Essential Tools

Rachel Khoo's Essential Tools for Doing Big Things in a Small Kitchen

November  4, 2015

My current kitchen is slightly larger (you can see it on my YouTube channel) than the previous kitchen I had in Paris which was "so big" I could touch both walls at the same time with my hands. Despite having a bit more space to cook, I still adhere to the same principles I had in a small kitchen: Keep it organized (everything has its home) and try to keep gadgets and equipment to a minimum (I have a KitchenAid stand mixer and recently acquired a food processor, but that's it). 

Rachel KhooTools 

With a small kitchen, the right tools are essential. Space is at a premium, so the last thing you want is unnecessary equipment clogging up vital work surface or cupboard space. Having spent more than my fair share of time in rather small kitchen spaces, I’ve become quite skilled in the art of decluttering and maintaining a strict essentials-only kitchen policy. Here are ten of my top kitchen essentials, the tools that my little kitchen simply could not live without:

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Cocotte (or Casserole Dish)

The cocotte is my number one kitchen staple. I’ve used it for so many recipes, in every single one of my tiny kitchens. It’s good for so many purposes: You can slowly simmer a boeuf bourguignon on the stove one night, and then bake an asparagus risotto in the oven with it the next! 

With a little love, your cocotte should last a lifetime. Letting it cool before running under cold water will avoid warping the pan, and lifting it carefully on and off surfaces (rather than pushing and pulling it) will help prevent scrapes on the outer enamel. I’d also avoid using metal utensils whilst cooking, where possible, to try and keep the base scratch-free.


Digital Kitchen Scale

Forget measuring cups and spoons. Digital kitchen scales are a must for any small kitchen. When cupboard space is precious, you can’t afford to waste it with a clunky set of measuring cups. Accurate and compact, the digital scale is both a lifesaver and a space-saver for the small-kitchen baker. 

Digital scales take very little maintenance. Keep them clean, store them away safely, and they are generally rather happy. When choosing your digital scale, look for a model that can easily switch between metric and imperial measurements. It’s also handy if you can reset the scale display to zero, allowing you to continue adding and measuring ingredients into the same pot. Always keep a set of spare batteries handy, too. Nothing worse than your scale running out of juice mid-recipe!

This model ingeniously doubles up as a clock—no need to worry about cupboard space here! When you aren’t weighing out the flour for your latest bake, just hang it back up on the kitchen wall.


Three Knives

There are only three essential knives that you need in a small kitchen: a serrated knife for slicing tomatoes or serving flaky pastry deserts; a chef’s knife for chopping fruit, veg, or herbs; and a small pairing knife for more delicate tasks like slicing strawberries or peeling garlic. 

The key thing I look for in a knife is a good handle. It has to sit comfortably in my hand. Be sure to never scrape your knives along the chopping board, and invest in a knife sharpener. This will keep your knives in tip-top condition for longer. 

Jars  Jars

Mason Jars

Technically not a tool but fab for decanting kitchen staples into. Mason jars can look super pretty lined up neatly on an open shelf—great for keeping an eye on stock levels. An almost-empty jar on the shelf in plain sight is a handy reminder to add flour, or whatever itm may be, to the shopping list. 

Jars should have airtight lids to keep your goods as fresh as possible, for as long as possible. Make sure your jars are completely dry before decanting your goods into them; the slightest bit of moisture can ruin dried food. 

Knife strip 

Magnetic Knife Strip

Also not a tool, but ever so essential if you want to create space in your kitchen, keep your counter tops clear, and show off your best knives.


Handheld Blender

If you’ve been watching Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook or seen any of my YouTube videos, you’ll know that I nearly always have a blender in hand. If I’m not using it to whiz up a quick pesto or a red pepper sauce, then you’ll usually be able to spot it somewhere in the background, nestled nicely into a cozy corner of the counter. It’s super easy to clean too, so there are no excuses for lazy washing up!  

