poultry. (It's also fun to satisfy any random curiosity about the temperature of anything!)

8. Offset spatulas: I keep large ones around for spreading thin sheets of batter evenly in sheet pans, and small (4-inch) ones for spreading batter evenly in small pans.

9. Ruler: These are good for measuring anything from cake pans to the diameter of rolled-out pastry to the thickness of slice-and-bake cookies.

10. Scale: A kitchen scale should register both grams and ounces, with a range from 5 grams (less would be even better) to 2 kilos or more.

Alice's new book, Seriously Bitter Sweet, is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet. 


Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • inah@shorisuperstore
  • MRubenzahl
  • Sarah Hopwood
    Sarah Hopwood
  • Richard Hamilton
    Richard Hamilton
  • Annes AlexOrg
    Annes AlexOrg
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


inah@shorisuperstore November 22, 2015
I almost have these kitchen utensils which I use for baking.
MRubenzahl July 17, 2015
4. Silicone spatulas, please. With an e.

Nitpicking aside, this list is totally spot-on. You skipped the obvious and focused on essentials beginning cooks might not think of.
Sarah H. July 16, 2015
Hilarious! I just wrote a very similar post! We have some overlap, and I like your style!
Richard H. July 15, 2015
A stick blender, and a deep straight sided container to blend in.
Annes A. May 20, 2015
I'd add cut resistant kitchen gloves to this list. Really useful tool, especially if you like to slice and cut very fast like me.
I use these ones .
fijiproduce April 14, 2015
Nice one..all The utensil item is important for cooking..The pictures of all utensil item is very nice..!!
saneeta October 4, 2014
Have a look here
Chaz B. June 27, 2014
No one's mentioned a good knife yet, nor a way to sharpen it. (I have, um. More knives than fingers. Heavy German ones, light Japanese. I love my knives.) Tongs, tick. Scales, tick (I imported mine from the UK in checked baggage, and the TSA thought it was a bomb: oops...). Thermapen, tick. Ricer, tick. Mostly I'm all "give me a knife and a place to chop, and that's all the gadgetry I need" - but actually I think I have and use everything on this list and everything in comments. And two silicon pastry brushes: invaluable for glazing. And a baking stone. And a baker's peel. And banettons. And, and, and...
Gaia G. May 15, 2014
I have everything on this except a thermometer. I definitely need to invest in some. Would you recommend one thermometer that could be use for multiple purposes? Or would I need to get a few for different uses?
gasgirl May 15, 2014
The can get it on their site..or at King Arthur..the absolte best!
Gaia G. May 15, 2014
Excellent! Thank you!
gasgirl May 15, 2014
take a look....good luck....
gasgirl May 15, 2014
This is the model and it works for everything...wonderful...and great colors..and can be repaired ..i have had mine for 5 years..and also gifted my kids! and they are not cooks..and love it....
gasgirl April 28, 2014
So agree with FWK the thermapen is the best! And btw..i had a problem with mine after years of use..sent it to them and they fixed it for small fee!! The best customer service. And yes..parchment paper is indispensable! great comment FWK
FWK April 28, 2014
For the instant read thermometer don't bother with anything less than a Thermapen from Thermoworks. They are not cheap but they are the best and they take the guesswork out of the cooking process. They are really instant read as well.
I agree with the tongs and there is one other tool I use for many things...parchment paper. I buy it 1000 sheets at a time. I use it to line sheet pans for baking and roasting, as a lid when I am braising, as ingredient holders for baking, anywhere i don't want to clean up a messy spill.
Alice M. April 27, 2014
I love this growing list of utensils we can't live without!
robin L. April 27, 2014
p.s. i do love my microplane. i use it for my manchego cheese for this salad that i LOVE:
Aimee April 27, 2014
agreed, microplane is a must have!
robin L. April 27, 2014
just an fyi i thought of while reading this excellent post: a while back, i discovered that a potato ricer is the best device for squeezing out the liquid from frozen spinach. and, lately i've been reusing glass jars and it just occurred to me tonight that a vegetable peeler makes short work of peeling sometimes sticky labels off the jars (after they've been soaked in water).
Alice M. April 27, 2014
Aha! I too love my potato ricer, especially for squeezing excess liquid from grated potatoes when making latkes or squeezing extra juice from shredded carrots for a fabulous torte. Here's my story on that:
gasgirl April 27, 2014
Jazzcat...yes that is the one...and i totally agree with tamater ...lets refrain from the image!! It does make us older people crazy!! LOL
tamater S. April 27, 2014
JAZZCAT, I have to tell you, that those moving images are most annoying. And just think what a mess the comments section would be if many people used them.
Please refrain. Thanks in advance.
KATHI S. April 27, 2014
gasgirl April 27, 2014
Oh..when purchasing this scale..part of the revenue is returned back to the CIA for student scholarships.
gasgirl April 27, 2014
I really like the Culinary Institute of America scale...excellent...and their customer service was great...had one issue and they sent me a new scale!
Jazzcat April 27, 2014
This one? ?
catalinalacruz April 27, 2014
The scale in the photo is exactly the one I have, and I love it. We have used it hard for 3 years. The brand is My Weigh KD-8000 (meaning it weighs up to 8 kilos/17 lbs.). It easily switches from metric to pounds/ounces with the press of a button, and also tares (subtracts the weight of the empty container before food is added). I could not cook without it.
p.s. I have no connections with the company; I just know a good kitchen item when I use it.