There are a lot of great handheld blenders out there. If you’re in the market for a new model, look for one with a high wattage; that’s always the first thing I check for. I find hand-washing, rather than using the dishwasher, keeps the blender attachments in better condition for longer. 



Saucepans are an essential for every kitchen. For smaller people (and fewer mouths to feed), however, you only really need one or two. The key, when possible, is to wash them up as you go along. A nice copper pan or colourful Dansk duo can look great showcased on the stovetop, so you don’t need to worry about finding cupboard space either. When they’re not being used, mine (my current favorites are from Maison Empereur) are mingling with the cookbooks and journals on my bookshelves. 

Tea towel

Tea Towels

Tea towels are an underrated invention and definitely an essential for kitchens of all sizes. They have their handy traditional use, of course, but can also double up as a serviette too. On my travels, I’m always keeping an eye out for pretty designs to add to my collection. It’s an easy way to add a sophisticated touch to a dinner table or jazz up a place setting—and beats a paper napkin any day!


Silicone Spatula

Heat-resistant, dishwasher safe, and virtually indestructible, the silicone spatula is far more versatile than the traditional wooden spoon. The best ones are sturdy enough to whip up a batch of buttercream icing, and flexible enough to reach the nooks and crannies of the food processor or wipe the bowl clean. 



For such a small piece of equipment, the mandoline has a mighty impact on my cooking. It’s ever so sharp and simple to be use, and can be used for almost anything. It's fab for creating immaculate slivers of cucumber or ribbons of zucchini, a dream when it comes to preparing salads and garnishes. 

Be sure to look for a model with interchangeable blades and a hand guard, allowing you to safely shred, julienne or thread-cut any vegetable to your heart's content. To prevent the blade dulling into early retirement, avoid the heat of the dishwasher and wash your mandoline by hand. 

What are your small kitchen essentials? Leave your handy tips and space saving secrets in the comments below.

Photo of Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook courtesy of Chronicle Books; photo of group of tools and saucepan by Lara Messer; photos of cocotte and knives by Bobbi Lin; photos of scale, spatula, and mandoline by James Ransom; photo of knife grabber by Ryan Dausch; photo of immersion blender by Alpha Smoot; photo of dishtowel by Gena Hamshaw

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Susan H. January 11, 2016
i do recommend a good meat thermometer...
Ken O. January 11, 2016
I HIGHLY recommend the products at
I have the full-sized Thermapen (expensive & rather large, (accurate to +/- .7 deg, 3 second reading) but also have the Pop Pocket (accurate to +/- 2 deg, 5-6 second reading), which I keep in my travel kitchen kit, and even the mini "Fun-Size" in their gift section, which is a key chain (accurate to +/- 3 deg, 15-20 second reading)
Ken O. January 12, 2016
Actually, the Pop is on sale this week. It's my favorite of the 3, considering it's size, probe cover, backlight (nice for out by the smoker by the shed: not a concern of yours!) and rotating display (if you're a lefty or righty)
Susan H. January 11, 2016
always inspiring!
Whoozthatgirl November 5, 2015
Fantastic article. I have a tiny galley kitchen and would miss my pestle and mortar, wall mounted magnetic spice rack and magnetic wall mounted utensil rack. I love my gadgets but counter space is king.
Rachel K. November 6, 2015
Definitely agree that counter space is king!
Paul N. November 5, 2015
I would fail without a good meat thermometer and a sieve or collander
Rachel K. November 6, 2015
I have thermometer comes handy when I'm making sugar syrups for candies and italian meringue.
Ken O. November 5, 2015
A small-sized, fine strainer. I have one that is only 4" and I'm surprised as to how often I use it. Sauces/gravy, decanting wine when the cork breaks!
Rachel K. November 6, 2015
Also very handy for making loose leaf tea.
Rachel K. November 4, 2015
Hi Melody,
It depends what you're planning to use it for. I started off with 4 quart size one as it works well for recipes for 2-4 people but you plan on doing lots of big size dishes you might want something bigger.
Melody November 4, 2015
Hi there - What size cocotte would you recommend?